Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays beat Los Angeles Angels 8-3, completing four-game sweep and 8-2 road trip

ANAHEIM, Calif. — As little as they did for so long, the offensive numbers the Rays suddenly have been putting up are staggering.

Sunday's 8-3 sweep-completing win over the Angels made it 37 runs for the four-game series (with 27 coming against L.A.'s pedigreed starters), 66 on the 10-game trip despite a perfect game and 80 for the 13 games since Evan Longoria came off the disabled list on Aug. 7.

Whichever way you divide it, the results say something.

The Rays say it's what they should have been doing all along.

"We've been waiting for it all year," centerfielder B.J. Upton said. "When you wrote it up in spring training, this is what we expected. We just haven't had everybody together at one time. I think now we're starting to see that. And we're starting to see it at the right time."

The four-game sweep of the Angels was certainly validation, as the Rays scored in bunches, batting around each game, and finished with seven or more four straight days.

"It's confidence," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're much more confident as a group up and down. Guys that hadn't been swinging well are swinging much better."

Add in a solid six-plus inning start from rookie Matt Moore, who picked up his 10th win, and the Rays wrapped up their trip to Minnesota, Seattle and Anaheim at 8-2, and, in their best stretch of the season, have won 11 of 13 and 16 of 20.

At 67-54 they are leading the wild-card field and are within five games of the division-leading Yankees, and feeling pretty darn good about it.

"There's a quiet confidence," Longoria said. "We really believe going out there from the first pitch that we're going to win the game. It's good to finally feel that."

Coming off Saturday's dramatic 10-8 win, when they overcame a team-record-tying eight-run deficit, the Rays on Sunday struck somewhat quietly for four runs in the second off Zack Greinke.

They loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, then scored four, on a hit batter, a walk and a two-run single by Matt Joyce. They got two more in the fifth on a home run by Ryan Roberts, then another two in the ninth on a double by Carlos Peña. Just like that, eight total.

"I really believe that's what we're capable of doing on a regular basis," Peña said. "I know we haven't been able to get to that level the entire year, but that's what we're capable of doing. It's no surprise to me that we were able to score those runs."

One difference has been the return of Longoria. Not as much for what he has done — .244 with two homers and nine RBIs in 12 games — but for the impact on the rest of the lineup, tangibly making it longer and stronger, with other players in less pressurized spots, and more stable.

Intangibly, too.

"Confidence-wise, having Longo in the middle bolsters a lot among the rest of the group," Maddon said. "He's been the spark to ignite what's re-occurred here."

Another is the long-awaited "evening out" for a number of players, Upton, Desmond Jennings, Jose Molina among them, who had extended down stretches.

"We talked about that it was a matter of time," Maddon said. "A lot of our guys kind of underperformed a little bit to this point in the season, but they never caved in, they never quit, they never stopped believing."

The next test is to keep swinging well at home, where they have been somewhat impotent under the tilted roof, averaging 3.76 runs a game and hitting .224 (compared to 4.71, .247 on the road).

"I really believe we can maintain this. This is not a fluke. It's not an anomaly road trip," Maddon said. "If we're able to maintain this level of efficiency at home, I think we've got it nailed."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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