Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Oil Slick Hits Tampa Bay
By Tony Mangia
RAYS SLIP INTO SECOND PLACE AT TROPICAN'TA FIELD
New York Yankees' manager, Joe Girardi, concerns himself these days with resting his ace starter, Phil Hughes, and prepping a line-up card for the upcoming All-Star game. Tampa Bay Rays counter part, Joe Maddon, must occupy himself with the possibility of shuffling his anemic lineup and replacing an inefficient bullpen. The Rays have lost 8 of 11 games in two weeks and find themselves tied with the Boston Red Sox and looking up at the Yankees. A sterling 32-12 start has slip-slided away to where all the cowbells, mohawks and Parrotheads in Pinellas County might not help win games this year.
The Rays have dropped 10 of 16 since coming to New York and taking two of three from the then-stumbling Yanks. An pedestrian record of 18-16 at Tropicana Field doesn't help. Tampa Bay still has one of the youngest and most talented line-ups in the league, but lately, its either feast or famine. Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford are all having exceptional years, but B.J. Upton has not turned it around after last season's dismal numbers. They either break the scoreboard or get zip. Timely hits are as rare as fans at The Trop.
Good starting pitchers seem to silence the Rays hitters while their own under 28 rotation is looking a lot older. The first two starters---David Price and Jeff Niemann---are cruising at 16-4, but the remaining three hurlers are a combined 18-14 with a 4.50 ERA. The closer, Soriano, has been solid, but the bullpen is still the team bugaboo. If the Rays go there, its all over. Good pitching efforts seem joined at the hip with low run production.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have picked up 7.5 games on the Floridians---who once led the majors by six. The Rays---two years removed from the World Series---can't blame it on youth or sneak up on teams anymore. They'll have to find a way to keep up this summer. For the battle-tested Yanks and Sox, it's business as usual.
THE HUGHES RULES
Thinking about Hughes' long-term usefulness, Girardi is pulling from the starter from Friday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Citing a work load of 82 innings thus far this season, Girardi is adamant about keeping the reluctant-to-rest rightie's season total under 175. The Yankees may even have Hughes pitch the back end of the rotation after the All-Star game. His next start will be in nine days against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium.
Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Hughes are gimmes for the July All-Star game with Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera probably being grandfathered in as well; but what about two of the three Yankee outfielders? Bret Gardner and Nick Swisher are having good years. Swisher has 11 HRs, 44 RBIs, and has been hitting around the .300 mark all year. Gardner has 23 stolen bases, is hitting .320, and is one of the most exciting players to watch on the bases. I think Girardi would like to reward them, if anything, for keeping things loose in the dugout and on the field. A-Rod looks like a no-go for the first time.
The Rogue Pierogi
Still can't get over the rebel dumpling who was dumped by the Pittsburgh Pirates for criticizing the team---rightfully so---then rehired. I don't know how the foam covered mascot ranks at PNC Field---probably just above beer vendor...maybe not---but he cannot break the chain of command and publicly disparage his superiors. Sounds awfully similar to another story in the news these days.
An Ogre in Yellow and Violet
Who knew Ron Artest was just a big, cuddly, mis-understood Shrek? If his exuberance and shout-outs after winning the NBA Championship weren't enough to attract a sponsor, I don't know what are. Artest is an oddball and has used poor judgement in the past, but that hasn't stopped advertisers from flocking to Kobe or keeping Tiger around. You wouldn't call Artest a weirdo like Dennis Rodman, although he is a character. I don't know what he could sell or if I would even care what novelty he's hawking, but I hear Zoloft calling.
We Thought You Meant "24" With Jack Bauer
Portugal won a World Cup match against North Korea, 7-0, after a 99 yard touchdown drive and a PAT by the Portuguese footballers. Kim Jong-il allowed the people's lone television station to broadcast the game live to North Korea's citizens for the first (and probably last) time. Immediately after the whooping, the programming director (guess who?) ran 24 hours of The Great Leader and his militia at work. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.