Lightning stumbling toward playoffs

If you watched the Lightning in their 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night, was there anything you saw in that game that gave you the confidence and assurance that this team is going to be ok for the playoffs and be ready to take care of business?

I thought it was just me. That my assessment was off. That the Lightning is just playing out the string. That they will be able to flick a switch and everything will be fine once the playoffs start on April 11th.

I think that is the mind set of some of the guys in the locker room. I just give it the eye ball test as they say. What I see being played out on the ice the last four games is not going to win you a series in the playoffs.

I know Steven Stamkos was out as a maintenance day as it was called, but as a team you have to put up a better effort than that against the second worst team in the league.

I’m sorry, but I vehemently disagree with Cooper when he says the puck just didn’t bounce their way. if that’s the case the puck hasn’t bounced their way the last four games.

Again we saw the Lightning abandon all systems and just run around trying to make something happen. There was no structure to their game. That has nothing to do with the puck not bouncing their way Coach.

I’ve written about it before. the poor passing, defensemen out of position, the turnovers. The Lightning get one shot and that is it, no one is in the right position for another shot attempt.

The other disturbing thing about this Lightning team is their lack of being physical. There is more contact in an NBA game than there is initiated by the Lightning. The softness of the team bothers me.

Victor Hedman got drilled late in the game, falls to the ice, and not one Lightning player comes to his defense. Not one. Everyone just accepts the fact that one of their teammates just got hit and is down on the ice and its no big deal.

The mindset of this team starts with Cooper. Not a lot of fire. Good coach, but very composed and this team is a reflection of that on the ice.

The Bruins are right on the heels of the Lightning just one point behind in the division, with two games remaining against the Lightning. The first of those two meetings will be Thursday night in Boston. The Lightning are still looking for that first win this season against the Bruins.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Lightning could fall to third in the division behind Toronto. It‘s not likely, but stranger things have happened.

This is the time of year when everything should be clicking on all cylinders and being fine-tuned for a deep playoff run.

After the Bruins, the Lightning will be in New York to play the Rangers before coming home to play Nashville on Easter Sunday, which could be a Stanley Cup Preview.

The Lightning needs to get back to playing the type of game which made them so successful the first half season. If that Lightning team shows up in the Playoffs, we will be playing hockey in June.

If not, the Lightning will get some extra time to work on their golf game.

Tampa Bay Rays 2018 season preview.

The Tampa Bay Rays are officially in rebuilding mode as the 2018 season begins Thursday afternoon against Boston at Tropicana field.

Just like the Houston Astros and the Oakland A’s in prior seasons,  and the Pittsburgh Pirates this off-season, the Rays gutted the team to dump salary and get in a position to challenge for an AL East crown in 2020.

You will need a program if you are planning on attending a Rays game this season. Gone is the most popular player in franchise history Evan Longoria. Also cut lose or traded this off-season were Steven Souza, Jake Ordorizzi, Alex Cobb, Corey Dickerson, and Logan Morrison.

The Rays have 10 new faces on the roster to begin the season that were not here in 2017. Denard Span comes in from the Giants, Joey Wendle from the A’s, and C.J. Cron from the Angels.

Today, the Rays acquired OF Rob Refsnyder from the Indians for cash considerations. Refsnyder will have to stay on the roster as he is out of options and will have to pass through waivers to be sent to the minors.

Matt Duffy who has been on the roster since 2016  will finally see his first real extended playing time with the Rays since appearing in 21 games in 2016. Duffy missed the entire 2017 season as he recovered from two heel surgeries. Duffy is penciled in to start at 3B for the Rays

The IF first to third will look like this: 1B C.J. Cron, 2B Joey Wendle/Brad Miller, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, 3B Matt Duffy.

Wilson Ramos will be the starting catcher with Jesus Sucre as the back-up. I would think that with the Rays dumping salary, Ramos may be traded around the all-star break. The Rays would then go with a Sucre/Curt Casali platoon at catcher.

In the OF, Denard Span, Kevin Kiermaier, and Carlos Gomez/Mallex Smith will be the starters. Look for Brad Miller and Carlos Gomez to platoon at DH to start the season.

Daniel Robertson, Rob Refsnyder, are the IF/OF utility players.

The big concern is the offense. Get used to seeing a lot of little ball at the trop this season as the Rays do not have a legitimate HR threat except for Carlos Gomez. Gomez has 133 career HR’s  in his 10 year career.

If the Rays are to be respectable this season, the pitching will have to exceed expectations. The Rays will begin the season with a four man rotation of Archer, Faria, Snell and Eovaldi.

In the pen, Yonny Chirinos, and Ryan Yarborough are on a MLB roster to begin the season for the first time. Those guys beat out the likes of Dan Jennings, Anthony Banda, and Jonny Venters for a roster spot.

Sergio Romo, Chaz Roe, Jose Alvarado, Andrew Kitteredge, and Matt Andriese round out the pen. This pen will be tested early as Kevin Cash will go with the bullpen to start the game on Saturday in game 3 of the series against the Red Sox.  They call it a bullpen day. This was set up to give Eovaldi an extra day of rest between starts early in the season as he comes back from Tommy John surgery. Alex Colome will begin the season as the closer.

The Rays plan to go with this rotation until mid-May.

Vegas has the Rays over/under at anywhere from 76.5 to 77.5 wins this season. That may be a bit high as I don’t think this team will win more than 72. That is the best case scenario in my opinion as the Rays will finish last in they AL East.

The offense will struggle to score runs, the pitching will wear down by the All-Star break, causing the 2018 fire sale to begin. Alex Colome and Wilson Ramos will get traded and Chris Archer may go as well.

Hope springs eternal every year unless you’re a Rays fan. By mid April, we will be focusing on the Lightning Chase for the Stanley Cup and counting down the days till the Buccaneers take the field in August.

USA Today Sports Jonathon Dyer

 

 

 

 

Are the Rays relevant in Tampa Bay?

As the Tampa Bay Rays wind down spring training and get ready for the 2018 season, there are still a lot of question marks surrounding this team.

Will anyone show up at Tropicana Field this season to watch the Rays? The Rays are last in attendance this spring averaging around 3500 per home game in Port Charlotte. This ranks last in the AL in spring training attendance. Here is another interesting stat I ran across. Since the 2010-11 season in the NHL, the Lightning have averaged more fans per game than the Rays.

The Rays were able to draw 1.2 million last year at the trop for an average of 15,477 per game which was last in MLB. With the Trading away of the marquee players and the salary dump that the Rays front office have done over the winter, the Rays will be lucky to draw 1 million fans.

It is no surprise that MLB sued the Rays along with four other MLB teams for essentially not putting the revenue sharing money back into the product on the field and not making a good faith effort to put a winning product on the field.

ESPN HOF broadcaster Dick Vitale was especially harsh in his criticism of the Rays but kind of summed up what a majority of Rays fans are thinking in an interview with The Tampa Bay Times. “If you don’t want to own a team and give the fans a chance (to see competitive baseball), sell the team. There’ll be a buyer in a heartbeat.”

Vitale went on to say “The Rays ownership and front office have gutted this team and very few players remain that the fans can identify with.“ Evan Longoria gone to the Giants. Steven Souza gone. Jake Ordorizzi traded to Minnesota. Alex Cobb not re-signed when his contract expired. In the past, the Rays have parted ways with all-star David Price and James Shields.

The Rays have what I would call two marquee players on the roster. Chris Archer and Kevin Kiermaier. Archer may be gone at some point this season. Alex Colome the All-Star reliever may also be traded mid-season along with Wilson Ramos as the salary purge has not yet been completed.

Vitale added “If you want to play with the big boys, you have to have good players,” he said. “You have to give your fans a fighting chance. They have to be excited to come to the park and feel excitement, enthusiasm and energy. You can’t feel that at the ballpark when you go to the Trop. The point now has reached an embarrassment. It’s reached a humiliating state. When we lose the people we’ve been losing, it’s absolutely mind-boggling. You want to compete.”

Usually when the calendar rolls from late February into March, there is an excitement in the air that the baseball season is right around the corner. Not this year. There is absolutely no buzz at all regarding this Rays team.

I hope I am wrong. I hope this Rays team exceeds expectations. I guess I am hoping for the best and expecting the worst.

—The Rays announced the Chris Archer will start the season opener against Boston on March 29th. The third game of season will be a bullpen day, when Kevin Cash will use the bullpenfrom start to finish as the Rays will go with a four man rotation until mid-May.

—Mallex Smith has been out with a hamstring injury since March 8th, He says he will be ready for the regular season.

Brad Miller was back in the lineup this weekend after being out since the start of training camp with a broken toe. Miller has been hit hard by the injury bug since being traded to the Rays. He is expected to start at 2B for the Rays this season

Tampa Bay Sports Monday Musings

BY KEN FILLER

MAR. 26, 2018

The Tampa Bay Lightning have a 12-2-2 record over the last 16 games. Yet if you monitor the fan groups on social media outlets you would think that this Lightning team will have problems getting out of the first round of the playoffs.

Seven Stamkos said as much last week when he said there is a lot of negativity surrounding the team. Keep in mind last year the Lightning did not even qualify for the playoffs,and with 2 weeks left in the regular season the Lightning have the most points in the NHL with 106, which is tied for first with Nashville. Here are some other milestones this Lightning team can and will reach in the next two weeks:

—With a win against Arizona on Monday night, The Lightning will tie the all-time franchise record with 108 points

-Jon Cooper will pass Stanley Cup winning coach John Tortorella as the all time winningest coach in Lightning history with a win against the Coyotes on Monday night.

-This Lightning team has scored more goals in franchise history than any other team in history.

-Yanni Gourde has a chance to break the franchise record for points by a rookie. Brad Richards has the record with 62, and Gourde has 58 with 7 games remaining.

This has already been a special season for the Lightning, and could get even better with the hoisting of the Stanley Cup in June.

USA Today Sports

It has been a good off-season for Jason Licht and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I Give a Licht a solid A for his work in free agency. With the Acquisition of Jason Pierre-Paul the Bucs have one of the top ten D-Lines in the league.

The Bucs also improved the OL with the signing of Ryan Jensen last week which allows Ali Marpet to move back to guard his natural position.

The Bucs have about 10 million left in cap space after the free agency period and could still sign a DB to strengthen the defense.

With the draft just about a month the Bucs have alot of options, from a trade down to acquire an extra pick or two, to staying at number seven and taking the player they think will best help this team in 2018.

-Kevin Pamphile has signed with the Titans.

-Evan Smith has signed a 2 year contract to add depth to the OL.

-Robert Ayers will show up at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando this week as he tries to get a new deal.

USA Today Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays will begin their 20th season on Thursday, as they host the Boston Red Sox at the Trop.

The Rays wrapped up their spring training home schedule today with a record crownd of 7985 at Charlotte Sports Park as the Rays clobbered the Yankees 11-1. That was the largest ever to see a spring training game in Port Charlotte since the Rays have been there.

-The Rays also made a couple of roster moves after the game. Jonny Venters, Daniel Hudson, and Dan Jennings were informed they will not make the team.

-Yonny Chirinos, and Ryan Yarborough made the big league roster for the first time. Andrew Kitteredge made the team over Austin Pruitt. Nice to see these two kids get a chance. Pruitt was not impressive at all this spring and had some issues last season when he was in Tampa. I’m sure we will see Pruitt at some point this season as the pitching depth has been tested with the injuries to Brent Honeywell and Jose DeLeon.

Hated to see Jonny Venters not make the team as he had an outstanding spring, Venetrs did not give up a run in seven innings of work. Venters is trying to come back from a laundry list of injuries and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2012.

-We will take a look at the Tampa Bay Rays 2018 season on Wednesday as we will have our season preview ready to go.

Bucs Chris Godwin surprises at camp

Just over one week into training camp and we are already starting to get a pretty good feel for this Buccaneers team. Coach Koetter has said that the the defense is ahead of the offense so far, and that is kind of the normal for the first week or so of training camp. Coach has not been real pleased with the offense. On more than one occasion Koetter has said that the offense needs to be much sharper and have better execution if they are to have the kind of success that is expected for the 2017 season.

WR Chris Godwin continues to impress. Koetter has said on more than one occasion that Godwin does not look like a rookie, has great practice habits and is all business when it comes to football.  I think Chris Godwin will be a big playmaker for this team  and down the road  possibly take over for DeSean Jackson as the No. 2 receiver. This kid has that kind of potential.

TE OJ Howard is another rookie that is turning heads at Bucs camp. Howard was drafted with a lot higher expectations than was Godwin, but still Howard has been as advertised and even better. Howard gets open downfield, makes the tough catches, and can also line up on the line of scrimmage and be a very good run blocker. Not many TE’s can do both extremely well. Howard has that ability

JR Sweezy who missed all of last season is back and having a good camp. He brings a little bit of an edge and some nastiness to that Bucs line which is needed.

On the defensive side of the ball, DT Gerald McCoy is having a great camp.  He has disrupted so many plays in the backfield that Koetter has said that they thought he was jumping off-sides. McCoy earlier this year said that he needed to and wanted to crank it up a few notches  and that he wanted to improve his game. It appears he is on his way. Now all he has to do is transfer that quickness to the regular season games.

S Keith Tandy is another player having a very good camp. Tandy really came on the second half of last season, and had some key interceptions in games against San Diego, and Carolina. Tandy has continued his progress during the OTA’s and moni-camp and is now showing  everyone what he is capable of doing.

It looks like K Roberto Aguayo is a little bit ahead of Nick Folk in the battle for the PK job. On Friday Aguayo was a perfect 7/7 on FG attempts and overall has been near perfect this camp. Now we will see if that translates over to the games. I think this battle will probably go to the final cuts and right now it looks like Aguayo has the edge.

Next Friday night the Bucs will be in Cincinnati to play the Benagals in the first pre-season game at 730PM

 

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Rays revamp bullpen as the losing continues

The Rays begin the dogs days of summer battling to stay above .500 as they have lost 4 out of the last 5 and totally revamped the bullpen as owner Stuart Sternberg thinks that this Rays team can get back on track and secure a playoff berth.

It began July 22 as the Rays acquired Sergio Romo from the LA Dodgers in exchange for cash considerations. In three innings of work since coming to the Rays, Romo has given up 2 runs with a 6.00 ERA. Five days later the Rays picked up Dan  Jennings from the White Sox in exchange for minor league 1B Casey Gillespie. Jennings gave up a run in his first appearance with the Rays.

One day later the Rays dealt inconsistent reliever Erasmo Ramirez to the Mariners in exchange for Relief pitcher Steve Cishek. Cishek has yet to allow a run in 2 appearances.

The Rays promptly lost 3 out of the next 4 against the New York Yankees and were blown out tonight in Houston. Although tonight’s game was not lost by the bullpen. Obviously not the start and kind of impact that the fans and Rays management were hoping for from these trades.

The Rays did pick up Lucas Duda from the Mets in exchange for a minor leaguer. Duda hit 2 home runs his first 2 games and will play primarily 1B in the field and DH.

Today the Rays unloaded infielder Tim Beckham to the Orioles in exchange for  18 year old right-handed Tobias Myers. Beckham cost the Rays the game on Saturday in New York as his communication with P Brad Boxberger on a bunt up the third base line was misplayed. Why Beckham  was playing third, who knows. But it cost the Rays a very important game.

The first half of the season, the Rays were on fire offensively and were getting some timely starting pitching. The bullpen has been a problem all year, thus the focus on making the pen better through a series of trades. Five games into it, and the bullpen is no better than it was before the trade deadline. On paper yes. On the field no.

Brad Boxberger looks like something may be bothering him,. Boxberger took the loss in two out of the last three games in New York. The Rays will need the him down the stretch and cannot afford to lose him.

The Rays are entering a tough stretch as they have 3 more in Houston before coming home to play Milwaukee, Boston and Cleveland. This series of games could determine the Rays post-season chances and if the losing continues the Rays could become sellers in August.

Give Sternberg some credit here. He went out and added some salary, spent some cash in acquiring Romo and gave the Rays a stronger pen for the stretch run. These guys are better than the pen the Rays had the first part of the season. It just seems the Rays always get these guys that are on the backside of their careers, or they are coming back from an injury, or have lost their mojo and are trying to get it back.

Tonight Alex Cobb had his worst performance of the season as he gave up eight runs in three innings of work. With the upgrade in the bullpen, the starting  pitchers must continue to excel and the offense has to continue to get timely hits if the Rays are to get back in position to play baseball in October.

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Bucs Training camp report

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began preparations on Friday for the 2017 NFL season before an enthusiastic crowd at One Bucs Place.

The Fans are excited football is back. The Players are excited to be back on the field. Expectations are sky high here in Tampa, as on paper this is the best Bucs team since 2010.

In the next 6 weeks we will learn who will be making FG’s for the Bucs. Will it be the incumbent Roberto Aguayo? Or will the free agent K Nick Folk take out Aguayo. This is the most intriguing battle of camp, and one that the national media will be focusing on. But there are some other battles that will be fought that will be just as important.

RB Doug Martin will miss the first three games of the season due to a suspension. This is an opportunity for the rookie Jeremy McNichols to make an impact and show the coaches he deserves a roster spot. Jacquizz Rodgers and Charles Sims, along with Peyton Barber will also get plenty of looks.

At LB, the rookie from LSU Kendall Beckwith will battle Davonte Bond for the starting outside linebacker spot. Beckwith taken in the third round would have been a late first round pick had he not suffered a torn ACL last November. I believe this pick will prove to be a real steal for the Bucs once Beckwith gets completely healthy and can contribute.

At safety, Keith Tandy and Chris Conte are entrenched as the starters, but don’t count out the free agent acquisition from Dallas JJ Wilcox, and the 2nd round pick from Texas A@M Justin Evans. Evans plays the ball extremely well and is known as a hard hitter, something the Bucs sorely need in the secondary.

DL Jacquies Smith is on the PUP list after season ending ACL surgery in 2016. Smith also had some minor surgery on the knee and will be out for a few weeks. All indications are that he will be ready for the season, providing he does not suffer a setback.

There will not be a lot of surprises on the final roster. Coach Koetter said the depth at LB, WR, RB and DB along with the kicking battle will be some of the key battles to look at during training camp.

The Bucs have three areas that will need to improve if they are to be a playoff team in 2017.

–Jameis Winston must cut down on the turnovers. He has to quit forcing the ball, and not run with reckless abandon like he has in the past fumbling and turning the ball over.

–The defensive line has to get more pressure on the QB. Gerald McCoy as the leader on the DL must set the tone with his play and Noah Spence has to improve his game.

–The Bus must get more turnovers. The defense did a better job the second half of last season creating turnovers and that style of aggressive play must continue from game one this season. With the DL applying more pressure on the QB, the turnovers will come.

Two weeks from tonight in Jacksonville we’ll get our first look at this Bucs team and get a sense for just how good this team will be in 2017.