Tampa Bay Rays: Young Guns Firing

Kevin LuchanskyAnalyst IMay 12, 2008

The young guns are firing on all cylinders in Tampa Bay as the Ray’s young pitching staff is getting it done for the second place squad.

Tampa Bay (21-16) is nipping at the Sox heels atop the AL East, just a game and a half back, and completed a three game sweep of the Angels on Sunday in Tampa with an 8-5 victory. The win was due largely in part to Carl Crawford’s hot bat and three-run blast but the Rays are also showcasing a lot of young talent in their starting rotation.

The Ray’s 8-5 victory extended their home win streak to nine, a record in the organization’s short existence.

Second year starter Andy Sonnanstine was on display Sunday and received a no decision. The former Kent State standout had a shaky outing but boasts a more than impressive 5-1 record this season.

Sonnanstine’s stuff isn’t exactly overpowering and his pitch repertoire is pretty standard, but what sets him apart is his mental preparation for the game. Andy’s fastball runs between 86-88 mph but his control is strong and he often draws comparison to San Diego’s Greg Maddux. I’m sure you’ve heard of Maddux – he just earned his 350th career victory, becoming just the 9thpitcher in MLB history to record such a feat.

It’s amazing to see what Tampa has been able to accomplish this season without the benefit of their ace Scott Kazmir.

Due to Kazmir’s absence, flamethrower James Shields has been operating as the ace of the young rotation. Shields is a fiery competitor and has rarely disappointed early on this season.

The right-hander from Newhall, California had a relatively unimpressive rookie season, going 6-8 with an ERA above 4. Despite the disappointing first year, Shields’ coaching staff saw promise due to his ability to strike batters out at a high rate.

Already in the 2008 season, Shields has pitched two complete games, allowing a total of three hits in eighteen innings of work. He has great command on his fastball, a pitch he can throw in the mid-to-upper nineties.

Shields is 4-2 this season with a 3.14 ERA.

The Rays will have a solid 1-2-3 punch when the lefty Kazmir returns to the mound healthy.

Unfortunately for the Rays, their downfall this season may come sooner than late, with many weaknesses stemming from their bullpen.

If Tampa is still in the hunt come trade deadline time, manager Joe Maddon and GM Andrew Friedman will be searching for bullpen help, but may be hard pressed to find any.