The Tampa Bay Rays took to the road on Monday with their sights set firmly on collecting their first winning road trip since June 17-21, when they took four of five from the Nationals and Indians. They also set out with an opportunity to get back to .500 and then some. The Rays, however, were unsuccessful in both endeavors, and ended the road trip with a 3-4 record after being chewed up and spit out by the unrelenting Blue Jays of Toronto.
…And the downward spiral continues its slow grind toward the end of the season.
This isn’t to say the past has been uneventful ― far from it. Joe Maddon’s Chicago Cubs clinched their first playoff berth since 2008. Not to be outdone, the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, Kansas City Royals, and Toronto Blue Jays will also play relevant baseball past October 4th, setting the table for what promises to be a compelling postseason. Now if the Houston Astros could hurry up and realize their postseason aspirations. I digress.
On the bright side, there were three promising games on the Rays road trip, all of which came at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Let’s take a look at those games, and the peripheral events that surrounded the team this week.
Before Tuesday’s contest, curious news broke (via the Tampa Bay Times), the Atlanta Braves are allegedly interested in calling St. Petersburg their Spring Training home at some point in the near future. A proposal by SportsPark Partners LLC a group ― a development group led by Darryl LeClair ― would move the Braves Spring Training quarters from the Orlando area to a new stadium complex in the Toytown area of St. Petersburg.
You might recall, LeClair put together a Rays stadium proposal in the Carillon area of St. Pete three years ago. That plan, however, never gained traction with the team’s ownership group.
The initial bid on the Toytown property was made the beginning of the month, though the bid was not made public at that point, and it was assumed that LeClair might consider using the property toward another Rays stadium bid ― after all, it’s in the East/Central part of Pinellas County, it’s right off the highway, and it’s not far from the Howard-Frankland Bridge. It should also be noted, Pinellas County has the money to pool together for a new stadium.
The team chose not to comment on things until later in the week.
Meanwhile on the field, Mikie Mahtook hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning and Matt Moore recovered from a tough start to fan seven as the Rays beat the Red Sox 5-2.
Moore threw an incredibly inefficient 32 pitch first inning, though he settled in and hurled 5-2/3 innings of scoreless baseball from that point on. The lefty didn’t walk another batter, and collected seven strikeouts, while scattering seven hits. Topping out at 96 mph multiple times throughout his start, the lefty racked up 17 total swings and misses with his four seam fastball (5), change up (6), and curveball (6).
Word also broke why Nathan Karns hadn’t taken the mound of late, the righty has been shut down for the season due to right forearm tightness.
Per Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times):
Both Karns and Rays manager Kevin Cash said they are confident the issue is nothing serious and said that at a different point in the season he may have pitched through it. But after Karns went through a 20-pitch session early Tuesday afternoon, the decision was made to be cautious and allow him more time to rest and not risk further injury by having him make another start.
A pair of former teammates took the hill against one another on Wednesday night, yet Rays hurler Drew Smyly prevailed over Boston’s Rick Porcello. The Tampa Bay Rays broke open a close game late en route to a 6-2 win over the Red Sox.
Smyly worked around three walks and an HBP, to go along with five scattered hits. He fanned seven in his fourth scoreless start of the season ― the second in as many starts against Boston. Additionally, the scoreless start gave Rays starters their 31st scoreless start of the season ― the most in the Majors after leading the Majors last season with 32. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Tampa Bay is just the second club in Major League history with 30 starts in back-to-back seasons when the starting pitcher was not charged with a run.
Erasmo Ramirez took the bump in the series finale with Boston and put up another gem. And though he gave up two Red Sox runs in the first inning on a David Ortiz homer (his 36th homer of the season and 502nd of his career), Ramirez settled down and did not allow another runner beyond first over the next six innings ― ultimately retiring 18 of 20 batters faced.
Erasmo has now thrown at least seven innings in three straight starts for the first time at the MLB level. He enters the with an 11-6 record and a 3.65 ERA/3.82 FIP/2.2 WAR line. Not bad for a hurler who was once referred to as “Assmo” by some of readers at DRaysBay.
Three days after a plan was unveiled to move the Atlanta Braves Spring Training home to St. Petersburg, Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays issued their first public comments.
Rays president Brian Auld quickly made his first public comment on the proposal:
The Rays appreciate MLB’s attention to this matter. We fully agree with and support their statement, he said in a statement when asked for comment by the media.
Major League Baseball issued the following statement this morning:
Earlier this week, Major League Baseball and the Tampa Bay Rays learned of the St. Petersburg Sports Park proposal for the first time. Major League Baseball appreciates the support that it has received for the construction of Spring Training facilities throughout the State of Florida. The most pressing need, however, is the construction of a Major League-quality facility for the Rays.
Major League Baseball is committed to working with the Rays to secure a new ballpark in cooperation with the Tampa Bay region. This can only happen with the support of local political and business leaders.
Incidentally, Noah Pransky (Shadow of the Stadium) opined the proposal could mean one of three things:
- The Rays & MLB are assuming the Rays will be gone from Tampa Bay in a decade or so, thus diminishing any negative impact of a Braves spring training relocation. In fact, it could be positioned as a consolation prize for Pinellas County.
- The Rays & MLB want to stay in Tampa Bay, but are using the pressure on Pinellas County’s limited tourist tax bonding capacity to force St. Pete’s hand. Forced to make a decision about where bed tax revenues would be best-spent, the city could allow the Rays permission to begin negotiating for new stadium sites.
- The Rays & MLB want a taxpayer-funded stadium at Toytown and – unable to negotiate with Pinellas County right now – the Rays have coordinated with the Braves, MLB, and developers to orchestrate a bait-and-switch. The proposed 10,000-seat stadium becomes a 25,000-seat stadium and the Rays move closer to the bay bridges. The Braves could even share Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater without major expenditures.
Pransky was quick to note that while option three is a longshot, all three theories could mean a considerable bump in leverage for the Rays as they continue to push for a new stadium.
The weekend series against Toronto was a wash. The team played like the Devil Rays, although we got a sense of what’s to be expected out of the Blue Jays in the playoffs. God help whoever they may face.
One last thing
When you’re feeling disappointed about the black hole that is/was the 2015 season, just remember at least we don’t have to watch the bravado fest that is Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon. The two volatile players exchanged words before their spat came to blows in the dugout. #Perspective