Tuesday’s win was a solid start to the Devil Rays' Disney adventure. James Shields continued to pitch like an ace, but again failed to factor in the decision in his bid for win number four. It's a pleasant site to see a young pitcher with a great deal of talent reaching such a level of consistency. The right-hander followed last Wednesday’s performance of nine shutout innings with eight more solid frames on Tuesday night. He scattered only six hits while allowing three earned runs to lower his team-best ERA to 3.13. Once again, the California native delivered a quality start, a feat that is almost becoming expected.
Still, he is suffering the “2004 Randy Johnson
syndrome” where quality starts are wasted due to a lack of run support. Honestly, Shields has pitched well enough to win all of his eight starts this year. He has lasted at least six innings in every appearance this season, allowing four or more earned runs only once. Imagine the buzz in the baseball world if a Devil Rays starting pitcher began the season 8-0 with a 3.13 ERA. The already- increasing air time on ESPN for the Devil Rays would be even higher. Albeit quietly on the national scene, Shields is establishing himself as one of the top young pitchers in the game.
Now if Shields could only carry over his hot start to the rest of the starting rotation. Casey Fossum will take the hill tonight in the second game of the series. Fossum has endured a roller coaster season with several highs and lows. Unfortunately for the Devil Rays, the highs have been few and far between. The former Texas A&M standout has been consistently inconsistent. Which version of Fossum will see tonight? Headed into tonight, Fossum, who is 2-3 with an ugly 7.42 ERA, has given up 52 hits in only 40 innings. If Fossum doesn’t start pitching better, his days in St. Petersburg could be numbered. I know, I know, he is an innings eater like Jae Seo, but he needs to start getting the job done to give the offense a chance to win the games that he starts. Former Philadelphia Phillies righty Vicente Padilla is Fossum’s counterpart for the Rangers.
Brendan Harris’ second walk-off hit of the season was the highlight of last night’s win, but was the game a success? Expanding the market to the Central Florida region was arguably more important than the game, but the results of the experiment are hard to measure at such an early stage. Team owner Stuart Sternberg told the St. Petersburg Times that his primary goal headed in to the series was to make the Devil Rays more of a regional franchise. By hosting a series in front of the Orlando fans, Sternberg also wants to increase the ratings for televised games since people in the Central Florida region now have access to the FSN Devil Rays TV package. Sternberg told John Romano of the St. Petersburg Times, “Would I rather have 30,000 people in the stadium or 1-million people watching on TV? I think I would rather have 1-million people watching on TV. It’s more important to know that 1-million people do care. And, from a money standpoint and the advertising, there more revenue derived there.”
What was the attendance of last night’s game anyways you ask? 8,443! Even though the game didn't fill the capacity at the Braves spring training home stadium, it did draw considerably higher than the average attendance of a game during this series last year. I was at one of the games in the Texas series last year during the middle of the week and I have to tell you, Tropicana Field was a ghost town. It was so quiet that fans sitting in what was formerly known as The Beach (now the TBT Party Deck) could hear Jonny Gomes talking about Jagermeister in the dugout. It was pretty bad. Still, major league teams, even the Devil Rays, should be able to fill up a minor league stadium during a non-exhibition game. I am all for the idea and have been very supportive, but as several critics have pointed out, the fans won't come to the Trop until the Devil Rays start winning. However, the recent progressive movement in management is definitely helping the organization retain the funds needed to help put a desperately-needed winning product on the field. Any idea that could potentially improve the fan base for the organization is a good idea.
I really think that Sternberg, who is a financial genius, is well on his way to helping the Devil Rays achieve success. If Tampa Bay truly does become more of a regional franchise by tapping into the Central Florida region, the vocal critics will be silenced.
Honestly, fans are thinking can we mix in a .500 season, one time? Just to mix it up a little bit, please. Yes, with Andrew Friedman and Sternberg in charge and a surge of talented young players, the team's first .500 season could be soon upon us. Yes, the Devil Rays have a long uphill battle ahead of them, but several top pitching prospects -- including Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, Jake McGee, and possibly David Price, who is expected to be the top pick in this year's draft -- could soon save the day. The opportunity cost of causing the die-hard Devil Rays fans who would have come out to the ballpark in St. Petersburg (even if the reasons were for dollar draft and hot dog nights, not baseball), must have been considerably lower than a chance to try and expand the market. I hope that the tourist-infested city of Orlando truly starts to care about Tampa Bay’s home team. I support the idea and truly think it will end up being a success.
This could be the rotation in a season or two.
What do you think? Let us know on our message boards.
If revenues continue to increase, the Devil Rays could make their move up in the baseball world with a rotation like that. They also need to hold onto their young and talented position players: Rocco Baldelli, Reid Brignac, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, and Delmon Young.