Things are starting to look up in Tampa Bay. The Rays had been fairly inconsistent through the first few months and had to deal with Indians, who have dominated the Devil Rays/Rays since the team's inception (60-28 Cleveland advantage coming into the series).
After a crappy James Shields start and loss, Scott Kazmir followed suit and had his team down seven. Then we witnessed the largest comeback in franchise history, followed by a vintage win yesterday with good pitching and timely hitting. Tampa Bay needed a victory today to take the series from Cleveland, and to pull within a game of .500. They got just that with a complete team effort.
Instead of doing our usual breakdown, let’s take a look at how the Rays are starting to turn it around.
It all starts with the resurgence of B.J. Upton. Although he only went 4-16 in the series, he was vital in getting on base and putting himself in scoring position, stealing five bases. His steal in game one when the Rays were down nine, sparked a rally that made the game respectable (and also awarded him two brushback pitches from Kerry Wood today).
Then his three hits on Friday capped the great comeback, including his first homerun of the season which was the game winner. Upton followed up with another homer on Saturday and walked and scored today in the first to get the Rays on the board early. Bossman is starting to catch up to those fastballs and you can see him starting to swing the bat with more authority. Add his ability to walk and steal bases and there should be a growing fear around the league.
Then Ben Zobrist solidified his position as the best bench player in the big leagues. His home run in Friday’s game was just as important, if not more, then Upton’s blast as it tied the game and came an inning after the Rays stranded two in scoring position with only one out. He came off the bench again last night and doubled in an insurance run in his second at-bat.
No big deal, but Jason Bartlett is hitting .370 with five home runs and 14 RBI. Yesterday J.B. knocked a two-run single that proved to be the difference in the game, and today he came a homer short of the cycle. It’s too bad that Dioner Navarro is hitting poorly, thus preventing Maddon’s “vicious circle” since they have to drop him in the ninth spot.
The bullpen the last three games has been great. They kept the Indians at seven runs after Kazmir’s horrendous start which allowed the Rays to come back and win. They held on to win yesterday and today. If only the starters can go longer than five or six innings and give them a much-needed break.
The Rays have shown this weekend they can win from many runs down, from a few runs up, and playing National League rules. Now they have to keep it going against Oakland to catch up with the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Yankees (who have won five in a row thanks to terrible outings by Twins relievers).
The incident in the eighth also went a long way to showing great team unity and could be what the Rays needed to get that fire under them. All that is left really, are for the starters to put some good outings together and we should be in for another magical summer of baseball.
Other quick notes:
-The Rays are now 4-0 in the new blue alternatives
-Victor Martinez is a whiny b****
-Eric Wedge gets mad a lot
-Andy Sonnanstine can still hit
-The Rays tied the 1914 Yankees with 19 consecutive games with a SB