22 June 2007

Tampa Bay Preview: Gack, What's in This Juice?

by Joshua Worley

Tampa Bay just can't pitch. Well, they can pitch, but when they do their opponents score lots of runs. They've allowed the most runs in baseball. The starting staff is bad; the relievers are bad. This is the team that gave the Dodgers Dannys Baez, Lance Carter and Mark Hendrickson, after all. From the waters of the bay of Tampa flow many bad pitchers.

Their lineup is pretty good, better than the Dodgers, by my reckoning. But it's just not enough to overcome that bad pitching. How depressing it must be to be a fan of Tampa Bay! There aren't even any salad days to remember. It's been all gruel for fans of the Rays since they came into the American League, and is there any realistic hope that they can ever compete with New York or Boston? Back when Major League Baseball was talking about contracting teams, how come they never talked about contracting this one? At least let that abortion of a stadium be sucked into a black hole. I am not looking forward to seeing baseball played in what might as well be an Ikea warehouse with some turf slapped down. Does Tropicana actually pay to have their name associated with this horrible stadium? I guess it's truth in advertising, since their juices taste like unfiltered swill.

The Rays record is 31-39, with 345 runs scored and 429 allowed. The pitching match-ups will be Lowe v Sonnanstine, Wolf v Kazmir, and Kuo v Jackson, unless Jackson is skipped.

Elijah David Dukes -- future DFA

age: 22
bats: right

0.190 -- 0.318 -- 0.391

I don't think he's going to play in this series. He hasn't started since June 12. In the eight games since then he's had 3 pinch hitting appearances. In June he's 2-36, with both hits singles. He threatened to kill his wife and has been subjected to a restraining order. He called into a sports talk radio show Tuesday morning and ranted about his lack of playing time.

Dukes clearly has talent. He has plate discipline ( 33 walks ) and power ( 10 home runs ). But he strikes out too much to be a consistently dangerous hitter, and while he might yet develop into a very good hitter, he'll likely destroy his career with his off field problems first. I don't believe any team will give Tampa Bay anything in trade for Dukes, though some team will surely take a chance on him if he's released.

Akinori Iwamura -- 3B

age: 28
bats: left

0.323 -- 0.426 -- 0.476

His nickname is "Japanese Lightning". These stats, while very good, come in only about a month of play. He's missed time due to an oblique strain and an eye injury.

This is his first year in the Major Leagues, after 9 years in the Japanese Central League. He won 6 gold gloves at third base in Japan, so he's apparently a good defensive third baseman. He showed power in Japan, hitting 44 home runs three years ago and 32 last year, but this year he only has 2 so far. He's batting leadoff for the Devil Rays, and he gets on base plenty. He's a modest 5 for 8 in stolen bases.

Given the dissatisfaction the Dodgers seem to have with their third base candidates, I wonder why they didn't make more of an effort to grab Iwamura when he was posted. The winning bid was a mere 4.5 million. I'd rather see what Betemit and LaRoche can do at third, of course, but I don't think Ned feels the same way.

Brendan Michael Harris -- SS

age: 26
bats: right

0.311 -- 0.365 -- 0.484

Born in Albany, NY, his nickname is "Albanese Lightning". Okay, it's not, but that would be cool.

The Rays got him by trading either a player to be named or cash considerations to the Reds. He's been quite good, with some power and a line drive rate of 26% fueling his high average. The top of the Rays lineup is not to be taken lightly.

Carl Demonte Crawford -- LF

age: 25
bats: left

0.297 -- 0.354 -- 0.473

Often the subject of trade rumors involving the Dodgers, Crawford has been the Rays highest profile player for a few years now. One can see why Crawford would be highly sought after, and be expensive to obtain in trade. He's a 0.800 OPS players who regularly steals 50 bases, and he's only 25. It's easy to imagine him making a leap in performance over the next few years and turning into version 2 of pre-steroids Barry Bonds. That's a very optimistic projection, of course, and he's never showed the patience of Barry, which is perhaps his greatest weakness right now. His career OBP is only 0.329.

Gregory Blakemoor Norton -- DH/1B

age: 34
bats: switch

0.212 -- 0.369 -- 0.288

He's been pressed into service as a regular starter because of the injuries to Rocco Baldelli and BJ Upton. He's mostly played as the DH lately and batted fourth, which seems odd to me when you have Carlos Pena available to bat fourth.

This is the kind of player Dodger pitchers will love to see after struggling against the top of the Rays lineup. I can see it now: in the first inning Randy Wolf has allowed two on with one out after the fearsome top three of the batting order, and up to the plate steps Greg Norton, cleanup hitter. Wolf would have to have visions of a double play to end the inning, right? Of course, Wolf is more of a fly ball pitcher, and Norton hasn't grounded into any double plays this year, so maybe he can strike out instead. He does that a lot. He also walks a lot, and that leads me to my minor goal for the Dodger pitchers this series: don't walk Greg Norton.

Carlos Felipe Pena -- 1B

age: 29
bats: left

0.307 -- 0.401 -- 0.665

Where did this come from? He showed some promise with the Tigers back in 2003 and 2004, but he just couldn't hit for a high enough average to keep his job as starting first baseman. After bouncing around the minor leagues of Detroit and New York ( AL ) the last few years, and playing in only 18 games last year with the Red Sox, he's put it all together this year. He has a good batting average, he's getting on base, and he's hit more home runs than ever, with 17 so far this year. Wolf, you better be out of the first inning before Pena comes up.

Or should he? Well, yes, he should, but Pena isn't the same hitter against lefties as he is against righties. He only has one home run in 29 at bats against left-handed pitchers. So maybe it's a good thing that Kuo has been moved up to Sunday. Pena might even sit out one of the two final games.

Ty Allen Wigginton -- 2B

age: 29
bats: right

0.279 -- 0.325 -- 0.474

Like a lot of other Devil Ray hitters, he strikes out a lot. That seems like a good sign for both Wolf and Kuo. The bad news is that Wigginton is mashing lefties so far this year, with an OPS above 1.000. So against Kuo and Wolf the Rays lose Pena as a force but gain Wigginton. Great.

Delmon Demarcus Young -- RF

age: 21
bats: right

0.270 -- 0.303 -- 0.410

He's not ready for the big leagues yet. Dodger pitchers, get him out while he's still a relatively easy out early in his career. It's only going to get harder in the future. He does do a bit better against lefty pitchers.

Dioner Fabian Navarro -- C

age: 23
bats: switch

0.170 -- 0.241 -- 0.240

Any day Navarro catches instead of backup Raul Casanova will be an advantage for the Dodgers. Even though the Rays will be playing with the DH they'll still have a hitter who hits like a pitcher in the lineup.

This line for Navarro makes me sad. I really liked him when he was with the Dodgers. I don't know, exactly, but something seemed to happen to him between 2005 and 2006. He just didn't seem to be the same player. He just wasn't playing well for the Dodgers offensively or defensively, at least not to my observation, and then Martin burst on to the scene after Dioner was hurt and there was no looking back for the Dodgers at that point.

But there was a time when I really thought Navarro was the catcher of the future for the Dodgers. I hope he starts playing better, though only after the Dodgers leave Tampa.

Jonny Johnson Gomes -- RF/DH

age: 26
bats: right

0.273 -- 0.364 -- 0.532

There are some good names on the Rays, but Gomes wins the title for best name. I can only wonder what could have been, though. If he had been named Jonny Jones Gomes that would be the best baseball name of all time. I'm not sure, though, is Gomes pronounced with two syllables or just one?

The reason that the Rays are trying to sell for Dukes' benching is that they're making room in the lineup for the resurgent Gomes. And truly Gomes is playing better than Dukes, though that's not all there is to it, of course. The Rays have played 6 straight games without the DH coming into this series, but previously they had Gomes batting ninth. I'm not sure why they wouldn't put the catcher there.

Andrew Michael Sonnanstine -- P

age: 24
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
7.11 -- 19.0 -- 20 -- 2 -- 6

That 7.11 ERA looks mighty inviting, but can the Dodgers take advantage of him if they don't hit home runs against him? I sure hope tonight's game isn't the one where Sonnanstine figures it out and stops giving up home runs and pitches a gem.

He's pitched well in one of his three starts since being called up, actually. Against Florida he gave up just two runs in 7 innings, both on solo home runs, and struck out 10. But home runs figure to continue to plague him, because he's given up 28 fly balls to 16 ground balls so far.

Matt Kemp and Wilson Betemit better start tonight, not only because they should anyway, but to take advantage of this pitcher's home run habits. And Loney ought to start as well.

Scott Edward Kazmir -- P

age: 23
throws: left

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
4.10 -- 90.0 -- 91 -- 44 -- 10

Since the Dodgers miss seeing Shields, this is the only good pitcher they'll face this series. But he's not been as good as he was last year, because his walks and home runs allowed are slightly up. He seems a lot like a Wolf-type pitcher to me, so it's appropriate that they face each other Saturday. If it really is the battle of two similar pitchers, then doesn't the advantage go to the Rays because they have the better lineup?

Edwin Jackson Jr. -- P

age: 23
throws: right

ERA -- IP -- SO -- BB -- HR
7.85 -- 57.1 -- 52 -- 37 -- 9

Jackson was one out away from qualifying for his first win of the season against the Snakes, but he had to come out of the game with finger cramps. The Devil Rays might skip his start, but for now he appears to be the scheduled starter for Sunday.

Jackson is still only 23, so I guess it's too soon to just give up on him. The strikeouts are there; he just allows way too many walks in the process of getting those strikeouts. I'm looking back at this 2003 season, when he dazzled in 3 starts with an ERA of 2.46, and even then he was walking a batter every two innings. Of course, Billingsley was rather wild last year, and he seems to have settled down this year. I think it would be rash for a team like the Devil Rays who aren't going anywhere this year to give up on Jackson. The Dodgers clearly had no place for him, though. They couldn't carry him on the big club, and he wasn't progressing at all in AAA.

If Jackson doesn't pitch, then it's likely Jason Hammel to get the start. Hammel has only pitched 9 innings with the Rays this year. I'd really rather see Jackson, in spite of the Lima-potential for him to suddenly pitch well against his old team.


My television shatters trying to render the monstrous stadium of the Rays. Lowe give up one run in eight innings but gets a no-decision after the Dodgers disappear against Sonnanstine. Wolf gives up 4 early but settles down and the Dodgers win late against the awful Rays pen. Just for the heck of it Grady puts Kuo in as the pitcher and DH against Jackson and the Dodgers become the first team ever to hit 9 home runs in a row.


Erin said...

Dodgers.com says Penny, not Kuo, starts Sunday's game. Which one of you is right?

Joshua Worley said...

The latest Dodger notes at the official site says that Penny is starting against the Snakes because Grady feels that's the more important series!

I think they just forgot to update the probable pitchers