Can Rays patchwork pitching win enough games?

by Gary Shelton on March 7, 2021

in general

Has Glasnow become the ace of the staff?/JEFFREY S. KING

Sunday, 4 a.m.

Suppose they could be average. Pedestrian. Run-of-the-mill.

How good would the Tampa Bay Rays be then?

By now, you are used to the starting rotation of the Rays being excellent, deep and talented. You are used to them making the opposing hitters look as bad as, well, the Rays hitters.

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But Blake Snell is gone, and Charlie Morton with him. Both of them carried price tags far excess of their production, especially on the most miserly team in the majors. In the last regular season, Snell won four games. Morton won two. So maybe part of you understands why the team didn't want to shell out $26 million for the duo.

But someone has to win games, don't they? And while the bullpen remains effective (assuming Nick Anderson returns to form), the starting pitching looks like a blindfolded man throwing darts. Chris Archer didn't win any games last year. Michael Wacha won one. Rich Hill won one. Collin McHugh won four. Even the acknowledged ace, Tyler Glasnow, won only five.

Are hitters nervous yet?

Granted, those win totals will go up, because teams will play a full 162 games this year instead of another 60, but can the Rays pick-and-choose enough to get into contention? Can they squeeze five innings, sometimes maybe six, out of a starter until they can get to their one-man-an-inning bullpen show?

The hitting will be about the same. They have some players capable of the big hit in the big moment, but they won't blow you away with power or average. The bullpen will be strong, but it also looks to be overworked.

That brings us back to the starting pitching.

Now, granted, Kyle Snyder has done impressive work in his years with the Rays, and I have no doubt that someone - Hill or McHugh or Wacha or holdover Ryan Yarbrough -- can have a surprise year. But baseball is a game of attrition, an everyday game that can sap the strength of normal pitchers.

From the looks of it, the Yankees are better. From the looks of it, the Blue Jays are better. So does that leave the Rays in a struggle for third place? One estimate had the Rays' over-under at 86 1/2 for the coming year. That probably won't make the playoffs.

Will that be good enough? Or will this team do like the 2009 Rays, who followed up a World Series appearance with 84 wins and a third-place finish.

Okay, admit it. The tank is not empty. Willie Adames is a fine player, and Kevin Kiermaier can take your breath away in center. Austin Meadows should be better. Mike Brousseau is a cult hero. And goodness knows how good Randy Arozarena can be.

But eventually, the ball has to get to the catcher's glove often enough for a team to succeed.

Let's lay it out. If this team wins the AL East again, then Eric Neander is a genius. If it makes the wild-card slot, then Kevin Cash is amazing.

If it finishes worse, however, who will care?

Bolts play well, but lose in shootout

by Gary Shelton on March 6, 2021

in general

Cirelli scored again for Bolts./CHUCK MULLER

Saturday, 4 a.m.

Sometimes, you lose. It's that simple.

Sometimes, the other team has the final highlight. Sometimes,the other team makes the impressive comeback. Sometimes, the outcome doesn't match the results.

Ask the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had a six-game winning streak end Friday night in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. Philipp Kurashev of Chicago scored the only goal in the shootout.

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“That’s hockey," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "Both teams probably know who was a little bit better tonight, but for two-thirds of the game last night, they were better than us. It’s probably worked out the way it should have in reverse order. But if we can play every night the way we did tonight, we;ll be all right."

The Bolts took. 2-0 lead on goals by Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn in the first half of the first period, but managed just one more goal the rest of the night despite having 42 shots. In the shootout, Malcolm Subban stopped Victor Hedman, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos.

"I thought we played better tonight than last night," Ondrej Palat said. "But sometimes, you play well and don't win."

Cooper was pleased with backup goalie Curtis McElhinney.

Tampa Bay plays against Chicago again Sunday afternoon (3 p.m.) in Chicago.

Hedman’s last-second shot leads Bolts’ rally

by Gary Shelton on March 5, 2021

in general

Hedman scored just before the buzzer./CARMEN MANDATO

Friday 4 a.m.

Plenty of time, Victor. No reason to hurry. No rush, no muss.

Why, you have a tenth of a second to spare.

Victor Hedman highlighted one of the season's best victories by the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday night as the team overcame a two-goal deficit in the third period to win a 3-2 overtime victory over Chicago at the United Center..

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Hedman set up the winning goal, firing a shot as time ran out. The shot ticked off the skate of Alex Killorn -- who got credit for the goal -- and led the Bolts to their sixth straight win. It was the second time this season the Bolts have won six in a row.

“I think everyone was yelling from the bench to shoot the puck," said Steven Stamkos. "I think he got the message loud and clear. I'm not sure who got a piece of it in front if anyone did. Sometimes you earn your breaks. It could have easily gone to a shootout."

The Bolts were outplayed for the two first periods, falling behind 2-0. It was the flirst time all season the team has come from behind in the third period.

"I was going to take it on my backhand, but the bench was screaming at me to shoot it," Hedman said. "I knew there wasn't a whole lot of time. I think Killer tipped it."

Said Lightning coach Jon Cooper: “I thought he was going to shoot it earlier, and then he curled it up. Everybody on the bench looked at the clock and saw  six or seven seconds left, and he started to dance.  We knew he had to get it there, so we started yelling shoot.

Goaltender Andrei Vasiilevskiy was finally scored upon after three straight shutouts when he gave up two in the second period. One was a short-handed goal by Ryan Carpenter and the other by Alex Debrincat.

Carpenter’s marker ended Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s shutout streak at 228:09. Vasilevskiy’s 228:09 shutout streak is a new franchise record, surpassing John Grahame’s previous mark of 202:46 from the 2005-06 season. Vasilevskiy’s shutout streak is the 28th longest in NHL history, just ahead of John Vanbiesbrouck’s 227:40 with Philadelphia in the 1999-2000 season.

The Bolts' third period started with a penalty kill, and got a shorthanded goal from Anthony Cerilli. Steven Stamkos tied the score.

The Lightning play the second of their three-game set against Chicago tonight at 8 p.m.

At quarterback, Bucs’ are among the lucky

by Gary Shelton on March 4, 2021

in general

Brady has calmed the controversy./(Tori Richman/Tampa Bay Buccaneers via AP)

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Around here, things are quiet. So quiet you can hear Tom Brady's knee creak.

Normally, a football season is a time of angst for a Bucs' fan. It's a time to debate Jameis Winston's touchdowns vs. his interceptions, Trent Dilfer's mistakes vs. sort-of-highlights, Josh McCown and the way the starting quarterback job was handed to him.

Around here, we vex over our quarterbacks. For every Winston defender, there were two critics. For every Josh Freeman hopeful, there were those who thought he was hopeless. And so it has gone.

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This year? This year, the only real burning question is just how long the Bucs should extend the contract of Tom Brady -- and is 30 years too much? We think his tossing around the Vince Lombardi trophy was kind of funny, and the sanctimonious reaction -- as if they were throwing around the statue of David -- was just a hoot.

Otherwise, there is no controversy. Even in the best of seasons -- with Bucs' quarterbacks, there haven't been many -- there is usually the gnashing of teeth. Oh, there have been a few exceptions -- no one said enough when the team gave Steve Young away because they were so delighted to be able to draft Vinny Testaverde -- but not many.

But look around the league. You can take stock in your favorite team by just how miserable their quarterback is.

Dak Prescott wants more money than an emerging nation. In Seattle, Russell Wilson is pouting. DeShaun Watson wants out of Houston. Carson Wentz just escaped Philadelphia. Matt Stafford got out of Detroit. A headline suggests that Baltimore's Lamar Jackson might be "the next unhappy quarterback."

How long will Trevor Lawrence be happy in Jacksonville (if the Jags indeed draft him.) How long will Jon Gruden, always restless when it comes to quarterbacks, think that Derek Carr is his answer? Will the Jets trade in their last hopeful, Sam Darnold, for the next?

You kind of understand it. Quarterbacks are the guys to blame -- even if the defense smells. And these days, they are paid in Monopoly money. So unless you're winning, no one is very happy for very long.

Pittsburgh can't decide if reaching a new deal with Ben Roethlisberger is a good thing or bad. The Saints are waiting for Drew Brees to give a thumb's-up or a thumb's-down to playing in 2021. The Bears want to trade Mitch Trubisky, but so far, no one in the CFL is answering the phone.

Can Washington live with Taylor Heinicke? The Rams had so much fun trading Jared Goff to the Lions that they want to do it again. In Tennessee, the local newspaper is still defending keeping Ryan Tannehill over pursuing Tom Brady, presumably because it worked out so well.

I'm sure John Lynch is being honest when he says there is "no doubt" that Jimmy Garoppolo will be the 49ers quarterback, but can you figure out the rumors that say he'll end up playing for the Patriots? In Denver, they are one more bad quarterback away from calling Tim Tebow again. Even after one year, there are rumors the Dolphins might move Tua Tagovailoa. The Patriots aren't exactly chasing down Cam Newton, although everyone else has.

So how many teams are truly happy? Well, the Bucs. Kansas City, presumably (the pass rush wasn't Patrick Mahomes' fault). Green Bay. Buffalo. Cleveland. Cincinnati. Arizona. Maybe the Giants.

But the list is short, and patience is thin.

Oh, yeah. And Winston is looking for work.

Vasilevskiy surrenders nothing…once again

March 3, 2021 general

Wednesday, 4 a.m. Derrick Brooks was unbelievable. LeeRoy Selmon was legendary. Warren Sapp was larger than life. Kevin Kiermaier was impressive. But at this point, you could make a case that Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best defender that Tampa Bay has ever seen. Vasilevskiy did it again Tuesday night. For the third straight game, he […]

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Rays hope Archer is better in his return

March 2, 2021 general

Tuesday, 4 a.m. It sounds a bit hollow to talk about the rebirth of Chris Archer. Doesn’t that make it sound like Archer was anything much to return to? Hey, I like Archer. I’ve always found him an interesting quote when he gets an interesting question. But, too often, Archer has come across in interviews […]

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Who is Tampa Bay’s best-ever champion?

March 1, 2021 general

Monday, 4 a.m. When it comes to defining greatness, there are things the word describes. A team has to have an efficient, smart quarterback. This Bucs’ team had that. That one had that, too. A team has to have a dynamic defense. This Lightning team had that. That one, too. A team has to have […]

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Bolts play like champs in beating Stars

February 28, 2021 general

Sunday, 4 a.m. If you thought the Tampa Bay Lightning looked like the same team that won last year’s Stanley Cup championship, you should have seen them through the eyes of the Dallas Stars. The Lightning overwhelmed the Stars — the team they beat in the finals last season — with a complete performance Saturday […]

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Consider the stuffed trophy case of Tom Brady

February 27, 2021 general

Saturday, 4 a.m. I am Tom Brady’s trophy case. Frankly, I’m putting on a little weight. For most athletes, the hard part is winning a darned award. With Brady, it’s finding a place to put it. You could rent an entire house for Brady’s awards, and call it a museum, and charge people to visit. […]

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McElhinney stands big against Carolina

February 26, 2021 general

Friday, 4 a.m. At 37, Curtis McElhinney is a bit old for nicknames. But just in case, can someone check to see if “the Little Cat” is taken? McElhinney, the Bolts’ seldom-used backup goaltender, did his best Andrei Vasilevskiy impersonation Thursday night, leading the Bolts to a 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. It was […]

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