Friday, April 30, 2010

The Rampaging Rays

  • Rays 11-Royals 1:

It has to be put into perspective that the blazing start of the Rays has been predominately bolstered by running into bad and/or struggling teams. That's not their fault----they don't make the schedule; and as I've said repeatedly, teams that make the playoffs aren't those that beat their rivals; teams that make the playoffs are teams that batter the subpar teams they're supposed to batter.

The Rays 17-5 start was accumulated against the bad Orioles and Royals; the mediocre Athletics; the rebuilding Blue Jays; the slumping Red Sox and White Sox; and they lost 2 of 3 when they played the Yankees and were almost no-hit by C.C. Sabathia (or what would've been a combination of C.C. Sabathia and Sergio Mitre, severely dampening the aesthetic; but I digress).

They're doing what they need to do----no more, no less.

They still have question marks in the bullpen; I will not trust Rafael Soriano to close a big game in September/October until he does it; but the way they're playing, they might not have to worry about a playoff spot by then. The starting pitching has been fantastic and the scariest thing about their lineup is that they've accrued this record with little-to-no offensive production from the catcher's spot (at least until John Jaso arrived) or DH.

It's only been a few games with Jaso, but if he keeps hitting like this, Dioner Navarro's not getting his job back.

Two-out rallies have carried the Rays along with the starting pitching and they're looking tough. They needed to get off to a good start to cleanse their collective palates of the poor taste from the 2009 expectations and subsequent collapse. And they have.

Aside from a 3 game set in Anaheim with the Angels on May 10-12, they'll be able to build up an even more impressive record as they play the Royals, Mariners, Athletics and Indians until they get to New York to play the Yankees on May 19th. Judging from how they've taken advantage of the favorable schedule, their lead in the division may be substantial and a playoff spot could be almost cemented by June.

  • Talented and struggling:

I don't pay as close attention to players that are doing well as I do the players doing poorly.

Specifically, I mean talented athletes who aren't getting the results for one reason or another. One such player is former Royals number one pick in the draft (first pick overall) Luke Hochevar.

Hochevar got shelled by the Rays last night for 11 hits and 9 earned runs in 2.2 innings. It's a recurring theme with him. Despite the ability that made Hochevar a first round draft pick of the Dodgers in 2005; and again the next year by the Royals, his results have been awful.

He's still only 26, so there's plenty of time for him to figure it out; but if anyone can use a breakdown and rebuilding of mechanics/mental approach, it's Hochevar; and I question whether anyone with the Royals has the capacity and courage to begin such an undertaking with a player whose pedigree and draft status make any drastic changes rife for ridicule and an even greater implication of ineptitude.

There was a pitcher a few years ago who had been a first round pick and borderline washout. Like Hochevar, he's from Denver, Colorado; like Hochevar, he got rocked around the ballpark because he didn't have a feel for pitching even with his massive ability; like Hochevar, he's a pitching prototype----tall and strong. It took a gutty and intuitive pitching coach and organization willing to gamble on the required changes to maximize their investment and ignore the risk.

That pitcher's name is Roy Halladay.

Halladay was a conventional over the top power pitcher when he arrived in the majors and was hit-or-miss with his results; in fact, in 2000, the season before Blue Jays instructor Mel Queen altered Halladay's mechanics to the streamlined, machine-like thing of functional beauty it is now, Halladay was awful----2000 Gamelogs.

It's almost impossible to reconcile what Halladay was into what he is; but it might never have happened had the Blue Jays not recognized that he was never going to fulfill his potential as he was, and had the guts to make the alterations.

The same thing can happen with Hochevar.

Do the Royals have the courage? Will they trade him? Or is it safer and easier to remain stagnant; leave things as they are in a self-destructive status quo and not have any chance of reaping the benefits from the ability that Hochevar clearly has?

Given the Royals history of organizational cannibalism, the answer is crystal clear unless Hochevar demands something be done to help him. What he's doing now isn't working and it's time for a change, be it a change of approach, or (preferably for the player) a change of scenery.

  • What will the Padres do with Adrian Gonzalez?

The Padres surprising start, obvious talent and rapid development is leaving an open question of what they're going to do with Adrian Gonzalez (and to a lesser extent, Heath Bell) when the summer comes.

If they're still hanging around contention, will they keep Gonzalez and try to win?

Before the season started (and for most of the past couple of years) Gonzalez has been a negotiable commodity. Steep demands for one of the best players in baseball have prevented a trade from being completed; but it's been an open secret that certain teams' lust for the first baseman have led them to pursue him avidly. The Red Sox and Mariners want him desperately.

But the Padres are off to a great start (14-8) and it may be time to start taking them a little more seriously than a club who's gotten off to a good start and will slowly decline into what everyone expected them to be; what they've been for the past two years.

They have a strong and deep bullpen (Bell, Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams); impressive arms in the rotation (Clayton Richard; Mat Latos, Kevin Correia); power bats (Gonzalez, Kyle Blanks, Chase Headley); and feisty winners (David Eckstein, Yorvit Torrealba; Jon Garland). With the way the Dodgers have been playing; the injury issues of the Rockies; and the way the rest of the National League is hot and cold, it's not silly to think that the Padres can hang around and win 85 or so games----a win total that could get them the Wild Card.

As much as I've criticized him for his mistakes and bizarre decisions from 2007-2009, manager Bud Black has done a fine job with his young team so far in 2010. New GM Jed Hoyer has done nothing so far in his brief time running the show aside from trading Kevin Kouzmanoff in a (wise) salary dump; collected Hairstons (Scott and Jerry); and signed Garland and Torrealba.

Will owner Jeff Moorad consider letting Hoyer add payroll rather than slash it by June/July?

It's only 23 games, but the National League is wide open and the Padres are playing hard, opportunistically and well.

They might be for real.

  • Viewer Mail 4.30.2010:

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE the Braves and the Dodgers:

Glaus -- the good Glaus we know from back in the day -- was a product of PEDs... just like the Paul Lo Ducas of the world. Take him off the extra boost and he ain't shit.

And your take on the Kemp/Colletti thing is an interesting way to see it, but I think that's the sort of thing that should be kept out of the public eye. No need to bash your go-to guy in the media. That was low in my opinion.

This whole thing just proves what we already know: the Dodgers are a mess.

I've been giving Glaus the benefit of the doubt for his appearance on the list of PED users; he's a huge guy, he should be able to hit the ball out of the park anyway. The one thing I can't forgive is the absence of hustle. There's no excuse.

I'm not ready to write off the Dodgers. Joe Torre's history of calmly getting things back on track is too extensive to get crazy after a rotten start.

Paul Lebowitz's 2010 Baseball Guide is available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here.

I have a podcast appearance scheduled today with Sal at SportsFanBuzz. It should be...entertaining. To say the least. It always is.


She-Fan said...

The Rays are scary good right now, playing with a lot of confidence. Could we move them to another division?

the Brooklyn Trolley Blogger said...

The Rays are a perfect example of new team ownership with a plan.
Mr. Sternberg must be included in any conversation regarding any Rays success since he purchased the team; - Not to mention he's from Brooklyn. But he's directly responsible for bringing in GM Andrew Friedman and later Jerry Hunsicker into his fold. Maddon was made manager by a capable front office. Their farm has to be considered at current, elite. If Sternberg and St.Pete/Tampa can come to an agreement on a park, Look Out!

Gabriel said...

I think that the current state of the American League showcases the flaws of the divisonal play. The Blue Jays, the Rays, even the Red Sox, are better than most teams in other divisions, yet they have to eliminate each other in an unfair fight. As for the Padres, I'd be a little more cautious. They could be in a hot steak that could fade out come June. Maybe tonight they're 15-8, but maybe by the end of May they could be hanging around .400. I don't see them as a contending team in July.