Rays Colored Glasses: Series Six-Pack of Questions

Wally Fish, the FanSided MLB Director of Content and Lead Writer for our Minnesota Twins blog Puckett’s Pond, swapped questions with me as part of the series preview between the Twins and Rays. I was scoring my sons baseball game and missed it yesterday so I am posting the questions today. I have to admit that it was a joy to wake up this morning (at 5:30…ugh) and see that the Rays had beaten the Twins in the series opener. Ok, enough gloating. Here then are the questions we traded and our respective answers.

3 on 3 Questions

Twins Questions:
Ben: The Twins offense is struggling mightily, sitting at the bottom of the American League in runs scored. Is this just a bump in the road or is it endemic of something more serious?

Wally: I think this is clearly just a slow start and nothing to be overly concerned about. The Twins lineup is too talented and too deep to continue on as they have through the first 11 games. With Mauer, Morneau, Span, Cuddyer, Kubel, Thome and Delmon Young they will be in the top-5 of the AL in runs score by the end of the season.

Ben: When Francisco Liriano exploded on the scene in 2006, winning the AL Rookie of the Year, he looked like the heir apparent to Johan Santana. Since his injury the following season he has been incredibly inconsistent. While he has probably one of the nastiest pitches in the game (slider) is that pitch the reason he is such an injury risk? And which version of him will we see this year? The 2009 (5.80 ERA, 1.551 WHIP, 8.0 K/9) or the 2010 version (3.62 ERA, 1.263 WHIP, 9.4 K/9?)

Wally: I’m far from an expert when it comes to pitching mechanics but the slider does tend to put more stress on the elbow than other pitches. That said, there have been plenty of guys who had long and very productive careers featuring a slider and I don’t necessarily consider Liriano any more of an injury risk than any other pitcher in baseball at this point in time. Any starter’s career can evaporate in a single pitch, but as the team continues to evaluate whether or not to offer him a contract extension, his reliance on the slider and his past have to be weighed into what they are willing to offer/pay him in the future. Then again Roy Halladay struggled with injuries and consistency early on in his career in Toronto and things have gone pretty well for him since. We will see much more of the 2010 version of Liriano than the 2009 version this season.

Ben: The Chicago White Sox made some serious moves during the off-season and it shows in their AL leading 73 runs scored in the first dozen games. With their offense on cruise control and the pitching starting to solidify, can the Twins hold them off and repeat as AL Central champs or are they going to get bulldozed by the White Sox juggernaut?

Wally: Frankly, the thought of the White Sox as a juggernaut makes me laugh. Just like the Twins and Tigers, the Sox have flaws and significant cracks are already apparent in their bullpen. The key parts of their lineup are past their prime years and the have very little depth in the minors to rely upon during the season. That lack of depth and the gutted farm system (ranked 27th by Baseball America) will also handcuff their ability to trade for reinforcements this summer.

Ozzie Guillen is already publicly wishing for Bobby Thigpen to walk through the door to close games and the season isn’t even 2 weeks old. It’s not the last time he’s going to freak out or overreact to something and his tirades do have an impact on this team. Sometimes that impact is negative and sometimes it is positive, but as a result, Chicago has always been an incredibly streaky team under Ozzie. They go through more sharp peaks and valleys than most teams so I never put much stock in their place in the standings until they are mathematically eliminated or the last game of the regular season has been played. Their offense is on a roll right now, but it will come back to the pack just as the Twins offense will improve over the course of a 162 game season.

There is little doubt in my mind that the AL Central is still the Twins division to win in 2011.

Rays Questions:

Wally: What is the ETA for OF prospect Desmond Jennings and what can realistically be expected of him when he arrives?

Ben: Rays Colored Glasses staff writer Kris Dunn and I disagreed on Jennings place on the roster during spring training. My contention was that he needed a little more seasoning in the minors and should not come up just to ride the pine. With the emergence of Sam Fuld the Rays can afford to take their time with Jennings this season, and almost certainly aren’t eager to start the arbitration clock any sooner than necessary. That means, at the earliest, a June 1st call up.

As far as what to expect, since many have compared him to Carl Crawford, if he does come up this summer, he’d be good to mirror Crawford’s first year in the bigs, which wasn’t anything to write home about; in 2002 Crawford logged 259 at bats, hitting two home runs, driving in 30 runs and stealing nine bases (while getting caught five times.) Bottom line: I don’t expect Jennings to have a huge impact this year, but it would be good for him to spend a half season with the team to set the stage for next year.

Wally: The Rays have what I consider to be one of the best rotations 1-5 in all of baseball and despite the 3-8 start, most nights it looks like the rotation has kept the team the games. What is the perception among Rays fans about this group of starters and what do you expect from them the rest of this season?

Ben: Outside of Philadelphia I’m on board with your comment about the rotation. I’m actually in the minority in that I think James Shields will be traded around the break unless he returns to his 2007-2009 form. The Rays could easily call up Chris Archer or, if I had my druthers, Matt Moore to replace him. Rays fans are more concerned about the offense, although there have been rumblings recently with the poor start from what was considered one of the best rotations in the game prior to the start of the season.
The case for Moore, who led the minors the past two years in strikeouts and owns a ridiculous 12.9 K/BB, is compelling. Like they did with Garza, Shields will garner interest around the break as contenders look for help to bolster rotations, and the shrewd Rays management team continues to score points for finding players like Zobrist and Fuld in those deals. I think we’ll see a change regardless at some point this season. Hellickson is already flashing his top of the rotation talent, so adding Moore to that lineup along with Neimann and Davis makes a lot of sense. I think the Rays are expecting this to be a transitional year, regardless of what they are telling the media, and who they call up will tell us a lot about what they expect as the season progresses.

Wally: Last year we watched the Twins survive without Justin Morneau for the second half of the season. How have the Rays been coping without Evan Longoria on the field and what is the timetable for his return?

Ben: Longoria is the team leader and losing him left a huge hole, not just in the lineup but in the team psyche. His bat is sorely missed as we have seen early on, although the team woke up a bit after Manny suddenly retired. More to the point however is the loss at the corner defensively. Sean Rodriguez missed several balls that Longoria would have fielded and it cost them at least two games against the Orioles. Unfortunately for Rays fans there isn’t much the team can do to speed up the process with Longo. A strained oblique needs time, pure and simple. Joe Maddon did say on Tuesday that Longoria’s injury is progressing as expected, so a return by early May still looks on track.

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