Ninety-nine percent of the time, this column lead is going to be about the players and the stats, not about me. But here's a rare case where an exception to the rule applies.
By now you surely know all about the tragic events that took place in Boston on Monday afternoon. Hateful acts and destructive consequences are never easy for anyone to view or understand, but there's an extra layer of pain that applies when the events occur in your home area.
I don't live in New England currently – it's actually been more than a decade since I moved away. But I grew up in Massachusetts and attended college in Rhode Island; all of my roots are in the area. Boston is my city as much as any city has ever been, and anytime I go back to visit New England, it feels like I'm going home.
Every year on Patriots' Day, I have friends at the marathon and in the marathon. My closest friend growing up was a distance runner (he's since passed the running baton to his wife), and I've spent Marathon Monday in The Hub on several occasions. To see a fun and joyous day turned into a day of terror makes my stomach sick.
I'm writing Closing Time because it's what I do, and I'm thankful and grateful to have this daily forum. But for one edition at least, you'll have to excuse me if my heart wasn't completely in it, if rooting for a save here or a stolen base there didn't carry the same worth it might on a normal day. I realize sports serve as a welcome distraction and diversion in most of our lives, and I'm fine with that; I know why you're coming here and what my job is. Just know my mind was elsewhere as I watched baseball Monday evening; it would be false to write this column without that disclosure.
You're in my thoughts, Boston. I'm proud of how you've responded. Keep taking care of one another.
Thanks for listening. Now let's get back to work, back to the sandlots.
• Before the day was hijacked from the field and roadway, the Red Sox were putting the finishing touches on a three-game sweep of Tampa Bay. The Rays scored just three runs in the series washout, and they were nearly no-hit by Clay Buchholz in Sunday's loss. Veteran Ryan Dempster held Tampa Bay down Monday (7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 10 K), though he had to settle for a no-decision.
The high-expectation Rays are currently in the AL East basement with a 4-8 record, and it's all on account of a paltry offense. Forget all those jokes about Houston's lineup - the Astros have plated 53 runs (albeit in unbalanced fashion), tied for sixth in the AL. But you have to go to the bottom of the stat page to find Tampa's bat rack; it's the worst in the AL by far. The Rays have just 35 runs through 12 games, with an anemic .205/.281/.288 slash line.
Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria are both over .300 through two weeks (though Longoria's power was missing before Monday's initial homer), so they're not the problem. But consider some of the other names in Tampa's regular rotation: Shelley Duncan, James Loney, Sam Fuld. Can a team be considered a major contender when pedestrian players like this hold down positions with offensive expectations?
There's an obvious question looming here: when do the Rays start to make changes? Uber-prospect Wil Myers is waiting down at Triple-A Durham, and while he hasn't hit for much power through ten games (.297/.417/.351), he would make Tampa's lineup look better the moment he walked through the clubhouse door. Brandon Guyer (.263/.378/.553, three homers) doesn't have the pedigree of Myers, but he's assembled an impressive minor-league resume. I can't imagine both of these guys will be in Annie Savoy's neck of the woods much longer.
Obviously Tampa Bay has to think about future cost control with respect to Myers, but there's something to be said for a window that won't be open forever. Staff ace David Price is entering the high-ticket part of his earning career and there's been speculative talk of him being shopped over the next year. Locked-up Longoria is also in the prime of his career, the Age 27 season. Zobrist turns 32 next month. The Rays entered the regular season as one of the prime AL favorites, but you never know how long that sort of status stays in place.
In short, I'm figuring the organization will find a way to get Myers to the big club sooner, rather than later. Guessing the arrival time on prospects is a fool's errand all the way, but I'll throw this prediction out nonetheless: I don't think Myers will have to wait until June or July before the phone rings. My guess, and it's nothing more than that, says he joins the Rays in April or May, and it's for good.
Prospect speculators, take that for what it's worth to you.
• The outcome was never really in doubt as the Cardinals rolled over Pittsburgh; St. Louis had a 10-1 lead through the middle of the third inning. Lance Lynn cobbled through and picked up a victory without his best stuff, while James McDonald hit the showers early (on the bright side, five runs were unearned). With a four-run lead still in place by the bottom of the ninth, the Redbirds gave the ball to Mitchell Boggs, hoping for a low-pressure, feel-good inning.
Boggs nearly made a mess of the assignment, allowing a walk and a single over the first three batters (a double-play grounded kept things at bay). Edward Mujica was in the bullpen ready to work if needed, and I suspect Mujica could get the nod when the next St. Louis save chance comes about.
Boggs has just one perfect inning on his 2013 resume, covering eight appearances. He's allowed 15 base runners and nine runs (eight earned) over 7.1 innings. The Cardinals fancy themselves as contenders; they won't wait forever to make a ninth-inning change. And I think we all know Jason Motte probably isn't walking through that door.
Young fireballer Trevor Rosenthal has been the eighth-inning bridge and he's struck out 10 (against just one walk) over eight innings. That ratio means more to us than the 4.50 ERA. And then there's Mujica, who has five tidy innings of his own to offer (3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K). If I had a free spin in the St. Louis save derby right this second, Boggs would be my third pick. Rosenthal and Mujica both make for fine speculation plays.
• The soft rock keeps playing for Mayday Tommy Milone, Oakland's sneaky left-hander. Milone picked up his third straight victory with a solid effort against Houston (6.2 IP, 8 H, 2 R) and for the year he has 15 strikeouts against four walks. That ratio obviously points to continued success.
Milone's time in the majors has been buoyed by a home-field bias: he has a career 2.72 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in Oakland's roomy park, but the numbers swell on the road (4.57/1.49). That established, there are plenty of road parks where I'll trust Milone and his sub-90 fastball. Feel free to use him under the catwalk at Tampa Bay this weekend, and then back home next week against Baltimore. You'll still find Milone unowned in about half of Yahoo! leagues.
Speed Round: Arizona keystone Aaron Hill (wrist) recently had an MRI and a DL trip could be the eventual verdict. Unfortunately for the roto youth, Josh Wilson isn't much of a replacement. … Messy weather wiped out the Mets and Rockies on Monday, and things are dicey for the remainder of the week. That's a problem, because this four-game set represents New York's only 2013 trip to Coors Field. The teams are hoping to play a day-night doubleheader Tuesday. … Casey Janssen was a risky closer candidate back in March but everything's fallen perfectly for him this month. He's wrapped up four rocking-chair saves (1 R, 0 BB, 8 K) and Sergio Santos just hit the disabled list (triceps strain). … With Ted Lilly still in the minors, Chris Capuano gets a golden chance to make good in the Dodgers rotation. Capuano's first turn comes Tuesday against the unimposing (at least in the batter's box) Padres. … Giancarlo Stanton (shoulder) has missed five consecutive games, though he's hoping to at least take batting practice Tuesday. Not surprising, the Marlins are the lowest-scoring team in the majors, by far. The Nationals, Reds and Twins enjoy this tasty matchup over the next week and a half. … David Ortiz is dealing with some snags at Triple-A Pawtucket; first a sinus infection, then soreness in his left heel. The latter issue isn't considered serious, but given Ortiz's age and body type, I'm not going to brush off anything that's tied to his rehab clock. … Michael Bourn's finger injury is expected to cost him 5-7 days. … If Joel Hanrahan (hamstring) needs to go on the DL, knuckleballer Stephen Wright would be recalled from Triple-A (while Andrew Bailey steps into the closing chair). The world needs more knuckleballers. … Ben Revere gave us the catch of the season thus far, but he's still searching for something at the plate. He's hitting .222, with a paltry .276 OBP, through the opening two weeks.