The end of Big Game?

I walked into a sports bar the other night just as James Shields had struck out his record-setting, fifteenth batter.

Watching Shields walk off the mound in the ninth, holding back the tears, was a fitting finale to the Tampa Bay Rays season, his final out of the night recorded, confident he had given his all, yet his team behind 1-0.  “Big Game” James was nearly unhittable Tuesday night.  The only problem, as has happened all too often this season, was that the lineup behind him was equally unable to manufacture a hit.

And so Shields’ night, and perhaps career with the Rays, came to a close.  He tipped his cap to the roar of the appreciative crowd then descended into the dugout to the hugs and high-fives of his teammates, probably wishing he could have traded some of that love for a run or two, but alas, he pitches for the Rays and that’s not how they roll.  Until last night, no pitcher in the live ball era had ever lost a game after striking out fifteen, walking none, giving up only two hits and one lone run.  It was another typical outing for Shields and unfortunately, another typical outing for the Rays lineup.

Don’t let their run differential of +120 fool you.  These Rays, who missed the post-season by only three games, would beat you 11-2 just as often as they’d lose 2-1.  They featured what could legitimately be considered one of the best pitching staffs ever assembled from top to bottom.  They allowed the fewest runs in the majors but finished 28th in the league in hits and 27th in batting average.  Not to be outdone by teammate and strong Cy Young candidate David Price, who won 20 games and finished with a 2.56 ERA, Shields, their number two starter, finished 15-10 and led the team in strikeouts with 223.  He won’t get any love for Cy Young this year but he finished third in the voting for the award last year.  Additionally, Shields has started at least 33 games for the Rays every season since 2008, showing he’s the most consistent arm in that rotation.  We’ll see if the Rays are about to make him the highest paid. Read more…

Rays’ clock ticks loudly as season end nears

So it is done.  That 162nd game ever near.  Hopes of another playoff run dashed with a fade down the finish.  Heads held low.  Body language telling the few fans left in the stadium all they needed to know.

It’s over.

The Tampa Bay Rays gave their playoff run a valiant effort but in the end, they just didn’t have enough.

Enough what, you ask?  Well, hitting is the obvious answer.  Sound defense is another.

The Tampa Bay Rays’ 2012 campaign is not like Shakespeare where you have to search long and hard for the inner meaning.  It’s no episode of CSI that takes the entire cast sixty minutes to decipher it was Professor Plum with the candlestick in the conservatory.  The answers are glaring.  The Rays rank 27th in the majors with a team batting average of .238.  Their total hits, 1181, rank dead last.  Their team fielding percentage, .981, ranks 29th.  Ben Zobrist leads the team with 68 RBIs.  That ranks 65th among major league hitters.  When you can’t hit and you can’t field, you can’t win, even if your pitching is among the league best, which it has been for most of the season.  To make matters worse, the Rays rank last in the league in attendance, the only team in Major League Baseball to not draw over 20,000 fans a game. Read more…

MLB Best Bets of the Day: August 21, 2012

David PriceKansas City at Tampa Bay 7:10 PM Hochevar vs Price

If I were to do an update to my AL Cy Young Candidates piece today I’m not sure exactly who I would put number one, but I can tell you David Price would be in the top two. The Rays’ ace has been absolutely dominant this season and if he does on the road what he does at home, he would be putting up historic numbers.

Unfortunately, the money line is at -260 today, but if you have a good bankroll that is essentially a ‘gimme pick’.

While Price has been historic at home, Luke Hochevar has been atrocious on the road. With a 5.43 ERA, .295 BAA (.340 BAA at night), and allowing 44 runs in 68.0 IP on the road, Hochevar and Royals are in trouble tonight. Top that off with the fact that the Rays are the hottest hitting team in baseball over the last week and this is just a gimme, it’s a put-all-of-your-money-on-this-game-and-nearly-double-your-bankroll pick.

Pick: Rays -1 ½ (-130)

Toronto at Detroit 7:05 PM Romero vs Scherzer

Similar to Hochevar, Ricky Romero has been pathetic this season. Oddly enough, Romero has been better on the road than at home, as far as his ERA is concerned – 5.42 to 5.65, respectively. Obviously, those numbers don’t give you much reason for caution, here.

The Tigers haven’t exactly been the hottest hitting team in baseball, but they still have some of the best sluggers in the game and they hit lefties better than half the teams in baseball. On the contrary, the Blue Jays are one of the worst hitting teams in baseball over the last seven days and while they do hit Scherzer well, their best hitter (Edwin Encarnacion) is currently in a funk. Read more…

MLB Power Rankings: Week 13

Power Rankings
Current Team Previous
TEX MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 1 Texas Rangers N/A
The best team in baseball has won 8 of its last 10 games, and has just 1 starting position player with an OPS+ below 100.
NYY MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 2 New York Yankees N/A
Andy Pettite continues to impress this season. He has a 3.29 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 54.2 innings so far this season.
LAA MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 3 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim N/A
 Since starting off 6-14, the Angels have gone 34-19. The addition of Ernesto Frieri has helped greatly as he has struck out 26 in just 20.2 innings without allowing a run. Despite spending the first 20 games of the season in the minors, Mike Trout now leads the American League in WAR. He is on pace to post the highest single season WAR total by a rookie position player since Dick Allen in 1964
WAS MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 4 Washington Nationals N/A
Bryce Harper leads all Nationals position players in wins above replacement so far this season.
CIN MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 5 Cincinatti Reds N/A
Joey Votto, who leads baseball in OPS+ and WAR among other categories, is possibly the best player on the planet right now. While Votto has taken over the offense, Johnny Cueto has been leading the rotation. His 187 ERA+ ranks 4th in the National League.
LAD MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 6 Los Angeles Dodgers N/A
The Dodgers who once held a commanding lead in the NL West, have lost 7 of their last 10 games and are just 3 games ahead of the Giants in second place. The loss of Matt Kemp and an offense that ranks 20th in baseball in runs scored have been their downfall. The offense will have to pick it up if they want to win games, but I think LA may have finally come back to reality.
TB MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 7 Tampa Bay Rays N/A
The delayed return of Evan Longoria has definitely hurt the Rays, but they’re still just 3.5 games back in the AL East. Matt Joyce has replaced Longoria as the team’s catalyst for now, as he is hitting .279/.387/.512.
SF MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 8 San Francisco Giants N/A
Bruce Bochy spent most of the first part of the season playing Brandon Belt sporadically, when he probably should have been the starting 1st baseman. In his past 14 games since earning the starting job, Belt has hit .348 with 4 home runs, 12 RBIs, and 8 walks.
STL MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 9 St. Louis Cardinals N/A
Despite having the 2nd best run differential in baseball, the Cardinals are just 3 games over .500. Adam Wainwright has finally started to return to form. In his past 3 starts, he has pitched 21 innings, striking out 21, while allowing just 5 runs.
BOS MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 10 Boston Red Sox N/A
The Red Sox, winners of 8 of their last 10, seem to have found a nice little groove. The Red Sox don’t have a single starting pitcher with an ERA below 4.00, so pitching will be the key if they want to reach the postseason.
CHW MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 11 Chicago White Sox N/A
 This weekend, the White Sox acquired Kevin Youkilis in a trade with the Red Sox. The trade is a huge upgrade for the White Sox who have had their 3rd basemen combine to hit .167/.244/.221 with just 1 home run this season
BAL MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 12 Baltimore Orioles N/A
 In Jason Hammel’s last 2 starts, he has combined to pitch 17 innings, striking out 18, allowing just 6 hits and no earned runs.
NYM MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 13 New York Mets N/A
 While RA Dickey has been dominating the majors with his knuckleball, Johan Santana has quietly been having an all star caliber season of his own. He is striking out a batter per inning and his ERA sits at exactly 3.00. He has won 4 of his last 5 starts and has allowed more than 4 runs just once this season.
PIT MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 14 Pittsburgh Pirates N/A
The Pirates offense has been pretty much dormant all season, but since June 16th, they have scored 45 runs in just 8 games. The offense has been sparked by Pedro Alvarez who has hit .444 with 5 home runs and 10 RBIs during the streak.
ATL MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 15 Atlanta Braves N/A
 After missing part of last season, Tommy Hanson leads the majors with 15 starts this season and he appears to be back to his pre-injury form.
TOR MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 16 Toronto Blue Jays N/A
 The Blue Jays are the only team in the majors with 2 players that have hit 20 or more home runs so far this season in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
CLE MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 17 Cleveland Indians N/A
The Indians are only a half game back from the White Sox for first place in the AL Central, despite having a negative run differential. While the offense has been strong, it is important to note that the Indians rank 28th in the majors in ERA and don’t have a single player in their starting rotation with an ERA+ above 96.
ARI MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 18 Arizona Diamondbacks N/A
The D-backs are 6-4 in their last 10 games and have finally gotten above .500 for the first time since May 4th. They have outscored their opponents by 28 runs since June 14th and are slowly creeping up on the 1st place Dodgers.
DET MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 19 Detroit Tigers N/A
The Tigers have suffered through injuries and rotation problems that have really set them back so far this season. Their offense is extremely potent, but they may have the worst defensive team in all of baseball. According to Baseball Reference WAR, the Tigers defense has cost them over 3 wins so far this season.
PHI MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 20 Philadelphia Phillies N/A
The Defending NL East champs currently sit 8.5 games out of first place in the NL East. The veteran laden team has really struggled this season. One exception being Carlos Ruiz, who is enjoying a nice breakout season as he leads all catchers in wins above replacement.
OAK MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 21 Oakland Athletics N/A
Oakland has been on a bit of a run lately, going 7-3 in their last 10 games. Brandon McCarthy and rookie Jarrod Parker have been leading the rotation, while Josh Reddick is enjoying a career year offensively.
MIL MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 22 Milwaukee Brewers N/A
Ryan Braun is on pace to match his monstrous 2011 campaign. He is projected to hit .319/.399/.612 with 45 home runs and 29 steals. Zack Grienke is also on pace for a CY Young caliber season as he has been worth nearly 3 wins already this season.
KC MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 23 Kansas City Royals N/A
Disappointing seasons from both Eric Hosmer and Jeff Francoeur, as well as injuries to the pitching staff, have really hampered this team. Despite their poor play this season, they are just 6 games back in an underwhelming AL Central, so a 2nd half surge could potentially push them into October.
SEA MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 24 Seattle Mariners N/A
The Mariners have just 2 position players with an OPS+ of 100 or better in Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager. Felix Hernandez is the only starting pitcher with an ERA+ above 100. The Mariners have a bright future on the horizon, but time will tell if some of their current young big leaguers can make the necessary adjustments to be a part of the Mariners long term plan.
MIA MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 25 Miami Marlins N/A
Heath Bell started the year by allowing 15 runs in his first 14 appearances, blowing 4 saves. Since then, he has allowed just 3 runs in 14.2 innings, converting all 10 of his save opportunities. The Marlins are 20-3 in games he has pitched in since the start of May.
HOU MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 26 Houston Astros N/A
According to Elias, Dallas Keuchel is the first player to throw a complete game in his 1st or 2nd career start since Clay Buchholz threw a complete game no-hitter in his 2nd career start on 9/1/2007.
COL MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 27 Colorado Rockies N/A
The Rockies have the worst ERA in the majors this season, and a 4 man rotation of fly ball pitchers in Coors field is probably the worst idea since the invention of saves.
MIN MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 28 Minnesota Twins N/A
Since starting off 18-32, the Twins have essentially been playing .500 baseball since the start of June. They were fueled by Trevor Plouffe who hit 9 home runs in the first 12 games of June, but since then, Plouffe has hit just 1 in his last 8 games.
CHC MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 29 Chicago Cubs N/A
In their last 3 games alone, the Cubs have been outscored 23-6. The good news is that Alfonso Soriano is quietly enjoying somewhat of a comeback year. He is on pace to post his highest WAR since 2008.
SD MLB Power Rankings : Week 13 30 San Diego Padres N/A
Chase Headley is playing great, but that’s pretty much the only positive for this struggling team. They rank last in the majors in runs scored and have been outscored by their opponents 40-24 in their last 8 games. The Padres have won just 4 series all year, and two of those were against the Rockies and Mariners.