Friday, July 31, 2009

Deadline Dud

So, the trade deadline came and went just like it did last year. Lots of hype, and then a big let down. I'm sure a lot of people are wondering why we just sat there scratching our (insert body part) while other contending teams tried to improve. Others are probably saying to themselves that we did nothing last year, and still ended up in the World Series. That may be true, however, this is not last year. We are 7 games back of the Yankees, 4.5 of the Red Sox. The Yankees are healthy, unlike last year. The Red Sox added an all star player. So why did the rays just sit back and do nothing?
Joe Maddon has an interesting look on it - He believes that we are getting the 2007 Scott Kazmir back, since he did have his first quality start in over a year. Well, thats the same as trading for a Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay right there. Then there is Pat Burrell and Carlos Pena. Both are struggling and playing well below their expectations. Pena is doing his job with the homers but has fallen off his early season pace, and is basically striking out every time he doesn't hit a long ball. Burrell, on the other hand, has pretty much been the worst Rays hitter all season other than maybe The Fat Catcher. So we can assume he will all of a sudden become the power bat he was in Philly and that's another big "trade". Speaking of the fat guy behind the plate, if he can boost his average up from the .220's to maybe the .280's, that would be another huge acquisition of a former all star.
Of the pitchers, only Jeff Neimann is doing his job at or beyond expectations. Shields hasn't been horrible, but he hasn't been a #1 either. Yes, he gets basically zero run support, but a great pitcher will be able to carry his team to at least a few wins on his own and Shields has not been able to do that this year. Garza is just so hot and cold you never know what you are going to get, and Price is worthless on the road. So if those 3 play the way they are expected to, that blockbuster 3 player "trade" for the Rays.
So, if you are a genius like Joe Maddon, then you would realize that the Rays had the most unbelievable trading deadline day in the history of baseball. Or, if you are not an idiot and don't rely on your under performing players to all of a sudden play like all stars, then you basically saw today as us waiving the white flag. I guess we will find out in the next couple months.

Trade Deadline Updates

With the trade deadline approaching at 4pm today, we here at Trop it Like it's Hot will be keeping updates on the Rays moves as well as other major MLB moves.

4:35: Jake Peavy approved deal and has been traded to the White Sox
What does this mean to the Rays? Absolutely nothing.

4:27, Roy Halladay was not traded according to the NY Post

4:25, more potential trades, this time with big names?
A deal is in place to send Jake Peavy to the White Sox for a package of minor league players. This deal is awaiting Peavy approval.
There is still word of a potential trade of Roy Halladay to the Angels.

4:15pm, is naptime over?
Seems like it has been a fairly boring trade deadline, especially for the Rays. Some more trades will come through over the next half hour or so.
Here are major acquisitions made in the last hour:
Marlins get Nick Johnson (who cares?)
Reds get Scott Rolen from Blue Jays, Jays get Edwin Encarnacion
Roid Sox send Adam LaRoche to Braves for Casey Kotchman, Kotchman quickly went out and bought needles, probably
Rockies get Joe Beimel (who cares?)
Yankees get Jerry Hairston Jr.

Sox seemed poised to acquire Victor Martinez....ugh's Jonathan Mayo reports Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone will be going to the Indians. I want to vomit.

Twins get Orlando Cabrera
Oakland gets Tyler Ladenorf in return. Yawn

BREAKING NEWS: Brett Favre has come out of retirement and will pitch for the Washington Nationals...probably.

T-minus 4 hours left, random thought:
Anyone have the gut feeling that the Red Sox are going to pull off something major, while the Rays are not going to make any moves with any major significance?

Washburn to Tigers
Mariners to get 23 year old lefty Luke French and another prospect. French had appeared in 7 games, starting 5 of them and going 1-2. He only had 1 appearance in which he allowed more than 2 runs. As a young lefty with 3 pitches, he looks to have a promising career. With Washburn off the board and the first big trade of the day complete, look for trades to start pouring in a bit more as the chess pieces start to move.

Rays claim C Jose Lobaton off waivers from the Padres.
Analysis: Rays added a 24 year old switch hitting catcher with some MLB experience (7 games, 17 at bats). This is a nice minor addition, as Lobaton will join AA-Montgomery and didn't cost the Rays any players. What it means for the Rays is that they probably won't be adding Victor Martinez, as they now have 5 catchers on the 40-man roster. It also opens up the potential to move catching prospect John Jaso, who could give the Rays a pretty decent return. There has been talks of Jaso struggling defensively, could it also mean that Jaso might switch positions? To make room for Lobaton, the Rays moved Troy Percival to the 60man DL. Who is Troy Percival? I forgot.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Buy, Sell, or Hold?

We are approximately 27 hours from the MLB trade deadline.

3 days ago, the Rays were buyers.

2 days ago, the Rays were sellers.

Yesterday, the Rays were buyers.

After last night's debacle against the Yankees, now what are the Rays?

First off, forget unrealistic ideas like trading Pat Burrell, no one else wants him.

So, do they sell the farm? Trade Wade Davis, Reid Brignac, and others in Durham for that extra player or 2? Do they trade players off the big league club and clear salary? Dump off Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir, and Carlos Pena while starting to plan for 2010 and later? Or do the Rays not make any major moves and hold steady?

That's the great thing about the trade deadline, we just have to wait and see. Nothing will be fully answered until 4pm tomorrow (or 4:05pm if you are the Red Sox). Any of those 3 options will be ok with me if they are executed in the standard Andrew Friedman fashion.

What I do know is that over the next 27 hours, there will be a lot of questions answered about the path the Rays will take for the rest of 2009. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Welcome Back Scott Kazmir?

Scott Kazmir was in a groove last night. He had a rhythm, and he looked confident. He had a little extra fire, as the radar gun was hitting 93 again. I wasn't going to over-value his performance in my mind since he had boatloads of help from the defense. Then there was one at-bat, a mono e mono match-up against Alex Rodriguez. A perfect pitch that A-Rod couldn't catch up to for strike 3 gave me glimpses of the ghosts of Kazmir's past.

I won't say that Kazmir is back to his all-star form yet, or that he could lead the AL in strikeouts again yet. I won't even change my stance that he should be traded at this point, since one game doesn't change everything. However, Kazmir had a confident and comfortable look that I hadn't seen since 2007. His confidence is improving, and his game is almost there. He is 1 grand slam (which frankly doesn't really matter since the Rays didn't get a base runner in that game) away from giving up only 3 runs in his last 3 starts. Last night, he was finally rewarded with his first win since May 9.

So, Scott Kazmir, we would like to welcome you back. If this was your last start in a Rays' uniform, we thank you for all you have done. If you do stay, we are excited to see if you can continue to work your way back to the Scott Kazmir we saw in 2007. Either way, it is now a win-win situation for the Rays. I wouldn't have been able to say that at this time yesterday, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Problem With Comebacks

Comebacks are exciting and a lot of fun to watch. They surely can boost team morale. However, they are bad for the team in the longrun.

The problem with comebacks is that it means the Rays are getting behind and getting behind early. There are only so many teams with a terrible bullpen that can give the Rays the game back. I like the Rays' chances against the Royals when down a run. I don't like the Rays' chances against the Yankees and Mariano Rivera, who has 20+ consecutive saves.

Another problem with comebacks is that it means the Rays' starting pitching is struggling. In order to make a playoff run, starting pitching needs to be the anchor. The Rays cannot rely on 9th inning heroics and need to rely on keeping their opponent's runs to a minimum.

The main problem with comebacks is they will only happen so often. They are exciting, but not reliable.

It is nice to have hope in the 9th inning. It is better to have a lead. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Road Curfew Needed?

Does anyone else think the Rays players are partying a bit too hard on road trips?

It seems like every day game on the road, the Rays look sluggish physically and mentally. They look tired, worn, sick, and just out of it. Basically, they look hungover.

Teams are going to have off days, but this has happened multiple times now, and it always seems like its a day game on the road. Finally, yesterday needs to be the last straw. Going 0-27 and being on the wrong side of baseball history is an embarrassment.

This is all speculation, but everything is adding up in my head. I hope the players realize that they are killing their own playoff chances by not showing up during these games. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why.

Things That Have Happened More Often Than The Rays Getting a Baserunner Yesterday....

Things that have happened more often.....

Dinosaurs become extinct
Man invents the wheel
Columbus discovers America
JFK is assassinated
A black man is elected President
The Titanic sinks
A-Rod denies taking steroids
Jason Giambi admits taking steroids
Andy Pettite admits taking steroids
A-Rod gets caught and admits taking steroids
Brett Favre retires 3 years in a row
Saddam Hussein is executed
Pearl Harbor is bombed
The Taco Bell dog dies.

Things that will happen more often....

A woman is elected President
Dinosaurs are genetically re-engineered
Man walks on Mars
Lost City of Atlantis found
The Yankees are suspended for 50 games for using PEDs.....the entire team.
Brett Favre actually retires

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rays Box Score from July 23rd, 2009

BJ Upton - 0-3
Carl Crawford - 0-3
Evan Longoria - 0-3
Carlos Pena - 0-3
Ben Zobrist - 0-3
Pat Burrell - 0-3
Gabe Kapler - 0-3
Michel Hernandez - 0-3
Jason Bartlett - 0-3

Not Good


This is a petition for Joe Maddon. It is a request to force you to make Dale Thayer bring back the 'stache. Please sign, as Dale Thayer is not the same without the porn-stache. The team and the fans NEED the 'stache. Make Dale Thayer bring back the 'stache!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Rays Have Their Closer

Forget Troy Percival.

The Rays have their closer.

Forget closer by committee.

The Rays have their closer.

Forget needing help at the trade deadline.

The Rays have their closer.

Hey baseball world, in case you didn’t meet him in 2008, meet J.P. Howell. In the last 4 games he has pitched, he has faced 13 batters, allowed 1 hit, got 12 outs, and has 4 saves. Find me a closer with better statistics than that. That’s a WHIP of 0.25. He has a season WHIP of 1.05. Brian Fuentes, who leads the MLB in saves, has a WHIP of 1.13 on the season.
It is time for teams to take notice. The Rays’ bullpen has overcome their early season struggles, and it all starts with the back end.

The Rays have their closer.

Get used to it baseball, because he will be a star for a long time.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see this.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

To Deal or Not To Deal

It's getting close to that time of the year, and the big question on evryone's mind is whether or not the Rays will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. One can also look at this as whether or not we are going to try and compete for the playoffs or throw in the towel and build towards next year. The Rays have already said they are about 10 million dollars over budget for next season. That does not take in to effect the expiring contracts of several players, but it also does not include arbitration hearings for players that are due for big raises, such as BJ Upton. It's also no suprise that the player at the top of the list to get dealt is most likely Carl Crawford. The Rays hold a team option for CC for $10 million next season, which happens to be how much we are already over next years projected payroll....hmmmmm. So the Question now seems to be not IF we will trade Crawford, but WHEN? We would probably get more value for him if he was traded before the deadline to a team fighting for the playoffs and desperate to improve their team. We could also hang on to him and deal him in the offseason but likely get less value then what we could have before. The third and least likely option is to sign him to an extension, and then start letting other players go. Those "other players" would likely include one of, if not both, BJ and Matt Garza. Crawford can be replaced over time, with Matt Joyce, Fernando Perez, and Desmond Jennnings all waiting for their shot. However, CC is the face of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise, and that can not be replaced. So, what would YOU like to see happen?

Aggressive Mistakes vs. Mental Mistakes

I saw a major and borderline unforgivable mistake made by the Rays last night in the game against the White Sox. With one out in the 8th inning, Jason Bartlett was standing on 2nd base while B.J. Upton was on 1st. Bartlett broke for third base and was thrown out. The Rays continued the inning with a runner or 1st and 2 outs. Although Bartlett was thrown out, he did not make the mistake.

I will never ever criticize somebody for being aggressive while playing within their means. For any of you who question Jason Bartlett’s attempt to steal third, shame on you. If he made it, you would have said how great of a job he did. I like his aggression and his desire to give his team the best possible chance to win. Bartlett is an accomplished and proven base-stealer, and he should be trying to get the extra base. He knows if he can get to third with one out, it’s a huge advantage. I will not judge Bartlett based on the result that he was thrown out. Good job Jason, I hope you try it again.
The problem I had on that play is with B.J. Upton. With a runner on 2nd base and a lefty at the plate, Upton was not held tight to the base. He needs to be aware that there is a potential base stealer on 2nd base. His focus as the pitch leaves the pitcher’s hand should be on Bartlett. If he sees Bartlett break for third, Upton HAS TO break for second. He has the speed that he should beat a throw to second, and he should have a big enough lead that it won’t be an issue. There is no excuse whatsoever for Upton to not get into 2nd base. It was a mental mistake, a moment of lost thought, and an opportunity wasted.
Just like all of you, I was very frustrated when I saw Carl Crawford hit a single into deep left field. However, I didn’t once say “Bartlett would have tied the game if he didn’t attempt to steal third.” I did say “Upton would have tied the game if he didn’t make a mental mistake.” Mental mistakes are brutal and may have cost the Rays a win. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Rays Power Rankings

7/20/09 Edition

Top 10

1) J.P. Howell – Second pitcher in Rays’ history to save all 3 games in a series. Of course, the first was Troy Percival.

2) B.J. Upton – I will take 6 hits over a series from any player any time.

3) Joe Maddon – Every change Maddon made during the Kansas City series seemed to work, including starting Willy Aybar Saturday.

4) Bobby Ramos – The Rays’ bullpen is shining again after a few bad days before the all-star break. They allowed 7 hits and 1 unearned run over a 3 game series. They also got the win in all 3 games.

5) Pat Burrell – Forgetting about the golden sombrero Sunday, Burrell is heating up. He had 4 huge RBI and a 2-run blast this weekend.

6) Ben Zobrist – Quietly, Zorilla has a 9 game hitting streak.

7) Carl Crawford – 2 more stolen bases for CC, not to mention his speed leading to a big 2-base error.

8) The double-play – The Rays turned 4 over this series, including a huge one with the bases loaded and 1 out

9) Joe Dillon – Only because he actually got in a game

10) The Royals bullpen – Thanks for the sweep

Bottom 5

5) The Kansas City Infield – A bad bounce on a tailor-made double play ball to Willy Aybar nearly gave the Royals Saturday’s game.

4) Dioner Navarro – 0 for the weekend is not acceptable.

3) Matt Garza – Anyone have the number of the sports’ psychologist that helped him last year? Clearly, he was battling himself yesterday.

2) James Shields – He allowed 11 hits and 7 runs in 5.1 innings Friday. As a number 1 starter against the Royals, that needs to change.

1) The dirt on my floor – I was inspired to do some sweeping yesterday.

That is how I rank the Rays. Feel free to comment as to who should be higher, who should be lower, or who was left off that should be ranked. These are just one man’s rankings, they aren’t rocket science.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Joe Maddon Match Game

Match what Joe Maddon says with what he really means.

What Maddon Says:

1) “He is ok and he won’t miss any time”

2) “The injury is minor. He will only be out 1-2 days tops”

3) “We are going to put this player on the 15-day disabled list, and he will be back in 2 weeks.

4) “Did you see the play that the backup made? Other teams would be lucky to have starters like that.”

5) “Even though this player is struggling, we are going to stick with him.”

6) “9=8”

7) “We want to give this player 2 days off in a row so he is rested up for a long road trip.”

8) “We are going to use a bullpen by committee”

9) “Did you see the play that Navarro made?”

10) “We were stimulating the economy”

11) “His pitch count was up there”

12) "We will not drink Merlot"

What Maddon Means:

A) The player will be out for 1-2 days, even though he can play today

B) The player is going on the disabled list tomorrow and will miss 2 weeks, even though he could play in 2-3 days

C) Although the player is healthy after 2 weeks, we want to make sure he is 110% and he will be back in 5 weeks.

D) If we play hard daily, we will make the playoffs

E) I want to give a starter an extra day off and this way when the backup plays well, I get credit, and when the starter does something good on the road trip, I get credit. It’s a win-win situation for me.

F) This player is really sucking right now but I refuse to change the lineup because it might hurt his feelings, so hopefully we will naturally break out of the slump. I don’t care if it costs the team wins, as the players’ feelings are most important.

G) We have to remember he was an all-star last year and can still make great plays, even if he forgot how to hit and plays the field like a sloth.

H) I am going to switch pitchers for every batter from the 7th inning on until I find someone that works.

I) The pitch count is approaching 90, time to take him out, even if he does have a no hitter going

J) See, the backups can make great plays too! This means I should start them more often to give the starters more time off, even if we are playing on ESPN tonight.

K) The players are going to play dress-up on the upcoming road trip.

L) We will not drink Merlot

After following his trends for a few seasons, it really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what Joe Maddon actually means when he talks.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What To Do On Your Day Off

I am not sure what I do anymore during the offseason. Today is the second day in a row without any Rays baseball, and the fourth day without any sort of meaningful baseball to us. I am going through withdrawal. Since you all are probably as bored as I am, here is a list of things to do with the last day off.

Go see “Bruno” and tell me how it is, since I plan on seeing it tonight

Actually do work

Re-watch the season premier of “Entourage”
Speaking of “Entourage,” find out where I can buy a bottle of Macallan from 1971 for less than $1200 (the bottle Ari Gold was drinking in the office)

Work out, since fall and laziness are right around the corner

Perfect your skills at MLB ’09 for X-box 360 since Maddon 2010 and NCAA 2010 come out shortly and thus MLB ’09 will be retired

Buy the new “Punch Out” for Wii, pretend you are Mike Tyson, and bite your opponents ear off

Clean the house, mow the lawn, and take out the trash, then be sure that your wife knows you have done this so that next time she tells you that you don’t do anything, you can say “remember on the Rays’ day off when I did everything?”

Work on a science experiment in which you can take meth and pass a test, present results to Jeremy Mayfield and remind him that he is an idiot

Do above experiment (except instead of meth, use female fertility drugs, and instead of Jeremy Mayfield, use Manny Ramirez)

Practice catching a baseball, bunting, base-running, and losing weight. Send training video to Joe Maddon and explain to him why you would be better than Dioner Navarro.

Watch any sort of program on any sort of science network on Apollo 11

Protest the ESPYs giving the Rays the shaft by watching a sports highlights show on your local Fox Sports affiliate instead of Sportscenter

Egg Derrick Jeter’s new mansion on Davis Island

Watch Tom Emanski’s Defensive Drills videos, why not?

Dress up as your favorite “Star Wars” character, show up to a showing of “Harry Potter” and remind the fans on line dressed as Harry that they are unoriginal tools
Solve the following math/logic equation: You need to build a new baseball stadium and need to raise $500,000,000. The state won’t give you any money and you can’t raise taxes. With the economy, you can’t fund the effort yourself. You also need to find a location, however the residents of St. Petersburg don’t want a new stadium in their city, but also won’t let you break your lease with the city. How do you accomplish all of this? (Please send all answers to S. Sternberg Wall St, NY)

I take no consequences if you do any of the above. Trust me though, you will enjoy. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rays Fantasy Value

- “So, what do you do for work?”
- “Oh, I manage a baseball team”
- “ Little League?”
- “Nah…..fantasy”

Instead of the typical midseason report card, let’s take a look at the Tampa Bay Rays and their value to your fantasy baseball team. This review will be based on a standard head-to-head league with 5 position categories and 5 pitching categories. The categories are as follows: .Avg/Hits, RBI, HR, steals, runs, wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, and saves.


1B - Carlos Pena - If you manage your team well, ‘Los can be quite an asset to your team. Clearly he is not going to win you the average and steals categories, but he gets on base a lot and hits home runs. Both of these will lead to RBIs and runs, which makes Pena a very solid player for 3 of 5 categories. He is currently 2nd in home runs and runs scored to the machine that is Albert Pujols.

2B - Ben Zobrist - What can’t Zorilla do? For a second baseman, the answer is not much. Zorilla hits for average and power, and has surprising speed with 11 steals. His 17 homers are 2nd at the position and his 52 RBI are only 9 behind Chase Utley for the most at 2nd base. Zobrist has been one of the best waiver wire pickups all year.

3B - Evan Longoria - Longo was arguably the MVP of fantasy through the month of May. He has since cooled off from his torrid pace, but is still one of the top 3 third basemen in the game. His 68 RBI are the most of anyone at his position, and his 17 home runs rank 6th. Longoria isn’t worth much in terms of steals, and his average and runs scored don’t jump off the page, but in terms of overall well-rounded value it doesn’t get much better then Evan.

SS - Jason Bartlett - With career highs of 5 home runs, 43 RBIs, and 23 steals, you would not expect to see Jason Bartlett being drafted anywhere in the top 20 rounds or so. Clearly, you were all mistaken. JB has already surpassed his career high in long balls with 8 in the first half of the season, and is just 5 RBI short of his career high. Oh yea, he is also 3rd in the league in batting average (we added those hand full of at-bats he needs to qualify). Bartlett has established himself as a top 5 fantasy shortstop for the first half, and there is not reason he can’t keep it up in the second half.

OF - B.J. Upton - Upton was one of those him as a top OF. He is a 5 category threat, and even with a slow start he ranks at the players that you drafted very high, then spent the next 2 months trying to convince yourself not to drop or trade him. After a terrible start, Upton is starting to become the player everyone had hoped for when they drafted him as a top outfielder. Most of Upton’s value comes from steals and runs, but he is starting to get his swing back and should be a threat for average and home runs as the season goes on.

OF - Carl Crawford - Crawford has been everything and more for fantasy owners so far this season. He is hitting over .300, leads all of baseball in steals, and is top 5 in runs scored. You can’t expect too many home runs from CC, but that’s not why you draft him. His overall value is unmatched by any one outfielder except for his neighbor in the field, BJ (when he plays to his potential).

OF - Gabe Grosslsar - Gross and Kapler are great role players for Joe Maddon’s style of baseball. Unfortunately, Maddon is most likely not the manager of your fantasy squad. Unless you are in a deep AL only league, these guys have no business being on your team right now.

C - Dioner Navarro - Hitting in the low .200’s, last in home runs by a regular catcher, few RBIs and too fat to steal. I can justify having Navi as your catcher this year if you are in a 30 team league.


SP - James Shields - Shields has been the recipient of absolutely horrible run support this year. He should have 10 wins on the season, but has to settle for 6 instead. Even so, his ERA is very repectable at 2.42 and he is close to 100 strikeouts. He walks very few batters, which is great for his WHIP. Overall, Shields is a solid #2 guy on your fantasy staff.

SP - Matt Garza - Garza started off great, but has since looked very shaky. His ERA is starting to creep towards 4, but his 100+ strikeouts give him good value as a # 2-3 starter. He should definitely be owned, but if he doesn’t start to show the stuff he had earlier in the season, you may want to start playing him on a matchup basis.

SP - Scott Kazmir - Let’s give Kazmir a compliment sandwich, where we say something good, then something not so good, and then another something good. Kazmir has the ability to strike out any batter he wants to. He sucks and doesn’t want to, he would rather walk them then give up a home run. He has nice hair. That’s as nice as I can be for now.

RP - Howell/Balfour/Wheeler/Chadford/Chode/Nelson - Of these guys, the only one that should really be owned is Howell. He is starting to see more save opportunities, and is giving up very few runs. He could be a top 15 closer the rest of the year. Unless you are in a deep league or a league that counts holds, the other guys are basically worthless.

Just for fun, I decided to add up the Rays normal position players’ stats to see where I would rank in my own fantasy league for each category. We will include Howell and Choate as the closers since they have the most saves on the team.

Runs - 393 - 10/10
Hits - 651 - 10/10
RBI - 387 - 8/10
HR - 98 - 9/10
Steals - 121 - 1/10

Wins - 35 - 10/10
Losses ( instead of WHIP in my league) 34 - 6/10
Saves: hard to judge because the rays use so many relievers, still safe to say it would be dead last.
ERA - 4.15 - 9/10
K - 456 - 10/10

Okay so I thought that would be closer then it actually was. Bottom line, it’s called fantasy baseball for a reason. Don’t draft every player from a single team.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rank The Rays – All-Star Break Edition

The all-star break is a time for the stud players to show off their skills, the rest of the players to get a few days break, and the bloggers to grade the team that they cover. We here at Trop it Like it’s Hot are happy to include ourselves in the grouping of people who will give our opinion as to how the players have done in the first half of the season. However, like normal, we will not use a typical A-F grading scale, and I’d be damned if I were so boring as to grade the team using 1-5 baseballs. In honor of the all-star game being in St. Louis, American’s unofficial home for beer, I am going to rank the Rays based on types of beers and their quality, commercial appeal, and value.

1) Natural Light – Just like Natural Light is barely beer, you are barely playing like a major leaguer

2) Keystone Light – Although Keystone Light commercials say it will never give you a bitter beer face, your play sure gives me one

3) Miller High Life – You would think this would be tasty based on name, but just not living up to your ability

4) Milwaukee’s Best Light – You may have been Milwaukee’s best, but you sure aren’t Tampa Bay’s best

5) Bud Light –Playing up to your value consistently

6) Amber Bock – You are working your way out of the red zone and starting to really play up to your potential

7) Budweiser – You are worthy of a mid-summer trip to St. Louis, whether you are going or not, but you were on the fringe as to whether you are an all-star or not

8) Hefeweizen – Way too good to be ranked lower, but not performing up to your ability lately. You are probably an all-star based on what you did in April and May.

9) Guinness – You make Joe Maddon look “BRILLIANT!”

10) Delirium Tremens – Often named worlds best beer, or also known as team MVP of beers


Grant Balfour: 6 – Amber Bock – Although Balfour started off slowly, he has really picked up his game lately. He now ranks 9th in the AL in holds with 11. (Author’s note: We here at Trop it Like it’s Hot would like to offer our condolences to the Balfour family)

Chad Bradford: 3 – Miller High Life – Bradford has given up at least 1 hit in all 8 appearances this season. That needs to change before his ranking goes up, especially since the Rays are carrying his 3.67 million dollar salary.

Randy Choate: 7 – Budweiser – Choate isn’t really worthy of a trip to the all-star game because he has not been on the team long enough, but opponents are hitting .176 against him and lefties are only hitting .161. As a lefty specialist, I will take this any day.

Lance Cormier: 5 – Bud Light – Cormier is a consistent pitcher with a 2.81 ERA, but still isn’t seeing the mound at all with the game on the line

J.P. Howell: 9 – Guinness – Since the “injury” to Troy Percival, Howell has allowed a run in 1 game, which was yesterday. Although he is not an all-star, he easily could have been if 5 other Rays were not already going. Howell has truly been brilliant.

Joe Nelson: 6 – Amber Bock – Nelson also started off the season slowly, which is why his ERA is 4.50, but has really settled down since June. He has only allowed 2 runs since May 31st.

Troy Percival: 0 – Zima – That’s right, he isn’t even worthy of being a beer on this list.

Brian Shouse: 3 – Miller High Life – Lefties were hitting .235 off of this lefty specialist before he was placed on the DL.

Dan Wheeler: 6 – Amber Bock – Wheeler is another reliever who struggled early but has been pitching well since June 1. I see a trend here.

Matt Garza: 5 – Bud Light – Garza started off the season hot, but is now 6-7 and has a loss in 5 of his last 9 starts. Some games he is lights out, but others he just isn’t getting the job done like the stopper we saw in the ALCS.

Scott Kazmir: 2 – Keystone Light – Just when I thought Kazmir was starting to return to form, he gave up 7 runs and 2 homeruns in 6.1 innings to Toronto last week. I still have a bitter face from watching that game. At least the walks are down, which is the only reason he didn’t get a 1.

Jeff Niemman: 6 – Amber Bock – Niemman is now 8-4 after starting the season 0-2. He is 6-1 in his last 10 starts and has 2 complete game shutouts. I am starting to be sold on Niemman and I really like his future with the Rays.

David Price: 3 – Miller High Life – Price has all the ability in the world, but hasn’t lived up to the hype. He has had some decent showings, but has also walked 5 or more in 5 of his 9 starts. That is NOT ok.

James Shields: 7 – Budweiser – This is high praise for a pitcher who is 6-6, but his ERA is lower than it was last season and he has zero run support. Shields has 12 quality starts, yet the Rays are 9-10 in his 19 starts. If Shields had more run support, he easily could have 10 wins at this point of the season and would then be a potential all-star.

Andy Sonnanstine: 1 – Natural Light – Sonnanstine was pitching all year like he was tired on the mound. Perhaps he has had mono since April but didn’t tell anyone?


Michel Hernandez: 5 – Bud Light – A solid backup catcher

Dioner Navarro: 2 – Keystone Light – Do you remember how when you would make funny faces as a kid and your mom would tell you that “if you keep doing this, your face will look like that permanently”? Well, if I keep cringing at all of Navarro’s mental mistakes, my face may permanently turn into a bitter beer face.

John Jaso: Incomplete – He is on the team but hasn’t played. He is like the water cup in beer pong.


Willy Aybar: 5 – Bud Light – Aybar is a very serviceable backup who has been hitting well lately and could be a starter for a number of teams in the MLB. A few errors this season have been costly.

Jason Bartlett: 10 – Delirium Tremens – If Bartlett continues to play as well as he has, he will not just be team MVP again, but will also receive consideration for AL MVP. If it wasn’t a popularity contest, Bartlett would be the AL starting shortstop for the all-star game without a doubt. Bartlett is the Rays’ first half MVP.

Joe Dillon: Incomplete – He is like that micro-brew you see at a specialty beer store that you’ve never heard of. The only way Dillon made headlines is when Andy Sonnanstine pinch hit in a game, while Maddon left Dillon on the bench.

Akinori Iwamura: 5 – Bud Light – Aki was playing decent ball before blowing out his knee.

Evan Longoria: 8 - Hefeweizen – Longoria hasn’t been the same since pulling his hamstring a few weeks back. Still, Longoria has 17 homeruns, 66 RBIs, and has been stellar in the field. I cannot rank him lower because Longoria was a 10 and a potential league MVP before his injury.

Carlos Pena: 7 – Budweiser – Pena is leading the AL in homeruns with 24 and is deserving of a trip to St. Louis this week. However, he is striking out too often and his glove is not as solid as it was in 2008. Now would be a good time for Pena to take his game to another level.

Ben Zobrist: 9 – Guinness – What does Zorilla not do? Zobrist has simply been brilliant!


Pat Burrell: 3 – Miller High Life – Burrell is making $7,000,000 to be a right handed power bat and has only 4 homeruns, 10 doubles, and 28 RBI’s. Burrell has the ability to get very hot and seems to be on an upward trend, but his ranking won’t rise until we really see the balls flying off his bat.

Carl Crawford: 9 – Guinness – 44 stolen bases? That’s just brilliant. Don’t forget a .309 batting average to go with 8 homeruns.

Gabe Gross: 6 – Amber Bock – Gross is hitting .276 quietly, but I didn’t give him this ranking because of his bat. Gross has 5 outfield assists and is very solid in right field.

Matt Joyce: Incomplete – Ever give your friend a beer that you think wasn’t going to be good, but ends up being amazing? It’s hard for your beer, no matter what you are drinking, to then live up to that potential. Joyce is in a tough spot with Edwin Jackson becoming an all-star in Detroit. We haven’t seen enough of Joyce to fairly rank him.

Gabe Kapler: 4 – Milwaukee’s Best Light – Like you didn’t see this coming…

Fernando Perez: Incomplete – He is the glass bottle that your friend dropped while fancily throwing it to you. You just wonder how it would taste if it wasn’t splattered all over the floor.

B.J. Upton: 6 – Amber Bock – On May 12, Upton’s batting average was .160. He went on to hit .324 in the month of June. He also has 31 stolen bases, which is good for second in the AL. Upton is really starting to come into his own as a leadoff hitter. If he can continue to play as he did in June, you can look for very good things from Upton in the near future.

After doing those rankings, I am now rather thirsty. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, right? These are just my rankings; it’s not like they are rocket science.

Thursday, July 9, 2009



Game Day Chat

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Vote 'Los!

Your Excuses, My Responses

Last night, 15,244 attended the Rays victory over the Blue Jays. The Trop wasn’t even half full for a game against a division rival, and that’s pathetic. I don’t expect sellouts every night, but I do expect an above-average crowd on a nightly basis. Rays Index has been tracking attendance and as you can see, the team is still below the 2009 goal. There is no excuse for this. Having a below-average attendance is going to really hurt the team’s future as Stu Sternberg needs to be able to afford to pay quality players, and his income comes from ticket sales.

I have heard so many excuses as to why people won’t attend games over the last few years. I have a response to every one of your excuses.

Excuse: I’ll go when the team is good
Response: Have you watched these guys play? They may be in 3rd place, but they are still one of the best teams in baseball. The Rays would be in 1st or 2nd if they played in any division other than the AL East. Not only that, but the Rays also have one of the best offenses in the league. The Rays are 2nd in the majors in runs scored. They are young, fast, powerful, and exciting. Maybe you were accustomed to using this as an excuse, but like the movie “Borat,” this is so 2006. Last place teams such as Baltimore, Washington, and Arizona all have higher attendance than the Rays.

Excuse: I can’t afford to attend the game
Response: If you are saying this honestly, then I accept this as an excuse, and commend you for making wise choices in this recession. However, how many of you are saying this truthfully, and how many are just saying this because this excuse cannot be argued with? A little over 2.5 million people live in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, and Hernando counties. Of those, are you going to tell me that 25,000 cannot afford $20 for a baseball game? You sure could afford it last year during the playoffs and the World Series, so why can’t you afford it now?
Additionally, ESPN rankings just called a Rays’ game the single most affordable game to attend in professional sports, not in Florida, not in baseball, in ALL OF PROFESSIONAL SPORTS. You can bring your own food, park for free (with a carpool), and get a cheap ticket (average $18.35 per ticket). The economy is affecting all of the country, and 24 American cities average higher attendance than the Rays.

Excuse: I don’t want to drive there from Tampa
Response: Why not? I feel like Tampa residents believe that the water in St. Petersburg is poisoned, but only affects people from Tampa. I promise you, it’s not; St. Petersburg isn’t Cleveland.
Relative to other stadiums around the country, the Trop is actually easy to get to. There are highways that take you very close to the stadium. Traffic in Pinellas is rather light compared to metropolises around the nation. Do you hate the Howard Franklin? Last time I checked, there are 2 other convenient paths to Pinellas, the Gandy Bridge and the Courtney Campbell Causeway. How easy do you think it is to drive in the middle of downtown Los Angeles to get to Dodger Stadium in the middle of rush hour? Trust me, driving on the Howard Franklin feels like driving a racecar when compared to driving the 110N through downtown LA at 6:30. The Dodgers are 4th in the league in attendance.

Excuse: I can’t get to the stadium by the time the game stars
Response: You really believe this garbage? I will prove you wrong. Assuming you have a normal job, you get out of work between 5 and 6pm. Tell me where in Pinellas or Hillsborough it will take more than an hour to get to Tropicana Field. According to MapQuest, to get to Tropicana Field it will take 43 minutes from Lutz, 41 minutes from Avila, and 38 minutes from USF. You can add 15 minutes for traffic and another 15 minutes for parking and walking. If you leave at 6pm from any of those locations, you will be in your seat by a 7:10 first pitch, or at the absolute latest by the bottom of the 1st (or if Kazmir is pitching, he will throw extra first inning pitches just for you so that you can be there by the dramatic bases loaded third out). Remember, your team can’t win or lose a baseball game in the 1st inning.

Excuse: I would rather watch the game on my nice new huge HDTV
Response: You miss A LOT of details of a sports game by watching it on TV. The games look great in high definition, but they look a heck of a lot better in real life. You get to see plays develop such as the full path of a fly-ball, a base-runner’s break in a stolen base attempt, or a second basemen breaking for a pick-off play. When watching the game on your couch, you don’t get into the progressive clap with 2 strikes or give a standing ovation after a big hit. In person, you get the full sights, sounds, smell, and feel of a game. There is nothing that compares to attending a live sporting event; watching the game on TV is not even close, even if it is on your 72inch 1080p LCD TV with 5.1 digital Dolby surround sound.

Excuse: I can’t bring my kids because the games end too late
Response: The Rays start their games at 7:10 and not 7:40 to be more fan-friendly. Besides, it’s summer vacation right now. What do your kids have to do tomorrow that they need to be in bed before 10:30?

Excuse: The Jonas Brothers are in town
Response: Although I wouldn’t know from experience, I can assume that watching a Rays’ loss is more fun than going to a Jonas Brothers concert.

Excuse: The Rays don’t have any tradition
Response: So why don’t you start it? I think a World Series appearance in 2008 is a damn good place to start. There is plenty of Rays’ pride in the Tampa Bay community. I see hats and tee-shirts everywhere I go. I was recently in the British Virgin Islands and saw multiple Rays’ hats. So if there are so many people claiming to be fans, why aren’t you showing up to games? The winning tradition is starting now, so this is as good of a time as ever to be a part of the crowd at the Trop. You won’t be ridiculed anymore by other teams’ fans for saying you are a Rays’ fan and for saying that you are on the bandwagon. You can just point at the 2008 AL championship banner.
Besides this, the Tampa Bay area is rich with baseball tradition. Baseball tradition in the Tampa Bay area goes from Babe Ruth to multiple teams having spring training in the area to the 2008 World Series. How much baseball tradition is there in Denver? There is nothing there compared to Tampa Bay, and the Rockies average 7000 more people a game than the Rays.

If you have more excuses as to why you don’t attend Rays’ games, please leave them in the comments and I will happily give you my rebuttal. Some of you may have legit reasons as to why you cannot show up, but most of you are just taking the easy way out. I will tell you this, you are the ones missing out on a great time watching a great team. Not only are you missing out, but you are slowly killing the team. The math is simple: no ticket sales=no income=lower payroll. So I urge you all, stop making excuses and show up to games. The experience will be great for you and will only make the team better in years to come. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why this is important.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Rays Power Rankings

No, this is not going to be the standard power rankings where I rank all of the MLB teams. This is where I will look at members of the Rays in terms of whose stock is increasing and whose is decreasing. All Rays’ players, personnel, and anyone in any way affiliated to the team are eligible. Each time I will give a top 10 and a bottom 5. In future weeks I will give trends as well.

Here are the rankings for recent games through July 5th:

Top 10

1) Bobby Ramos – The bullpen started off shaky, especially compared to last season. The bullpen’s ERA is currently lower than it was through the same amount of games in 2008. I think it’s about time that Ramos does a cannonball into the stingray tank. I have to give credit to this coach when the next 3 spots go to his players.

2) J.P. Howell – Howell hasn’t given up a run since May, and finally tied Troy Percival for the team lead in saves with 6. Howell seems to be settling into the closer’s role and is the anchor during winning streaks. He easily could have been an all-star.

3) Dan Wheeler – Wheeler hasn’t given up a run since June 6 and is getting more and more reliable by the day.

4) Grant Balfour – Balfour is starting to show signs of his dominance from 2008. Oh yea, he also hasn’t given up a run since June 7.

5) Carl Crawford – CC has a 13 game hitting streak and even though he has slowed down a bit, still leads the MLB in stolen bases by 6 over Jacoby Ellsbury.

6) Tampa Bay Rays’ Marketing Department – The Rays are 11-0 when they have a Saturday night concert. Smash Mouth is playing this Saturday. Nice timing. I also have to give them credit for their “Vote for ‘Los” campaign, trying to make Carlos Pena the last player on the all-star team.

7) BJ Upton – BJ hit .324 and had an on base percentage of .395 in the month of June. He has been improving steadily since his slow start of the season. Now if he could just work on the strikeouts.

8) The Ambiguously Gabe Duo – Gabe Kapler has a hit in 6 of his last 8 appearances while Gabe Gross keeps adding up outfield assists.

9) The Double-Play Connection – Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist both made their first all-star games and that deserves a lot of credit. They have both been struggling a bit lately, or this ranking would be much higher.

10) Joe Dillon – Dillon actually got an at-bat. It may have been a strikeout, but it was an at-bat.

Bottom 5

5) Joe Maddon – The manager has to take some blame during a losing streak.

4) Power Hitters – Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Pat Burrell, and Ben Zobrist have hit a combined 4 homeruns and 13 RBI’s since the June 23rd home-stand against the Phillies started. That isn’t a scary trip through the 3, 4, 5, and 6 hitters in the Rays’ lineup. During the Texas series, these hitters had 0 homeruns and 1 RBI. The Rays got swept.

3) Dioner Navarro – Last year Navi was an all-star. This year, it looks like TFC is trying to play himself out of the everyday lineup.

2) Jim Hickey – The pitching coach really needs to get his starting rotation under control.

1) The Starting Rotation – Scott Kazmir is the only one of the starters to hold his opponents to under 3 earned runs, and that includes Jeff Niemman in a relief appearance. The difference between the 2008 Rays and the 2009 Rays is the starting rotation.

That is how I rank the Rays. Feel free to comment as to who should be higher, who should be lower, or who was left off that should be ranked. These are just one man’s rankings, they aren’t rocket science.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Riding The Roller Coaster

Win 4, then lose 3

Win 6, then lose 3

Win 9 out of 10 (including 7 straight), then lose 4

This may be one of the streakiest teams I have ever seen. For a few games, the Rays look like a team full of stars and a strong World Series contender. For the next few games, the Rays look hung-over, tired, slow, sluggish, and just bad. During the wins, the Rays putting up a 7 spot on their opponent is standard. Over the last 4 games, the Rays have scored 7 runs, total.

The Rays are 19-11 since June 2nd. That equates to winning 2 out of every 3 games in every series except one. If you project that record out over 162 games, the Rays would win 102 games, which would easily be good enough for a playoff berth. However, thanks to a slow start, the Rays record on June 2nd was 25-28, which means at this pace the Rays would finish with 95 wins. I would project that 95 wins would be on the fringe of making the playoffs with the Red Sox winning consistently and the Yankees having a resurgent season.

Although from a distance, it looks as though the Rays are steadily climbing up a hill quickly by winning 2/3 on average. However, they aren’t going uphill quickly enough and the reason is the losing streaks. Riding this roller coaster cannot continue. The Rays need to maximize the highs and minimize the lows.

After a slow start, this team needs to be great, not good. By allowing the cold streaks to get very cold, they Rays are playing themselves out of playoff contention. The Rays are 6 games out of 1st, 5 out of 2nd, and slipping. There is still time to make up this margin, but the Rays are making it more and more difficult on themselves. It is time for the Rays to make life easier by hopping off the roller coaster and instead just quickly climbing up the hill they have created for themselves. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why this is necessary.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Now why would you see a golf related post on a Rays website?

Hot girl? Yes!

Beer? Yes!

Sports? Yes!


Enjoyed? Yes.

Headlines I Would Like To See

I am going to be taking off for the holiday weekend. When I randomly check the headlines, here is what I would like to see:

Matt Silverman files official protest that Rays had to play a game in Toronto on Canada Day, declares uneven playing field

Scott Kazmir strikes out 6 in 6 innings

Scott Kazmir doesn’t walk 6 in 6 innings

Tampa Bay Lightning trade Vincent Lecavlier to Rays for Dioner Navarro. Navarro to play goalie since his fat-ass takes up the entire net. Lecavlier to become assistant hitting coach, the guy who teaches players how to hit opponents Johnny Gomes style

Pat Burrell hits 2 homeruns in a game….please?

Carl Crawford hits inside-the-infield-homerun

Bruno shows up on the field during ESPN broadcast, does something funny to Derek Holland

Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist named to all-star team

Joe Maddon breaks a nail filling out lineup card, gives himself 2 days off to recover

Joe Maddon lets Carlos Pena play in national TV game, Pena hits AL leading homerun

Andrew Friedman finds loop-hole in Rule-5 draft, making Josh Hamilton return to Rays

Evan Longoria found his swing

Carlos Pena found his glove

Grant Balfour found the last 3 mph on his fastball

Kid wins 2009 4th of July spelling bee by spelling “Saltalmacchia” correctly, kid declares it a miracle

Andruw Jones is loser of 2009 4th of July spelling bee since he does not know how to spell “Andrew,” demands to spell “Twinkie” instead

David Price has second straight quality start

Brandon Boggs attempts to drink 70 beers in a day, vomits a lot

Elvis Andrus has left the building (author’s note: seriously, does anyone on the Rangers know how to spell “Andrew”?)

Joe Maddon decides to pitch to Josh Hamilton with bases loaded and 4 run lead, Hamilton grounds into double play

Jeff Niemman gets team leading 8th win, laughs at Jason Hammel who just gave up 1 run in complete game loss

Jose Canseco writes a book about his glory days with the Rangers and Devil Rays, steroids only mentioned 8421953 times in 200 pages

Dioner Navarro takes Joey Chestnut to overtime in Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, loses eat-off

Takeru Kobayashi declares himself eligible for MLB, Yankees pay $200,000,000 for his services

Dioner Navarro attempts to steal home, gets tagged out 2 pitches later when he finally gets to the plate

Michel Hernandez to get more playing time

BJ Upton continues to swing a hot bat, gets batting average over .260

Gabe Gross adds another outfield assist, Joe Maddon calls him “disgusting”

Omar Vizquel does commercial for “Oops I Crapped My Pants,” sighting that he is wearing them and he just did

Joe Dillon DFA’d, Andy Sonnanstine called up as Joe Maddon declares a need for an extra pinch hitter

Rays go 3 straight games without having a base-runner picked off

Instead of 7th inning stretch on Saturday, Rangers sing “Happy Birthday” to American

Rays take 2nd place from Yankees in AL East, lead wildcard standings

If none of these come true except the last one, I will be happy. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why.

Happy 4th of July everyone.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Who Would You Rather?

Revisiting The Bullpen Rankings

In early May, I created a ranking system for the Rays’ relief pitchers over at Rays the Stakes. Since those rankings were released, there has been a drastic improvement in the play of the bullpen. I would even say that the reason the Rays are now 9 games over .500 instead of playing .500 baseball is due to the enhanced bullpen. The relief pitchers are the main reason the Rays are currently the hottest team in baseball.

I was harsh in my bullpen rankings in May, but the grades were deserved. With the improvement in play comes an improvement in rankings. As you will see, the improvement in 2 pitchers and the placing of 2 pitchers on the DL are some of the main reasons the Rays are winning consistently. It is now time to re-grade the bullpen.

As a reminder, here is the ranking system:

1) “The Rudy Lugo” – You have no place pitching in a major league ballgame, period, end of story. Yes, I would rather have someone in the following ranking than you on the mound.

2) “The Nick Swisher” – May as well bring in an outfielder, as you are only good when the Rays are down by a large margin and have given up. This ranking is also known as the “Jose Canseco.”

3) “The Brian Stokes/Shawn Camp” – I shut the game off every time one of these 2 entered a game in 2007. The outcome was determined before either threw one pitch: chalk one up in the loss column.

4) “The New York Mets in September” – You have looked good for so long, you can get 2 outs in the 9th, and then a collapse is highly probable. This ranking is also known as “The Greg Norman in a major golf tournament.”

5) “The Cecelia” – “You’re breaking my heart; you’re shaking my confidence daily.” You were very good, and still show flashes of brilliance, but sometimes you are blowing a lead that you shouldn’t, and I am losing confidence in you quickly.

6) “The Sex Panther” – 60% of the time you pitch well….every time.

7) “The Al Reyes” – You are sufficient as a closer, for a last place team. You will get saves, even some saves with a 1 run lead. However’ if this team wants to get anywhere deep in October, you will not suffice as the closer. The Tampa Bay area hospitals also want to thank you for the extra patronage as you are good for a heart attack a week for Rays’ fans. (Author’s note: In order to fall into this category and not actually be Al Reyes, you also must pass the test of yelling the line “don’t tase me bro!”)

8) “The Rick Vaughn” – You are wild and will walk batters, but when you need to be called on for the big strikeout, you will produce. Just stick to throwing the heat.

9) “The Pocket Aces” – You hold up approximately 85% of the time against a random opponent, and because of that, I am willing to put a lot of money behind you.

10) “The Late 90’s Mariano Rivera” – Lights out, enough said. (Author’s note: This pains me to give any props to the much hated Yankees. Let’s be honest here though and call it like it is, a spade is a spade. Rivera in the late 90’s was unhittable and was the single most reliable closer in baseball history.)Now that the rankings 1-10 are re-established, it is time to look at how each of the Rays relief pitchers fall into these rankings.

Grant Balfour: 8 – The Rick Vaughn – You haven’t given up a run in your last 7 relief appearances which is excellent, but your WHIP in those appearances is still close to 1. With your fastball, your WHIP should be lower. When you get it down closer to .75, your ranking will improve. A few more shutout appearances and your ranking will also improve, as I can’t argue with results. Previous ranking: 8

Chad Bradford: 6 – The Sex Panther – In 66% of the games you have pitched in, you allowed a run. That’s close enough to 60% for you to be a sex panther. I expect this ranking to improve with more appearances. Previous ranking: NR

Randy Choate vs. Lefties: 10 – The Late 90’s Mariano Rivera – You have allowed 1 hit in 22 at bats against lefties. Who is Brian Shouse again? Previous ranking: NR

Randy Choate vs. Righties: 7 – The Al Reyes – Righties have hit .222 against you, which is actually pretty good for a lefty specialist. It is ok for you to match up against righties for now, but you won’t face a single one in a meaningful September at bat. Previous ranking: NR

Lance Cormier: 6 – The Sex Panther – You have been serviceable and succeeding as a long reliever, but I still don’t think you will see the field in clutch situations. Previous ranking: 6

J.P. Howell: 10 – The Late 90’s Mariano Rivera – The last time you allowed an earned run was May 23, and that was in a 10-3 win. In your last 9 appearances you have 4 saves and 3 wins. It has been nearly a month since you have blown a save, and that was before you were the full time closer. Since you have been made the go-to closer, you have been lights out. You are a major reason that the Rays have won 7 in a row. You are the only guy on this list with a shot at the all-star team. Previous ranking: 5

Joe Nelson: 9 – The Pocket Aces – You gave up 1 run and 2 hits in 9 appearances in the month of June. Earlier in the season you were susceptible to the big inning, but it seems as though those times have past. Every time you enter the game, I expect a 0 on the scoreboard. Previous ranking: 9

Troy Percival: 4 – The New York Mets in September – The only reason you are a 4 is because you could get some outs, but your collapse in games was inevitable. There is a reason that you are on the “Chein Ming-Wang Mentally Disabled List,” and it’s not because you have an injury. Previous ranking: 7

Brian Shouse: 5 – The Cecelia – You started off the season well against lefties, but started to lose your touch before you got hurt. Since you’ve been on the DL, you were replaced admirably by Randy Choate. I know the saying that you can’t lose your job due to an injury, but what if after you were injured you were outplayed? That’s what happened here. Previous ranking: 9 vs. lefties, 1 vs. righties

Dan Wheeler: 9 – The Pocket Aces – You gave up a total of 5 runs and 15 hits in 24 appearances in May and June. The last time you allowed a run though was June 6 against the Yankees. A month of shutout pitching is also known as getting the job done. Earlier in the season, I had to look the other way when you came into the game. Now, I get more and more confidence in you daily. Previous ranking: 4

The biggest improvements have been J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler. These 2 pitchers struggled through April and parts of May, but have been lights out since that time. These 2 guys really make the bullpen very solid and trustworthy. Add that to a lefty specialist in Randy Choate who is mowing down hitters, and you have a bullpen that will be very tough to beat. A 1 run lead is a lot easier to trust when these 3 guys are pitching at the top of their game. There is a long list of reasons that the Rays are now 9 games over .500 and nipping at the heels of the Yankees and Red Sox. In my opinion, the bullpen improvement leads the list. Anyone following the team can see this fact, it’s not rocket science.