Struggling Mets Welcome Surging Rays to Town

Jonathan RagusCorrespondent IJune 19, 2009

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 30: Shortstop Jason Bartlett #8 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates a run by infielder Evan Longoria #3  against the Boston Red Sox April 30, 2009 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Jerry Manuel’s Mets, losers of six of nine, are coming off a tough loss Thursday night at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles. This week they welcome an even tougher AL East opponent, the defending champs of the division, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Gone are the days when teams circled the dates they played the Rays as must win games against a struggling franchise. Ever since the Rays dropped the Devil from their name, they have risen from the depths of baseball to become one of the more model franchises in the game.

Mostly due to an inconsistent starting rotation and bullpen, the defending American League champions sit at 35-33, six games back of the division leading Red Sox. But don’t let the record fool you, the Rays are second in run differential this season (at 1.1 runs per game), trailing only the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are outscoring opponents by 1.3 runs per game.

Player to watch: Ben Zobrist, 2B. Zobrist, who last year served as the ultimate utility man, has settled down at second base in the wake of Akinori Iwamura’s season ending knee injury. Boy has he failed to disappoint. Zobrist is hitting  .307 with 14 home runs and 41 RBI’s, and has provided solid lineup protection for sluggers Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria.

This series, with the Mets recent struggles accompanied by the Rays recent revival, should make for one of the more interesting Interleague series of the weekend.

The pitching matchups and game times are as follows:

Friday, June 19th, 7:10 PM

Rays: Andy Sonnanstine (5-6 6.65 era)

Mets: Fernando Nieve (1-0 2.08 era)

Saturday, June 20th, 4:10 PM

Rays: James Shields (5-5 3.52 era)

Mets: Johan Santana (8-4 3.29 era)

Sunday, June 21st, 1:10 PM

Rays: Jeff Niemann (6-4 4.21 era)

Mets: Mike Pelfrey (5-2 4.56 era)

A few side notes. On the bright side, Mets fans won’t have to come face to face with Scott Kazmir, who is dealing with quad strain and is rehabbing at Class A Charlotte. The Mets lead the all-time series against the Rays, 7-5.

-Harlan Green-Taub