Mailbag: Marc Topkin answers your questions
Over the past few days, we asked you to send us questions for Rays beat reporter Marc Topkin related to the American League Championship Series. Here are the questions and answers:
(Pictured above: The Rays pile on Grant Balfour after the ALDS-clinching win over the White Sox. Times photo -- Bruce Moyer.)
Q: Will Joe Maddon use a 3 man or a 4 man rotation for the ALCS? -- Ian
MARC: They are planning on using four, and for two primary reasons – they don’t want to start using their pitchers on short rest at this time of the year, and they won’t want to exclude Andy Sonnanstine, who has pitched very well against the Red Sox. That said, if they needed to use Sonnanstine in relief in Games 1 or 2, or if they felt there was a better matchup, they could also change things as the series evolves – for example, pitching Scott Kazmir in Game 5 at Fenway where he has done well (and on regular rest) rather than holding him back for Game 6.
MARC: Long or late, most likely. The Rays still aren’t comfortable that he can warm up in a hurry, so the chances of him being used situationally – to face some tough lefthanders – is not as likely, plus the Rays have Trever Miller for that. More likely, Price would be used to start an inning in a lopsided game, or to pitch in extra innings.
Q: Does it come down to Hinske vs. Percival for the final spot? Will they choose to have an extra arm for the longer series? -- DJ
MARC: Actually, it came down to Eric Hinske or Edwin Jackson, and they indeed did choose the extra arm. The idea, as we explained in Friday’s paper, is that they wanted to be covered in case of a blowout or extra inning game and didn’t want one game in which they had to overuse the bullpen to carry over into the next game. Plus, with Carl Crawford back and healthy and starting in leftfield, and speedy and versatile rookie Fernando Perez on the bench, they really didn’t have much use for Hinske.
Q: Why won't the team remove the blue tarps to allow for a larger crowd in the ALCS? Some of us who were there for game #1 in franchise history are watching on TV while new fans are there in person. I don't begrudge them, but if it holds 45,000, why not sell that many tickets? -- Rob
MARC: Obviously this is a popular topic of conversation, since we keep getting questions about it. The Rays made the decision to stick with that they did during the regular season in keeping the 6,000 or so seats at the top of the upper deck covered. Their point is that many of those are at least semi-obstructed view, some are bench seating rather than chairs, and that the fan experience and building operation is better with 36,000 fans than 42,000. However, MLB has stepped in, as it has in similar situations in other cities, and said if the Rays get to the World Series that the tarps will come off.
Q: What do you think of the Sox rotation (just set) and how does this affect Maddon's thinking? -- 9equals8.com
Game 1: Daisuke Matsuzaka
Game 2: Josh Beckett
Game 3: Jon Lester
Game 4: Tim Wakefield
Game 5*: Daisuke Matsuzaka
Game 6*: Josh Beckett
Game 7*: Jon Lester
MARC: It was a little surprising that they decided to open with Dice-K, though his 9-0 road record and relative calm on the mound are good reasons. Beckett’s health is something of a question, so they may have felt he would benefit from the extra day’s rest. I did wonder if they would try to pitch knuckleballer Tim Wakefield twice in the dome, where he has done so well.
Q: Is there any reports on how many of the Red Sox nation will be invading the Trop? Playoff baseball, with home field advantage, should be HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE. -- David
MARC: A lot of that will be determined by how many people who bought tickets through the Rays online presale end up selling them to brokers (and how many of the people who bought the tickets were brokers) or to Red Sox fans.
Q: BJ has a really good OBP, why not use him as a lead off instead of Aki? I think Aki is really good, but BJ is on base more time and faster, so he would score more runs. -- Ray
MARC: Joe Maddon has toyed with that idea, and has used Upton there a couple times. But at this point of the season, he’s not going to change what worked all year. Eventually, Upton could become a very good leadoff man. What’s also interesting is that in Japan , Aki was considered more of a power hitter.
Q: Has anyone told Joe Maddon that Andy Sonnanstine hasn't given up a run vs. Boston in 13 innings this year (both starts came in september). On the other hand, Kazmir has an ERA of 9.0 in four starts against the Sox. -- Marshall
MARC: Hang on, let me call him. Obviously Maddon is well aware of their stats this season. But if you follow the team, you also know Kazmir usually pitches very well against the Sox, and has had some of his best games against them. Plus, you pretty much have to use all four starters. If you are suggesting he should have used Sonnanstine in Game 2 and pushed Kazmir back, you also have to consider keeping the pitchers on as close to a normal rotation as possible.
Q: Marc, how many Rays fan signatures would it take to get mgmt to consider removal of the Tarps for current and future playoff series? -- 9equals8.com
MARC: For the ALCS, not enough. For the World Series, MLB has it taken care of - they are coming off.
Q: Do you have any stories about the umpiring crew that was just announced for the ALCS (such as the Eddings history - thankfully, he is not doing the ALCS)? -- 9equals8.com
MARC: Obviously there is the June tirade by Scott Kazmir against Derryl Cousins, who, as it turns out, would have the plate for Game 6, which Kazmir would likely start. Tim McClelland, who has the plate for the opener and is the crew chief, is one of the best at keeping a game under control.
Q: Would Game 6 move into prime-time if the NLCS is wrapped before next Saturday (i.e. in fewer than 7)? Just a Bulls fans here hoping for a few hours between games so I can "double-down" without worrying about traffic. -- Joe
MARC: Sure would, with an 8:07 start.
Q: What happened to Ben Zobrist? I think he played a key role in the Rays lineup. After the Detroit series (after hitting 3 home runs) he just seemed to disappear? -- Myrle
MARC: He’s raring to go, but there was really no opportunity to use him during the division series. When you think about it, with the returns of 3B Evan Longoria and LF Carl Crawford, the Rays don’t really have a lot of moving pieces in their lineup anymore. They’ll still platoon at DH and in rightfield, but Zobrist isn’t really in the mix at either one of those positions. And the only regulars they would pinch-run for are C Dioner Navarro and maybe DH Cliff Floyd. So barring an injury, there isn’t much for Zobrist to do.
Q: Why Shields in Game 1 & 5 (@Fenway)? He doesn't pitch well there and his appearance will only incite the Red Sox crowd who remembers the Coco incident. -- JSP
MARC: Game 5 is the product of wanting him to start the opener at home, and for the reasons we have talked and written about – that he usually works deep into the game, sets a good tone for the series and keeps his team close. I did wonder if they would consider starting Kazmir in the opener so he would pitch Game 5 (given that he usually does well at Fenway), but it’s obvious they are concerned about him not getting deep into the game. Shields is way too strong mentally to be affected by the crowd at Fenway.
Q: Is it true that the seats were tarped because the team wanted to control supply and demand AND the team sold many of the "lottery deemed" seats to StubHub and took a commission fee off those seats?! Are they double dipping on these seats!! I have found out through informed sources the team has double dipped on these seats. I find it offensive the club did not open the tarp up knowing the demand was this high and the scalped value has gone to Super Bowl levels. This is bezerk! -- JR
MARC: We’ve covered the tarp issue enough. The “official” relationship between MLB and the ticket reseller StubHub has raised eyebrows in many cities, but it’s not clear how that really works. You would like to think the Rays, and all other teams, offer the tickets to the fans at face value rather than give them to the reseller and share in their “profits” as well.
Q: You said last week’s question, that the Rays "may" bring back TAMPA BAY to the road uniforms in the future. I understand what you said. I myself as well as others find this greatly disappointing. Can the club make a commitment that the uniforms WILL have TAMPA BAY on them in future seasons? I find the answer of "may" as a copout. Can there be a commitment made by Matt Silverman and/or Mark Fernandez on this? -- Jake
MARC: I guess you need to ask them. I’ve told you what they’ve told us.
Q: I have got to agree with a previous poster. The club "may" put the road designation on in the future isn't enough for me. This must be unequivocal. Baltimore is returning their city name to their uniforms next year and with all of the civic sentiment running wild, I have to agree. Can the club reconsider their position on this? To me, it means a lot for, and I know it does for others. -- John
MARC: Maybe you and Jake should get together.
Q: Accuscore has the Redsox favored to win the series with the Rays favored to win game one and a split on game three. What is the past performance on Accurscore prediction/ simulations relative to Rays Redsox games? -- Harold
MARC: Not really what Accuscore is. Coolstandings.com, which runs (and runs and runs) computer simulations of the games, predicts the Sox will win in six.
Q: Hey Marc - you guys have been doing great coverage on the postseason so far, and I want to thank you all. Someone who seems to have been forgotten, in all the stories I have seen about who and what has contributed to the Rays success, is Tom Foley. He is, as far as I know, one of the few coaches who has endured through the McRae - Piniella - Maddon eras (he may have been here during Rothschild's tenure too, I'm not sure). He just seems like a really steady presence, in an important position, and I'd like to know a bit more about him and what these wonderful moments lately mean to him. -- MikeD
MARC: That’s a good point. Tom has been with the Rays since 1996 in a variety of roles, and has been the third-base coach since 2002. He’s a busy man during pre-game workouts, but we’ll try to catch up with him soon.
Q: Why does Coach Maddon refuse to bunt with a man on third and less than two outs? More times than not, The Rays have left an almost sure run stranded on third. -- Dave
MARC: Maddon’s reluctance to bunt is part strategy, since he prefers a more aggressive style of play. But it’s also part reality, in that there are only a few Rays – as amazing as that sounds for major-leaguers - who can be counted on to get down a good bunt.
MARC: That’s all I have time for today; maybe be we can do this again if there is another round of playoffs this season.