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.