Deconstructing the Rays: What Went Wrong
So much for predictions. The collective wisdom of Baseball Insider went a whopping 0-5 in picking the World Series outcome. 0-5. Not a single writer picked the Phillies at all. Not a single writer among us.
All credit for that is due to the Phillies. They hit for power, they hit in the clutch and the pitched with aplomb. Manager Charlie Manuel stuck to his plan and traditional rotations and every one of them worked.
Congrats Philly fans, your team earned it.
That being said, the Rays helped them a bit along the way. The Tampa Bay team that sat broodingly in the dugout as the Phillies celebrated last night played like a different one than the young, exuberant team that pushed off a final Red Sox stand to win the ALCS. It was a different team than the one that took the White Sox to the woodshed in three of four first round games. It was a different team than the one that sprinted out to an early ALCS East lead, then repelled both Boston and the Yankees down the stretch of the season to win the first divisional title in franchise history.
Again, the Phillies had something to say about that, but the Rays threw themselves plenty of self-inflicted wounds. The Rays didn't execute their pitching plans the way they did earlier in the playoffs. They didn't hit with the power they showed against the White Sox and, more impressively, against the Red Sox. Manager Joe Maddon took chances on some relief matchups that went horribly wrong. All in all, they just came up short.
The most glaring of the Rays' shortcomings came on the mound, where only Game 2 starter James Shields executed a coherent game plan as effectively as he had in previous rounds. Scott Kazmir struggled early in both his starts, ALCS MVP Matt Garza had a rough time with Saturday's rain delay, looking positively out of sorts through much of his Game 3 start before being bailed out on taking a loss. Then there's Game 4 starter Andy Sonnannstine, who was positively rocked by everyone in Philadelphia's lineup.
The amazing thing isn't that the Rays pitchers were beaten, it's that they were victimized by a Phillies lineup that crushed every single mistake Tampa Bay threw at them.
It started in Game 1, when Chase Utley took Scott Kazmir deep practically as soon as he'd started pitching. Kazmir missed on a two straight fastballs in Utley's at bat, the second baseman fouling off a bunt attempt on the first 91 mile-per-hour offering, then taking the second one deep. At game's end, that one pitching error paved the way for two of Philadelphia's three runs.
Three of the four runs given up by Garza in Game 3 also came on location mistakes. In the second inning, Carlos Ruiz got around on a 94 mph fastball that slipped right into his power zone to give Phillies a 2-0 edge. Then, just when it seemed Garza had hit his stride late, Utley and Howard caught Garza trying to beat them over the middle of the plate in two-straight at-bats. Utley crushed a 94 mph fastball that he crushed when it came at him belt-high on the inside edge of the plate and Howard obliterating an underwhelming Garza slider that came at him belt-high and inside.
Anyone still wondering if Utley and Howard like belt-high pitches? If you are, Howard's two homers the next night came on a belt-high softball thrown by Andy Sonnannstine in the fourth inning and an 86 mph fastball from Trever Miller. That one, not surprisingly, was belt-high, too.
So how did Rays pitchers possibly let so many mistakes slip? Some of it may have come from a lack of familiarity. Tampa playing Boston 18 times in the regular season clearly helped them know exactly what they could get away with against most of Boston's hitters.
Then again, mistakes on the mound are just in the nature of baseball. Pitchers pitch, sometimes they miss and sometimes those mistakes get clobbered. Hats off to the Phillies for crushing all the mistakes that came their way, and for making Maddon's questionable moves -- sticking with Grant Balfour against Geoff Jenkins last night, leaving in left-hander J.P. Howell to try and get out of the seventh-inning -- haunt the Rays through the offseason.
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