There’s nothing else to say as Travis becomes certain that a team that’s taken heat for year’s has finally arrived in the MLB playoff picture.
· Most of the games I’ve been watching this year have come with something of a dead period, allowing me to come up with some sort of introduction to The Baseball Report. The intent of this intro was to not relate it to the game at hand whatsoever, so I could, at the very least, hopefully reach a broader audience than just those who wish to read about one game featuring two arbitrarily selected teams, as I half-heartedly attempt to watch every team in a month while full-heartedly trying to keep a finger on the pulse of the actual important games. That’s still my intent with these intros. I take the notes, edit them, write something that can engage a reader to open it up, and then present the notes, which are hopefully at least either witty or insightful (or, in extraordinary circumstances, both). Some days, however, the game can speak for itself, and I actually pick a good one. For a game like that, who needs an intro? The nine innings I watch tell the story well enough themselves. For the first time this season, tonight is one of those nights. I actually even had a topic to open with, but we’ll save that for the inevitable crappy game I get treated to next time. Tonight, it’s all about the baseball.
45-27 Cubs (Sean Gallagher, 3-3, 4.54) @ 42-29 Rays (James Shields, 4-5, 3.91)
· Chicago is in 1 st in the NL Central, four up on St. Louis. They’ve lost their last two, but are 6-4 in their last ten. Tampa Bay, going for the three-game sweep tonight, is 2 nd in the AL East, two behind Boston, and lead the Wild Card, three ahead of the Yankees. They’ve won their last two, and are 6-4 in their last ten.
· Though Gallagher/Shields is not the greatest pitching matchup, these two teams are certainly worth watching. However, the fact that the AL’s once again dominating interleague play (72-50 at the start of this one) makes me a little less enthusiastic.
· Both teams get runners in the first, but nobody scores. In all honesty, I agree that the AL’s much better than the NL, but can the NL’s best team seriously not win against the other league’s third- or fourth-best? I think the Cubbies are out to prove something tonight, and they’ll get the win.
· Maybe the 4.54 ERA’s scaring me off of him, but Sean Gallagher doesn’t seem like that bad of a pitcher, with his 36:15 K/BB and only four homers allowed in 41.2 innings. For a second-year pitcher and first-year starter, those are very good numbers. As for Shields, who I took a look at exactly a month ago, he’s a solid starter. I find ten homers in 89.2 to be a little high, but the 69:17 K/BB’s fantastic. In other words, we might have a low-scorer tonight.
· Sure, its team might be good, but The Trop still seems like it’s not a great place to play baseball. The atmosphere tonight, however, feels ramped up, seeing that it appears that Cubs fans have bought out the whole lower level. Way to show up, Tampa Bay!
· Tampa’s “triple threat” of Eric Hinske, Evan Longoria, and Cliff Floyd respectively walks, singles, and errors their way on to load the bases before Willy Aybar double plays in a run. It’s weak, but it works, though I can’t say that I’m incredibly sold on their legitimacy after that. How many days until the Yankees pass these guys after intraleague play starts back up?
· Chicago pulls off the sloppiest play of the game thus far, as Kosuke Fukudome gets fooled by a pitchout. And I thought that I’d be tuning in to a good game.
· By the way, today’s announce crew: Dewayne Staats, Joe Magrane, and Todd Kalas on FSN Florida. Historically, I’ve always liked these guys. For a franchise that I always considered bush league, they’ve got some good commentary.
· Does anybody else find it funny that one of the main features at The Trop is called “The Rays Tank”? Is it also a team history exhibit?
· Shields turns it up a notch in the top of the 4 th, striking out the side of Geovany Soto, Micah Hoffpauir, and Mark DeRosa. He’s got six strikeouts through four innings, and, even though they’re only up 1-0, I’d say Tampa’s clearly in control.
· After showing a mortifying picture of the hand of Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown (The answer to tonight’s AFLAC trivia question), Magrane cracks that Antonio Alfonseca should be twice as good. Now that’s what I want from my baseball broadcasts!
· At Rays Baseball Camps, kids 6-14 can learn to play the Rays way! Wow, I can’t imagine what that would’ve meant last year.
· Shields is rolling for Tampa at this point, with eight strikeouts through five innings. The Cubs really don’t seem to be enjoying themselves right now, despite so also solid pitching from Gallagher through four.
· A fantastic interview’s underway in the bottom of the 5 th between Staats and Mike Purcell, a District Manager for the Florida Lottery. It appears that Staats has a sheet of questions to ask as Purcell answers them in a nervous tone. The prevailing tone: Why is the Florida Lottery on a Tampa Bay Rays broadcast?
· T-Bay’s entered “Just a matter of time” mode, as they load the bases on Gallagher with a pair of singles and a walk before a Carl Crawford groundout ends it in the bottom of the fifth. Gallagher’s sitting on 96 pitches at this point and I’ll give him another inning, tops.
· The Cubs aren’t being especially patient with Shields, flying out twice with early counts in the top of the 6 th (The other out? Strikeout number nine for Shields). In fact, the only Cub who’s doing anything is Derrek Lee, who raps his third single of the day in the same inning.
· Sean Gallagher’s certainly been outpitched today, but it’s still only 1-0 for T-Bay after six, meaning he’s done enough to hope Shields slips up once and the Cubs win this one. Not knowing much about Gallagher, I wasn’t expecting much out of him, but he did a number on a Tampa Bay team that I’m starting to believe is a legit playoff contender. Assuming he’s done for the night, it’s needless to say that I’m impressed.
· Shields’ slip-up? It happens in the top of the 7 th. A Hoffpauir single and DeRosa walk are followed by a Mike Fontenot ground rule double, and we’re tied at one! That’s also it for Shields, who had a hell of a first six innings.
· The Cubs take the lead on a drop-in RBI single by Kosuke Fukudome. A brilliantly placed hit, especially against lefty Trever Miller, who it seemed would be a difficult matchup for Fukudome. Miller quickly leaves after that, and the Cubs have decidedly taken the advantage at this point, especially with only one out in the inning.
· It keeps getting worse for the Rays here, as Ryan Theriot bounces one up the middle that should’ve been a double play ball, but one that the fielders can’t get their hands on, and an extra base is taken by both Theriot and Fukudome when BJ Upton can’t handle the ball in center. 3-1 now for the Cubs in the top of the 7 th.
· Tampa escapes the rest of the inning with no further damage, so it’s finally time to look at James Shields’ final line for the evening: 6.1 IP, 102 pitches, 7H, 3ER, 9:2 K/BB, 0HR, 3.94 ERA, positioned for the loss. For six innings, he was electric. In the seventh, the Cubs drained him. Regardless, I wouldn’t want to be the team facing this guy. He’ll win on most nights, but his offense couldn’t get to a solid Sean Gallagher tonight.
· Speaking of Gallagher, he’s now officially done as well. His final line: 6 IP, 112 pitches, 4H, 0ER, 3:2 K/BB, 0HR, 3.97 ERA, positioned for the win. He wasn’t as good as Shields tonight, but I definitely wouldn’t be complaining.
· In the bottom half of the inning, Carlos Marmol comes in and walks Tampa’s seven and eight hitters, and hits their number nine and leadoff to cut the lead to 3-2. Marmol’s out, Scott Eyre’s in.
· Next batter: Carl Crawford. Result: Grand slam. Let’s put it this way. The AL’s taking the All-Star Game and World Series this year, save for the occurrence of a massive amount of pitcher throwing errors.
· Upton follows the grand slam with a triple. How about those best-in-the-NL Cubs?
· As I type that, Hinske doubles in Upton, 7-3. I’ll start ceasing with the commentary now.
· A recap of the rest of the inning: Hinske steals third, Longoria sac fly to score Hinske (8-3 Rays), Cliff Floyd doubles to deep left, the Rays have officially batted around, Jon Lieber comes in for Eyre, Aybar grounds out, Navarro lines out, and the 7 th is finally done. I’d call it a game, but I’ve already done that incorrectly once tonight.
· How fun would it be to be a long-time part of the Rays franchise right now? Crawford and Upton are kidding around in the dugout, the fans have taken full advantage of having sweep games to bring brooms to, and Staats and Magrane (who, as I’ve already stated, have always been enjoyable) are clearly back to treating calling baseball as fun again, getting way into every big play (and, as a bonus, avoiding homerism as much as possible). Due to a division rivalry, I’m not a fan, but it’s tough not to cheer for these guys.
· A credit to both teams: Even with the game more or less out of reach at this point, the Rays are still grinding it out, playing hard for the insurance runs. It’s like they’ve been waiting for a good team for so long, they’re not spoiling the opportunity. On the Cubs side, Mark DeRosa’s diving for baseballs to prevent much more of that. This definitely isn’t run-out-the-clock baseball, which is what we should always expect from two potential playoff teams.
· This one ends on a Fukudome flyout, and the Rays sweep the Cubs! This was undoubtedly one of the more fun games that I experienced this year. Tampa might be baseball’s must-watch club this year, and the Cubbies aren’t too shabby either.
· Final score: Tampa Bay 8, Chicago 3. W: Grant Balfour (2-0, 1.74). L: Marmol (1-2, 2.93). TB: Crawford, 3-5, HR, 4RBI. CHC: Lee, 3-4.
· The Cubs verdict: Yeah, they blew the lead they accumulated in the top of the 7 th in the bottom of the same inning, but that shouldn’t take away the fact that most teams would’ve been losing badly to the team Tampa Bay rolled out tonight by that point. They rallied behind an experienced pitcher, and positioned him for the win. The slip-up happens. Every team has a couple of innings like that per year, and I can’t see the Cubs losing the NL Central (though I clearly need to take a look at St. Louis and see what’s going on there. They’ll be around in October, but if they play like they did late in tonight’s game, the drought’s gonna reach triple figures in just four short months.
· The Rays verdict: A month ago, I watched this team win an extra-inning game and was undoubtedly intrigued. They appeared to have talent, but they were the Devil Rays. After this one, forget that sentiment (and definitely forget what I said earlier in this piece). The Rays (Yes, the Rays) are for real. They’re definitely a top-four AL team right now. They just have to worry about the Empire, and they should be a shoo-in for the playoffs if they keep this up. There aren’t many contenders in the AL this year, but put T-Bay on the short list.
June teams left to watch
Chicago White Sox
All of Travis MacKenzie’s work can be found on his site, Travis Time. He also covers sports for the Brock Press. Any questions or comments directed towards Travis can be placed in comments on Travis Time, on any of his Armchair GM posts, or e-mailed to TravisTime@gmail.com