Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Position Battles in Bucs Camp

More positions are up for grabs this year than in the past for the Bucs and some guys are making pushes to take those starting jobs. The Bucs have competitions for starters on offense and defense, plus they have young guys that are pushing veterans for playing time. The tightest and most intense position battle is definitely at the wide receiver position. Joey Galloway is the clear cut number one, but the number two wide out is up for grabs and there are four guys trying to take the spot.

Back-Up QB

Jeff Garcia is the clear cut starter at quarterback, but the battle for number two is between three guys. While backup quarterback does not seem important, remember the Bucs have had to replace the injured starter in the past 3 seasons. Although Chris Simms signed a big contract in the off season, injuries have slowed him and he has fallen down the charts. Right now the depth chart is as follows:

  1. Jeff Garcia
  2. Luke McCown
  3. Bruce Gradkowski
  4. Chris Simms

Luke McCown has looked good in training camp so far, but he missed almost all of last year with a knee injury and was ineffective in his time in Cleveland. Now McCown is still young, has a great arm, is mobile, and looked great in OTA's last year before he went down, so I would not count him out. Jon Gruden has been singing McCown's praises this training camp much like he did with Gradkowski last year, so it seems he is the flavor of the month. Gradkowski has looked horrible in camp so far and is still under throwing his receivers on deep routes. Gradkowski can hit the short and intermediate passes, but just does not have the arm strength to hit the down field receivers. Simms would be the number two if he was healthy, but with all the injury concerns Simms has not been able to get much throwing in. When Simms has thrown his passes have looked horrible and he has not been able to throw farther than 15 yards. If you look at the depth chart there are three right handed mobile quarterbacks and one left handed non-mobile quarterback, I wonder who is the odd man out.

Tight End

The Bucs signed troubled tight end Jeremy Stevens in the off-season to compete with Alex Smith and Anthony Becht for the starting tight end job. Stevens had some nice years in Seattle, but ever since the drops in the Super Bowl he has not been the same and has multiple off the field problems. If Stevens gets back to his pre Super Bowl form he could be a great addition to this offense, which loves to use pass catching tight ends. Stevens will have trouble ousting incumbents Alex Smith and Anthony Becht. Smith is a great pass catching tight end who can also block rushers on the outside and Becht has been a great run blocking tight end for the Bucs since he has been here. The Depth chart as of now is:

  1. Alex Smith
  2. Anthony Becht
  3. Jeremy Stevens

Offensive Line

The Bucs biggest problem for the Bucs over the past couple of years has been a very porous offensive line. The right side was upgraded through the draft and looks to be solid with Davin Joeseph and Jeremy Trueblood, but the left side is still an unknown. The Bucs tried to solidify the left side by bringing in Luke Petitgout, Matt Lehr, and drafting Aaron Sears out of Tennessee. The Bucs are also getting Dan Buenning back from injury, but they have talked of moving him to center. The offensive line looks like this right now:

  • RT - Jeremy Trueblood, Anthony Davis
  • RG - Davin Joeseph, Matt Lehr
  • C - John Wade, Dan Buenning
  • LG - Anthony Davis, Aaron Sears
  • LT - Luke Petitgout, Anthony Davis

So far Petitgout has sat out more games than he has practiced, Aaron Sears is recovering from an injury, and Buenning is still getting back in the groove. The Bucs left side of the offensive line is still a question mark and if they do not shore it up it will be a long year for Jeff Garcia. Petitgout was supposed to be the steady left tackle, but he has not been practicing and Jon Gruden just said today that his back has been bothering him. If the Bucs were to start playing today I don't think that line would be any better than it was last year, and thats a problem.

Wide Receiver

The Bucs offense was anemic on all sides last year except for Joey Galloway. Galloway is back and is the number 1 wide out once again, but who will line up opposite him is still up for grabs. Michael Clayton is still living off of his rookie season and trying to prove it was not a fluke, but second year man Maurice Stovall has looked outstanding in OTA's and Training camp. Stovall also looked great in limited action towards the end of last year. Stovall has a great work ethic and has caught almost everything thrown his way. David Boston is back in camp for the Bucs and looks much better this year than he did last year. Boston has been able to go two a days so far in camp, but last year was limited to three practices a week. Boston is thankful for the opportunity and is showing that he still has talent left and will make this team. Ike Hilliard is quietly having a nice camp, but Hilliard is more of a three or four wide out in a system. The depth chart at the start of camp was:

  1. Joey Galloway
  2. Maurice Stovall
  3. Michael Clayton
  4. David Boston
  5. Ike Hilliard
  6. Paris Warren

Clayton is fighting to keep the job, but Boston and Stovall have looked better than Clayton so far in camp. My prediction is that Stovall becomes the number two starter by the end of the preseason.

Defensive Line

The Bucs have been known for their great defense, but last year they looked like a defense that didn't know what was going on. The Bucs did not get the penetration they need from the defensive line up the middle, nor did they get pressure off of the edge. The Bucs traded Booger MacFarland to the Colts mid season for a draft pick because he was not getting it done, and used that pick to draft more defense. The Bucs went almost all defense in the draft to try and reload the defense and get back to Buc ball. They also fired their D-line and Secondary coaches and brought back Raheem Morris and former Broncos' coordinator Larry Coyer. In a surprising move they cut Simeon Rice who was a mainstay on the line, thus thrusting rookie first rounder Gaines Adams into the starting role.

  • LE - Greg Spires, Patrick Chukwurah
  • DT - Chris Hovan, Ryan Sims, Greg Peterson
  • DT - Jovan Haye, Kevin Carter, Ellis Wyms
  • RE - Gaines Adams, Kevin Carter, Patrick Chukwurah

Gaines Adams has not looked dominant in camp and I would not be surprised if he was coming in during pass rush situations for most of the season. Kevin Carter looks good and has had a nice camp. Jovan Haye has impressed many of the coaches and has rocketed up the depth charts and is showing attitude that has been missed by the Bucs. Chukwurah is very versatile and can play as an end or stand up and be a LB in the 3-4, which the Bucs have practiced.


The secondary, especially the safeties took a huge step back last year after Coach Morris left for Kansas State. Morris is back this year and has the secondary back and excited. Phillip Buchanon looked good last year in the Cover 2 and may have found the defense that best suits him. Buchanon has had a great camp and will be the third corner for the Bucs come the start of the season. Brian Kelly is back and healthy, which will take a lot of pressure off of Ronde Barber and allow him to blitz. The Safeties were horrible last year and they were sent a message by the organization in the off season when they drafted Sabby Piscitelli and Tanard Jackson in the draft. Piscitelli and Jackson are both young and athletic safeties that are ready to step in and try and take the starters' jobs. I think that Piscitelli may succeed and take the starting SS job, but Jackson will start behind Will Allen.

  • CB - Brian Kelly, Ronde Barber, Phillip Buchanon, Alan Zematis
  • SS - Jermaine Phillips, Sabby Piscitelli, Blue Adams
  • FS - Will Allen, Tanard Jakson, Calvin Pearson

The secondary will be worked hard by Raheem Morris and we shall see who comes out of it on top.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Something seriously wrong with Simms?

Chris Simms has not looked any near his regular form since coming back from his spleen surgery. Simms passes have not been spiraling, his deep balls look bad, and he hasn't been able to hit receivers. Simms looked uncomfortable in mini-camp and has looked worse in his limited action in spring training. It looks like it may be more than just recovering from his spleen surgery. There have been reports that Simms is suffering from something with proprioception. Basically, Simms nerve receptors are not telling him that his muscles are moving without looking at them. This would obviously make it hard to throw a football.

The Bucs front office, specifically Bruce Allen, deny that anything is wrong with Chris Simms besides a sore arm from training camp. Chris has never suffered from a sore arm or sore shoulder before and watching him you can tell there is something more going on. Imagine not knowing where your arm is going without looking at it, that's what Chris is going through at the moment.

We all know Gruden is not fond of Simms to being with, and when you combine that with the fact that no one has ever tried to play football after a splenectomy and the Bucs signing of Jeff Garcia, he already had a long way back and this will make it worse. So far Simms has lost his reps to Luke McCown and Bruce Gradkowski and looks to be the odd man out at the moment. McCown has looked good and although Gradkowski has not looked good, he has looked better than Simms. Reports are that Simms maybe put on IR or even out right released. While many news sources have picked up on this so far the Bucs organization still denies that Simms has anything wrong. It may just be soreness, but when you look at Simms play it looks like there is something more going on.

Simms has fought hard to get back and has done everything that has been asked of him to try and be the starter here, but if this illness is true it goes way beyond football. Simms has said that he does not want to talk about it at this time so we will just have to sit back and wait for someone to come out and be honest. I hope that this is not correct and that he is just struggling, but when you look at him, something just isn't right.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Rays News and Trades

The Rays are marred in yet another losing streak. They have lost 7 in a row and are 4-11 since the All-Star break. It seems that the Rays have found ways to lose, rather than finding ways to win. On nights when they have gotten good outings by the pitching the hitting has not been there and on the nights they score runs the pitching is atrocious. The Rays have league worst 6.02 team ERA and are on pace to have the worst team ERA in 100 years.

The Rays don't have the talent they need to in the bullpen and in the rotation, so it is not all Joe Maddon's fault for how the team is playing, but he has contributed to it with dumb decisions. With the Rays up 1-0 last night and Jason Hammel pitching outstanding, Joe Maddon removed Hammel because he got a an arbitrary pitch count number. Hammel, who had only given up one hit and two walks, said after the game that he wanted to finish out the inning. According to Maddon Hammel was gassed and could not continue the inning. Maddon made the choice to use a pitch count and go with a bullpen that has been horrible rather than stay with a young pitcher who was going well and it cost the Rays the game. Our young starters need to be allowed to get themselves out of jams like that and should not be worried that they will be pulled at any sign of trouble.

The effect of the decision last night cost the Rays the game and further dejected players on the field. When Salas was called into the game you could see Carl Crawford and BJ Upton look at each other and just shake there heads. After the home run they gave each other a look that showed they were expecting it. After Sals gave up the three run home run you could feel the air come out of the entire Rays team. Maddon's decision cost them yet another game.

Rays Moves

Sean Riggan's season is now over after having season ending elbow surgery. Riggans has had elbow problems all year long and has had multiple DL stints to try and get healthy, but the pain stayed. Riggans went to Dr. Koco Eaton and she removed a mass from his elbow that could be a bone chip or hard cartilage. He is expected to be ready for Spring Training, but it is yet another set back for Riggans who was supposed to be the catcher of the future for the Rays. Riggans will be 28 by mid season next year and that is old to still be in the minors.

Josh Paul was activated from the 60 day DL yesterday and the Rays waived Raul Casanova. Casanova has been a great fill in for Paul since he has been on the DL, and some thought that maybe Dioner Navarro would go down to Durham instead of Casanova, but with Navvaro's improving defense the Rays decided to keep him on the roster. The team ERA is a little lower when Paul is in the game, and he was throwing out 42% of the runners before he went on the DL. Paul could see more time than he was getting before his injury because he is veteran presence behind the plate and hits better than Navarro as well.

The Rays traded Seth McClung to the Brewers for reclamation project Grant Balfour. Balfour has great minor league stats, but below average MLB stats and has had two shoulder surgeries. Balfour has a 5.22 ERA in 70.2 IP with a 1.51 WHIP. In his time in the minors he has a 3.36 ERA in 586 IP with a 1.20 WHIP. He does have a nice 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio in the minors and has talent, but he is a project. Balfour had over a 20 ERA while with the Brewers this year, but is still expected to come right in and pitch out of the Rays bullpen. We know what we had with McClung so although this is not a great move, it at least was a move to try. The Rays have sent down Sean Camp to make room for Balfour in the bullpen.

The Rays have also just traded Jorge Cantu for the Reds for two AAA pitching prospects, Calvin Medlock (RHP) and Brian Shackelford (LHP). Cantu became expendable with the signing of Akinori Iwamura, and the emergence of Josh Wilson and Brendan Harris. Everyone knew that Cantu was not happy and was not wanted by the Rays so i do not expect much in return, but anything that helps would be good. Medlock has potential and Shackelford will most likely be a lefty specialist. Neither of them will be in the Rays rotation, but both could help bolster the bullpen next year.

The Rays ended the day by trading Ty Wigginton to the Astros' for former closer Dan Wheeler. Wigginton had been mentioned in a trade with the Yankees for Scott Proctor, but the Rays said they were not going to trade within the AL East. Wheeler will be an immediate upgrade in the bullpen and has closing experience in case the Rays decide to move Al Reyes to Seattle. Wheeler has been a dominant force in the bullpen the last couple years, but struggled at times this year closing for the Astros. While Wigginton was very versatile and has a great bat to help, the Rays need bullpen help and Wheeler will offer that. If Wheeler goes back to the form he displayed the past couple years this could turn out to be a great trade for the Rays. Even if Wheeler keeps up how he was pitching in Houston it is still an upgrade for the Rays and will lead to more wins.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Bucs Move to Cut Rice was Wrong

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers regime continued their bush league way of dealing with veteran players on Thursday by cutting Simeon Rice for "failing a physical." This is the third defensive veteran player that has "failed a physical" since this Buccaneers regime has taken over.

While Bruce Allen said that this decision was made because Simeon failed a physical, it is pretty obvious it is about money. Simeon, who is coming off of shoulder surgery, is owed 7.5 million this season and when asked to take a pay cut he told the team no. It is no secret that Simeon did not get along with Jon Gruden and he echoed that during an interview after being cut in which he said that Gruden is the phoniest f-bomb ever.

While Simeon is coming off of a shoulder surgery and did not have a great year last year, this move comes as a huge surprise to everyone and is bad for the team. The Buccaneers need to win this year for Gruden to keep his job and now they are going to start a rookie defensive end in place of Simeon Rice. Gaines Adams is a great talent and will be a great player for the Bucs in the future, but rookies rarely come in and are effective. Last season the Texans took Mario Williams number 1 overall last year and he managed 4.5 sacks and 47 tackles. Adams will need time to get accustomed to the NFL and they could have used Simeon in the mean time.

It is pretty easy to see that Simeon did not fit into the Bucs plans and they were looking for an excuse to cut him, much like they did with John Lynch. The situation was handled very poorly by the regime and once again they have shown that they will do what they want when they want to do it without regard for the players. Why did they wait to cut Simeon until the first day of training camp? They knew that he was not apart of the plans, but they let him come to Orlando and waited until the start of training camp to cut him. This regime once again went out of their way to show just how little they care about their players.

This move will have more of a negative effect than the Bucs are thinking. The mood around training camp has been lowered and many of the veterans are not happy. Derrick Brooks was very upset by the move and was seen with Simeon in the parking lot after the move was made visually upset. Gruden needs to hope that the Bucs do not start off slow, because if they do he is going to lose the locker room very quickly and not be able to get it back. The veterans on this team have been around with Gruden long enough to stop believing anything he says and have stopped listening to his rants. This move is just another example of how Gruden deals with players and what he does to people that do not listen to him anymore.

Simeon said he is fine and will be back with another team. He would be a perfect fit for Detroit and could reunite with Rod Marinelli. Simeon respects Marinelli and Marinelli got the most out of Simeon and really turned his career around when he came to Tampa. I for one hope that Simeon goes to Detroit and has a great season to show people that this move was just another lie by this regime.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Preseason Tight End Tiers

Much like the Quarterback and Running back tiers, the number one Tight End is no surprise. Antonio Gates emerged as a top TE his second year in the league and has shown no signs of giving up his crown. Gates has been the top fantasy TE for the last three years with Marty ball and now he gets Norv Turner and his high powered offense to work with. Gates should put up double digit touchdowns again and may eclipse 1,000 yards receiving.

After Gates the tight ends really start to clump together and they are some guys who you could nab later that will give you almost the same value as the ones who are rated a little higher. Tight end is always a position that good value can be had later on in the draft if you miss out on Gates and this year is no exception.

Here are the Tiers:

Antonio Gates

Tony Gonzalez
Kellen Winslow Jr
Todd Heap
Vernon Davis
Ben Watson

Chris Cooley
Randy McMichael
Alge Crumpler

LJ Smith
Zach Miller (R)
Eric Johnson
Greg Olsen (R)
Jason Witten
Dallas Clark
Heath Miller
Daniel Graham
Marcus Pollard

David Marten
Owen Daniels
Ben Troupe
Alex Smith
Chris Baker

Now a shock maybe how low Jason Witten is on the list, but I think that Anthony Fasano will start to take away from his opportunities. Fasano will be entering his second year and he is great pass catching tight end. Alge Crumpler is also lower on this list than he has in the past, but I think the loss of Mike Vick will effect Crumpler the most. Joey Harrington will be the Quarterback and he likes to go to wide outs more than Vick did and Vick seemed to look Crumpler first, run second, pass to the wide out third.

Some guys that have moved up are Randy McMichael who was reunited with Scott Linehan in St. Louis. McMichael thrived under Linehan's offense in Miami and I look for him to have a nice rebound year. Eric Johnson went from big time TE in SF to the bench with Vernon Davis being drafted, but he has talent and he is in the New Orleans offense with a lot of good weapons around him. Owen Daniels, Daniel Graham, and Alex Smith could all have better years than some of the guys above them and you could get great value, but there are some question marks around them as of now.

These rankings are from the start of training camp and will progress towards the start of the season so look for more.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Notes From Yankees Series

The series against the Yankees started out great for the Rays with a 14-4 victory on Friday. Edwin Jackson looked outstanding giving up no runs in 6 innings and the offense exploded led by BJ Upton who hit two home runs, and Dioner Navarro who hit a grand slam. It looked to be the start of a great series, but the Rays found a way to make it a horrible one.

The Rays didn't score 14 runs in the next three games of the series combined. Meanwhile the Rays managed to give up 45 runs in those three games. The Rays were embarrassed, and even Joe Maddon couldn't find much to be positive about.

Other than Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, Al Reyes, and Gary Glover, the pitchers were absolute garbage. Brian Stokes, Sean Camp, and Casey Fossum combined for 6.1 innings, 16 ER, 21 hits, 4 walks, and 5 home runs given up. Scott Dohmann who was called up to help the bullpen showed that his numbers in Durham are not a reflection of how he will pitch in the majors as he gave up 4 earned runs in 3 innings, including two home runs. Even the Rays "ace" James Shields was blown up in his start.

The turning point in the series may have come when Jae Kuk Ryu gave up five runs in the 6th inning on Saturday. The big question was why he was even in the game to being with. Jason Hammel had pitched four solid innings and had only thrown 68 pitches. For some reason Joe Maddon felt the need to pull Hammel after the 4th with the Rays up and go to the bullpen, which has been horrible. The Rays had the momentum from the night before and were keeping it going, but Maddon went to the ultimate momentum killer, the bullpen. One has to wonder why Maddon went to the bullpen. Hammel has been a starter all year in Durham and made a 7 inning relief appearance just about a month ago for Edwin Jackson. This was just another example of the poor management that Maddon has showed Rays fans all year and the reason that most fans want Maddon gone.

The Rays did have some bright spots during the series. BJ Upton continued his torrid hitting pace since coming off of the disabled list, with two home runs and a .421 avg for the season. Josh Wilson also came through with some big hits and good defense. Wilson is pushing for more playing time, much like Brendan Harris did earlier this season. If Wilson can keep it up than Wigginton will be expendable and the Rays can make a move for relief pitching. Wigginton does not need to be traded for Scott Proctor, but he could be traded to the Twins for anyone of their bullpen members who have been solid all year long.

Injuries and Notes

The Rays took a big hit on Saturday when Carl Crawford went down with a ankle injury and could not play the rest of the series. Crawford said that his ankle is still sore, but he expects to be ready to go on Tuesday against the Orioles. The Rays trainers believe he will be ready as does Crawford, so that's good news.

It looks as if Jay Witasik had a reason for being garbage on Saturday. Witasik said that he felt a something pop in his arm during the inning, but wanted to stay in the game and gut out the inning. On Sunday Witasik's arm had golf ball size swelling in his arm and he flew back to Tampa to have an MRI on his arm. It looks like Witasik will be out for a while and maybe done for the rest of the season.

The Rays were going to send Hammel down to Durham to become a starter again, but with the Witasik injury it looks like Hammel is going to stay with the team and may become the 5th starter, with JP Howell going to the bullpen.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Rays Notes

The Rays offense continued it torrid pace since BJ Upton has come of the disabled list and helped the Rays take two out of three from the Angels. It seems that Joe Maddon has finally found a lineup that he likes, and that works. The two through six hitters in the Rays lineup, ate the Angels pitching staff up, and even in though the Rays lost 3-0 in the final game they still managed to rack up 9 hits, only one short of the Angels in the game. The Rays also got outstanding pitching performances from their starters and even some of the bullpen.

During the 3 game set the two through six hitters went a combined .431, scoring 11 runs, and driving in 12. The lineup looks to have had a jolt put into it since Upton came off of the DL and has looked very impressive since he was moved into the three hole and Carlos Pena was moved in the cleanup spot. Upton in the three hole moves Carl Crawford up to the two hole where he is the most effective and he has shown it with his improved base stealing. Crawford nabbed four bases in the three game set with the Angels and scored four runs. Pena has continued his torrid hitting and has looked even better in the cleanup role. Delmon Young has also responded well to being moved up to the 5 hole batting .500 in the series.

The bats being hot has happened before, but the pitching was never there to match. This series the Rays got outstanding 7 inning starts from all three starters. James Shields bounced back nicely from a couple of bad outings and only gave up 2 runs in 7 innings, but most importantly he did not give up any home runs, which have been a problem for him recently. Scott Kazmir followed with his best performance of the year. Finally, even though the Rays lost game three, Andy Sonnanstine threw a great game and only gave up three runs in 7 innings and did not walk a batter.

Kazmir's game was his second great outing in a row against a solid team. After the All-Star break, Kazmir said that he was going to stop worrying about all the mechanical changes and just go out on the mound and throw. Since than Kazmir has looked outstanding and has kept his pitch count down. Kaz did not have his best slider on Wednesday, but his fastball was electric and he worked quickly and efficiently. For the first time all year Kazmir was in the 60's for a pitch count during the 6th inning. Although Kazmir was not going for the strike out, he still manged to strike out six batters as a by product of his outstanding pitching. Kazmir has had a tough year so far, but he looks to be back to his dominant form.

The Rays also got some decent outings from some of the members of the bullpen. Jay Witasik, Al Reyes, Gary Glover, and Brian Stokes looked outstanding in each of their innings they pitched. Reyes pitched a perfect inning in his first inning back since coming off the DL, which is a great sign for the Rays. While the Rays got some good outings from some members, they still got the crap from Casey Fossum and Sean Camp. Fossum has not been able to get anyone out all year and has become a huge waste of money. Camp had a string of good outings, but has come back down to earth and is giving up runs. While the Rays got good news from some, they were reminded that they still have a bit to go in close games.

The series against the Angels showed what this team can do when given a chance in a game. With good starting pitching this team can compete with anyone. If the Rays can get some consistent starting pitching and decent relief help they will be in the hunt next year. The Rays look to continue the good play on a seven game road trip to New York and Baltimore.

Rays Moves

After the Angels series the Rays made some moves to help the pitching staff for the upcoming Yankees series. The Rays sent Jorge Cantu down to Durham and designated Dustin Mohr for assignment. They called up Scott Dohman and Jae Kuk Ryu to take there places on the roster. Dohman has a 2.03 era in 48.2 IP in Durham for the year, but his past in the majors has not been good with a 5.74 era in 125.1 IP and a .273 BAA in his career in the bigs. Ryu was sent down earlier with a 5.06 ERA in 21.1 IP and actually pitched worse in Durham. Ryu had a 5.97 ERA in 37.2 IP while in Durham. I am not sure why these moves were made over others, especially the Ryu move considering how bad his numbers have been in Durham and while up with the big club.

Jorge Cantu was not happy about being sent down to Durham and has said that he knows he is not wanted here anymore. Cantu will report to Durham, but has asked the Rays to trade him as soon as he can. Cantu has realized he is no longer in the Rays plans and wants to leave. If the Rays could get a baseball for him I am sure they would trade him.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Gruden brings Culpepper in, WHY????

620 WDAE is reporting that the Bucs have brought Daunte Culpepper in for a visit today. Culepper arrived and was met at the airport by Jon Gruden, Bruce Allen, and Doug Williams on the tarmac. The gentlemen had a meeting and than Culpepper got back on his jet and left Tampa. Apparently Jon Gruden can never get enough quarterbacks.

Why do the Bucs have any interest in Daunte Culpepper? The Bucs have invested a lot of money in the quarterback position already giving big contracts to Jeff Garcia, Chris Simms, and still hoping Jake Plummer comes out of retirement. Also, Gruden made a big deal to the press about how he loved Garcia and has always wanted to work with him. If Garcia is the answer like Gruden has said, than why has he spent so much time on Plummer and now on Culpepper? What Message does this send to not only the quarterbacks on the team, but all the players?

Gruden has never been happy with any quarterback he has ever coached outside of Rich Gannon, and even that relationship was tumultuous at best. Garcia is the best example of a Rich Gannon quarterback and can help this team, which is why he is the best option for Gruden, so why is he looking anywhere else?

Gruden wants a veteran quarterback who can run around and make plays with his legs, Culpepper's knee is shot and he can't move around. Also, Culpepper has not been in the west coast system and we have been told multiple times that Gruden's playbook takes a long time to learn. This is a waste of time for Bucs, which could be used on helping the other quarterbacks. Time will also be a factor come training camp with all of these quarterbacks. They will need time to showcase all the quarterbacks the Bucs have on the roster, but how can they show anything with so many quarterbacks around?

Gruden will never be happy with any guy who is playing QB for him, unless it is him. He is supposed to be a quarterback guru and boy genius, but Bucs fans have not seen one ounce of that with any quarterback since he has been in Tampa. Gruden has not developed one quarterback and has shown no patience even with the veterans that he brings in and looks for the next quarterback before the first one takes a snap.

This situation is one more example of how bad of a coach Gruden is and just how desperate he has become to save his job. It is no secret that Gruden is on a very hot seat and if the Bucs do not win he will be gone. What Gruden should be doing is focusing in on guys that can help us win like Garcia and not wasting time on crap like Culpepper. What Gruden may be doing is looking for a fall guy when we start to lose. When they ship starts to sink he will need a guy to go down with it and point the finger at, and he doesn't want that to be him.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Meet The Newest Bucs -- Tanard Jackson

Tanard Jackson was one of the best value picks in the draft not only for the Bucs, but for the whole draft. Jackson was projected to go in the second round by most draft pundits, but fell to the Bucs at the beginning of the fourth round. Jackson played corner in college, but will be making the move to safety in the NFL where he will be more effective.

Jackson was a three year starter at corner back for the Orange. He garnered All-Conference honors his senior season by recording 62 Tackles, 4 Pass Break Ups, 2 Interceptions in 12 games. Jackson is good size for a safety at 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. He is not overly fast, but has quick bursts to close, which also makes him a better fit at safety.

Jackson's weaknesses are mitigated not only by his move to safety, but also by what the Tampa 2 asks its safeties to do. His main weaknesses that most scouts comment on are a lack of good hands, average speed, and being too aggressive. The aggressive part can easily be fixed by working with Raheem Morris and learning what the Tampa 2 asks of its safeties. To play safety in the Tampa 2 you do not need to be overly fast, nor are you asked to make game changing plays with your hands. Jackson may have struggled at corner or safety in another system, but his weaknesses do not come into play nearly as much playing safety for the Buccaneers.

Jackson definitely has the physical and mental skills needed to play safety in the Tampa 2. Jackson was a 3 year starter and played all four years he was in school. He learns new schemes and defenses very quickly and is also a very smart player on the field. Jackson can play man-to-man or zone. He was one of the most technically sound secondary players in the draft and won't need much coaching outside of the nuances of the Tampa 2. Jackson is also a very physical and solid tackler who is great in run support and stopping screens. Last season a big problem on defense for the Buccaneers was a lot of missed tackles by the safeties and those same safeties playing out of position. Jackson will add some physicality and solid tackling to the Bucs, which is a big part of the Tampa 2 defense. While he most likely will not be a starter this year he will add great things to the special teams and will be a starter soon.

Jackson was a steal in the fourth round and may be the beginning of Bucs getting solid production out of their later round picks. The Bucs have not done much with their 4-7 round picks, but Jackson will defiantly change that trend. The Bucs retooled their defense with this draft, and when you add Jackson to Piscatelli the Bucs will have a very solid secondary for years to come.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Preseason Wide Receiver Tiers

With Training Camp almost here we are continuing with our preseason ranks. Up this week is the wide receivers in this years draft. These rankings are for standard re-draft leagues with no points per reception. These rankings are highly likely to change with training camp and preseason battles going on, but for drafts going on early this is how I see it. I have set the wide outs up into 7 tiers, although tier 2 is really tier 1a.

Steve Smith once again tops the list of wide outs for the season. Smith is explosive and capable to going the distance every time he touches the ball. Included in Tier 1 is Tory Holt and Larry Fitzgerald. These three are clear cut number one wide outs on their teams and have high powered offenses.

Tier 2, which could be dubbed 1a, consists of three studs in great offense, but they have to share the ball. CJ has Housh and Harrison has Wayne. These guys will still put up great numbers, but should be just behind the tier 1 guys.

The next set of wide outs are guys that could move up if they fulfill there potential or they carry more risk than the wide outs in the tiers above. Owens and Moss have questions with off the field issues, but have the talent to play on the field. Roy Williams has showed he is ready to be a top wide out and Housh still has to contend with CJ for the ball. These guys could still solid number 1 wide outs for you.

The next set of wide outs starts with guys who can still be solid number 1 wide outs for fantasy purposes and moves into wide outs that are more suited to be a solid 2 for your team. I have Colston in this tier even though many others have him higher. It concerns me that he will be the number one wide out going up against double teams and the best corners in his second year in the league. He may continue his pace from last year, but i am skeptical to make him my number 1 wide out.

Tier 5 wide outs consist of your solid number 2 wide outs and some guys who have some great upside, but questions remain. Reggie Brown is in a great spot in Philadelphia being the number 1 wide out, but his numbers are going to be correlated to Donovan McNabbs health, which has not been so great recently. Jackson, Moss, and Edwards all have talent, but are in an offense that is challenged or have an unknown at Quarterback.

The rest of the wide outs consist of rookies, third year guys who may break out, or guys who could be your number 3 wide out. Outside of Calvin Johnson there isn't a rookie i see taking before tier 7. There are some second and third year players who are looking to bust out and this may be the year they catch lightning in a bottle.

Tier 1
Steve Smith
Larry Fitzgerald
Tory Holt

Tier 2
Chad Johnson
Marvin Harrison
Reggie Wayne

Tier 3
Randy Moss
Roy Williams
Terrell Owens
T.J. Houshmandzadeh

Tier 4
Anquan Boldin
Donald Driver
Andre Johnson
Javon Walker
Marques Colston
Lee Evans

Tier 5
Hines Ward
Reggie Brown
Plaxico Burress
Laveranues Coles
Darrell Jackson
Deion Branch
Santana Moss
Braylon Edwards
Calvin Johnson
Donte Stallworth

Tier 6
Mark Clayton
Terry Glenn
Chris Chambers
Vincent Jackson
Joey Galloway
Santonio Holmes
D.J. Hackett
Bernard Berrian
Greg Jennings
Jerricho Crotchery
Mike Furrey
Devery Henderson
Kevin Curtis
Jerry Porter
Joe Horn
Isaac Bruce

Tier 7
Troy Williamson
Eddie Kennison
Muhsin Muhammad
Drew Bennett
Matt Jones
Brandon Marshall
Brandon Jones
Derrick Mason
Anthony Gonzalez
Dwayne Bowe
Ronald Curry
Sidney Rice
Marty Booker
Dwayne Jarrett
Ashley Lelie
Robert Meachem
Nate Burleson
Wes Welker
Reggie Willams
Tab Perry
Nate Washington
Ted Ginn, Jr.
Joe Jurevicious
Maurice Stovall
Steve Smith
Michael Jenkins

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Notes From Yankees Series

If you just look at the wins and losses from the Yankees series, you would think the Rays started the second half the same way they started it. If you actually watched the games you can see that the these are not the same Rays and they have not given up despite being 21 games under .500. Just before the break the media and fans said that the Rays had given up and Joe Maddon had lost the team. Well these Rays definitely have not given up and they are scratching and clawing every inning for every opportunity. They did not get the results in the win column they hoped, but the Rays showed life and that this team is not giving up anytime soon.

The return of BJ Upton looked to ignite the offense and create an outstanding defense in the outfield. Upton did not look to be fully healthy though, he was gunned down at second trying to steal and was cut down at home trying to score from second. While these things happen, you could see that Upton was just a step or two behind where he had been all season. Even though he is a step behind what he was earlier, he is still faster than most on the diamond and soon will be back to full strength. With the outfield set the pitchers can feel a little more comfortable that the plays will be made behind them. Upton's presence in the line up also adds more speed and power to the lineup.

Scott Kazmir's start on Friday was hopefully a sign of things to come. Before the game Kazmir told the media that he was throwing out all of the mechanical changes that he had made during the course of this year and was just going to throw. While he walked 4 batters and only lasted 6 innings because of a high pitch count; he did strike out 7 batters and did not give up an earned run. Hopefully by throwing out the mechanical changes and just getting back to throwing the way he knows how he will return to his All-Star form. Kazmir normally struggles in the second half, so hopefully this is a step in the right direction.

While Kazmir's start was a step forward, it looked like James Shields is taking a step back. Shields gave up three straight home runs in the 4th inning that pretty much demoralized him for the rest of the game. Shields has always had problems with giving up the long ball, but had kept that in check most of the first half in his impressive run. In his first 11 starts, Shields only gave up 9 home runs, but in his last 8 games he has given up 13 home runs. In those 8 games he has raised his ERA from 3.08 to 3.98. In order to get back to his early form Shields needs to cut down on giving up the gopher ball.

Carlos Pena continued to show that he is back and is not having a fluke season. Pena has been the Rays best hitter and continued it in the Yankees series. Pena went 6 for 15, with 2 home runs, 6 runs, and driving in 6 runs in the 4 game series against the Yankees. Pena has also shown recently that he can hit left handed pitching, which has always been a problem for him in his career.

Josh Wilson showed some great defense and some timely hitting in his time in the lineup. If Wilson can keep this up, which i believe he can, it makes Ty Wigginton expendable. The Twins have expressed interest in Ty to play 3rd base to replace Nick Punto. The Twins have tons of young arms in the rotation and the bullpen, which is exactly what the Rays are looking for. The trade deadline is July 31st, and the Rays can afford to get rid of Wiggy for some talented pitching.

The bullpen still blew games, but the rest of the team is playing hard and not giving up despite knowing that the bullpen will most likely lose the game for them. The Rays management needs to look at these games and show the players that they haven't given up either. Management needs to replace guys like Fossum, Camp, and Stokes with guys who deserve to be playing like Thayer and Salas. The Rays have not given up and fans need to realize it and show there support for these guys who go out and are giving it there all. Meanwhile, the Management needs to do the same and show the hard working players that they will not accept the garbage that is the bullpen.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Changes Rays Need to Make in the Second Half

The Rays have the worst record in the league and have become the laughing stock of the league. The fans are upset and so are the players. The Rays are the brunt of the media's jokes and its time to make a change. The Rays need to show fans and players that they are serious about winning and competing. The Rays need to make some moves in the second half to show that they are moving the right way and get people excited about next year. Here are just a couple of moves that would be effective to help the Rays now and show the fans that they are moving forward.

Trade Ty Wigginton/Elijah Dukes for Salomon Torres.

Not sure what it will take to get Torres, but if the Pirates want Dukes straight up for him, I would rather do that. Torres has been a great set-up man for the Pirates for a couple years now, but struggled in the closers role. He wants out of Pittsburgh, and actually accused them of tricking him into signing his recent contract. With how he feels, the Pirates maybe eager to get rid of him before he causes more problems. Torres would supply a much needed arm in the bullpen for the 8th inning to get to Reyes, and if Reyes goes down on the DL again, Torres has closing experience. Ty has helped the Rays, but they need relief pitching more, plus they can play Cantu and Wilson at 2B for the rest of this year before Evan Longoira is ready to come up next year. Over the last 5 seasons as a Pirate Torres has averaged a 3.22 ERA, which is better than any pitcher on the Rays at the moment.

Have the Outfield Consist of Crawford, Upton, and Young

Many of the problems during the losing streak were in part to some bad defense that we had not seen before. Young was not used to playing center, and Johnny Gomes is not a great fielder period. By keeping Upton in center it allows Young to move to right where he should be and is most comfortable. When your pitchers are not getting it done, the worst thing is errors that extend an inning. By creating continuity and comfort in the fielders, it will lead to less errors and more outs to help out the pitchers. Upton's future is in center field and with Rocco's future a mystery, the best thing to do is get Upton in center and used to playing center field so he is ready next year.

Send Dioner Navarro Down to Durham and Replace him with Josh Paul and Sean Riggans

Navarro has been total garbage this year. He calls a bad game, he can't hit, and he can't throw out runners. Josh Paul is an older veteran catcher and when he was playing the pitchers had a lower ERA, and he was throwing our 40% of the runners. Riggans is one of the future catchers of this team and really isn't getting anymore experience by playing down in Durham. Riggans is a solid defensive catcher and also has some pop in his bat. Also, with Andy Sonnanstine and JP Howell being up, and Jeff Niemann on his way, it would make sense to have a guy on staff that has caught for them for over a year. Even if Riggans is on the bench, he can tell Paul where the pitchers like to throw and how to talk with them. Paul is the experienced older catcher people are calling for and Riggans is the young guy that can learn from Paul and be the future.

Promote Jeff Niemann in Two Weeks When a 5th Starter is Needed

This is a long time coming. Jeff Niemann was a first round pick 3 years ago now and was expected to be in the rotation already. Niemann had some health issues, but he is healthy now. He has close to the 200 innings that the Rays say they want from their young pitchers and has looked good in his outings. This season he is 9-5 with a 3.75 ERA. In 98.1 innings he has given up 101 hits, walked only 39, while striking out 93. Niemann says he is ready to come up and I believe he is. He may have the most talent in the Rays system and that includes Scott Kazmir. Niemann will benefit from coming up and pitching the second half. He can gain the experience he needs to go into next year and be a solid starter in the rotation.

Call up Dale Thayer, Juan Salas, Justin Ruggiano, and Leave Howell in the Pen

The Rays need to fix the pen and that starts by getting rid of the crap. Send Fossum, Stokes, and Camp down to the minors. Replace them with Thayer, Salas, and Niemann. Leave Howell in the pen to be the lefty specialist as he actually can get left-handers out unlike Fossum. Thayer has been impressive in AA Montgomery. In 45.2 IP he has a 1.97 ERA, walked 11, and struck out 44. He has closing experience down there and is ready to get up and help out. Before he was suspended for substance abuse, Salas actually looked good in the pen. He has looked good in Durham during his return so call him up to replace Stokes, who is absolute trash. Ruggiano is having a great year in Durham in the outfield and with Wigginton being traded for Torres it opens a spot to bring up some bench help for days off in the outfield. We know what we have with the guys in the pen now and also with guys like McClung and Orvella, so lets go with guys that have a chance at helping us out.

Minor League Moves to Further the Development of Players that are Almost Ready

With spots being available in Durham the Rays should promote Chris Mason (SP), Evan Longoria (3B/2B), and John Jaso (C). All three of these guys have shown they can handle AA ball easily and are good enough to move up and see what they can do. Longoria's move would allow the Rays to see if he can handle AAA and maybe worth a September call-up for some experience before going into next year. The Rays should also promote Jacob McGee (SP) from class A to AA and join Wade Davis in the rotation there. These moves will move the development process forward and help get these guys ready to contribute sooner than later.

New Look Rays

Lineup: 1. Aki, 2. Crawford, 3. Upton, 4. Pena, 5. Young, 6. Harris, 7. Gomes, 8. Paul, 9. Wilson

Bench: Cantu, Ruggiano, Riggans, Norton

Starters: James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Andy Sonnasntine, Edwin Jackson, Jeff Niemann

BullPen: JP Howell, Juan Salas, Dale Thayer, Jay Witasik, Gary Glover, Salomon Torres, Reyes

The Rays would be giving guys who will be with the team experience and they will be helping them this year. The fans could get behind the team and see what the future held for the Rays. This would also help the players who seem to be down as well because of how bad the team is. The Rays need to make some moves and these seem like they would do the trick.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

People Upset with Crawford FOX Sports Inteview Need to Calm Down

Carl Crawford was a guest of Chris Meyers on Fox Sports Radio just before the All-Star break. The interview was discussed today on 620 WDAE and all through the media here in Tampa. For those of you who have not heard the interview, here is a link to a podcast from 620 WDAE here in Tampa: http://www.620wdae.com/cc-common/podcast.html.

Meyers talked with Crawford about the Rays situation and basically asked how it felt to be on the laughing stock of the MLB. Meyers later asked him when he could get out of Tampa and after Crawford gave him the details of his contract, Meyers said he was sorry and would pray for him. Meyers later asked where he would like to go if he was a free agent and Crawford said he would want to go somewhere with a better hitters park like Philly, Cincy, or Houston. When asked about how he stays prepared because the Rays are so bad, Carl commented that he is used to it because of being here for five years and that he was trying to help the young players. Finally, Meyers asked what the Rays needed to do to contend and Crawford said that he didn't know and it was the "million dollar question" for the team.

The release of the interview sparked all sorts of talk around the Bay area and many fans were upset with Crawford. My question to them is why? Did Crawford say something that was wrong or offend someone? No. Crawford answered the questions he was answered honestly and I cannot blame him for being disappointed in how the season is going, honestly if he was not disappointed he wouldn't be a leader. Crawford made some valid points and at times he was set up by the media and sounded like he really did not know what to say.

Crawford was on a National radio show and the host basically said that the Rays were garbage and when could Crawford finally get out of there. What should Crawford have done, tell Chris Meyers to go screw himself? He gave him his contract and told him the years and when Chris said he was sorry for him he laughed, but it seemed to be a nervous laugh. Can you blame Crawford for being a little nervous maybe? I mean look what happened to Elijah Dukes when he went on a local radio station, everything he did was scrutinized. Crawford gave a nervous laugh and the truth.

As far as the free agency thing is concerned, he gave a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question. The fact is the Rays have three years to show him that they are moving towards winning. If the Rays are winning that Crawford won't want to go anywhere, and in three years this team better be headed in that direction or else they will have lost more than Crawford. The fact is that Crawford has been told the same line of crap that we have for the past 5 years and he has had to be on the field while it happens. As bad as fans feel when the team is losing like this, imagine a great athlete playing his butt off and watching it go for nothing. Crawford is a talented and competitive guy who is watching others less talented get rings and accolades because their team decided to try and win. You cannot blame Crawford for wanting to win and show that he is one of the best in the league.

Its true that he is used to losing, he has lost her for 5 years. He even said that he is trying to help the young guys deal with it and be a leader. We have wanted someone to step up and be a leader and that is what Crawford has done. Some of these young guys like Upton and Young have never lost like this before and I bet they are pretty upset. Crawford is there to try and keep them focused like a true leader should be doing. Crawford knows what is wrong with this team just like the rest of us do, but he did not call out his teammates because that is something you don't do.

When it comes down to it Crawford was on a national radio show and is only 25 years old and not used to the spotlight. He answered questions honestly and when loaded questions were asked he laughed them off. If you sit back and listen to the interview you can tell that Crawford was nervously laughing at certain things because he didn't know what to do. The fact is that he was right about certain things and he will be with the Rays for the next three years. If the management is serious about contending like they say they are he will be happy when his contract is up and want to re-sign here again like he did before. Crawford is the face of this franchise and he is developing into the leader we need, and leaders don't stay quiet, they voice their opinion good or bad. To everyone that is mad at CC, go calm down and watch one of the best outfielders in a long time play ball.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thoughts on Rays First Half

The All-Star break is upon us, which means that half of the baseball season has come and gone. The Rays ended the first half of the season with a major league worst record of 34-53. The Rays looked to be making strides early this season, but they are 4 games worse this season than last year at the break. The Rays looked to be on track for a solid season and had fans excited until going 5-20 in the last 25 games before the break. The Rays were only 7 games below .500 at the time and many felt they could be over .500, but they went into the tank. There were some good and bad things that happened for the Rays over the first half, more bad than good, and while the Rays record is horrible they did show some signs of life.

Good Things From First Half

Off season Moves - Carlos Pena and Al Reyes were signed for very little money and were not expected to contribute greatly to the season. Pena was a guy who has always had talent, he was drafted 10th overall, but had never realized it. Reyes was coming off of two Tommy John surgeries and was signed in hopes he would provide a veteran presence to the bullpen, but no one thought he would be the closer. In a move that surprised me and I thought made no sense, the Rays traded a relief pitcher for an infielder named Brendan Harris. Harris became the starting shortstop early in the season after Ben Zobrist proved to be highly ineffective. Harris was once an Uber prospect in the Cubs system and was actually compared to Albert Pujols by some scouts. While he is not Pujols, Harris has looked very good for the Rays. Akinori Iwamura was not as heralded as Dice-K or even junk pitcher Kei Igawa by the American media during the off season, but he has proven to be talked about in the same sentence. Aki was known for his defense, but has shown he is capable of all helping in every phase of the game.

Pena, who was optioned at the end of Spring Training, leads the Rays in home runs, RBI, and slugging. Pena has also provided some much needed defense at first base that the Rays lost when Travis Lee left. Reyes has emerged as a dominant force as closer, and the only viable option in the bullpen. Without Reyes the Rays would have a much worse record than they do now and that has been proven by their record since he went on the DL. Harris has been the most consistent Rays hitter all year long and is the only Ray hitting over .300 at the break. Harris has shined on defense as well as offense this year and has proven to be a great deal for the Rays. Aki struggled in Spring Training and some scouts even said he was a bust. Aki came out and showed that his glove was as good as advertised and he can hit. Aki is a major spark plug on the offense and was severely missed when he was out with an oblique injury.

Youngsters - The Rays decided to start their young prospects in hopes that they would draw people to the field and also help the team to start winning. The fans did come out to see them and they did make it interesting for the majority of the first half. BJ Upton looks to be a natural in Center and a also a great second baseman. Delmon Young has shown that he may have the strongest arm in the league and his bat is starting to come around towards the end of the first half. Upton and Young have both shown that they can play in the majors and will be an offensive force going forward. The two young stars are highly touted prospects and are showing that they deserve to be in the majors. James Shields has evolved into the staff ace and has shown that he will be a force in the rotation for years to come. Shields has learned he does not have try and strike everyone out and uses his pitches effectively and with purpose. Andy Sonnanstine has shown that he could be an effective back of the rotation starter and just needs more MLB seasoning. Sonny throws strikes and stays around the strike zone, which is more than we can say for other pitchers on our staff.

Bad Things From First Half

Blowpen - This may be the easiest thing of all time to diagnose as being a bad thing. Outside of Al Reyes and Jay Witasik, who has a 4.82 ERA, everyone in the blow pen has over a 5.00 ERA. Shields would have at least 5 more wins if they could ever close out a game. It is sad that when you the Rays go to the pen you know that they are going to give up at least 2 or 3 runs and most likely more than that. The Rays have tried just about everything to alter this pen and get something going in relief, but nothing is working. They have moved starters to the pen, they have demoted and promoted relievers, and they have signed a FA in Jay Witasik. Nothing the Rays have done so far is working, maybe they should move Josh Wilson to the pen, he looked good in his one inning. I could go on and on about this subject, but we all know its the worst pen that has ever been assembled.

Navarro - The most important position for helping out the pitchers is the catcher. You need only to look at the Tigers after the signed Ivan Rodriquez to see what a good catcher can do for a pitching staff. Navarro was supposed to have great defense and call a great game. Navarro has shown none of these things as most runners steal on him with ease and he seems to call a horrible game. The staff ERA is lower with Josh Paul, Raul Casanova, or Sean Riggans behind the dish. Well if you are not a great defensive catcher you make it up with offense, right? Well not Navarro who is batting a hefty .177. Again Paul, Casanova, and Riggans are all hitting better than Navarro. I think we have seen enough of Navarro to know that he is not the catcher we thought we were getting from the Dodgers.

Starting Pitching - When your relievers are going to blow the game you need to make up for it with starters pitching better and going deeper into games. Outside of James Shields the rotation has been inconsistent at best and garbage at worst. The Rays did make some moves by demoting Jae Seo and sending Casey Fossum to the bullpen and replacing them with Sonnanstine and JP Howell. While Sonny has shown that he can be an effective back of the rotation starter, Howell has gotten worse with his outings and is now been sent to the bullpen. Kazmir was supposed to be the ace, but he has been inconsistent and is struggling to find the strike zone. Without solid pitching the Rays have been left out to dry game in and game out.

Injuries - The Rays have been plagued by injuries in the first half of the season that have effected all facets of the team. Rocco Baldelli has been out most of the year, again, with a hamstring injury. Due to Rocco being out the outfield has been moved around and there has been no continuity. Also, losing Rocco's bat in the lineup is not what the Rays needed. Upton has missed significant amount of playing time and that has hurt the offense as well as the outfield defense. Aki missed around 6 weeks when he was really looking good and his loss was felt immensely on defense and at the top of the lineup where he is the spark plug to get the offense jump started. Al Reyes has now joined the DL ranks leaving the bullpen without its only reliable arm.

The Rays have had ups and downs all season and as you can see the bad far outweighs the good, and the record indicates it. The Rays have a lot of work ahead of them and they need to show not only the fans, but the players they mean business.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Last 2 Days Before Break Sum Up 1st Half Perfectly

The last two games before the all-star break sum up the Rays entire first half perfectly. The Rays got the hitting they needed in both games, they got good starting pitching one game and average the next, the bullpen blew both games, and Joe Maddon rested players for no reason. The Rays could easily have gone into the break on a three game winning streak and with some confidence, but that wouldn't have made sense for this team.
Even the supposed luckiest day on earth could not stop the blowpen from blowing the game on Saturday night. With the Rays up 6-4 in the 8th inning the blowpen was called in to get the last six outs of the game. They preceded to give up 5 straight walks and than a single to allow the Royals to get the go ahead run. The Rays bats responded in the ninth like they have most of the year, but the blowpen blew it again in the ninth.
The Rays got a less than stellar outing from their supposed ace Scott Kazmir on Sunday, but the bats scored enough to keep them in the game, until the blowpen came in. Now Sundays game was the last game before the break and the Rays were looking to go into the break with some momentum, so naturally Maddon benched our only All-Star Carl Crawford. Its a good thing he benched Crawford because he definitely needed that rest with the stretch of 3 straight off days coming up.
This bullpen is quite possibly the worst bullpen that has ever been assembled and has made the Devil Rays the laughing stock of the league once again. It does not matter who you go to in the pen, you know they won't be able to keep it close or close out the game. While the bullpen is horrid, the starters have not been great this year either. James Shields has been a great surprise this year, but outside of him the rotation has been inconsistent at best and horrible at worst. Scott Kazmir was supposed to be the staff ace, but he has adjusted his delivery and is wasting pitches and walking everyone in sight. Andy Sonnanstine is learning on the job, but his talent projects to be a back of the rotation starter. Edwin Jackson has the talent, but can't put it together and needs time in the minors that the Rays cannot give them. The Rays have no 5th starter at the moment because JP Howell has looked awful recently, so the Rays are looking for a pitcher to fill that spot.
The Rays also have another problem and that is the horrible decision making by Joe Maddon. Now you can only play who you have and at times you have to just play with crap, but you don't always have to play with crap. This manager insists on sitting young guys to give them days off for no reason. Maddon sits a player who should be playing to Jorge Cantu a couple extra at bats. Sunday was a prime example of the incompetence that Joe Maddon has shown as manager of the Rays this season. With a 3 day break coming up for the All-Star game and needing to win to get some kind of momentum going Maddon sat Crawford. Why would you rest a hot hitting Crawford when you need a win and he is about to get 3 days of rest? It really is like Joe wants to get players on the field and does not care about winning. I like Joe as a person and like I said you have to play what you have, but when you don't play the good players you do have, you do not deserve the benefit of the doubt.
The Rays have a three day break before starting a four game home set with Yankees. The Rays need to figure out what to do in this second half to stop what has gone on in the first half. If the Rays do not make some sort of moves to get this team winning again they will be look like they have for the last 10 years and many fans will start to believe that this team will never change. I can see some light on this team, but it is hard to keep up the positives when you are the laughing stock of the league because of such a horrible bullpen and terrible decisions by their manager. The Rays front office has a second half to prove to this town that they are moving in the right direction, I sure hope they do.

Preseason Running Back Tiers

Last season it was a debate between 3 running backs on who the number 1 pick should be, but this year it can only be LT2. What is up to debate is the rest of the running backs. Some new top studs have emerged and the youngsters from last year have made their way up the board.
In my mind Steven Jackson has emerged as the second best back available in the draft due to the offense he is in and not carrying all the problems that LJ does. LJ is dealing with a contract issue, a trade discussion, having too many rush attempts, and having Herm Edwards as his coach. Gore jumped up the rankings this year despite losing Norv Turner as the Niners Offensive Coordinator. Although Norv is a great coach, i don't think losing him will be as big of a problem as many believe. The Niners added Darrell Jackson as a number 1 wide out, upgraded the offensive line, and have a healthy Vernon Davis to throw to in the TE position. Injury concerns and age have given me some concerns about Alexander and thus he rounds out the second tier.
The third tier is headlined by your stud PPR running backs in Westy and FWP. Westy is still the running and receiving game for the Eagles and the Steelers offense will still lean on Parker as the year goes on. Addai emerged as a solid running back last year and with the departure of Rhodes he becomes the man in the high powered Colts offense. Rudi Johnson is still the guy to carry the load for the Bengals and will get his TD's. Portis may lose some carries to Betts considering how well Betts ran last year, but if Portis is healthy he will be a stud.
The 4th tier starts with Henry who could be higher if we really new that he would get all the touches in the Denver offense. Shannahan has a way of messing with fantasy owners and who knows if Henry will get the majority of the touches. I like McGahee to have a big year in Baltimore with that great offensive line the Ravens have and the veteran Steve McNair at the helm. MJD would be higher and I like him for the long run, but all indications are that there will be three running backs getting touches in Jacksonville and so he is down the list. Benson finally is the starter in Chicago, but he has injury concerns and has yet to should an entire load if an NFL season.
The 5th tier consists of your top rookie running backs, guys who had bad seasons last year and are looking to rebound, and guys who may be in a bad situation. Lynch is a great back and I like him a lot, but that offensive line in Buffalo is horrid. Tatum Bell has impressed the coaches in Detroit and I expect him to get the starting nod while Kevin Jones is out, but he may go back to RBBC when KJ is healthy so there are some concerns there. I am not sure that Brandon Jacobs can be the man for the Giants and shoulder the entire year so I have him down on my list. Jamal Lewis did not have great seasons the past two with a great Baltimore line, so what will be different in Cleveland with a worse offensive line?
The 6th and 7th tiers are made up of the truly RBBC teams and guys that are back ups or in really bad spots. Right now no one knows who will be the starter in Carolina, but whoever it is will shoot up the board in my opinion. I think the loss of Parcells will effect MBIII as he was Parcells back and Jones is looking to be the number 1 as it is now. I want nothing to do with the Oakland situation or the Tennessee situation. The Green Bay RBBC is intriguing as I think whoever the starter is will have value, but it is hard to determine that at the moment.

Steven Jackson, STL
Larry Johnson, KAN
Frank Gore, SFO
Shaun Alexander, SEA

Brian Westbrook, PHI
Willie Parker, PIT
Joseph Addai, IND
Reggie Bush, NOR
Rudi Johnson, CIN
Clinton Portis, WAS

Travis Henry, DEN
Laurence Maroney, NEP
Willis McGahee, BAL
Edgerrin James, ARZ
Ronnie Brown, MIA
Maurice Jones-Drew, JAX
Thomas Jones, NYJ
Cedric Benson, CHI

Marshawn Lynch, BUF
Cadillac Williams, TBB
Deuce McAlister, NO
Ahman Green, HOU
Adrian Peterson, MIN
Tatum Bell, DET
Chester Taylor, MIN
Fred Taylor, JAX
Julius Jones, DAL
Brandon Jacobs, NYG
Warrick Dunn, ATL
Jamal Lewis, CLE

Marion Barber III, DAL
DeAngelo Williams, CAR
Deshaun Foster, CAR
Vernand Morency, GBP
Chris Henry, TEN
Jerious Norwood, ATL
Lamont Jordan, OAK
Brandon Jackson, GBP
Lendale White, TEN

Ladell Betts, WAS
Michael Turner, SDG
Mike Bell, DEN
Leon Washington, NYJ
Reuben Droughns, NYG
Lorenzo Booker, MIA
Ron Dayne, DEN
Anthony Thomas, BUF
Adrian Peterson, CHI
Kenny Irons, CIN
Michael Bush, OAK
Jerome Harrison, CLE
DeDe Dorsey, IND

Friday, July 6, 2007

Blow Pen Tries to Keep Streak Going, but Rays Still Win

With the Rays up 6-3 in the 8th inning, Casey Fossum was asked to come in and get one out. He threw one pitch, which was hit for a double by Alex Gordon and got the Royals back in the game. Luckily Jay Witasik was able to come in and stop the bleeding and get the final out of the 8th. With Al Reyes on the DL Gary Glover was called on to get the save. Glover promptly gave up a home run to John Buck and than an infield single to Joey Gaithright. Glover settled down and got the next three outs to close out the game.

Their best chance to stop the 11 game losing streak was tonight against the Royals. Ace James Shields was on the mound facing off against Odalis Perez, who came into the game with over a 5 ERA. Shields pitched a great game as usual and the bats answered the call for run support Shields needed to win the game. Shields pitched 7 2/3 innings, allowing 4 ER on 7 hits, walking none, and striking out 6.

The Rays scrapped and fought this game and it was great to see them get the win. You could tell that these guys wanted this win very badly. From Wigginton's diving play at second base to Gomes hustle plays on the bases; you could tell that Shields and the position players wanted this misery to end.

Now a win is a win, and right now I will take what i can get, but there is still something that bothered me about decision making. I understand that Shields had over 100 pitches and Casey is left-handed, but Casey is allowing batters to hit over .320, while Shields and Witasik are allowing much lower averages. Guys like Fossum and Stokes have to be in the bullpen because we need arms, but they should only be in the game when we are being blown out or up by 10 runs. They both suck and should not be trusted in a game with a lead. I understand that Maddon can only use what he is given, but in this instance he did not have to use Fossum.

Good news for the Rays is that the bats seem to have come alive these past couple games and hopefully they will stay that way and the Rays can get solid starting pitching. Crawford has really come into his own at the 2 hole and has looked much better since moving up in the lineup. Delmon Young has been on fire and seems like a natural 5 hitter in this lineup. The return of BJ Upton will only help this lineup get back to where it was at the beginning of the year and hopefully hey can score enough runs that the blowpen can't lose it for us.

The Rays finally showed some fire and desire that is needed to win the game. I don't know where it came from, but where ever it did I hope it is here to stay.

Streak moves 11, but its OK.......

The Rays continued their losing ways last night in an embarrassing loss to the Boston Red Sox. The loss makes it 11 in a row, and it was by far the worst loss of this horrid streak. The Sox scored 6 runs in 2/3 innings of of starter JP Howell. The relief was not relief at all, but whats new with the Rays blowpen right? The Sox scored in four of the eight innings in which they had at bats. Every starter except for Julio Lugo had 2 or more hits in the game, but according to our manager and front office, its OK.

After Howell gave up 6 runs in only 2/3 of an inning, our fearless manager went out tapped him on the butt and said good job. Good Job? You are kidding me right? Maddon also said that we did some good things in the game; I guess it was good that we only gave up 15 runs and not 30. This manager has no clue what is going on and it is rubbing off on the players and how they play the game. It also does not help that Andrew Friedman came out and said Maddon is doing a good job and it's not his fault. Whose fault is it than Andrew? Attitude and desire reflects leadership, and you and Joe Maddon are the big leaders here. What type of message does it send to the team when you are destroyed and you bring up that one pitcher had a good inning? The team lost by a large margin and you want to bring up how Jay Witasik had a good inning?

This losing streak is getting to the fans as well as the players. Carl Crawford told the St. Pete times that this is beyond embarrassing and that he is to ashamed to leave his hotel room. When a quiet leader like Carl Crawford, who has always backed the Rays and took a pay cut to sign a long term deal here to help this franchise feels this way; it is not good. This is not the first time Crawford has said something either, he made a comment during the Toronto series about how bad the bullpen is. Crawford has stood by and drank the kool aid they are giving out to the players, but maybe he has had enough. Also, if a stand up guy like Crawford feels this way, what do you think Delmon Young and BJ Upton think and might say? These two guys have already shown that they believe their shit does not stink and they think they are the best. The Rays says they are committed to keeping these young players and spending the money on them, but what happens when these guys do not want to be apart of this team anymore because of how it is run?

I have been a Rays fan since the day they got a team and I will continue to stay a Rays fan while they are in Tampa Bay, but i think I am in a very small minority. I remember sitting in the stands the last time a streak like this happened and Randy Winn finally got us out of it. I am afraid when i go to the next home Rays game after the break it may be the same feeling because we couldn't win a game against the Royals. The Rays need someone to stand up and tell these guys to snap out of it and play, but our manager just wants to drink his wine and pat these guys on there bottom and tell them it's OK. It's not OK. You play a game to win, but this team is playing for teaching opportunities. The fans are upset, the players are upset, but it's OK because Jay Witasik pitched a good 7th inning.