There was a pretty good chance going into the season that a Rays starting pitcher would be among the leading candidates for the American League rookie of the year award. There was very little chance that, rather than David Price, it would be Jeff Niemann. But here we are into August, and that's where we are. "I know it's there," Niemann said. "We're definitely a ways away from that, but it would be something cool to keep it in the organization for another year." Evan Longoria was the obvious, and unanimous, choice for it in 2008. Niemann won't have it so easy, not with more than a half-dozen other contenders. Plus, being 26 and a 2004 draftee, he's not necessarily thought of as a rookie.
"That's 'cause I've been around so long," he said.
Niemann is doing now what was expected of him years ago, validating what former GM Chuck LaMar and staff saw in making him the No. 4 pick, ahead of Homer Bailey, Jered Weaver, Stephen Drew and Phil Hughes.
"I don't think there's any question Jeff Niemann was worthy of such a high draft selection, since teams were considering taking him higher than we were," LaMar said. "We thought we were drafting a college pitcher who could get to the major leagues relatively quickly and have an impact when he got there. And we were right on one of the two."
Injuries and inconsistencies slowed his trip, but now that Niemann's here, he looks like a winner.
AL rookie of the year candidates:
Pitchers, team W-L ERA G / GS IP WHIP*
LH Ricky Romero, Jays 10-5 3.66 18 / 18 115.2 1.37
RH Jeff Niemann, Rays 10-5 3.73 21 / 20 120.2 1.29
RH Rick Porcello, Tigers 10-7 4.30 20 / 20 111 1.41
RH Brian Bergesen, Orioles 7-5 3.43 19 / 19 123.1 1.28
RH Matt Palmer, Angels 9-1 4.52 25 / 12 91.2 1.42
Fielders, team Avg. HR RBI AB OBP SLG OPS+
INF Gordon Beckham, ChiSox .309 6 38 194 .375 .495 .870
OF Nolan Reimold, O's .274 10 31 234 .366 .444 .810
INF Elvis Andrus, Rangers .258 4 19 295 .324 .359 .683
* Walks and hits per innings pitched; + = on-base plus slugging pct.
Matter of trust
Some husbands don't trust their wives to pick up lunch or pick out a shirt. Then there's manager Joe Maddon. When the Rays land in Southern California tonight, Maddon will see for the first time his new dream house — the one his wife of less than a year, Jaye, searched for, picked out, negotiated and closed on, cleaned up and readied and moved them into — all while he has been hanging out in the dugout. "I have a lot of faith in her," Maddon said. "And she's good." The house is in Long Beach. It's an old four-bedroom with space for a wine cellar (of course!), 3½ blocks from the ocean, with a price that ran into seven figures. The couple had talked over the 6-7 years they've known each other about what they'd like, but this was all Jaye. Joe has seen a few photos and looked quickly at a short video Jaye posted online, but he has no worries. "Not only from the taste and quality what she would choose, but her ability to work the finances … so it was easy," Maddon said. "I told her, 'Hey, babe, just get what you like. Of course I trust you. I don't want to hear about it. Just tell me where to show up.' "
Got to think Rays officials are already plotting their playlist and renting disco balls for K.C.'s 2010 visit after pitcher Zack Greinke's comments to royals.com about the Trop experience: "Their PR department promotes the game like it's a club and not a baseball game. It almost doesn't feel like you're playing baseball when you're playing here. They do stupid music stuff. They have dancers everywhere, they have a DJ. They just do a bunch of stupid stuff that isn't baseball."
The crowd indifference for Rocco Baldelli's first game at the Trop as a visitor Wednesday was, to say the least, disappointing. … For an organization that prides itself in doing the little things, the Rays have put games at risk with an incorrect lineup card and by ignoring warnings to move an equipment bag. … The B.J. Upton Twitter account, like the Evan Longoria one, is fake.
Got a minute? Jeff Bennett
Best meal you can make? Probably breakfast — bacon, sausage and eggs.
Band you'd like to be on stage with? Thousand Foot Krutch. It's Christian rock.
Must-see TV? Phineas and Ferb (on Disney); I have two little girls (Ali, 4; Elle, 2) so we watch that all the time.
Guilty pleasure at the mall? I shop for my wife, so anywhere there's jewelry and clothes. I'm guilty there.
Dream trip for you and your wife, Rachel? Hawaii, or any secluded island where we can get some quiet time.