Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays show signs of progress with series win over Rockies (w/video)

DENVER — There were several moments in the second inning alone Wednesday when it looked like the game would get away from the Rays, as so many others have during their month of misery.

The fly ball to left-center that both Corey Dickerson and Brandon Guyer misplayed. An ensuing walk, followed by the first-and-third bunt play — yep, just like the one the Rays used to favor but have abandoned — producing the tying run. Chris Archer walking opposing starter Jorge De La Rosa to load the bases.

Then the frustration of seeing what looked to be an inning-ending double play on rightfielder Steven Souza Jr.'s strong throw to the plate overturned in an agonizing 61/2-minute replay review with a convoluted explanation that didn't make sense then and may never.

That the Rays weathered all that and went on to roll to an 11-3 victory over the Rockies said something about their resolve, as well as their efforts, however sincere, to start fresh since the All-Star break.

"What are we, 3-3? We've played better baseball, there's no doubt," manager Kevin Cash said. "We've been in ball games like we think we're built to do. We've still got to find a way to work better than .500 at some point, but this was a really nice start to win a series on the road."

Indeed. The Rays winged further west Wednesday night having won their first consecutive games since June 14-15 (after which they lost 25 of 29), first series since June 27-29 against Boston and first road series since June 6-8 at Arizona. They have won three of their past four. However, they are still 37-57 overall.

As much as the offensive numbers — led by Tim Beckham's five hits — stood out Wednesday, Archer righting himself the way he did after the second, in which he allowed two runs and lost the lead — retiring 12 of his final 14, eight on strikeouts — was the most significant individual accomplishment of the steamy day.

The byproduct, not that it mattered in Archer's process-oriented view, was his first win since June 6, snapping his six-game skid and keeping his majors-most loss total at 13. He allowed just four hits and the two walks, striking out 11 to take over the AL lead with 147.

"The second inning, obviously we didn't help him out too much," Cash said. "We put him in a little bit of a jam, and he probably put himself in more of a jam. …

"I was really impressed the way he settled down and forgot about that inning and went out there and gave us a really good start."

Archer has now had a pair of solid outings, and three of his past four. Rookie Blake Snell showed Tuesday night the reason for the hype. Jake Odorizzi is showing signs of progress. Matt Moore has been pitching the best of all of them for the past month.

There is some thought around the Rays that — with the exception of Drew Smyly, who may be a lost cause, or at least having another lost season — the starters are finally, maybe, kinda sorta, pitching up to their capabilities, building off each other's success to put together strings of good games.

"I think it's that time," Archer said.

Cash had seen subtle signs of overall improvement over the week or two going into the break, even as they were losing games, and said they've continued to improve, benefiting from some rest and being markedly more efficient.

Okay, so say that — at this late date — they finally are pitching the way they were supposed to, giving the Rays that potentially dominating rotation that would carry them.

Now the question is whether they will get to keep pitching together.

Moore and Odorizzi have been heavily scouted by a number of contending teams looking for help in the 12 days before the Aug. 1 deadline for nonwaiver trades, and market economics make it reasonable and logical to think at least one will be dealt. Archer's name will continue to come up at least in speculation. Even Smyly's, despite his struggles.

"That's our strength, and I think going forward for this organization to have success we should keep this core of pitchers together," Archer said. "There are other thoughts that go into it as far as finances and stuff goes … I'm hoping that we can stay together."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected].

   
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