Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays, hoping to keep team together, beat Angels again (w/video)

ANAHEIM, Calif. — With 70 games remaining after Saturday's 6-3 Alex Cobb-led victory over the Angels, the Rays, while holding the top American League wild-card spot and second place in the East, obviously haven't won anything yet.

But there is a strong feeling in the clubhouse they already have earned something significant — the right to stay together to try to do so.

A roster stacked with potential free agents and players in line for hefty raises seemed likely to position the Rays, with lesser success, for a major July 31 trade deadline auction.

Instead they now should be spending the next two weeks looking to buy — albeit modestly — to bolster their bullpen and deepen their bench rather than sell.

"Yeah, I would be very surprised (if they sold)," veteran third baseman Evan Longoria said. "It's not every year, it's not often, that you're sitting at the All-Star break and we're in a playoff spot. It's not like we're close to a playoff spot. We're in a playoff spot right now. Not the spot we would like to be in, but if it ended today, we're in the playoffs.

"So to even think about being a seller at the deadline, there would be some really upset guys in here. We came into spring training with the goal of playing in the postseason. Now we have a legitimate chance to do that. It's just time to kind of put the pieces together that we have here, maybe make an addition and see what happens."

General manager Erik Neander seems to be in agreement, saying Thursday they "cherish" the opportunity to contend for a playoff spot (which would be their first under current management) and want to "enhance" their chances, within reason. They showed that to a degree last month by trading for shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria to improve their defense and, with Colby Rasmus going home, would seem to have an unexpected $2.25 million to play with.

But …

What if they have an extended losing streak between now and July 31 and drop back? And/or what if the Red Sox get red hot and push the division title out of reach, leaving the Rays playing for just a spot in the wild-card game? Could that change things? Would it?

Cobb, first baseman Logan Morrison and reliever Tommy Hunter are the most prominent pending free agents. All-Star DH Corey Dickerson, closer Alex Colome and outfielder Steven Souza Jr. are among those earning hefty raises, while others such as Brad Miller and Jake Odorizzi will get the standard arbitration-driven hikes anyway.

All-Star pitcher Chris Archer said it's up to the Rays to eliminate any possibility of a shift back to default sell-off mode.

"We try not to really think about it," Archer said. "As long as we win, they're not going to talk about it. It's died down tremendously. But we've got to come out in the second half and really ball out so it goes away completely."

So far so good, as they beat the Angels for a second straight night, improving to 49-43 in raising their glass ceiling to six games over .500 and moving with 2½ games of the division-leading Red Sox, the closest they've been this late in a season since August 2013.

Cobb led the way with another solid outing, allowing only six hits over 72/3 innings while battling from behind much of the night, improving to 8-6 while lowering his ERA to 3.59.

Jesus Sucre knocked in runs with a groundout and a single, and Morrison two more with his 25th homer, third most in the AL. Souza later added his career-high 18th homer, Dickerson had four hits and Shane Peterson three. The defense made plays all over the field. Brad Boxberger got a huge out to end the eighth. The only true blemish was reliever Jumbo Diaz giving up a two-run homer in the ninth.

As much as it was a team effort win, manager Kevin Cash said, "The story is still the way Alex Cobb threw the ball.''

Not only do these Rays feel they have a chance to win, but they seem to like playing together — which is another reason not to mess with the mix.

"Even without Colby, we've got characters in here, and you need that," Longoria said. "There's some personalities, but there's no egos. I think one of the most important things in having a winning team, a championship-caliber team is being able to put yourself second and the team ahead of that. That's definitely one of the things I like and I see in this group is the unselfishness."

Cash said that should serve them well over the inevitable turbulence they will face the final 2½ months.

"This clubhouse for the most part is a pretty loose atmosphere," he said. "The guys genuinely enjoy being around each other and when you have that type of chemistry throughout a clubhouse, some of those tough times are a little easier to handle."

Archer said there is enough talent in the room to not only make the playoffs but to win the division.

"We fully believe that we are the best team in the American League East," he said. "Just give us some more time."

Longoria, the sole remaining player from the 2008 and 2010 division championship teams, said they are positioned well.

"I like where we're at," he said. "I like the mix. We're flying under the radar a little bit, which is great, too. The years that we've had some good success that's kind of been the M.O. The other teams in the division are getting a lot of hype, and rightfully so. The Yankees and Red Sox are playing well, but we feel that we're right there. We're aligned to be a competitive team all the way until the end.''

They've got 70 games left to show it.

Comments
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Kevin Kiermaier returns to the Rays

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Kevin Kiermaier returns to the Rays

Times sports columnist Tom Jones joins Rick Stroud to discuss Kevin Kiermaier's return to the Rays, whether Victor Hedman should win the Norris Trophy for the NHL's best defenseman, Bucs expectations for this season and Barry Trotz's next c...
Updated: 1 hour ago
How the Rays really won Tuesday’s game over Astros

How the Rays really won Tuesday’s game over Astros

There was some interesting inside baseball elements that factored into the late innings of Tuesday's 2-1 Rays win.* First, on Matt Duffy's double off reliever Hector Rondon to lead off the eighth.Duffy said he doesn't like "to guess" what a pitcher i...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier returns, with energy to spare

Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier returns, with energy to spare

HOUSTON — Energy.That's what Kevin Kiermaier said he felt he'd provide most in rejoining the Rays Tuesday against the Astros after missing two-plus months recovering from thumb surgery."I like to think I bring energy on both sides of the ball, ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays journal: Blake Snell outlasts Justin Verlander in 2-1 win

Rays journal: Blake Snell outlasts Justin Verlander in 2-1 win

HOUSTON — The starting pitcher walked seven over seven otherwise solid innings Tuesday. That seemed weird enough for the Rays. Then the next pitcher they brought in was the one who started Monday's game. Even more bizarre.And then there was thi...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays-Astros

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays-Astros

This is how odd LHP Blake Snell's night was — he became the first pitcher to work seven or more innings and walk at least seven since Edwin Jackson threw his 149-pitch, eight-walk no-hitter at the Rays on June 25, 2010.If you weren't aware of t...
Published: 06/19/18
For starters: Rays at Astros, with Kiermaier back and an ace-high matchup

For starters: Rays at Astros, with Kiermaier back and an ace-high matchup

UPDATE, 6:45: Cash said Smith will continue to play a lot, getting time in LF and RF, meaning something of a rotation system for rookie Johnny Field and veteran Carlos Gomez.UPDATE, 4:49: Kiermaier is batting leadoff and playing center as expected, w...
Published: 06/19/18
So, how exactly did the Rays end up losing Monday?

So, how exactly did the Rays end up losing Monday?

The Rays lost Monday's game when Sergio Romo failed them in the ninth inning.Called on to protect what was whittled to a one-run lead from 4-0, Romo got off to a bad start, walking the first batter on four pitches and then allowing a single to the se...
Published: 06/19/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays continue to struggle in close games

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays continue to struggle in close games

The Rays blow a four-run lead in Houston and lose on a walkoff hit to the Astros in the opener of their three-game series. It's the 19th one-run loss for the Rays this season as they continue to struggle in close games. Fortunately, reinforcements ar...
Published: 06/19/18
Rays DFA Rob Refsnyder to make room for Kevin Kiermaier

Rays DFA Rob Refsnyder to make room for Kevin Kiermaier

The Rays made official after Monday's game that CF Kevin Kiermaier would be activated on Tuesday.And to make room on the 40- and 25 man rosters, they designated for assignment OF Rob Refsnyder.Acquired from the Indians for cash considerations just be...
Published: 06/19/18
Rays journal: A 4-0 lead disappears in loss at Houston

Rays journal: A 4-0 lead disappears in loss at Houston

HOUSTON — The Rays brought up several of their top prospects so they can get as much experience as possible.And Monday that included seeing how the relentless defending champion Astros worked their way back from an early four-run deficit to sco...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/19/18