Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays and Phillies have both been subject to cheating scandals in the past week. Just after the news broke of Freddy Galvis’s PED use (or accidental protein shake overdose) Rays reliever Joel Peralta was ejected from a game against the Nats for having a “foreign” substance on his glove. The substance in question turned out to be pine tar, which is a big no-no in baseball. Peralta is not the first pitcher in history to grease up his pitches with pine tar, spit, snot, or hair gel (wow pitchers are gross) but he is the most recent to get caught. Peralta has been a solid reliever for the Rays, but its not like his pine tar use is helping him blow away hitters (4.20 ERA). He broke the rules of baseball, but he shouldn’t be punished too harshly by the court of public opinion. The real offender on the Rays is whoever designed their “throwback” uniforms. For a team that has only been around since 1997, a throwback jersey game seemed impossible, but the team thought otherwise. They designed what they thought they would look like and spewed these out. Some things are better left in the past, or in this case the drawing room.
Player to Watch: The Rays Leadoff Hitter
Due to injuries, poor starts, and a bit of creativity, Joe Madden has used nearly everyone on the Rays roster in the leadoff spot this year. Desmond Jennings was back in the spot last night, but while he was on the DL Maddon tried Ben Zobrist, and even power hitting first baseman Carlos Pena. Pena might not be your traditional leadoff man, but Joe Maddon isn’t your typical Manager. He has earned a reputation for thinking outside the box, and then throwing the box away completely (well recycling it). Whoever starts the game off for the Rays this weekend, the Phillies would be wise to keep him off the bases.
Most Hated Ray: DH Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui
He’s back. The Godzilla monster from Japan, who earned his stripes in New York, has made a come back with the Rays. The sometimes DH isn’t the same hitter that terrorized the Phillies in the 09′ series, but he can still turn on a fastball. Matsui is part of Maddon’s DH rotation sparing him from playing too much of the field. It’s always bitter sweet to see a great hitter hang on in the twilight of his career, but after his World Series MVP trophy earned at the expense of the Phightins he’ll get no love from this writer. The Boo birds should be at the ready when the Rays announce their pinch hitters this weekend.
Fansided Perspective: Robbie Knopf of Rayscoloredglasses and i sat down at a virtual table to discuss the most pressing issues facing the Rays in 2012.
1) The Rays appear to be in for a real dog fight in the AL East. Do they have enough to come out on top, or does Andrew Friedman need to make a move?
The Rays success or failure this season will have a lot to do with how they recover from the injuries that they have been facing. The Rays have an All-Star DL of 9 guys (who could just about field an entire team) such that if most of it gets healthy it could provide the boost the Rays need to contend in the AL East. Evan Longoria, Jeff Keppinger, Jeremy Hellickson, Luke Scott, and Kyle Farnsworth are about as much as anybody could ask for at the trade deadline and if they can play up to their norms when they come back, the Rays will be fine. The Rays have made a ton of minor moves in the wake of the injuries and whether they make a bigger move will be determined quite a bit by how players return from injury. The Rays could make a move for a catcher, although Jose Lobaton is red-hot right now and they may have found at least a temporary answer there.
2) It’s been nearly five years since the Rays and Phillies met in the world series. Do the Rays have revenge on their minds or is it just ancient history?
We still refer to 2008 as a “magical season” and I don’t think the Rays ever had too much ill-will towards the Phillies. We want to take the series, but not for revenge but more because frankly we believe that the Rays are a whole lot better than the Phillies right now.
3) What’s the latest on Evan Longoria, and what does the team expect from him when he returns?
Longoria had a chance to be back for the weekend- but then he felt a tug at his hamstring during a rehab game and is back with the team to receive treatment. We have no idea when he’ll return now, but probably the earliest would be in a week.
When he returns, the Rays need Longo to be as good as ever. They have a gaping hole in their lineup and he has to fill it. Last year, it took a while for Longoria to really get going before he tore it up in August and September, but the Rays need Longoria to come back and immediately contribute this year.
4) The Phillies and Rays have been subject to cheating scandals of late. What do you think is the more egregious baseball crime, trace amounts of a PED or pine tar in the glove?
The Joel Peralta thing was the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. He did something wrong, but 8 games for that? By the “Pine Tar Game,” the decision was reversed because the ruling that George Brett had “too much pine tar in his bat” wasn’t in the spirit of the rule. Maybe Peralta was worse than that, but 8 games is crazy. Baseball obviously thinks that even the stench of a PED is much worse, giving Freddy Galvis a 50-game suspension, and I would agree with them. Pine tar has a questionable benefit while PEDs clearly help players, and players have to be careful. Galvis may have really ingested something by accident, but it was his own fault because he did not do his due diligence.
The Pirates are enjoying surprising early success once again, as they did in 2011. However, the team is hoping not to repeat last years second half fade from grace and keep up their winning ways. With Andrew McCutchen’s hot hitting, and James McDonald turning into an all-star the team has the pieces to at least finish over .500. But can they do one better and sneak into the playoffs? The discussion in Pittsburgh is whether or not become buyers at the deadline. They made minor moves last season that failed to keep the team afloat. One more hitter to protect McCutchen and the Buccos could make them a real threat in the NL central. Hey Ruben, looking for a trade partner?
Player to Watch: SP James McDonald
The Pirates have been lead by staff ace (not a typo) James McDonald. The former Dodgers prospect is pitching like a man possessed. The long beach native is sporting an ERA+ of 174 and WHIP below 1. His last start against the twins was a prime example of the type of games he’s been turning in.
His line read, 120 pitches / 9 IP / 6 H / 1 ER / 5 Ks.
Not bad for a cast off from California. It’s unrealistic to think McDonald can keep this pace up all year, but he keeps proving the pundits wrong with each start. The Phillies will get a good look at McDonald when they Pirates come to town next week.
When Last We Met: Remember when the Phillies season was full of hope and wonder? The last time fans had that feeling was opening day when the Pirates and Phillies began their first 3-game set of the year. The Bucs took 2 out of 3 winning both games against the bullpen (one forgettable relief appearance by Joe Blanton). Despite 8 innings of shutout ball by Roy Halladay in the opening game, the momentum didn’t carry over. Losing 2 out of 3 has been a common theme this season since the opening series in Pittsburg. They finally won a series against the Rockies, so heres to a little momentum heading into the weekend!
Fansided Perspective: Jon Anderson of the Rumbunter crew reminded me that the Pirates are better than the Phillies (THE PIRATES!)
1) Has the rest of baseball, outside of Pittsburgh, finally realized how good Andrew McCutchen is?
I’m not real sure if that’s possible until they have actually seen him play for an extended period of time. There is so many things the guy can do and do well. He influences the game in so many different ways, and it makes it tough to get a grip on how good he actually is just by seeing him once or twice or looking at statistics. We’re getting closer though for sure, if the Pirates can stay in contention and play some nationally televised games or dare I say it, make the playoffs, the world’s gonna find out in a hurry that he’s one of the premier players in the game.
2) It’s been a while since the Pirates made the playoffs, let alone with a winning record. Is this the year they finally break the streak of infamy?
This would certainly seem like a good chance for it to happen. The problem is that it’s so early in the season and things can change in a hurry, as we saw last year. This is certainly the deepest and most talented team we have had during these last 20 years, and that’s encouraging. They have some very solid veteran leadership and some young talent that is finally coming into fruition. Pedro Alvarez has been mashing the ball lately and that’s really all the Pirates need to put them over the top. He’s been very inconsistent this year and if he’s not hitting the ball it’s going to be tough for them to score enough runs to stay in it for the long haul, but it seems like he’s slowly figuring some things out. If he stays hot, I don’t think there’s any question this team flirts with .500 this year and possibly even makes a run at the playoffs.
3) Who’s success has been a bigger shock, James McDonald or A.J. Burnett?
They have been surprising for sure. I personally can’t say I’m shocked to see either guy do what they’re doing, but the fact that between the two of them they have had about two poor starts this year is something I didn’t expect to happen. McDonald had some issues last year that we didn’t think he could sort through this fast, but something clicked for him this offseason and he has quietly been one of the best starters in the games. We all knew A.J. Burnett had this in him, it just a matter of staying consistent. Without the horrible start he made in St. Louis he would have a one-something ERA and I would think he’d be one of the front runners to start the all-star game. Both guys have been phenomenal and are the best 1-2 punch the Pirates have had in a long, long time. If the Pirates stay in this thing, it will be because of these two guys.