Results tagged ‘ Tampa Bay Rays ’

Jean Segura is the Best Shortstop Playing Right Now

Have you ever heard of Jean Segura?  If you haven’t, you are not alone.  The 22-year old shortstop of the Milwaukee Brewers  is fighting to keep his team out of last place in the National League Central.  The Brewers have been beset by both injury (Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart who is now done for the season) and ineffectiveness (ace Yovani Gallardo has an ERA hovering near 4.50).   Because of his market, nary a soul outside Milwaukee has been paying attention to this phenom as evidenced by his third place showing in the voting for the All Star Game at his position.  There is one other thing you should realize.

Learn the name Jean Segura.  He is just getting warmed up.  Image:  jsonline.com

Learn the name Jean Segura. He is just getting warmed up. Image: jsonline.com

Jean Segura is the best shortstop in the game right now.

Sure, you may clamor for the now oft-injured Troy Tulowitzki.  You may think it is the wonderous Hanley Ramirez, wonderful for his offense but wonder-awful for his many mental lapses on the field.   Give me Segura who is having an MVP-type season despite all of the issues surrounding his club.  He ranks in the top five in many National League offensive categories including hits (first with 113), batting average (fourth at .323) and triples (second with eight).  He also 12th in runs scored with 50.  When you combine his age and huge upside, there is no other shortstop I would want right now.  Think about the Los Angeles Angels who traded him last season to the Brew Crew for Zack Greinke and have nothing to show for it.  Erick Aybar is a nice player for the Angels but clearly it is Milwaukee who is benefitting tremendously from LA’s generosity.

The Brewers may want to think about locking up Segura long-term.  There is a certain team in New York that will be needing a shortstop in a couple of years.

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The Miami Marlins, the scorn of the offseason and a laughingstock as recently as two months ago, are playing some good baseball.  Since June 1st, the team is 18-15 and have taken a series from the St. Louis Cardinals, arguably the best team in the game as well as a series from the NL East leading Atlanta Braves.  The improvement of the team has coincided with the return of outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who I am sure will be the subject of trade talk from now until the year 2015.  But there is also another explanation in the rise of the Fish.

Miami can boast some of the best young starting pitching in the game.  Start with Jose Fernandez, the 20-year old ace who is heading to the All Star Game and is one of MLB’s top rookies.  His record only stands at 5-5 but his ERA is an excellent 2.83 and has 99 strikeouts in 98/3 innings.  He has impressed so many people around the game, even Hall of Famer Don Sutton who recently spent some time with the Rookie.  Fellow rotation mates Jacob Turner and Nathan Eovaldi have combined for 11 games started and an 2.42 ERA.  those three along with highly touted Henderson Alvarez have progressed so nicely that the team cut some more salary by trading long time Marlin Ricky Nolasco.

Once unthinkable, the Marlins have become respectable in such a short period of time.  There will be more growing pains for sure but I wouldn’t want to be a contender and have to face that staff late.  Stanton needs help on offense and is getting some from outfielder Marcell Ozuna and will be joined soon by super prospect Christian Yelich.  Miami could break .500 as soon as next year and become a Wild Card threat.  Now, all Jeffrey Loria has to do is finally keep a quality team together instead of taking it apart.

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Speaking of under the radar, the Tampa Bay Rays are just humming right along.  Every team in the American League East has gotten significantly more press than Tampa but yet here are the Rays once again having another fine season.  Right now, the team is 51-40, 3 games behind the first place Boston Red Sox and in position to capture the second Wild Card.

It seems as though we go through this every season.  We see the organization in some kind of cost cutting mode and then are forgotten about until you get to say, this point in the year and they are in the thick of the playoff hunt.  The trading of James Shields to the Kansas City Royals for gifted young outfielder Wil Myers has been a boon to the Rays’ offense.  Ace David Price just returned from the disabled list and hurled a complete game gem on Sunday.   After starting slowly, closer Fernando Rodney is back to his bow-and-arrow shooting ways.  Tampa is riding a six game winning streak, winning none of ten overall.

For the record I picked the Rays to win the AL East and go to the World Series this year.  Not too long ago, that seemed like another failed prediction.  Now, I don’t look so bad.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com

Will Major League Baseball Survive in Tampa?

There were some comments made last week by Tampa Bay Rays’ owner Stuart Sternberg that should be cause for concern among the team’s fans.  You might have missed them since most baseball-related news over the past week has been centered around the deaths of legends Stan Musial and Earl Weaver, the trade of Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves, and the latest performance-enhancing drug scandal (reported in the Miami New-Times) that has ensnared Alex Rodriguez and Gio Gonzalez among other players.   Here is the quote from Sternberg (courtesy of http://www.tbo.com) that should make fans of baseball in general and of the Rays in particular very nervous.  You can view the entire article here.

“Major League Baseball doesn’t believe anymore in the Tampa Bay area,” Sternberg told Hillsborough County commissioners in a lively morning session that ran twice as long as its scheduled 30 minutes

The Tampa Bay Rays hope to remain in Tampa for the long haul.  image:  picturesdepot.com

The Rays hope to remain in Tampa for the long haul. image: picturesdepot.com

The main issue for the Rays is that the location of their home stadium, Tropicana Field is in an area that is not convenient for large segments of its fan base.  This is borne out by the fact that the club consistently ranks at the bottom of the Majors in attendance.  In 2012, Tampa drew less than 1.6 million fans, last in baseball despite winning 90 games.  The organization’s lease with the Trop runs through 2027 and St. Petersburg mayor Bill Foster is not about to let the team out of the lease early, threatening to sue anyone who moves the club out of the Tampa-St. Pete area.  This has the potential to be very messy.  All one has to do is gaze southeast of Tampa and the shenanigans that has happened with the Miami Marlins and their tax-payer funded stadium.  Expect there to be strong opposition to use any kind of public funds to fund a new ballpark for the Rays.

It seems as though Major League Baseball was so anxious to get a team in Tampa, they forgot to take into consideration that the location of Tropicana Field was a potential hinderance.  As we know, Florida’s population has skyrocketed over the past two decades and baseball was eager to cash in on the gravy train first in Miami, then in Tampa.  Also missing in their evaluation of the Sunshine State’s suitability for the Big Leagues was that most people were nearing retirement age and do not want to spend discretionary income on baseball.  They had to understand that it could take two or three decades for  professional teams to gain a strong foothold as a younger generation has to grow up knowing these teams as the only ones they have ever cared about.

If the Tampa Bay Rays need a new stadium to survive in the area, why can’t MLB put up some money to keep the team there?   In fact, every other team should contribute to the cause as well.  After all, every one of them will be playing in Tampa at one time or another.  Instead of asking taxpayers to foot the bill for stadium or arena building, it should be a combination of the individual team, its league and all of its other members.  The public should be asked to contribute LAST, if at all.  I believe the organization will remain in the area whether it’s with a new stadium in the near future or when their lease runs out.  The first generation of their fans will be all grown up and ready to be full-fledged participants of their favorite baseball team.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Hot Stove Cooking Up Big Rumors

Maybe you are paying more attention to football.  Perhaps you are excited that the NBA is back.  Or maybe you were engrossed in another little event this week.  Something about a Presidential election.  Whatever you had going on, thanks for dropping by because the MLB General Managers’ meeting took place earlier this week.  There were lots of news and rumors over the past three days so let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

Josh Hamilton, the prize of the 2012-2013 free agent class. Image: http://www.zimbio.com

Josh Hamilton is the big prize of the free agent market.  I always though Hamilton was a lock to return to the Texas Rangers.  Then news came out that he was seeking a seven-year contract worth about $175 million dollars.  Late last night, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that Texas was only willing to give the 2010 American League MVP a three-year deal.  It would be hard for me to imagine Hamilton anywhere but the Lone Star State considering all of the demons that he carries each day.  The Rangers seem to be willing to move on without him and if there is an organization that could afford such a hit, it would be Texas.  So where would the All-Star outfielder go?  The Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies  are the two teams that have been mentioned the most.  The Seattle Mariners have emerged as a suitor and frankly the fact their offense has been shaky for years means they should make a big run at him.  That would show ace pitcher Felix Hernandez that the organization is willing to surround him with some offense instead of struggling to get two runs per start for the King.

Rumors were flying that two top-of the-rotation guys could be dealt soon.  The Tampa Bay Rays are supposedly listening to offers for James Shields.  Also, it seems the New York Mets and National League Cy Young favorite R.A. Dickey are far apart on a contract extension.   With the expected loss of B.J. Upton to free agency, the Rays will be in the market for a bat.  Tampa’s wealth of young pitching will help absorb the loss of “Big Game James” and the team has always struggled to score runs.  As far as the Mets trading Dickey, boy what a slap that would be to their fans.  Outside of Dickey, there isn’t much to cheer about in Flushing these days and a trade of arguably the team’s most popular player will further alienate a fan base that has had nothing but rotten luck for years.  Then again, it could make sense in the long run as the knuckleballer’s value has never been higher.  If I were New York, there is not a chance I trade him.  I would make a better offer (Dickey supposedly turned down a 3-year, $30 million dollar deal) but not go crazy ($15 million per year).  Those fans have suffered long enough.

Other big-name free agents looking for homes include Torii Hunter, Nick Swisher and Brian McCannCheck out the full list here courtesy of azcentral.com.  Speaking of Arizona, the Diamondbacks are supposedly looking to deal star right fielder Justin Upton again.  On the manager front, Walt Weiss was just named the manager of the Colorado Rockies and Davey Johnson has agreed to manage the Washington Nationals for another season.  Yes, it sure was a busy week in baseball.  Expect things to heat up some more later on as the weather starts getting colder.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Interleague Play is Done for 2012. Will Anyone Miss It?

Image: New York Post

We are now officially in late June as Major League Baseball’s annual Clash of the Americans and Nationals  AKA Interleague play is now complete. Outside of the Yankees, who once again tortured the Mets and their fans, will anyone really miss this yearly excercise of mixing up the leagues?  Oh wait, next season there will be an Interleague game every day with the Astros moving to the American League West.   Yay!

Yes, I understand the buzz the game receives when it’s Yankees-Mets, White Sox-Cubs and Dodgers-Angels.   But doesn’t it seem all of the other contests are just normal games?  And why do we keep stats for Interleague play as if they are their own categories like regular season and postseason statistics?  Is it something special to be the career leader in home runs for Interleague games?  What I am trying to say is, after 15 years or so of this, the novelty has worn off.  Unless the Yankees, Red Sox or Cubs are coming to town, attendance does not spike when say, the Rays come to Miami as opposed to when the Phillies visit the Fish.  Most fans (like me) would just as soon see more games against division foes, games that mean a lot more at the standings than the alleged payoff at the gate.

If MLB wants Interleague games mean something, put a series like Mets-Yankees at the end of September.  Can you imagine a scenario such as David Wright homering off David Robertson  to send the Mets to the playoffs and the Yankees home?  That would put some real meaning into something that has become almost an afterthought.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Yankees Can Survive the Regular Season Without Mariano Rivera

Image: elespectador.com

Yes it is true.  It will be quite strange not seeing Mariano Rivera close games for the Yankees in 2012.   His time as the New York relief ace has spanned three Presidents, four Summer Olympics and countless technological innovations.  So instead of reflecting back on his career like so many have today, let us concentrate on the present and what this means for the Bronx Bombers this season.

While his injury is severe, the impact on the Yankees, at least in the regular season will not be as great as people think.   Plenty of teams have lost their closers before the season has started or early on and still enjoyed a taste of the playoffs.   There were the 2010 Minnesota Twins who did not have Joe Nathan at all yet still won 94 games and the AL Central title.  Last year’s Cardinals watched Ryan Franklin, who notched 66 saves between 2009 and 2010, lose his effectiveness in April.  All they did was win the World Series.  This season, the Rays have not had Kyle Farnsworth this season yet that has not prevented them from having a fast start.   No, the Yankees will miss Rivera if they make the postseason.  The security of knowing a guy has done it for 15 years, through every playoff series is gone.  No longer will Yankee fans feel safe after 7 or 8 innings.  It doesn’t matter if David Robertson and Rafael Soriano give up 0 runs each the rest of the year, neither of them are the great Rivera. 

Losing Rivera is not the biggest problem for the Yankees.  Manager Joe Girardi continuing to bat Robinson Cano behind Mark Teixeria and Alex Rodriguez will become the biggest headache for New York fans.  Cano is clearly the best hitter on the team; he needs to bat third every single game.  Thursday’s game against the Royals epitomized this.  In the top of the 9th with the Yanks down a run, they had runners on first and second with no one out.  Texeria proceeds to ground into a double play and Rodriguez taps out to end the game.  Cano was left standing in the on deck circle.  Unacceptable.

I am not going to close the curtain on Mariano Rivera’s career yet.   That is for another time and place.  Now is not the time to do it.  Wait until Mo decides its time.  Of all the players in sports, shouldn’t he be the one  to decide when it’s over?

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com

Nelson Cruz and Others Who Fired Lasers This Week

According to a famous commercial twenty years ago, chicks dig the long ball.  Too bad they focused only the offensive side of baseball.  The guys who make the spectacular plays in the field are the studs.  Over the past week we have been treated to a fair number of outfield throws that would make those chicks appreciate the defensive part of the game.

 

Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers is known more for his towering home runs.  Just check out his performance in the 2011 AL championship Series against the Tigers.   However, this past Sunday night against Tampa, he showed off his cannon in Right Field and threw out Ben Zobrist by about 10 feet.  Here is the play a national audience was treated to in the 5th inning.

 

Kansas City’s Jeff Francouer has always been known as a superior player in the field.  Even during the lowest of his slumps, Frenchy never let it affect his work with the glove.   On Tuesday evening, Jhonny Peralta found out the hard way that Francouer’s arm is not be messed withHave as much fun viewing this for the first time as it was for me seeing it a second time. 

Rick Ankiel’s  career as a pitcher did not go exactly as planned.  Bouts of wildness ended his mound career prematurely.  So, Ankiel converted himself to an Outfielder.  He has had mixed success with the Nationals but one thing that has defined him is his superb play in the field.  Arizona’s Justin Upton tried stretching a single Tuesday night into a double.  As you can see, he should have stayed at first base.

What list of great throws would be complete without Ichiro?  Our first highlight of the Seattle standout was his throw in 2001 to nail Terrence Long at 3rd Base.  He continues to gun down baserunners at age 38.  On April 27th, JP Arencibia of the Blue Jays tried scoring on this hit but the catcher was no match for the dart that Ichiro fired from Right Field.

You can be sure there will be countless other outstanding throws from the outfield this season. And you can bet I will do my best to share a few of them with you.

 

Follow me on Twitter @litj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com

New MLB Playoff Format: Wild About Nothing

I can still remember the end of the 2011 regular season like it was yesterday.  There I was laying on the in-laws couch, fighting against the oncoming tidal wave of sleep, channel surfing between Yanks-Rays, Red Sox-Orioles and Braves-Phillies.  It was the evening of September 28th which turned into the morning of September 29th and we were watching the conclusion of probably the wildest season-ending finish in history.  The epic collapses of the Braves and the Red Sox turned into the storybook finishes of the Cardinals and Rays.  And we were witnesses to it all, from the sliding miss of Carl Crawford to the historic Rays deficit turned triumph.  Now all we have are memories as we will never see a finish like that again.

Ever.

In their infinite wisdom, Bud Selig and the folks that run Major League Baseball have decided to add two more “playoff” teams, one in each league starting in 2012.  Note the “playoff” in quotations.  All the extra round of “playoffs” entails is one game between the teams with the fourth and fifth best records in each league.  This is supposed to somehow make winning the division matter.  That doesn’t even apply in 2012.  The team with the lower seed gets the first two games at home.  In their rush for more money, they can’t even start the new format in the manner for which it was intended.  What is wrong in waiting a year to begin the change?  Better yet, here is something fun to ponder.  What happens if two teams are tied for the fifth the best record in the league?  Do we get to have a one game “playoff” to get to the one game “playoff”?  And if somehow three teams are tied for fifth best?  Do we have a “play-in playoff game” before we have the “playoff game” before the one game, winner takes all, right to advance to the divisional round-”playoff game”?

What joy.

We know where this is heading.  Eventually, the charade of five playoff teams will eventually grow to six and another round of postseason baseball will be added.  Baseball used to be able to separate itself from football, hockey and basketball by virtue that the regular season really mattered.  When the move does go to six playoff teams per league, it will just be like the NFL.  Too bad they won’t get anywhere near the ratings the NFL commands.  What baseball should have done was to expand by two more teams making the total number 32.  They then could have formed eight, four team divisions, sixteen teams in each league.  It would make only the divisions winners playoff teams but with only four teams in each division, many teams would have meaningful, late season contests.  That is how you make winning the division matter.

To me, baseball is still the greatest game we have.   However as much as I love it,  we will eventually tune out more and more as the season runs from St. Patrick’s Day and ends around Thanksgiving.   Too much of a good thing is not good.   Games become meaningless.  The NFL will find that out as they keep adding games to traditional,  non-pro football days and times.  I hope baseball wises up and realizes that more games does not necessarily translate into more dollars. It will make for a more entertaining  and profitable season for all of us.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com

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