Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Zen Dayley: Method to the madness for the amazin' Rays

The playoff races are fully on, so there will be some Zen Dayley, nightly, from here on out through the World Serious.

It seems like an all-time Deus ex machina.

Dan Johnson arrives directly from Triple-A and hits a game-tying, ninth-inning homer off Jonathan Papelbon at Fenway Park. It ultimately kept the Tampa Bay Rays, who went on to win 5-4, in first place in the AL East, at least for another 48 hours. As a side benefit, it was a wicked burn on the smart alecks who have been forecasting the Rays' demise on a daily basis, since they -- all together new -- don't know how to win. It might be new to their players, but when it comes to robbing the Red Sox, Tampa's front office has the joint cased.

It need not be said that Johnson's hit is the stuff people cling to when they tell and retell the story of dramatic playoff races. He barely got out of Scranton, Pa., where he was with Tampa's Triple-A team, was kept from getting to Fenway when his cab got caught in Boston traffic nd had to be scratched from Tampa's lineup. Also, get this -- Johnson started the season by sitting on the Oakland A's bench when they were the designated opponent for the Red Sox during their trip to Japan. He travelled all that way, didn't get to play in either of the regular-season games in Tokyo and was let go by the A's

There's all that, but last night showed how the best playoff races are these Russian-novel-thick histories. The Rays winning a big game where Johnson and another Triple-A callup, Fernando Perez, who singled and scored the winning run, illustrates what that franchise does so well.

It's kind of convenient to the narrative that the Red Sox were by virtue of a two-run homer in the eighth by Jason Bay, whom the Rays tried and failed to get at the July 31 trade deadline. This is good a time as any to point out that even through he's had 31 RBI in 30 games since going to Boston, Bay's hitting about the same as he usually does. A right-handed hitting RBI man for the Red Sox is always going to have a lot of ribbies -- see Rice, Jim Ed.

The Rays ended up countering through a couple of lesser lights, Johnson and rookie outfielder Fernando Perez, who following the homer doubled and came home with the game-winner on Dioner Navarro's double off the Green Monster.

Honestly, who but the most godforsaken baseball geek knew Johnson was in the Rays system? There are dozens of guys like him floating around between Double-A and the majors. Teams keep them in the system because they have offer just enough in power and on-base percentage that they can hit as well as anybody for a week before they tumble back to earth. The Rays were smart enough to scoop him up and have in Triple-A Durham, almost as if they were saving him for just such a moment in September. That speaks to the kind of roster management they practise, while certain other AL East teams have been farting around with Brad Wilkerson and Kevin Mench.

It's similar with Fernando Perez. His main claim to fame is that he's a rare position player out of the Ivy League (Columbia; other than Doug Glanville a few years ago, the Ivies are more known for producing pitchers and wildly unpopular presidents). He's been blocked by the Rays' surfeit of outfielders. Tampa will probably offer him up in a trade at some point soon and someone will take him, since he's got leadoff guy skills (.361 on-base percentage, 78% stolen-base success rate in Durham this season).

To sum up, there's two subtle moves that paid off for the Rays in lieu of one headline-grabber. It's not terribly sexy, but it got the job done.

There's still the drama, though, which is amped all the more by the fact Dan Johnson was 0-for-15 as a pinch-hitter. On the same day, the Oakland A's also released the Mike Sweeney, the first baseman/DH they kept instead of him.

(It's no, "And all of a sudden the ball was there, like the Mystic River Bridge, suspended out in the black of morning" -- which was Peter Gammons' lede after Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, the Carlton Fisk game, but the unadulterated joy comes through all the same in DRaysBay's account. ShysterBall is also recommending reading this morning.)

  • Why Carlos Delgado -- two more homers in a big Mets win last night! -- should not be National League MVP, in 25 words or less ... You don't think the New York Mets would have a bigger lead if they had either Lance Berkman or Albert Pujols at first base instead of King Carlos?

    Twenty-five words -- bang on! Here's the numbers:
    King Carlos: .266/.350 /.518, 35 HR, 103 RBI, 83 runs
    Prince Albert: .361/.467/.655, 33 HR, 98 RBI, 89 runs
    Lance: .331/.403/.633, 28 HR, 100 RBI, 109 runs
    There is a precedent for a veteran first baseman on a NL East team being voted MVP by virtue of being absolutely nails in the second half -- Willie Stargell in 1979. It's a bad, terrible precedent, though.
  • The L.A. Dodgers making the playoffs, well, that would be the new definition of obscenity.

    L.A. and the Arizona Diamondbacks are each below .500 outside their terrible division, yet one of them will wake up on Sept. 30 seven wins away from a spot in the World Series.

    With playoff teams like that, it's almost an argument not to care too much about whether the Jays ever make the playoffs again. Making the playoffs out of either West division is like winning a Grammy.
Damn, the Jays
  • Ten wins in a row. Oh right, it doesn't matter.
  • Travis Snider outpolled the Rockies' super-outfielder Dexter Fowler 64-35 in a "Who would you rather have?" poll at Minor League Ball.
  • FanGraphs has some details on the Jays' catcher of the future, J.P. Arencibia. The best way to quit drinking is to do a shot every time Arencibia draws a base on balls.

    (He's a bit of a free swinger. That's the joke.) The Tao has some choice words for anyone who believes that Jays' win streak is moot.

    Winning when the pressure's off is a canard. I got disabused of it several years ago, and man, I had it coming.

    Rob Neyer from had just come out with his Big Book of Baseball Lineups. On his website, he'd set up a page on his website where eagle-eyed baseball obsessives could alert him to tiny factual errors. (What it says about someone who has to be the one to poit out that Tony Batista hit 41 home runs in 2000, not 45 -- who cares, did it take away from the enjoyment of the book, really? -- is best left unsaid.)

    Neyer had flubbed some picayune detail about the 1988 Blue Jays, who as he had written, came within two games of winning the AL East. An e-mail was quickly sent, but it pointed out, "The '88 Jays were never a contender -- they were under .500 at the start of September and went on a window-dressing 22-7 run to get to a final 87-75 record."

    Neyer's rebuttal was that any team which finishes two games out was close to winning the pennant.

    Remember, the better the Jays' record, the more it validates the self-righteous indignation Jays fans will feel in about a month when some National League team is playing for a spot in the World Series.
  • Scott Downs should stay in the bullpen. Don't mess with success.
  • It's sounding like it's not such a sure thing that the Jays will put their farm team in Buffalo. They might end up in New Orleans.

    (It's all hands on deck in Syracuse to get a deal done with the Mets.)


Duane Rollins said...

Winning when the pressure's off is a canard

Yes and no...

It does matter in the sense that it is making it fun to watch the Jays right now. The season has been a disaster, but the streak has given me reason to watch--I took in big chunks of both games yesterday. So, that's something.

But, that doesn't make writing about the alleged inability to win when the pressure is on any less valid. There is ample, peer reviewed, evidence that shows that anxiety affects performance (and before you Moneyball types jump all over that statement understand that there is a difference between failing to perform at your peak potential--choking--and actually exceeding your capabilities--the fallacy of clutch hitting). So, it's not insane to explore the possibility that many of the current Jays might not handle anxiety as well as they could (although I'll acknowledge that most columnists do not look at the concept in any depth).

I agree with Neyer in regards to the '88 Jays. That team entered the last weekend of the season with a chance to win the division and facing the Red Sox. If memory serves, they actually closed it to one before Boston won the Saturday night game. The current team is still a long ways away from having a chance on the final weekend.

But, they are causing me to think just a little bit about the possibility (not so much to make it, but to get close enough to play one of those meaningful games that we haven't seen in these parts for a while).

They are also doing enough to have people talking out loud about throwing Doc and AJ out on three days rest. With this team you take the little victories, and this streak is just that--a little victory...

Edmonton Franchise Consulting Firms said...

have you read the article "Johnson's Approach Pays Off" i think youd find it interesting. It says "Johnson's best bet to get back on track was to produce at the plate, and he did it better than just about anyone in the International League. Johnson ended up ranked in the IL's top 10 in average (.307), homers (25), on-base percentage (.424) and slugging percentage (.556), his numbers impressing even those who hadn't see him play."