Shark in the Tank: The Rays


Here’s the first installment of the Shark in the Tank, an interview series with fellow FanSided baseball bloggers whose teams the Marlins are going up against. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do this once for each team we face the rest of the season. It will give us Marlins fans some perspective on who we’re facing, their current positives and problems, and what we can expect in each series. Here’s the first interview with Dustin Staggers of Rayhawk Review. Check him out some time, he’s got some good Rays-related news and recaps.

Michael Jong: Hey everyone, welcome to the first of hopefully many installments of Shark in the Tank. Citrus Series Part 2 of this season starts tonight, and I’m here with Dustin Staggers of Rayhawk Review. How’s it going, Dustin?

Dustin Staggers : Going real well, thanks.

MJ: Sweet. As some of you may know, I’m Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac, and tonight we’re going to be talking a little Marlins-Rays. Let’s start with tonight’s matchup, Shields and Johnson going head to head. Interested?

DS: Of course!

MJ: What do you think of Shields so far this season? He seems like the best starter again for your club?

DS: If I were to go with the best starter, I would have to say Matt Garza. On the other hand, the consistency of Shields is something that every team covets.

MJ: Garza definitely has the most electric stuff in the staff, that’s for sure. But I like my team’s chances throwing out Josh Johnson on the mound. Get a chance to catch any of him pitch?

DS: He’s incredible. The talk of the season thus far has been Zach Greinke, but Johnson is having every bit as good of a season. 13 Quality Starts out of 15! That’s almost hilarious it’s so good. Guy is a stud.

MJ: Don’t we know it. Tonight’s matchup should be good. But I’m a bit more interested in tomorrow. Turns out Scott Kazmir is coming off the DL and starting Saturday night. What’s gone wrong with him? He’s lost some velocity it seemed, and he’s walking a lot of guys.

DS: We missed our chance to trade him. I’ve been preaching for 15 months, that it was time to move him. His contract is very lower market team friendly, and he is young and left handed. His control issues are not going away though. He over-pitches, instead of using his dominant stuff to overpower hitters. He will still have games where he looks electric, but for the most part, I feel like we are destined for 5 IP, 6K, 4BB performances.

MJ: Looks about right, he’s averaging 7 K’s and almost 6 BB’s per 9 innings! Not fantastic stuff. What do you think he can net now on the open market? Do you guys need anything?

DS: I’m a firm disbeliever in trading while someone’s value is low, which his is right now, so I hope we don’t attempt to move him. We need him to pitch some solid outings and prove his velocity is back and he’s got his head in the game. What our team desperately needs is a CL or great bullpen arm, but I think we have that already in David Price, we are just misutilizing him at the moment.

MJ: So you think Price should be in the pen? He did look awesome in limited outings late last year and in the playoffs.

DS: Exactly. He has proven on the biggest stage that he is capable of being a closer. I still think long term his best role is as a starter. I do feel though, that our team’s biggest weakness is in the pen, and when he goes out and has control issues, he is draining the part of the team that is already the weakest. Not a good combination.

MJ: I can’t say I disagree, though I’ve heard some talk about moving Kazmir to the closer spot. Let’s look overall. Your team has the best run differential in the American League, the best team wOBA in baseball, and the second best defense in baseball by UZR, but you’re only four games above .500 and 4th place in your division. Is the bullpen to blame for this? You guys are definitely playing better than your record shows.

DS: Ya, PYT record wise, I believe we’re 2nd in the game. I think bullpen is to blame, and our other biggest issue is failing to drive in the runs we put on base. We tend to leave 12-14 guys on base every single night. Couple untimely hitting with a bad set of options out of the pen, and you’ll tend to lose a few you should have won, at least that the stats indicate you should have won.

MJ: Sounds a lot like the Marlins problems, bad bullpen, untimely hitting. I’ve been tearing my hair out every
time some guy other than Hanley Ramirez grounds into a double play with 1st and 2nd with one out, something like that.

DS: You have a few guys who can drive you nuts with the bats, specifically Cantu and Uggla. Both guys can rake for sure, but they also (certainly in Cantu’s case) our DP machines. That’s never good for building leads, or maintaining them for that matter.

MJ: That’s definitely true, though I think they’re starting to come back into form and hit better. Cantu of course was hurt earlier in the season and played poorly in May because of it. Uggla’s been slumping all season but he’s batting .266/.372/.514 in June, so hopefully that starts regressing in the positive direction. Problem I really have is trying to figure out why our team is still playing someone with a .291 OBP. Is anyone on your team putting up the type of frustrating struggling season that Emilio Bonifacio has been showing off all year? You can’t be too happy with Burrell as your DH as of right now.

DS: No, Burrell has been disappointing at best. BJ Upton got off to a horrendous start, but was POW last week in the AL, so he has been coming around nicely. Only one real disappointment with the bat, but the bats of Jason Bartlett, Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist, make up for that weak bat of Burrell thus far.

MJ: This I have to ask about. Bartlett and Zobrist have been huge for you with the bat this year. Bartlett’s got some glove value, but this season he’s rocking a .983 OPS, and Zobrist leads all Major Leaguers in that category. Have you seen anything that can explain that? Do you think that will stick?

DS: Yes actually. Jason Bartlett’s splits at the end of the season indicate a huge trend upward in almost all categories. Zobrist always looked like he had some pop in his bat, but I have to say that I’m a bit shocked at the power he has shown this season. He has filled in our two holes this year, RF and 2b (because of Aki’s injury) and filled them while producing big numbers in the middle of the lineup. On top of the fact that he is putting up those numbers, he’s doing them at clutch moments, which is very un A-Roid like, and makes me quite happy as a die-hard fan.

DS: How fun must it be to get to watch Hanley Ramirez play every day, this guy is a true beast?

MJ: Most assuredly, yes. You might have heard a little bit about Hanley’s bit with the media about being hit by a pitch, and that made me a little mad. He’s a bit of knucklehead sometimes, but I do love to see the power that guy has. He hit a grand slam against the Orioles last night that skyrocketed into the upper deck of a most empty Land Shark Stadium. Certainly was a sight to behold.
MJ: I do worry that his swing is starting to look more and more power inclined. He sometimes looks like he’s swinging like Andruw Jones, and we all saw what happened when Andruw couldn’t control his mechanics. But I think Hanley should be OK as we go forward.

DS: What the hell is wrong with Matt Lindstrom?

MJ: That’s as good a question as any. Turns out Lindstrom has been feeling some pain in his arm the last month or so, mirroring something that happened to our last closer last year. That might explain a little about why he couldn’t locate or do anything with his breaking ball. The velocity is there, he may just no be hitting his spots. I think he’s mostly been unlucky. He’s getting over 54% of balls in play on the ground, and they’re squeezing through to the tune of a .372 BABIP. That’s unfortunate, but it’ll happen with our infield defense.

DS: Final question on my end. Both of our teams are sitting at about the same spot in the standings. What chance do you feel the Marlins have of winning the NL east, and even more importantly, advancing to the NLCS or the World Series. Secondly, what do you think of my Rays’ chances?

MJ: I think the Marlins have a decent chance to win the NL East. Each team in contention has major problems, from the Mets injuries and starters, to the Phillies starting and end of the bullpen, to the Braves terrible offense, especially in the outfield. The Marlins only need to fix the third base situation, bolster the bullpen, and have the players who they’re counting on, guys like Uggla and Ricky Nolasco, to play the way they’re expected and capable of playing.

For the Rays, you guys have an excellent chance. The run differential says it, you guys are very, very good. Some breaks probably need to fall your way, but it seems like the offense is for real. The only thing I’d be worried about is helping your pen out with a good arm. Oh, and the Red Sox, those guys are tough. We saw them a week ago, and they are scary good.

I’d say our teams have even chances. Playoff time, that’s a much different beast.

DS: I agree with every single point you just made, concerning both of our teams, and the Red Sox!

MJ: Well Dustin, it’s been informative and fun, thanks for coming in and chatting with me about the two Florida teams. Best of luck and success for both our squads as we go forward. Except for this series, I want the Fish to win!

DS: Great conversation, and I really appreciate it. Go Rays!!!