ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have had days — many more, if you're being honest about it, than expected — when they've unleashed their swarming top-to-bottom offense and posted a flurry of runs.
And they've had days — not as many, if you're being candid, than they are supposed to — when the starting pitcher lived up to his billing and there was a zero on the scoreboard.
So when it all comes together, as it did in Saturday's 8-0 win over the Orioles, they have good reason to be excited about the possibilities over the rest of the season.
"Today was an example of what we're capable of," said DH Luke Scott, who had the biggest of their 13 hits, a bases-loaded triple that turned a 4-0 lead into 7-0. "Great pitching and a good, balanced attack offensively. When we do that, we're going to be very, very difficult to beat."
They've been on a pretty good run as it is, winning 10 of their past 13 and 20 of 29 to improve to a season-best seven games over .500 at 34-27 and move past the Orioles into third place in the crowded American League East.
"You've got to climb over the group in front of you and just keep moving forward," manager Joe Maddon said. "Of course you notice the people in front of you, but you've got to be focused on what you're doing. The next step is to get 10 games over .500, then to get 15. Work the process, and it will all take care of itself."
After an impressive start Friday by rookie Chris Archer, they took another step after a more aggressive and thus more successful performance by Jeremy Hellickson. He not only pitched well early, he battled through the kind of sticky situation in the fifth that had been his undoing, two on and none out, and ended up with a solid six-inning outing.
"He was pretty much more aggressive in the strike zone and took command of the game," Maddon said.
The hitters — held to eight runs total and a .194 average over the previous four games — certainly helped, taking an early 3-0 lead against hard-throwing Orioles rookie Kevin Gausman then breaking it open with a five-run fifth.
"I feel like we've been doing that for a while now," Hellickson said. "If we don't get five or six early, we put one up, a couple here and there, and then a big inning. … It's awesome to see and it makes our job a little easier."
What has made the offense different, and thus more productive, is the depth, with contributions from top to bottom, increased contact (as opposed to strikeouts) and a marked improvement with runners in scoring position, from .243 last season to an AL best .303 so far.
So while Evan Longoria and James Loney were hot early, and Kelly Johnson owned May, they're now getting steady contributions from others, such as shortstop Yunel Escobar, .341 over the past month, and catcher Jose Lobaton, .329 over his past 26 games, as both had three hits Saturday.
So, too, did Ben Zobrist, who is on a five-game hitting streak.
"That's a really good thing for a team to have different guys stepping up all the time and playing well. … If one or two or three guys has a bad day, you know the other six are going to pick him up," Zobrist said. "A day like today is something we hope we can continue to do the rest of the season."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]