Al’s View: There is No Crying in Baseball!


By: Al Hudson-October 21, 2008 

It is with a sad heart that I write this column. My beloved Red Sox were knocked out of this year’s World Series by the upstart Tampa Bay Rays. But should we have seen it coming? Tampa Bay, long the doormat of the American League, has been stockpiling early draft picks for quite a few years.

The Rays have four first round draft picks on the current roster. David Price (2007), Evan Longoria (2006), BJ Upton (2002) and Rocco Baldelli (2000). Each has made their presence felt in 2008 playoff action. In addition, Carl Crawford (1999 – 2nd round), James Shields (2000 – 15th round) and Andy Sonnanstine (2004 – 13th round) are integral parts of the 2008 Rays. 

Therefore, the keys components in the Rays ascent should be Chuck Lamar and Andrew Friedman. Lamar was the General Manager from inception to 2006 when Friedman assumed the job. Draft picks are only part of the equation. Lamar engineered a significant trade for starting pitcher Scott Kazmir in 2004, and traded for starting catcher, Dioner Navarro in 2006. Friedman, who should be selected as Executive of the Year, signed free agent first baseman, Carlos Pena in 2007, and put the finishing touches on the Rays with the acquisition of starting pitcher, Matt Garza and shortstop, Jason Bartlett, from the Minnesota Twins for former 2003 1st round pick, Delmon Young. Young is a fine player, but the former Twins were instrumental in the Ray’s success.

Only the 1991 Atlanta Braves had a better last-to-first turn around then the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays.

If you think that I am obsessed with the Rays, let’s not lose perspective. They are a nice story, but can they beat the Phillies. Let’s examine the facts about both teams.

The number one key to the series is the three games in Philadelphia. The Rays set a record for most home runs hit in a playoff series (16). How does that affect them in the bandbox stadium of Citizens Bank Park? Many a team have gone into a visitors locker room, stepped out on the field, and thought," We will fill those seats with home runs." If they can maintain their normal approach, they will be fine, but therein lies the problem. Young hitters, small ballpark. The series could end in Philadelphia if the Rays do not adjust.

The Phillies strength is in the bullpen. They are 79-0 when leading in the ninth inning. Closer, Brad Lidge has an un-hittable slider. However, before coming to the Phillies, he had a couple of down years with the Houston Astros. He has returned to form and his set up men Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin and JC Romero are far superior to the Rays bullpen. For the past twenty years, the best bullpen has dominated the series. The X factor is David Price. The Vanderbilt hero can be dominant because of his 96 MPH fastball and his hard breaking slider. Plus, the scouting report is vague on this newcomer to the Major Leagues. When a pitcher throws 96 MPH, you had better have an idea when you step into the box.

Speed will favor the Rays. Their starting outfield is the fastest in the game. Speed usually translates to good defense. When you look at the middle infield, the Rays defense is very strong. Bartlett and Akinori turn the double play as well as anyone in the league. The Phillies will have to learn the nuances of The Trop. They may spend Game One staring at the catwalks.

The Phillies, one through nine, are an offensive machine. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell have the ability and the experience to dominate a short series. If they hit as projected, the series could end in Philadelphia in four or five games.

hamelsc-finish08.jpgPitching! It all comes down to pitching. The Phils’ Cole Hamels (right) has been the best starter in either series so far. He has to win Game One or the Phillies are in trouble. Forty-six year old Jamie Moyer has been awful in the postseason, but the Rays are a fastball hitting team. Moyer, a la Greg Maddux, will keep them off-stride with his change-up. If he keeps it down and in the zone, the Rays will struggle.

The Rays have to win at least one game in Philadelphia. I believe they have an edge with Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine slated to pitch games three and four. The key to the pitching match-ups might be Game Two starters James Shields and Brett Meyers.

I realize my selections to this point have been less than stellar. The Dodgers right-handed pitching did dominate the Cubs, and the Phillies bested CC Sabathia to take the Brewers down in four. The American League was a different story with the Red Sox besting the vaunted Angels, and the Rays beating the White Sox. I did get the Phillies into the World Series, but alas, albeit a good effort, the Red Sox failed to return to defend its title. No tears, the Red Sox didn’t lose, the Rays won.

With all of that in mind, and recognizing the fact that my fellow BoSox fans do not care who wins, I have to agree with The Guru of Baseball, Peter Gammons, and pick the Phillies to win the World Series.

I have long been a proponent of the National League style of play, and the American League dominance in World Series and All Star competition aside, I will go with the Red & White.

Win or lose, the Rays have been fun to watch!

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