Return of B.J. Upton's power stroke the best news for Rays

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b.j. upton swinging.jpgWhile I’m pretty excited about David Price’s performance through two starts, the most promising development for the Rays during their 10-3 run to begin the season has been B.J. Upton’s power surge.
Upton, of course, looked for all of the world like a future superstar when he hit .300/.386/.508 with 24 homers in 474 at-bats as a 22-year-old in 2007. He went backwards in 2008, when he hit just nine homers, but he got on base 38 percent of the time again and then he rediscovered his power when he hit seven postseason homers.
As it turned out, Upton spent the 2008 season playing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Still, judging from the power he showed in October, he seemed in position for a strong 2009 after shoulder surgery the previous November.
His power, though, was again missing in action, and this time the rest of his game fell apart with it. He hit just .204/.297/.290 in 45 games through the end of May. A big June followed (.324-5 HR-22 RBI), raising expectations yet again, but he was a complete bust the rest of the way. Outside of June, his best OPS in any month was 622. He had just six homers and 33 RBI in his remaining 455 at-bats for the season.
The ugly season, combined with the likelihood that the Rays would need to free up salary, led many to believe that Upton would be traded last winter. The Rays, though, never appeared to entertain serious conversations with other teams. Upton stuck around, enjoyed a nice spring and has opened the season with four homers and 11 RBI through 13 games. He’s hitting just .234, but he’s walked seven times and he has an 865 OPS.
Besides maybe Evan Longoria, Upton is the most gifted hitter on a Rays team that also features the 2009 AL co-home run leader in Carlos Pena, 2009 MVP candidate Ben Zobrist and three-time All-Star Carl Crawford. He’s not only a threat for 30 homers and 30 steals, but in two of his three full seasons, he’s had signiificantly better OBPs than Crawford has ever managed.
If this is the year the now 25-year-old Upton puts it together, then the Rays just might have the AL’s best offense. Zobrist and Jason Bartlett are in for sizable declines, but the Rays are bound to get better production from catcher and DH and Upton could very well go from a 686 OPS to something in the 900 range.

Video: Albert Almora, Jr. saved by the ivy

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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The ALCS had a weird play in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but Game 4 of the NLCS did as well. This one involved Cubs outfielder Albert Almora, Jr. and his attempt to spark a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning against Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling.

After Alex Avila singled, Almora ripped a double to left field, past a diving Enrique Hernandez. The ball rolled to the ivy in front of the wall. Most outfielders there would’ve put their hands up, which would have alerted the umpires to call an immediate ground-rule double. Hernandez didn’t, instead fishing the ball out and firing it back into the infield. Avila had stopped at third base, but Almora kept running. Much to his surprise, he pulled up into third base to see his teammate standing there, resigned to his fate as a dead duck. Third baseman Justin Turner applied the tag on Almora for what he thought was the first out of the inning.

Almora, however, was then sent back to second base after the umpires correctly called a ground-rule double.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, the lucky break didn’t help as closer Kenley Jansen came in and took care of business, retiring all three batters he faced without letting an inherited runner score. The Dodgers won 6-1 and now lead the NLCS three games to none. They’ll try to punch their ticket to the World Series on Wednesday.