It’s all about the pitching

Jonathan Papelbon“Momentum is always as strong as your starting pitcher is the next day.”
– Joe Maddon

Leave it to the well-read Rays manger to come up with such a profound statement. Chances are this saying is nailed up in his teams’ clubhouse alongside others from the likes of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Maddon’s right, and he’s used this pitching-first philosophy to propel his team into the ALCS.

If there’s one quality that ties each of the remaining four teams together, it’s that each of them can hit. They each have at least two big bats, lead-off men that can hit for average, and a bottom of the order that can consistently do some damage. When teams are this evenly matched at the plate, it’s often a single blunder on the part of a pitcher that can decide a game. As we’ve seen in the Division Series between the Angels and Red Sox, it comes down to the pitching. Both teams boasted fabulous rotations and excellent hitting, but it was the Red Sox middle relief and closer that really won the games.

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Rays proving experience doesn’t mean everything in postseason

Tampa Bay RaysSome will be quick to point out that perhaps the most dangerous team in the American League this postseason is the Boston Red Sox – and with good reason given their playoff experience throughout the years. They’ve not only been here before, but they’ve also won.

But as the Tampa Bay Rays have proved so far, experience isn’t everything.

The Rays are the seventh youngest team in MLB, with an average age of 27.5. Before this season, they had never won their division, never reached the postseason and had never won a playoff game. Yet after their 6-2 win over the Chicago White Sox on Friday night, Tampa sits just one win away from reaching the ALCS.

It’s hard to downplay experience in the postseason and if the Red Sox go on to beat the Angels (arguably the most talented team in the AL this year) in their best of five series, they’ll once again provide an example of how important it is to have a veteran roster.

But the Rays have built a 2-0 lead in the ALDS despite most of their roster never appearing in a postseason game. And it’s because they not only believe that they can compete with anyone, but they’re also playing complete baseball. They can hit (see Evan Longoria’s 2 HRs in Game 1), they can pitch (see Grant Balfour’s excellent relief appearances in the series), they can run (see their three total stolen bases) and they can play defense (see zero errors). The veteran Sox, on the other hand, have shown to be one-dimensional and now are on the brink of elimination.

So it’ll be interesting to see if the Rays’ youth eventually catches up with them this postseason. Because of right now, experience isn’t holding this club back one bit.

MLB Playoffs Quick Reads

– Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that the Cubs are a tragedy of errors right now.

– Chris DeLuca of the Times notes that the Cubs aren’t the only ones in a slump – manager Lou Piniella is, too.

– Joey Johnston of the Tampa Tribune gushes over Rays’ rookie Evan Longoria’s cool after the third basemen hit two home runs in Game 1 of ALDS against the White Sox.

– Todd Zolecki of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes that Phils manager Charlie Manuel has succeeded with juggling the club’s lineup so far against the Brewers in the NLDS.

– John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times likes the fire that Rays’ RP Grant Balfour shows, but also writes how the young pitcher invites trouble along with his success.

– Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer waxes poetically about Shane Victorino, the “little Philly” who came up with a huge grand slam against Brewers’ ace CC Sabathia in Game 2 of the NLDS.

Rays fans have a fever. And the only prescription is more cowbell.

Grant BalfourFor the past couple years, no prop has ever been more annoying than those obnoxious “thunder sticks” that Los Angeles Angels fans used during the 2002 World Series.

Until now.

During Game 1 of the Rays-White Sox ALDS (a 6-4 TB win), the home crowd in Tampa actually broke out cowbells…and used them the entire game. Nothing is more soothing during exciting MLB playoff game than to hear the constant ding of a freaking cowbell. Glad to see Rays fans actually knew where Tropicana Field was after leaving the place largely deserted during the regular season as the club won its first ever AL East Division title.

Regardless of how annoying the cowbells were, the game was exciting and it’s nice to see a young franchise win their first postseason game. Rookie Evan Longoria (3-3, 2 HRs, 3 runs, 3 RBI) is a stud and James Shields deserves a lot of credit for going almost seven innings after it appeared that he wasn’t going to make it past the third or fourth. The two teams even provided a little fireworks when Rays’ relief pitcher Grant Balfour and Sox infielder Orlando Cabrera started throwing profanities at each other during a heated at bat in the seventh inning. Balfour eventually got the best of the matchup, striking out Cabrera to end the inning with the bases loaded.

Tampa has a built a nice team over the years and true Rays fans deserve to finally see a winner. They also apparently have a fever. And the only prescription is…

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