Live chat with Marc Topkin
MT: Greetings from midtown Manhattan. It's cloudy and overcast here, with a chance of evening showers, so it could be a long night at Yankee Stadium. Interesting dynamic in the New York papers today, as they've pretty much written off the rest of the Yankees' season as the farewell to the stadium. The Daily News backpage headline: THE LONG GOODBYE With 10 home games left, end if near for Stadium and sorry Yanks.
On to the questions ....
Q: Rays fans have to know!!! When is Longoria back in the lineup and please tell me that Wednesday night was the final nail in the coffin for Percival. I don't ever want to see him pitching in a Rays uniform again!!! --Fred
MT: Starting at the top, with the Longoria question, the best we can say at this point is soon. Obviously this has taken longer than Longoria was hoping, but the Rays are being cautious, as they should. He sounded Wednesday, after taking swings against trainer Ron Porterfield, that he was ready to go, hoping to take BP tonight with the team. Assuming that goes well, I'd guess the Rays still give him another day or two and hold off until Saturday or Sunday (since he likely wouldn't play the day game after the night game anyway.)
Q; You've been with the team since before Day 1....how does covering this year compare/contrast with your previous 10 years? Give us some ups and downs... -- Karen
MT: Karen asked about the difference in covering the team this season than the previous 10, and there are a couple of big things:
One is that the Rays are still the dominant story on our pages, both in print and on the web, whereas in past years the Bucs and college football would be the big deals and the Rays' coverage would be played down. Another has been the remarkable increase in national interest in the team, based on the number of national media calling for info on the team and even the number of radio and TV interview requests I have gotten. Plus, there's increased interest in our own office and in a lot of departments in the papers so the Rays are a popular topic of conversation there too.
Q: Why the refusal to use Price in a Joba-relief role? I'd rather have him throwing 100 pitches in a month in MLB as a reliever than 400 in meaningless AAA games. Doesn't the organization have a sense of urgency? Almost like they'd sacrifice a title this year at the altar of player development. Any answers for their struggles against LH pitching? Will Crawford be ready for the playoffs? -- Gus
MT: Gus is questioning the Rays' "sense of urgency" in not bringing up David Price yet to pitch out of the bullpen, but I don't agree with that. Price is in his first pro season, and though he dominated at the Class A and AA levels, he has not done so at Triple-A. So it is not anywhere close to automatic that he would dominate in the majors, or even be successful. Plus, he is not used to being a reliever and hasn't done it, so that would also be a big transtition. All that said, I think you will see him up here soon, and that in the "right" situation, when they can get him ready without rushing, he could pitch in relief. And there is, as I wrote the other day, a good chance he could start the second game of the Sept. 23 doubleheader in Baltimore.
Q: When are we going to see postseason tickets going up for sale? Do you think parking will still be free with for or more people? -- Mike L
MT: Quick reply to Mike L on playoff tickets - I don't think you're going to see them on sale until after the Rays clinch a postseason spot, and what many teams do is hold a "lottery" because they don't usually have enough to sell. The Rays are still offering postseason priority to fans who make deposits on 2009 season tickets. Have not heard about parking.
Q: Has there been any talk about what Aybar's role will be when Longo returns? It would be nice to keep his relatively hot bat in the lineup since he switch hits. Maybe dH insted of Floyd or play some outfield? -- Charlie G
MT: Charlie G asked about Aybar's role when Longoria comes back, and I don't see him playing much. He doesn't play the outfield and - the Dan Johnson experiment aside - this would be a hard time to start. Most likely he will be used as a pinch-hitter, he could get a start at second because Joe Maddon has been looking for a spot to give Akinori Iwamura a day off. As long as Floyd is healthy he's going to stay in the lineup at DH, but Aybar could DH against a lefty with Rocco Baldelli going to the outfield.
Q: Will Stuart Sternberg be attending the Rays-Yankees games in NYC? -- Art
Q: Marc,you said above that the rays have more national interest and following this year and thats true. Where was fox at beginning of year? Seems like all sat games in september are on but none earlier this year. Rays have been story all year fox not just in september. -- Ken
MT: A couple of quick replies: Yes, Stuart Sternberg is expected at the games this weekend.
It's not surprising that Fox didn't jump on the Rays until late in the season - I'm sure they were waiting to see if the Rays were for real, and for their to be some national interest in them.
Q: Also, is this statement true or false: "Merlot" Joe Maddon is a lock for Manager of the Year. -- Mike L
MT: Joe Maddon would sure seem to be the big favorite for AL manager of the year, though there will be some support for Ozzie Guillen and Ron Gardenhire, and even for Mike Scioscia. A couple things to know about the voting - votes are cast at the end of the regular season, so how a team does in the playoffs isn't the issue; and voting is done by two members of the BBWAA in each AL city.
Q: Who do you see getting called up before the playoffs? -- Mark
MT: Triple-A Durham won last night, so the Bulls' best-of-five championship series will continue to at least tonight. The Rays would seem likely to add at least a couple more players - OF Jonny Gomes, LHP David Price and maybe RHP Jeff Niemann or RHP Mitch Talbot. INF Elliot Johnson could be another. If Durham loses tonight, I think you'd see at least a couple of them on Saturday (though it's a 1 p.m. game) or Sunday. And for sure Monday at the Trop.
Q: BJ Upton continued to play fairly well after he criticized for lack of hustle. Also, it seemed to me that teams took advantage of his nonchalance play (running on him and texeira put out at second) I thought that he had been playing injured all year (shoulder) What is BJ's status and does he still have a good 'tude? -- Tom
MT: B.J. Upton has certainly had an interesting and eventful season. It is true that he's benched a couple of hustle, and it is true that he had been playing hurt, with a torn labrum in his left shoulder that has limited his swing and likely will require off-season surgery. And now he's been out three days with a strained left quad. I think you'll see him sometime this weekend, but the Rays are going to be cautious because they don't want to risk him making it worse and being sidlelined into October.
MT: Nick, we've all been reporting for weeks that he likely was coming up in September when Durham was done or close to it.
Q: In a recent article, you said that the Rays are playing without their "best outfielder," Carl Crawford? I was just wondering, though: How is Crawford, whose OPS was among the lowest totals at his left field position for qualifying hitters at his position, is better than the fans' favorite player to hate, B.J. Upton? Crawford, though he is an excellent defender, has had too low of an on-base percentage this season, and it was easy to replace his offensive production. He has the reputation, but can we really refer to him as a "star" anymore at this point, as his selectivity at the plate has been a major cause for concern? It is a shame that he cannot take advantage of his speed by making way too many OUTS. -- Dan
MT: Couple questions about Carl Crawford. The Rays haven't really said much about his status except that all is going well and on the same timetable, which is that there would be a slight chance he could be back for the last weekend of the regular season. But that would require everything in his rehab going perfectly. It would seem possible he could be back sometime in October if the Rays are still playing.
Q: What is your guess on how long Shawn Riggans will be out of the lineup? Is his injury similar to Peyton Mannings? Can his backup give Navi a day or two off a week and be able to produce? -- Sean P.
MT: On the same theme, backup C Shawn Riggans could be in a similar position. He had surgery on Wednesday to clean out an infection in the bursa sac of his right knee - sounds similar to Payton Manning but the Rays haven't provided details. Riggans is looking at about a four-week absence, so he possibly could be ready for the ALCS or World Series if the Rays are still playing. As for a backup, they didn't have many options after parting ways with veteran Mike DiFelice on Aug. 31, but they have confidence in the defensive abilities of new backup Michel Hernandez, who was with Pittsburgh's Triple-A team all season but spent a lot of 2007 with Durham.
Q: Is Rick Vaughn in a better mood this season because of the team's success?
MT: Bob - too funny. You know he is.
Q: Marc - any chance of getting pictures of the rookies in those funky outfits? -- Terri
MT: Terri - we don't have any pictures of the rookies yet, but if anyone in the internet world snapped one as they were leaving Fenway Park or working into their New York hotel please send them along and we'll post them.
MT: There's been a lot of questions sent in about Percival, and colleague John Romano addressed that very well today, so we'll come back to that topic in a few minutes.
MT: Okay, the Percival question. Actually, there are two questions here, and we hope to get the answer to one or both today. First, the Rays have to decide if he is healthy. Whether it's the right knee, as manager Joe Maddon suggested, or it was a stiff back, as Percival said, it was obvious Wednesday he was not right. If he isn't healthy, then it's an easy decision, at least in the short term. IF the Rays decide he is healthy, THEN manager Joe Maddon has to make a tough decision. His confidence in Percival is extreme, but Maddon also understands - despite what some have suggested - that his ultimate obligation is to do what's best for the team to win games. My guess, without knowing the medical, is that Percival gets some of the closing assignments, but based on how he feels, matchups, etc., Maddon will start mixing in others, as he did when Percvial was on the DL, with Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler getting the primary opportunities.
Q: It seems Joe Magrane is being noticed and showcased in the national media broadcasts. That's great for Joe and I wish him the best, but he's my favorite broadcaster and I'd hate to lose him. Do you see him going national? -- Ray of Sunshine
MT: Joe Magrane is already national!
Q: This pennant race is so much better than follwoing football. Every morning the first thing I do is go out and get the paper to read the articles about the game the night before. The daily ups and downs of a pennant race are quite exhilarating. Go Rays!! BTW I have been to over 60 home games this year!!!!!!!!!!!!! -- Rayalan
MT: Just to comment on rayalan's comment: A pennant race IS fun. It's wild, it's fascinating, it's exhilirating and depressing all in the same day. Because it's every day, and because so many games can affect the race, and they are played in different time zones, it can make every day and night an adventure. Buckle in.
Q: do you think there's been enough dragging the attendance through the mud....we've clearly attracted more fans, and besides, i recall a certain atlanta team not selling out and having mulitple division championships..... Paul
MT: Paul, couldn't disagree more. The attendance in Atlanta dropped off AFTER they made multiple postseason appearances. The "excuse" for so many years in Tampa Bay has been that the team was so bad. Now that the team is a contender, and games are still not coming close to being sold out, it's a bad sign. And if you think there has been too much talk about it now, just wait for the national attention and criticism if next week's games with the Red Sox and some playoff games don't sell out.
MT: Time for just a couple more.
* I don't see Navarro being used as the DH. His days off are going to be sparse, and when he does get one they want him to rest.
* I would say the Rays are VERY glad they are not playing the Jays again, and they are VERY glad the Red Sox are.
Q: I will bet my house that we sell out every single Red Sox and playoff games.-- Nick
MT: Nick - that could be a risky offer.
Q: The Red Sox play-by-play man on NESN repeatedly referred to Joe Magrane as "John" Magrane on Monday and Tuesday night, which shows you how insulated they are up there, I guess. So he must not be nationwide quite yet, but has been a franchise treasure for his pitching insight, which is the best I've ever listened to. -- Gus
MT: Gus - also heard, secondhand, that NESN referred to Dan Johnson as DON Johnson.
MT: Last answer, since some of us have a game to cover tonight! Yes, Bartlett is definitely the best shortstop the Rays have had, and I think has surprised some people with how good he is. That trade with Minnesota looks very good now, though Delmon Young is still going to be a good - and potentially VERY good - player.
MT: Thanks for all the questions, and we got to as many as we could. Check back often for latest Rays news on The Heater and every day in the paper.
We'll try to do this again soon.