ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays can't really keep pitching this well. Really, they can't. Not like this.
But they're certainly going to enjoy it — and take advantage — while they can.
Wednesday was Alex Cobb's turn, and the least-heralded, and least-secure, member of the rotation kept the momentum moving with a sterling seven-inning outing in a 3-2 win over the Blue Jays.
"We're having a blast," Cobb said. "Being on a roll like this, you definitely don't want to be a ripple in the water, so to speak. We're all feeding off each other and kind of competing at the same time. It's a lot of fun right now."
The numbers have been dazzling. In 24 games since the All-Star break, the Rays have a majors-best 2.27 ERA, .198 opponents average and 243 strikeouts. In 12 of their past 18 games, they have allowed two or fewer runs. And as good as the starters have been, the relievers — even after Fernando Rodney lost his scoreless-innings streak on a just-barely homer en route to his major league-leading 34th save — have been better, with a 1.45 post-break ERA.
"It's hard to continue this level, but I really believe that our pitchers can be very good for the rest of the season," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's almost like a team that's really hot with the bats. At some point maybe with runners in scoring position it comes back, but it doesn't mean it has to become awful by any means. Our guys are good."
Or, as centerfielder B.J. Upton said: "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. I mean, heck, I don't even know like how to put it in words. We're in every ball game. We're in every single ball game. And then the bullpen comes in."
The pitching wasn't quite the whole story Wednesday before a gathering of 13,441 at the Trop, as the Rays (58-52) clinched their 16th consecutive home series win over the Jays.
The offense, with Evan Longoria included for a second straight night, did just enough, scoring three times in Carlos Villanueva's 31-pitch mess of a third inning.
Desmond Jennings started it with a double, and Upton delivered the key at-bat, going to right to try to move Jennings and scoring him with a double. Matt Joyce's single set them up for more, and they got one when Longoria (who also struck out three times) grounded into a double play, following orders to take it easy on his way to first, and another when Jeff Keppinger — down to No. 7 in the order — followed walks to Ben Zobrist and Carlos Peña with a single.
"We were 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position; that's good for us," Maddon said.
Cobb's spot in the rotation appears tenuous, with Jeff Niemann beginning a scheduled four-start rehab assignment Wednesday. But Cobb, who had what Maddon said was the best curveball of anyone on the staff all season, could at least make it an interesting decision.
Mixing the killer curve with his fastball and changeup, he logged his third straight quality start, having benefited from some mechanical adjustments and refinement in his command to improve to 6-8, 4.32.
"Once you figure out what you're doing wrong and you feel like that was the key reason you were failing," Cobb said, "you have a lot of confidence when you're going out there and you know your stuff is good enough."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]bay.com.