Two undefeated juggernauts will clash for the first of three day games at Comerica Park in just a few hours and so to preview that series, Mark Heilig of The Ray Area reached out to me for a quick Q&A, which you can read here. What follows are his answers to my questions. Be sure to check out his blog for excellent Tampa Bay Rays analysis and follow him on twitter @TheRayArea.
1. The Rays and Tigers both swept their opening series against New York and Boston, respectively. Tigers fans know why the Tigers won. Who or what do you feel was the Rays biggest factor in their 3 straight wins last weekend?
I am not sure if I can pick one single factor but, if pressed, I might say it was Joe Maddon. I know that sounds strange but Joe’s fingerprints were all over that sweep. The Rays deployed a few new shifts (seemingly against every hitter in the Yankee lineup) that took away enough hits that the Yankees felt compelled to comment about it postgame. Also, I think Maddon’s lineup machinations got into Joe Girardi’s head and forced him into some strange overreactions. But, most importantly, I think Maddon just has this team convinced that they are good enough to play well in a big series like that.
2. Matt Moore makes his highly anticipated 2012 debut against the Tigers today. How do you think he does against their potent offense?
At this point, there is literally nothing Matt Moore can do that would surprise me but I am trying hard to temper my expectations. He didn’t have a great spring (he had an early setback due to a rib cage injury and is playing catch up) and there is some statistical history from his Minor League career to suggest that he is a slow starter in April. But, his stuff is so electric, and his delivery is so deceptive, that I think the Tigers will have trouble with him. With Moore, it comes down to command. If he is dialed in, he’ll be great. If he is wild, he’ll have a short afternoon.
3. Which offensive Ray has impressed the most so far? Which pitcher?
This answer may sting Tiger fans but, this is easy: Carlos Pena and Fernando Rodney. Pena was a cult hero during his first stint with the Rays coming over on a minor league contract before becoming a cornerstone in the club’s re-birth as a winner. He was a beloved team and community leader when economics sent him reluctantly out of town last season. No one could have imagined he’d come back with a grand slam in the first inning of the season, a walkoff double against Mariano Rivera in the 9th, and another home run two days later. As for Rodney, he has filled the Rays’ biggest hole coming out of spring training. The Rays’ bullpen is already pretty thin but, the injury to Kyle Farnsworth put the club in desperate straights. Enter Rodney who had a win and two saves in the Rays’ season-opening sweep.
4. Which offensive Ray has impressed the least? Which pitcher?
The Rays offense was so well-rounded during the opening series that I am hard-pressed to identify a least-impressive performer. That’s not to say a few hitters were unimpressive but, they are hitters that we expect to be unimpressive. If that makes any sense. But we have been so spoiled by good starting pitching that we DO NOT expect sub-standard pitching. And that is exactly what we got from Big Game James (Shields) on Opening Day. His command was terrible and he labored through his start giving away a four-run lead before the big 9th-inning come back.
5. Does Joe Maddon convince Jim Leyland to shave his head?
Joe might be the most interesting man in all of sports. He challenges everything you thought you knew about the game. He had Joe Girardi so confused, I wouldn’t have been shocked if Girardi came to the yard wearing a chicken suit. That said, I think Leyland is pretty set in his ways (rumor has it the guy smokes on charter flights…like, in the air). I don’t think Joe is going to try to move mountains. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he convinced Leyland to shave his ‘stache.