Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pitching, defense make Tampa Bay Rays a formidable postseason opponent


The Rays feel they can beat the Rangers in their first-round AL Division Series that starts today. Then they can take down the Tigers or Yankees in the AL Championship Series. And after that finish off whichever of the four teams survives the National League side of the bracket. • After what they pulled off to get here, they'd better. • "I think right now there's nothing that we don't think that we can't do," manager Joe Maddon said. "We believe. If anybody in the locker room doesn't believe anything is possible right now, I want to meet them one-on-one in my office." • The Rays have all kinds of mythical and magical reasons to be confident, given how they battled their way back into the playoff picture after being nine games out as late as Sept. 3, how the Red Sox

cooperated with a historic collapse, and how many amazing things happened in both teams' Wednesday season finales.

Enough that the Rangers have noticed. "They've got a lot of luck on their side right now," second baseman Ian Kinsler said.

But the Rays also have distinct advantages that are quite tangible and real: The arms on their top-shelf starting pitchers and the hands of their dazzling defenders.

Particularly at this time of year, when both are at a premium and offense tends to be a minimum.

"Within 162 games, I think teams don't mind playing us," top starter James Shields said. "But when it comes down to a five-game series or a seven-game series, we're a pretty tough team to beat because we do have the pitching and the defense, and we do have some guys that can step up to the plate and get the job done as well. When it comes down to a short series like that, we're definitely a team to reckon with."

Or, with a bit more bravado, from pitching coach Jim Hickey:

"We're as formidable an opponent as anybody out there, and I'm pretty comfortable saying I don't think anybody really looks forward to playing us."

That's because pitching tends to dominate in the postseason, with the Giants' 2010 world championship considered the latest example of why October can be an arms race.

"Very few teams slug their way to the championship," Hickey said. "Everybody gets neutralized a bit. If you go in there with the Philadelphia Phillies or masher lineups like the Yankees and the Red Sox, those types of lineups don't score the seven, eight, nine runs as is relatively common throughout the course of the regular season."

While some teams stagger into October with starters on their last gasp, the Rays stormed in, riding a rotation that posted an AL-low 3.53 ERA and pitched a league-high 1,058 innings. As they waited until Thursday night to name rookie Matt Moore the starter for today's opener, it wasn't because they were desperate but facing multiple options.

"There's no replacement for starting pitching," catcher Kelly Shoppach said.

The defense is also a big part of their success, as they try to have an above-average defender at every position and do extensive scouting and data analysis to position them properly, trying, as Maddon likes to say, to catch line drives.

The emphasis pays off, as they made a major-league-low 73 errors while posting the top fielding percentage, .988.

"We're pretty solid, pretty steady every day," Shoppach said. "And occasionally you look up and it's like, 'Golly, we can really pick it.' "

Given the lack of power and steady production from their lineup, that's kind of how they have to do it. "That's who we are," Maddon said.

And starting today, that's exactly what they want to be.

"I feel like we've got a great chance of winning it," centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "Our pitching and defense carried us all year, and those are definitely two important things you have to have to win. We wouldn't be where we are without it.

"I like our chances against anybody."

Marc Topkin can be reached at

Pitching, defense make Tampa Bay Rays a formidable postseason opponent 09/29/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 30, 2011 1:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays at Yankees, 7:05 p.m. Thursday, New York

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Yankees

    7:05, Yankee Stadium, New York

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Florida; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Saturday, July 22, 2017.
  2. Roger Mooney's takeaways from Wednesday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    It is going to get interesting tonight when the Rays begin a four-game series against the Yankees in New York. The Rays feel they are good enough to win the East Division. These next four games and the four that follow in Houston will be a good measuring stick.

  3. Jones: Alex Cobb proves again why he's Rays' stopper, no matter how long he's here

    The Heater


    If a team hopes to hang around the pennant race, they better have an ace. A stopper. A pitcher they can count on every fifth day to stop the bleeding, keep a winning streak going or flat-out win a game that a team flat-out needs to win.

    Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) throwing the first inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  4. Twice the talent: IMG football expands to two teams this fall


    BRADENTON — When IMG Academy fielded its first varsity football team in 2013, there were 51 players on the roster. Since then, the roster has nearly tripled. With no junior varsity it was difficult for some to find playing time, and players do not come to IMG to sit the bench.

    The solution? Start another …

    DL Tre’von Riggins 
(6-4, 240) is a  Lakewood transfer.
  5. Rays power way to 5-1 win over Orioles on eve of crucial road trip

    The Heater

    St. PETERSBURG — The Rays didn't get many hits in the early going Wednesday, but they got a couple that went a long way and that was enough to beat the Orioles, 5-1.

    Rays right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (20) hugs catcher Jesus Sucre (45) after Souza's solo home run in the seventh inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]