Thursday, April 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Back in contention, Rays deserve praise

ST. PETERSBURG

The Rays can't say it, so someone else has to.

Right now, they are playing a bunch of stiffs, tomato cans dressed as major-leaguers. They are playing teams that would probably need extra innings to beat those kids from The Sandlot.

Now here's something else that needs to be said: So what? Who cares?

You want to win division titles? You want to make the playoffs? Here's how you do it: hold your own against good teams and then kick the living stuffing out of everyone else.

That's exactly what the Rays are doing.

"We're just on a winning high," Rays All-Star Ben Zobrist said after Thursday's 4-3 victory over the Twins.

Let's go back to the start of last week. The Rays were hovering just above .500, still drifting in that purgatory of not really being in the hunt but not being out of it either. They were just meandering in a season that seemed headed for mediocrity.

That's when we all looked at the schedule and determined that if the Rays were ever going to make any kind of run, they needed to kick sand in the face of some of baseball's weaklings.

Thus began a 14-game stretch against the Astros, White Sox and Twins. If baseball had homecoming games, these are the teams you would invite to town.

And now, 11 games into this soft spot in the schedule, the Rays are 10-1, with the Astros, the worst team in all of baseball, coming to the Trop for a three-game series that starts tonight.

The Rays have won 15 of 18 and an MLB-leading eight in a row, the second-longest streak in franchise history, to climb back into the race.

So, now you ask: Are they a good team finally playing great ball or just a team taking advantage of a dip in the schedule?

The answer is yes.

The starting pitching has suddenly, although not unexpectedly, become the strength of the team, holding opponents to three earned runs or fewer in the past 13 games. The bullpen has rebounded from early season struggles to become dominant. The defense has been dependable.

And the offense continues to roll even though, before Thursday, big bats such as Zobrist, Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce and Wil Myers were slumping.

"Just up and down the lineup, we feel confident," Zobrist said. "We feel somebody is going to come through every night right now."

But, yeah, even the Rays, careful not to disrespect anyone, realize they haven't exactly played the '27 Yankees of late. They aren't apologizing either.

"(Against) teams that are not doing as well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "you really do have to put some hay in the barn. You got to."

The Rays are a season-high 13 games over .500. They are only 3-9 against the Red Sox and 20-24 against the ultra-tough AL East.

But they are 4-0 against the Marlins, 3-0 against the Twins, 3-0 against the Padres, 5-2 against the White Sox and 3-1 against the Astros. That's an 18-3 record against the league's bottom-feeders.

"Look, you go out there and you got to beat everybody," the Rays' Luke Scott said. "(But), yeah, there's a good opportunity here. You can't get ahead of yourselves and underestimate your opponent. That's a mistake. (But right now) is a good place to be."

Here's the thing. Everyone plays everyone else. Give the Rays credit for taking care of business against the bad teams. After all, the AL East-leading Red Sox are 5-5 this season against the Twins and White Sox. The Orioles are 4-5 against those two teams.

"This is the major leagues," Zobrist said. "Everyone is good. It's not easy to sweep anybody."

Here's another thing to point out. Just before this stretch of hapless teams, the Rays took two out of three against a Blue Jays team that had won 11 in a row, and then took two out of three against the AL Central-leading Tigers.

Eventually, the Rays will run out of patsies to play. In fact, coming out of the All-Star break, the Rays will have a 10-game road trip against AL East teams and there's no question Tampa Bay will have to play better against the East in the second half. Until then, the Rays still have three games against the worst team in baseball.

"Let's finish this sucker off before the break, enjoy ourselves and come back with the same intensity," Maddon said. "I want to believe it's going to carry."

If it does, it won't matter which teams the Rays beat during the regular season. They'll only be concerned with which team they will be playing in the postseason.

Comments
Rays journal: Whew. Alex Colome gets the job done

Rays journal: Whew. Alex Colome gets the job done

ST. PETERSBURG — In the end, Alex Colome got the three outs to save the game, the day and the stomach linings of his bosses from further deterioration, so in theory that should be what mattered most Wednesday.And the fact that he was smiling in...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays’ 4-2 Wednesday win

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays’ 4-2 Wednesday win

Alex Colome's ninth-inning dramatics took the focus, but the work of newly corn-rowed RHP Chaz Roe in the seventh (three Ks) and LHP Jose Alvarado (one K, two infield outs) was textbook, and showed how the bullpen can work.RELATED: Whew. Alex Colome ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Anonymous Rays rally to beat Rangers 4-2, win series

Anonymous Rays rally to beat Rangers 4-2, win series

ST. PETERSBURG — Even before they lost several of the hitters they were relying most on to injuries, the Rays did not exactly have a lineup built on intimidation.Their own owner said opening day that he expected them to rank among the least pro...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rays Baldelli makes a key catch

Rays Baldelli makes a key catch

Rays coach Rocco Baldelli was all smiles Wednesday morning, happy to play a role through social media in reuniting a lost dog and its owner."I feel really good about how this worked out," Baldelli said.REUNITED! Thank you everyone for spreading the w...
Published: 04/18/18
For starters: Rays vs. Rangers, with Faria on the hill

For starters: Rays vs. Rangers, with Faria on the hill

UPDATE, 12:01: Cash said Brad Miller (groin) got through his rehab game with the Stone Crabs well last night playing first and will play second tonight, with the likely plan to be off Thursday and rejoin the Rays Friday. … With 3B Matt Duffy on...
Published: 04/18/18
Rays, Chirinos fall to Rangers, 7-2

Rays, Chirinos fall to Rangers, 7-2

ST. PETERSBURG — For three outings, rookie Yonny Chirinos had been stellar in making a case to join the Rays' starting rotation, not allowing a single run in the first 141/3 innings of his major-league career.That perfection came to an inevitab...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Rays journal: Rays play it safe, put Matt Duffy on DL with hamstring injury

Rays journal: Rays play it safe, put Matt Duffy on DL with hamstring injury

ST. PETERSBURG — Matt Duffy is back on the disabled list.The Rays third baseman, who missed all of last season with an Achilles tendon injury, was placed on the 10-day disabled list Tuesday after leaving Monday's game in the first inning with t...
Published: 04/17/18
Rays takeaways: Just one bad outing, a rangey outfield, a sharp ex-Ray

Rays takeaways: Just one bad outing, a rangey outfield, a sharp ex-Ray

Yonny Chirinos may still be an answer as the Rays look to fill out their rotation. He probably stayed in a little too long Tuesday, trailing 2-1 entering the fifth but giving up four runs the rest of the way. Bad starts caught up to him in the first,...
Published: 04/17/18
Rays-Rangers lineup: Matt Duffy to DL, Brandon Snyder up

Rays-Rangers lineup: Matt Duffy to DL, Brandon Snyder up

Greetings from Tropicana Field, where another day brings another round of injury-related transactions for the Rays.Third baseman Matt Duffy, who left Monday's game with tightness in his right hamstring, has been placed on the 10-day disabled list, ta...
Published: 04/17/18
It’s Yonny Chirinos day for Rays

It’s Yonny Chirinos day for Rays

Despite starting his major-league career with a Rays record 14-1/3 scoreless innings over three outings, RHP Yonny Chirnos has not officially earned his way into the rotation.Yet.Instead, Chirinos is still considered part of the "Bullpen Day" assortm...
Published: 04/17/18