Marc Topkin answers your questions
Over the past week, we solicited questions from you about the Rays, which we passed along to Times beat writer Marc Topkin. Here are the questions and answers, in preparation for today's playoff opener:
Q: Marc, Any idea if the Rays will be having a "Blue Out"? I had tried to get the idea of a "Paint Em Blue" going when we played Boston in July, but it just never seemed to catch on. I thought the Trop would look pretty cool if we all wore blue Rays gear. I also hope there is at least a cowbell giveaway, if blue shirts aren't handed out. -- Paul
MARC: Sounds like an interesting idea, but the Rays have made no such plans, at least not publicly. The White Sox did something similar the other night with a “Black Out,” and college football teams do it all the time. Maybe it’s something you could get started for Friday’s game.
Q: Can you explain why the ChiSox and Twins had to have a one-game playoff, while the Rays and BoSox would not have, if they finished with the same record? The Rays were going to be awarded first place based on more head-to-head wins against the BoSox, right? Why didn't the same thing apply for the Twins, who I believe had more head to head wins against the ChiSox? -- JDCMV
MARC: The difference is that both the Rays and the Red Sox had already qualified for the postseason, so since they both would be in anyway, they use the “paper” tiebreaker to determine seeding and who wins the division title. But since the White Sox and Twins were battling to get in, they had to play it out on the field.
Q: Will Tampa Bay definitively be coming back to the road uniforms in 2009? All of the success is great, but seeing the return of proper road moniker would be nice. -- Civic enthusiasts
MARC: Though team officials talked about putting TAMPA BAY back on the road uniforms, as we reported this year, they are not making the change for next season. It could still happen in the future.
Q: Torii Hunter made a comment about the effect the crackdown on performance-enhancing drugs has had on home runs hit this year. He said it's a huge part of the reason for the slump in HRs this year. Do you agree? And how much of a role do you think this played in the success of a team like the Rays, who specialize in pitching and defense? -- Zach
MARC: I think Torii said (as he often does) what a lot of people in baseball have been thinking. And, though the Rays probably won’t say much about it, they were very much in tune with what was going on in the game and somewhat ahead of the curve with their emphasis on pitching and defense. I think you’ll see some other teams start taking that kind of “old school” approach in the near future.
Q: Percival, Price or Perez? If only one can make the cut, who is it? Only room for one. -- On the bubble
MARC: As it turns out, there was room for two. Keeping Perez on the roster made sense since he can help the Rays win a game in a number of ways -- he can be a disruptive and dynamic force as a pinch-runner, can get a bunt down, can play all three outfield positions (and well). Plus, he provides protection in the event Carl Crawford’s surgically repaired right hand starts to bother to him. The Price decision was much more interesting, as the Rays chose him not only over Percival but also over Edwin Jackson. Obviously, the Rays are intrigued by the potential for him to get some huge outs and not concerned about him handling any perceived pressure. Do note that the roster can be changed between rounds. Also, if a player is hurt during the series he can be replaced (pitcher for pitcher, position player for position player) but the injured player is ineligible for the next round of play.
Q: Do September callups who don't make the playoff roster work out and travel with the team during the playoffs? -- PTownFan
MARC: They can, and some will, just like some of the other active players who were not on the 25-man ALDS roster. The Rays are talking about taking Jonny Gomes, Jason Hammel, Edwin Jackson, John Jaso, and Troy Percival. They’ve also told some of the others not chosen to keep working out and stay in touch since they could be needed in later rounds if there were injuries.
Q: Is there any chance Maddon will deviate from what he has done all year and at least move Bartlett up to the two spot in the batting order? Honestly, I think Aki and BJ are weak as our leadoff guys. Btw, it's comical to question how valuable Bartlett is to this team. No doubt he is the MVP of this team. -- M
MARC: Unlikely. Maddon has tried -- around all the injuries -- to develop a stable lineup, and then they unexpectedly get Carl Crawford back for the playoffs. Initially he’ll bat fifth as Maddon wants to keep Aki and Upton at the top. If there was a change, I think it’s more likely to involve Crawford moving back up. They seem to like Bartlett at the bottom of the order. There has been a lot of conversation -- even some without name-calling (!) -- about the Bartlett selection as team MVP in voting by members of the Tampa Bay chapter of the BBWAA. I’ll simply say what I wrote in the paper Sunday -- if you watch this team everyday, the single biggest reason the Rays are where they are is because of their improved defense, and Bartlett has had the biggest impact in that area.
Q: How do you think Maddon will fill the rightfield slot during the playoffs? With or w/o CC back in left.
Is Gabe the answer, this year and next? If not, where do you see the Rays going for a full time RF player? -- E
MARC: Gross will start the opener in right. The bigger question is what the Rays will do when the Sox start their lefties -- he could use Fernando Perez, he could stick with Gross, he could use do-everything Ben Zobrist, he could put Rocco Baldelli out there and DH Willy Aybar. As for next year, I would guess, and it’s just a guess, they’ll look to trade some pitching for a power-hitting rightfielder.
Q: Ask Joe: Who's your closer? Who's your setup guy? What role will David Price play? How will your lineup differ when facing a lefty starter? How big of a role will CC play, if at all? -- Tom
MARC: The closer is going to be determined, as it has been whenever Troy Percival has been out, by the matchups. I would think you will see Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour, but J.P. Howell can get the last out as well. The lineup against lefties, as mentioned above, could be interesting. Crawford will stay in left, so the decisions are in rightfield and at DH.
Q: Who scheduled the time for the first playoff game? Is that the owner of the Rays or the managers? I'm clueless. I just want to know who to channel my anger towards for making it in the middle of the afternoon! -- Angie
MARC: Technically it’s decided by MLB, though the TV folks have a major say in it. And though the Rays are considered a “great story” this year, they don’t have the national appeal, much less the local TV market size, to garner a prime-time slot. As long as the Red Sox and Cubs and Dodgers are playing, the Rays are going to be in the earlier time slots whenever there are multiple games. Now, against Phillies-Brewers they might have a shot at a better slot.
Q: What happened to our catcher Riggans? I miss him and his name is not mentioned anymore. Thanks!! -- Ann
MARC: Riggans developed a knee problem (an infection in his bursa sac) in September that required surgery. But he is doing well, moving around, and there’s a chance he could return if the Rays get to the second round of the playoffs, and even more so if they reach the World Series.
Q: What positions should the team look to bolster in the off-season? -- a fan
MARC: They will always be looking to upgrade their bullpen, but the biggest priority would seem to be a power-hitting rightfielder.
Q: Any idea why Willy Aybar was not introduced at the Rays rally on Monday? -- M. Percifield
MARC: He wasn’t there. Willy had a severe headache and stayed home. Seems like they could have mentioned him, Shawn Riggans and a couple of others, but overall it was well done.
Q: Please ask the Rays organization if they will move the team if they do not get a new stadium. -- Carl
MARC: I think we’ve covered that issue enough (they have lease at the Trop through 2027) over the last few months and don't have much interest in discussing that on this special day.
Q: Hey Marc, I was wondering if you or anybody else was thinking about moving Scott Kazmir to the bullpen. I think he will be highly successful there, seeing as he can only go 5 innings. He also could blaze heaters past hitters and gives us a more reliable option as setup man, or long reliever. Please answer! -- Stephen H.
MARC: Have I thought about it? Sure. Have the Rays? That’s a different story. Kazmir has been talked about as a potential closer along the lines of Billy Wagner. But he is still young, and as he further develops and learns to be economical with his pitches, he has the chance to be a really good starter for a long time.