Sep 12, 2011

Rays of Hope, ESPN Chimes in

by Aaron Giddens

If you follow me on twitter you know how much I despise ESPN for their Yankees and Red Sox bias and anti-Rays stance when they talk baseball. I'm always on the look out on TV and their website. In fact I'm the one who found the anti-Rays fans article about attendance where they used a photo out of context and took screen shots that were eventually used by Cork Gains of Rays Index in an article. The point of this is that I can't stand ESPN's biased baseball coverage. But in the interest of fairness, I must point out when they actually talk good about the Rays.

So as they do every Sunday they posted the latest "Sweet Spot" article, and this one focused on the Rays surging comeback. Look at the screen cap:

Rays-ing Hope

Oh but wait it gets better on the right side they show the latest headline and 9 times out of 10, good things for the Rays are towards the bottom if they're there at all, especially when they happen at the Yankees or Red Sox expense. So I look this time and was amazed to find the Rays sweep of the Red Sox the second story in the headlines. Look:

ESPN MLB headlines as of 3am on 9.12.11

Good grief I'm gonna faint. The ESPN are ignoring their pocketbook and acknowledging the Rays. At this point I'm floating on air and decided to write this and tell you about it. But I first had to read the article that went with it so I could tell you what they said and break it down the best I could. And that's where the party ended. This is where ESPN showed it's colors. Saying in the intro that...

... with just over two weeks left in the season, and the Rays -- remarkably, defiantly -- have clawed to 3 1/2 games behind the Red Sox for the AL wild card. Tampa swept Boston at home over the weekend, kicking the Red Sox around like an annoying little brother. The Red Sox, the team with the MVP candidates and megabucks superstars and fervent fan base, had a chance to put away the Rays but folded like a bunch of nervous eighth-graders being called to the principal’s office. The Rays, the team with second-lowest payroll in baseball and a stadium that is only rarely half-full, played like the team on a mission.

Well I don't think that any of us expected them to avoid it completely. But as a whole the article is a good, fair minded, non-biased piece about the Rays sudden "Rays of Hope". So lets break the article down now.

To go with the good stuff above, this guy has called it. He believes the Rays will overcome the Red Sox for the American League Wild Card spot. Which, if you were reading this site last week when we lost to the Orioles, you know I would have last to him last week as I declared the Rays season dead. Well now I say I was premature, I no longer think so. I think the Rays have given themselves a golden opportunity to get a playoff spot when everyone, including Matt Sinn and Michael Weber of WTSP and, had written them off. There may be October baseball in the Tampa Bay area after all. And here's why the ESPN writer thinks so.

His first reason is Starting Pitching. In more detail he said...

James Shields just missed his 12th complete game of the season on Sunday, pitching into the ninth inning. He has allowed three runs his past four starts. Rookie Jeremy Hellickson remains solid and has allowed more than runs in a game just once all year. David Price has a 2.44 ERA over his past eight starts. Davis is coming off his best start of 2011 and Jeff Niemann has been solid.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are a mess. Josh Beckett will throw off a Monday to test his sprained ankle and could return for the series against Tampa. Lester’s outing Sunday was maybe an aberration, but he’s also had trouble pitching deep into games lately as he’s run into some high pitch counts. Besides Sunday’s 111-pitch disaster, he also threw 114 pitches in just five innings against the Yankees on Sept. 1. While Tampa’s aces are pitching complete games, Lester has gone into the eighth inning just once since June 18. John Lackey’s 12-12 record masks his terrible season. He leads the league in earned runs and hit batters and his 6.30 ranks last among major league pitchers with at least 100 innings. The only reason he’s still in the rotation is that three other spots are currently held down by Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller and rookie Kyle Weiland. Obviously, $160 million doesn’t buy what it used to.

To which I agree. The Rays starting pitching has the been the corner stone of the team all year, while the Red Sox starting pitching has been mediocre at best if you discount Lester and Beckett. Heck, it's been mediocre if you include those two. Bottom line is that Red Sox starting pitching has been less than stellar overall, way less.

His second point was we have Longo, saying that he's heating up just when the Rays needed him most. I agree, the Rays line-up is built to win with very little and to bolster Longo. Nice to see he's busting out of his season long slump.

His third point was Red Sox bullpen troubles that the Rays don't have. This is the one point I have a hard time agreeing with I mean, I admit I haven't payed much attention to the Red Sox bullpen outside when we're there but it can't be that bad can it? It's the moneybag Red Sox after all. Also, has this guy been paying attention the past couple of weeks? Where the Rays bullpen has struggled? Especially the back of the 'pen. Although I will give it to him that overall the Rays bullpen has gotten the job done although they haven't been dominate.

His fourth and final point is the pressure on Boston may be too much to handle. I can see this. I mean, like he said, the team is expected to win the pennant and nothing less with the money spent on talent this past off season. That's a lot of pressure and everyone, including professionals, have breaking points. The Rays on the other hand were expected to suck this year so the fact we're still fighting at this point in the season is surprising everyone all over again like it 2008. We're the underdogs beating the heavily picked team. It happens.

The ESPN writer made a point to point out at the end that this is not set in stone and is just a prediction. The Rays have a tough road ahead. And again I very much agree. The Rays need to keep the pedal to the metal. They can do it, they're gonna need help but it's possible and with every game shaved off that deficit, it becomes more likely. Can they do it? I think they can if they keep the momentum of the past weekend going. They can not let the deficit grow again. They don't have to go 17-0 for the remainder of the season, but they can't let the deficit grow.

So ready or not, here come the Rays. Red Sox fans slammin' the panic button is cool, but the Rays need to keep the momentum going if they have a hope of overcoming the Sox. Play ball!


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