Series Preview in Blog: Tampa Bay Rays

The Twins start a road trip with a weekend series against Tampa Bay.  Minnesota’s road woes are well documented (5-14) so hopefully this series against a team struggling with higher expectations this year will get them on track.  Tampa Bay currently sits at 23-27, fourth in the AL East, only percentage points above Baltimore in the cellar.  They are coming home (11-10 record at Tropicana Field) from a entirely disheartening sweep by the Cleveland Indians that involved a seven-run ninth inning and rain delays in every game.  The rain delay is an apt metaphor for the Rays season so far, everyone is just waiting for the 2008 Rays to show up and start winning.  On the other hand, I’m having trouble generating any sympathy for a fan base that includes a Jose Canseco jersey-wearing contingent (after jinxing the Cleveland series I hope that guy shows up this weekend).

As is to be expected, there is some restlessness to be found, and some dissatisfaction with the Rays start to the 2009 season.  Some are looking at the offseason as a bit of a disaster (but in a clever and amusing way, so points to them for that), while others are just calling a spade a spade.  If this team looks like the Devil Rays and plays like the Devil Rays, then they are going to be called the Devil Rays.  Probably the most upsetting indicator that people are unhappy with the Rays first 50 games is the attendance numbers.  The Rays has some promising numbers at the end of last season, and early on people were coming out in numbers that easily surpassed the crowds of the year before, but now it seems that trend is starting to taper off.

Another reason for the Rays slow start is injuries.  The middle of the infield has been particularly ravaged.  Jason Bartlett is on the DL with a sprained ankle, Pat Burrell is close to coming back from a stiff neck, and Akinori Iwamura is done for the year with a torn ACL.  The Rays are actually somewhat deep at second and short (see the Iwamura post for the options available to them), and these injuries have paved the way for some of the exciting prospects in their system to get a look (Matt Joyce may be called up for this weekend, color Rays fans excited about that news).  Fernando Perez is another casualty, he broke his wrist in spring training.  You may think this isn’t that important of an injury as Perez probably wasn’t going to be much more than a pinch-runner or 5th outfielder, but it’s important because he’s using his down time to write fantastic blog entries for the NY Times baseball blog.  He has three up right now.  The one concerning walk-up music is awesomely bizzare, but read the other two (here and here), watch this video of Perez’s unorthodox sliding tactics, and tell me you’re not at least a little bit glad that we got to hear about this guy.


Baker v. J. Shields

Liriano v. D. Price

Blackburn v. M. Garza

Series Preview in Blog: Tampa Bay Devil Rays (Round 2)

My wife’s family (I guess now it’s my family too, right?) lives in St. Petersburg, FL. So when I first met her and explained to her my deep seated fanaticism for the Twins, she told me she was a Devil Rays fan (to my credit, I kept a straight face). Anyway, after a couple of years I have successfully converted her to a true Twins fan. She actually turns on the game if she’s home and I’m working late (which was unheard of in her dark days of Devil Rays fandom). So, take that Devil Rays, I’ve stolen one of your fans! Rest assured I’m working on the rest of the in-laws as you read this.

What did I marry into?
Minnesota Twins (14-11) @ Tampa Bay Devil Rays (11-14)

This is the first time that I’ve attempted to put together a full article on a team that the Twins have already played once. I don’t think that finding enough posts will be an issue, but if it is, I’ve added some of the opposing bloggers’ take on the previous series against the Twins at the end of the post to give it a little extra meat. As always, thanks for reading!

The Twins continue their road trip with their final series of the season against the Devil Rays. It’s been a successful trip thus far, taking two of three from the Tigers this weekend. In the last week, the Devil Rays swept a two game series from the New York Yankees at home, and then headed west where they lost two straight in Anaheim before rebounding to win two of three in Oakland. The Devil Rays are 5-6 at home this year and currently reside a full game ahead of the Yankees in the AL East in fourth place. The Twins are 7-4 on the road.

On to the Rays:

The advantage to watching baseball in person in Florida is that there are always plenty of options. This entry takes a look at the Devil Rays extended spring training which takes place a few short minutes from the Major League club’s home field. Everything from the sometimes quirky format of the games to the chances of any of these players making it to the big show is covered.

There are a couple notable injuries for the Rays. Rocco Baldelli looks ready to return for this series after he got a significant bruise on his right leg running into the outfield wall in Anaheim, he’s been out for the last three games. Akinori Iwamura will not be playing in this series (he was 3-11 with a 2B, 3B, and 5BB in the previous series against the Twins). He is suffering from a strained oblique muscle and isn’t expected to return until three to five weeks from now. This injury has done nothing to slow the glowing reports on his transition to the major leagues.

One of the recurring themes of my last entry was the struggles of the Rays bullpen. Things haven’t gotten any better, causing some to call for a youth movement for the relief corps. The bullpen’s struggles are the #1 reason some fans are already giving up on this season. The starting pitching has been up and down, but most agree, Jae Seo belongs in the down category. The top candidate to replace him is currently burning through AAA (sound familiar?). Incidentally, the fewest runs Seo has allowed in a start is four. And you’re right, it was against the Twins.

Manny Stiles, at Devil Rays Universe, finally made it to Tropicana Field for a Devil Rays game. He liked it so much that he stayed for the remainder of the series against the Indians and penned three lengthy entries about the experiences of the D-Rays newest blogger/fan. My favorite part is when he interviews various Tropicana workers (on day 2) about their favorite Rays and when they will win their first World Series (one optimist picked ’07).

The Rays lost Josh Hamilton as a rule five draftee to the Cincinati Reds and he has been turning heads thus far with his hot start. Some of the Rays fans have followed his progress (including a whole blog devoted to Hamilton). For a recap of his suspension and return to baseball, this entry, although a little dated, sums it all up nicely.

Finally, if anyone is in the Tampa area for the game on Thursday, Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus will be at the game, along with Jenn Sterger (she’s on the left), which seems like an odd combination to me. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get a chance to check it out.

UPDATE: The Twins didn’t see James Shields (2-0, 3.75) in the first series, but they will get a chance on Thursday. Fortunately, his secret weapon has been discovered.

Remember when … the Twins split four games with the Rays in the middle of April?

“I’m just glad nobody was on base tonight”
-Carl Crawford, after his inside the park homerun one night after his infamous double turned double play.

MN-3, TB-2 – Most of the focus was on Crawford’s baserunning blunder after this game.
TB-4, MN-2
MN-12, TB-5 – Not, surprisingly the Rays weren’t happy with their effort in this blowout loss.
TB-6, MN-4 – Overall, Tampa fans were satisfied with the result of their most successful trip to the Metrodome in years.

Series Preview in Blog: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Minnesota Twins (5-3) v. Tampa Bay Devil Rays (3-5)

The Twins salvaged a win last night against the Yankees at home, while Tampa Bay likewise lost their first two to the Rangers in Arlington before hanging on for a win in the series finale. The Rays have one win in each of their three series so far this season.

Last season I actually took in a Tampa Bay/Minnesota game at Tropicana Field, and watched the Twins win behind a very good performance from Boof Bonser (who went to high school in St. Petersburg, FL) and a Rondell White homerun. The field was an interesting experience, I was raised on dome baseball so that part wasn’t too bad, but it seemed more antiseptic than the Metrodome, I was very much more aware that I was indoors for the whole game, probably because there were few fans at the game. Anyway, these four games are in Minnesota, so this is all irrelevant, but it’s my only Devil Rays story.

On to the Rays:

The Devil Rays are celebrating their tenth season this year, and looking for Rays blogs, one can tell that they haven’t had much success this far. The juxtaposition between the number of blogs for this opponent compared to the last series was striking. But there was still a lot of good stuff out there, and several of the blogs are new this year. One of the more publicized new blogs is Devil Rays Universe, whose author, Manny Stiles, auctioned his fandom for this season to the highest bidder on eBay, with the proceeds going to a pediatric AIDS charity. The auction was won by the vice president of the Devil Rays, and so Manny Stiles became a Rays fan. So far, if nothing else, you have to admit that he’s been enthusiastic. Another newer blog is Rays Review whose author, Andy Martino, was drawn in by the enthusiasm of Joe Maddon, the manager.

D-Rays Bay participated in a roundtable discussion in the AL East with a blogger from each team, and got all of their thoughts on certain aspects of the Devil Rays, from their chances to ever compete in the East, to the abundance of talent in the outfield. The consensus is that the Rays will probably have to trade at least one of those young, talented outfielders, RaysTalk thinks it will be Elijah Dukes, who is very well regarded by those who have seen him play, despite his off-field issues.

We were celebrating so excitedly that my teammates fell on top of me. I was the smallest and I was on the bottom of the pile. It was awesome.
-Third Baseman Akinori Iwamura, after a walk-off win against Toronto

Another new face in Tampa is the import from Japan, third baseman Akinori Iwamura, who has gotten some notice for his hot start (12-27, HR, .444/.559/.593), including scoring the winning run in Tampa’s exciting bottom of the ninth comeback win against the Blue Jays. Fans are jumping on the Iwamura bandwagon left and right, and, of course there are the inevitable comparisons to the other, bigger name “rookies” from Japan this year. His MLB diary of his first week in the major leagues is a very interesting read.

The young bats in the lineup have Rays fans feeling optimistic but the pitching is causing an awful lot of distress. The starting rotation features a young, left-handed, power pitching ace and four other guys you could take or leave (sound familiar?). The ace, of course, is Scott Kazmir, while the other four pitchers are Jae Seo, Casey Fossum, Edwin Jackson, and James Shields. Of those four, Jackson has had the best start, while Seo was awful his last time out.

If you look at Jackson’s stats from his season debut you wouldn’t describe the stats as impressive. But he left in the sixth inning with the game tied 2-2 with two on and two out; 4 hits, 2 walks, 6 runs, and 3 relief pitchers later, the inning ended with the Rays behind 8-2. Needless to say, the bullpen has been an issue for the Devil Rays in this young season. This is unsurprising to some, and already the roles will be changing, if not the personnel. However, the most disturbing trait for these young relievers is their glaring deficiencies in other areas.

One player who won’t be with the Devil Rays when they come to Minnesota is Jorge Cantu. He was demoted to AAA Durham earlier this season, and made an awfully big stink about it, not reporting until the last minute. All this drama might make it more likely that the Rays trade him for some bullpen help.

On Sunday, Major League Baseball will celebrate Jackie Robinson by allowing players to wear Robinson’s retired number 42. The Devil Ray’s Carl Crawford will honor Robinson’s legacy (as will Torii Hunter for the Twins), but it can be (and has been) argued that it means more for the Devil Rays.

In the “I don’t know where to put this link” file, is the list of anagrams of Devil Rays players and management, so when I refer to the Pasta Bay Army, you’ll know what I mean.