Under Pressure

Hate to double-up on the CC posts today but he is, after all, our best player.  (Longoria fans may send hate mail to YourTimeisComingSoChillOut@gmail.com).

Crawford’s infield hit (yes, it was definitely a hit, official scorer is a tough gig so I am going to refrain from any further editorializing) didn’t just extend an inning and set up Carlos Pena’s dagger of a home run.  It also reminded every infielder in the league (particularly those in New York, Texas, and Minnesota) that the Rays do not hit into routine outs.

Here are two great quotes from the St. Pete Times’ notebook story:

LHP Brett Cecil said “it’s not an error in my book,” adding, “You can’t fault a guy for trying to make a great play.” While Hill declined to comment, 1B Adam Lind said, “I’m sure Hilly was thinking the same (thing as me), I’ve got to get rid of it.”

Said manager Joe Maddon: “That’s the beauty of speed. But it’s also the beauty of playing the game hard and playing the game right all the time. That moment was caused by our reputation and Carl’s reputation of running to first base.”

To summarize, Aaron Hill, who is a highly-regarded defensive second basemen, wasn’t rushing because he saw CC hustling down the line.  He was rushing because he knew without looking that CC would be running it out.

If that’s the kind of pressure that the Rays’ speed and aggressiveness can put on good players in meaningless regular season games, what happens when the stadium is packed, the air is cold, the inning is late, and Tim McCarver is rambling about the 1964 Cardinals from the press box?

Basking in Crawford’s Fading Light

Lost in the Red Sox weekend obituaries was the significance of Carl Crawford’s two-run, game-tying bomb of John Lackey.

That was Crawford’s 100th career round-tripper, making him the youngest player ever to reach 100HR, 100 3b, and 400 SB.  In fact, at 29 years and 24 days, CC got to those three milestones nearly 4 years faster than some guy named Lou Brock (32 years, 11 months, 11 days).  Anyone remember how that Brock guy’s career turned out?

I am not sure if CC will ultimately give a speech in Cooperstown or not, but if he keeps at this pace, there is a good shot.  I only hope they make sure he wears a TB on his plaque.

Shadow Boxing

Another night, another W for the Rays and Yankees.

Just spitballing here but what happens if they finish with the same record?  Is a one-game playoff necessary even though both go to the playoffs?  Do they just flip a coin for the first round opponent?

This anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better stretch has reached historic proportions.

According to Rays’ PR this is only the second time since 1969 that two division mates have had 80 wins after 130 games (San Francisco and Atlanta in 1993).  It is only the 6th time since 1950 that two teams in the entire American League have reached the 80-win mark this fast in the same season.

Most important, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this 8-day stretch that the Yankees and Rays have shared first place is the longest first place tie this late in the season in major league history.  (In fact, the only other 7-day tie came in 1980 when the Dodgers and Astros were tied for first from Sep. 10 to Sep. 16.).

Another possible October debut

The St. Pete Times’ Joe Smith had this interesting item in his notebook story this morning:

MISCELLANY: Maddon said the first wave of September callups will include 4-5 players, with a third catcher (Dioner Navarro) likely. One intriguing name under consideration is LHP prospect Jake McGee, a former starter who has pitched 12⅔ scoreless relief innings since getting promoted to Triple-A Durham. That includes 20 strikeouts and just one walk.

“I’ve heard nothing but really good things about him,” Maddon said. “I do know that he’s got the kind of stuff that he’s not just limited to getting left-handed hitters out. He’s the kind of guy that can get a good righty out also, which makes him exciting as a left-handed relief pitcher.”

McGee is a hard-throwing lefty with a good fastball and high strikeout numbers (if you are having de ja vu, that is because the Rays promoted another young port-sider into their bullpen in 2008).

He has made 7 straight relief appearances for Durham, the first seven relief appearances of his life. If he can get Major League hitters out during his September audition, he could be join the Rays ‘pen with Grant Balfour and Jeremy Hellickson (who are likely to replace Lance Cormier and Andy Sonnanstine) for the ALDS.

No trap here

The Rays open a vital three-game set with the Blue Jays tonight.

Let’s be honest, there are only vital series remaining until the Rays or Yankees get an x and a y next to their name on the tote board.

Thinking about this series made me nervous after the weekend’s playoff atmosphere.  One of my few criticisms of Joe Maddon is that his teams have a propensity to let up when they crest a big hill during the season.

Looking back, the Rays were 17-21 in the first series of games following a series against Boston or New York in 2008.  They were 10-19 in those games in 2009.

I suspect that kind of let down is caused by two things:

  1. Maddon’s willingness to allow a free and easy clubhouse atmosphere, which naturally lends itself to some premature celebration or self-loathing; and
  2. The team’s inexperience and willingness to think of itself as an underdog.

As I wrote this morning, this team looks to me like it knows it is the best team in baseball.  The numbers back me up.

The 2010 Rays are currently 19-8 in the series of games following a series with Boston or New York.  Add in the embarrassment of the Rays last stop in Toronto, and the minuscule margin for error to stay in first place, and I think Toronto is in for a tough week.

  1. The team’s inexperience

Rays record after playing Sox/NYY

Is Andrew Friedman the real hero?

This Dan Johnson thing is out of control.  How does it not have a nickname* yet?

More importantly, how does it not make any member of the media turn back and look at the GM suite?

The Rays current 40-man roster, you know the 40 men who have compiled the best record in baseball, is littered with gems that Friedman scooped up off the trash heap.  That is the only way a team with the Rays’ financial resources can continue to run door-to-door with the Yankees through turn three into the home stretch.

To wit:

Friedman signed Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate, Lance Cormier, Dan Johnson, Carlos Pena, and Gabe Kapler when no one else was interested.    In fact, Benoit, Johnson, and Pena were signed to minor league contracts.

Those 6 players have a combined WAR of 2.5 in 2010. (and two memorable late inning hits this weekend)

Then, Friedman acquired Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett (for Delmon Young, who couldn’t run enough to play in the Rays outfield and was a clubhouse cancer, and Brendan Harris, who was a throw-in infielder), Ben Zobrist (for Aubrey Huff, who two other franchises have realized is a paper tiger), JP Howell (for Joey Gathright, whom the Rays had identified as a one-trick pony), Chad Qualls (for a player whose name will ultimately be “cash”), Sean Rodriguez (for Scott Kazmir, whom the Rays properly identified as overrated), Willy Aybar (for Jeff Ridgway, a bad LH reliever that was made irrelevant by the emergence of JP Howell), Grant Balfour (for Seth McClung who had eaten his way out of the rotation) Matt Joyce (for Edwin Jackson that, despite his good first half in 2009 and no-hitter this year, has been perfectly mediocre and would not have a spot in the 2010 Rays rotation)  and Kelly Shoppach (for Mitch Talbot, a pitcher acquired in the Huff trade that was the odd-prospect out in the Rays pitching ranks) in trades for players the Rays would ultimately have released because they didn’t fit the roster or plan.

Those 9 players (not including Howell, who was incredibly in ’08 and ’09 but has been hurt for all of ’10) have a combined 2010 WAR of 9.9.

So, all told, Andrew Friedman turned a bunch of spare parts the team needed to dump and some pieces other teams already dumped, into 12.4 wins through shrewd analysis and decisionmaking.

Those 12.4 wins are especially relevant in a season that the Rays are 6.5 games in front of Boston in the wild card race.

(Just for the record, Friedman also supervised the drafts that netted the Rays Evan Longoria (2006), David Price (2007), and signed Rafael Soriano, who have a combined WAR of 10.7.  I left these three acquisitions out of the above analysis because any GM in the league would have drafted Price and Longoria and Soriano was a known quantity when Friedman signed him.)

*”DJ” and “DanJo” are not nicknames.

The Weekend that Was

What kind of Rays blogger doesn’t post anything during the biggest weekend series so far this year?  The superstitious kind.

What a weird weekend, huh?  There is a lot to take away from the Rays commanding series victory that all but ended Boston’s summer.

Putting aside the bullpen, Dan Johnson, Carl Crawford, and Glass Jawed Martinez, I think the biggest thing this weekend taught us about the 2010 season is the realization that the 2010 Rays are not the 2008 Rays.

The 2008 Rays were a hungry, young team coming off a 2007 last-place finish.  They were excited to be in the hunt but nervous late in games.  Every time they fell behind in a game or their bullpen got into trouble they started looking around the dugout wondering if this was finally the day that their carriage would turn back into a pumpkin.  That team looked at a late season series win over the Red Sox as an upset.

The 2010 Rays have a much different makeup.  They have spent the entire season as the best or second best team in baseball.  They come to the park and expect to win; no matter the opponent or the significance of the game.  That is why they score so many runs late in games.  Deficits and missed opportunities do not intimidate a team that knows it is better than its opponent.

At no point during the weekend did the Rays look nervous. At no point during the weekend did the Rays seem like they were pressing.  They just waited for a window (be it a wide throw to first, or stupid high fastballs to Dan Johnson and Carl Crawford) and capitalized.

This series win was no upset.

Where is Alanis Morrisette?

The Rays and Sox tangle tonight in a series with huge playoff implications.

Can the Sox get back in the race?

Can the Rays finally learn to go for the throat when an opponent is on the ropes?

Is Kevin Youkilis the ugliest guy in baseball?

ESPN is in town as well to bring the action to every living room in the nation.  What?  They aren’t covering Rays-Sox until Sunday?  They are broadcasting pre-season high school football tonight?

Hmm.  Well.  Go Rays and Go Panthers.

Under Pressure

Matt Garza has an interesting way of distilling things down to their essence.  Yesterday, after passing through the obligatory cliches, he told Mark Topkin of the St. Pete Times:

“We know the pressure is not on us, it’s on them. And they know it and we know it,” Garza said. “They’re the ones that made all the offseason moves. And we’re just going and going and going. So we’re just going to keep going and keep playing our game and at the end of this three-game series, we’ll see where we’re at.”

It seems a little early for a statement like that but the schedule bears Garza out.  Starting tonight, the Rays have 6 games left with Boston.

Those 6 games are Boston’s best chance to get back into the wild card race for several reasons.  First, the Rays and Sox have very similar remaining schedules.  Both have two more series with the Yankees.  Both have two more series with Baltimore.

The only real difference is that Boston has a West Coast swing left to finish (3 in Oakland and 3 in Seattle) while the Rays get their remaining games against the West at home.  That trip is tough sledding for east coast teams, particular older teams with a rash of injuries like Boston.

Boston also has two series left with the White Sox, who remain in the hunt for a playoff berth while the Rays only have one series at KC remaining with opponents from the AL Central.

That means that, barring another setback when the Rays travel to Toronto, Boston needs to win at least 4 of its 6 remaining games left with the Rays if it intends to crawl back into the playoff race.d

The Price of October

Jerry Crasnick has a good story upon ESPN.com about the workload of young pitchers currently throwing for contenders.

He identifies two rules of thumb teams use when monitoring the season-over-season increase in a young hurler’s workload:

  1. Limit the increase in innings to 20%;  or
  2. Limit the increase to 25-30 innings.

David Price is one of the 7 pitchers Crasnick evaluates in his story because Price is a legitimate Cy Young contender who has already thrown 157.2 innings this year, just five shy of his total for all of 2009.

If the Rays stay in rotation, Price lines up for 7 more regular-season starts:

Aug. 27 vs. Boston

Sep. 1 vs. Toronto

Sep. 6 at Boston

Sep. 11 at Toronto

Sep. 17 vs. Anaheim (his 5th day falls on an off-day, Sep. 16)

Sep. 22 at New York

Sep. 27 vs. Baltimore

If the Rays continue on their current pace, six of those starts are going to be non-negotiable for Price because the AL East pennant may not be decided until the Rays visit New York on September 22.

As of now, Price is averaging 6.2 innings per start.  That means, he is likely to throw between 37.2 and 44.1 more innings this season for a season total of 195.1-202 innings.

That makes the 7th start crucial.  If Price skips one of his remaining starts (I am looking at you 9/17 vs. LAA — because you follow an off day that would normally be Price’s turn– and you 9/27 vs. Baltimore — because you are Baltimore) he would see an innings increase of 19.7% over last season.  If he makes the 7th start, however, he skips out of the 20% range with a 23.6%.

Of course, none of this factors in October innings which can expand or contract a pitcher’s role.  In the interest of superstition, lets leave talk of October for later in the summer.

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