Friday, 2 May 2008

The plot thickens...

Tampa Bay Rays 4 - Baltimore Orioles 7
Tampa Bay Rays 8 - Baltimore Orioles 1
Tampa Bay Rays 4 - Baltimore Orioles 2

The fun in Rays-world continues! Three games at Camdem Yards, 2 wins, and suddenly its May 2 and the Rays are sitting in first place in the AL East (on percentage points) at 16-12. How 'bout that?!

I watched games one and two of the series, but missed the finale yesterday afternoon - but all-in-all I liked what I saw. Just like I have done pretty much all season.

Tuesday night things didn't get off to the best of starts, as the O's got to Jason Hammel early and pushed themselves into the lead. JP Howell initially did very well in relief, but he and Scott Dohmann then gave up a couple of runs a piece, giving Baltimore a nice cushion for when the Rays finally found their bats. That happened in the seventh, with a four-run outbreak - the big blow (literally) being a BJ Upton two-run homerun. Unfortunately the O's bullpen then did what is was supposed to, and shut the game down from there on in.

Wednesday was a different story. Andy Sonnanstine was excellent, and the bats were working all game long. Well actually it was as much our batters' eyes, as we drew 7 walks - a very high total for the Rays! We already had the lead when the big seventh inning came around this time, and the five runs we added there were merely the icing on the cake. It was Eric Hinske's turn to get the important hit, as he blasted a fourth-inning two-run homer (his 6th of the year) way over the wall in right that put the Rays on top. Dioner Navarro kept up his good form, going 2-5 with 2 RBI, which leaves his average for the year at an even .400. That is, of course, somewhat artificially high because of the time that he spent on the DL, but regardless his early hitting is very welcome - and a far cry from his struggles in the first half last year.

Yesterday's game was a bit closer, as Matt Garza made his best start so far to get his first win (and, in fact, first decision) of the year. Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival were excellent as ever in relief. With the bat, Jonny Gomes pitched in with his third homer of the season, while the decisive runs came in the seventh on a two-run single from Carl Crawford.

Right, so that brings us up to date with the action, but not on the big decision that is coming the Rays' way this weekend. Who should stay and who should go?

Here is the Rays' pitching staff as is currently stands: Rotation - James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel; Bullpen - Kurt Birkins, Scott Dohmann, Gary Glover, JP Howell, Trever Miller Troy Percival and Dan Wheeler. And between them they are doing a mighty fine job.

But, coming back this weekend are Al Reyes and, the man himself, Scott Kazmir.

Of one move we are fairly certain, and that is that it will be Birkins who is bumped from the 'pen to make room for Reyes. Who goes to make room for Kaz however is far from clear. So here is my run-down of who's done what so far, and who I think deserves to stay:

James Shields - 3-1, 2.54 ERA, 2-hit shutout of the Sox and AL Player of the Week? No-brainer. He stays.

Matt Garza - Injured early, and has struggled a bit. But last two starts have been much better, and his upside is very high. He has options remaining, so could be sent down with no risk, but I can't see that particular move. He stays.

Andy Sonnanstine - Probably has the least impressive stuff of the whole rotation, but he knows how to make the most of what he does have. The first ever Ray to win four games in April, if it wasn't for a single start against the Yankees his ERA would be even better than its current (and still fairly respectable) 4.42. Also has options, which could potentially be the deciding factor. But on performance alone, he stays.

Edwin Jackson - 3 excellent starts and 2 horrible starts. That could sum up E-Jax's whole career up to this point. 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA is pretty decent, and there is no doubting his explosive talent. There is doubt, however, over his control. No options, he would be lost if he was sent down, and we've seen before that he is not well suited to the 'pen. He's worth the risk, he stays.

Jason Hammel - Possibly the most frustrating of the five. I want to like him, but compared to who he's up against he just doesn't have the same upside. He doesn't have the stuff of Jackson or Garza, and he doesn't have the control and pitching know-how of Sonnanstine. 2-2 with a 4.88 ERA is ok for a number five guy, but he's up against two guys who are pitching better and are better pitchers. Like Jackson he is out of options and probably would be lost on waivers, and would likely be of little value in the 'pen at the moment. I'd hate to lose him completely, but at the moment, for me at least, he's the weakest link. He goes.

Whether or not that will be the decision that is ultimately made by Joe Maddon and the organisation, we shall have to wait until Sunday to find out. I can't help feeling that Sonnanstine could be the one to miss out purely because he can be sent down with no risk. But, in all honesty, I think that would be the wrong decision. It wouldn't be a disaster, but it would be wrong.

That's a couple of days away still, and we have important things in the meantime. Such as the battle for first place that kicks off tonight, the first of a three-game series at Fenway. Edwin Jackson makes the start for the Rays, and, bearing in mind what I've just said, I still think he needs a good one. The pressure is well and truly on. BJ Upton is doubtful for the start, after leaving yesterdays game with a sore shoulder. I don't think its too serious though, and he should be available for pinch-hitting, which is good news. I may be staying up to watch tonight - I have to spend pretty much the whole afternoon on a train, so it rather depends on whether I get any sleep or not while travelling!

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