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Rays journal: Wild-card contention exceeds expectations

Rays head athletic trainer Joe Benge, center, checks on Tommy Pham's foot after he was hit by a pitch as manager Kevin Cash looks on against the Angels on Aug. 2, 2018. [JIM DAMASKE  |  Times]
Rays head athletic trainer Joe Benge, center, checks on Tommy Pham's foot after he was hit by a pitch as manager Kevin Cash looks on against the Angels on Aug. 2, 2018. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
Published Aug. 3, 2018|Updated Aug. 3, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Most of the moves the Rays made in the last week, and going back to the offseason, seemed reflective of a team not planning on competing for a playoff berth.

But as the Rays keep winning, they are slowly moving up in race for the second wild-card, Thursday's 4-2 series-sweeping victory over the Angels pulling them within 7½ games of the surging A's (who moved past the struggling Mariners) at 56-53.

"We're competitors and we want to win games,'' DH/1B C.J. Cron said. "Until the last game of the season's over with, that's what we're going to try to do. If we put together enough wins to creep us back in it, we'll take that as well. So that's our job right now.''

Cron had a big hand in the win, delivering a two-run bases loaded single against his ex-mates as the Rays scored all their runs in the fourth. The rally started when Matt Duffy and Daniel Robertson singled and Tommy Pham was hit on the right foot. After Cron knocked in two to push his team-high RBI total to 56, the Rays got two more on an Andrew Heaney wild pitch and a Willy Adames sac fly.

Pitching was the rest of the story.

RHP Hunter Wood continued to impress, striking out five in a two-inning opening act. LHP Jalen Beeks made amends for his unimpressive Rays debut with a strong five innings. Diego Castillo worked the eighth and surprisingly not-traded Sergio Romo finished for his 13th save.

Are the Rays really in the race? With their next nine games against the noncontending White Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays, they'll have a chance to prove it. Here's another point to ponder: They have the same record through 109 games as last year, but they were a half-game from the second wild card and only 3½ back in the AL East versus 19 1/2 this year.

Pitching updates: Stanek, Snell

RHP Ryne Stanek will work as the opener Friday night against the White Sox with RHP Yonny Chirinos, coming off a rough outing in Baltimore, slated for the bulk of the innings. … LHP Blake Snell is set to return to the rotation on Saturday, having been on the DL since the All-Star break with shoulder fatigue. He felt strong in a Wednesday bullpen session and good playing catch on Thursday.

Pham, bam

OF Tommy Pham, acquired Tuesday from St. Louis with grand expectation, had to leave the game three innings after being hit on the right foot by a pitch. The Rays said it was just a bruise, with x-rays negative and Pham's availability day to day. Cash had his first extended talk with Pham before the game and came away impressed. "I told him this is really the first time in my four years that we've acquired a guy with his track record and credibility and just how good of a plyer he's been,'' Cash said. "To be able to plug a guy in in the middle of your lineup is a special thing. I want to do right by time, we want to right by him, and do everything we can to support him in this transition.''

Party like it’s 2008

Team MVP Jason Bartlett, Akinori Iwamura, Scott Kazmir, James Shields, B.J. Upton headline a group of 20 players from the 2008 team at the Trop this weekend for a 10-year celebration. Alums will greet fans at Gate 1 Friday night (5:10 opening) and Saturday (4:10) and sign autographs at the 20th anniversary exhibit. Saturday is the main event, with pregame introductions, Iwamura throwing the first pitch to Bartlett, and all fans getting an Iwamura bobblehead with the radio call of the final out of that year's ALCS.

Quote of the day

"There was chocolate milk involved this one, so that's new. We'll see what the wife says about the smell; I did the best I could.''
Beeks, who got the Rays' version of the usual beer shower for his first major-league win

Stat of the day

20-4 Home record for Rays since June 11, the .833 percentage best in the majors over that span.

Miscellany

• Thursday was the 26th time the Rays used an opener to get the first three-six outs; they are 13-13 in those games.

• The sweep was the team's eighth of the season, its most since 2013 (12).

• The Angels were without CF Mike Trout for the first time all season, as he was sidelined with a bruised right wrist. DH Shohei Ohtani also didn't start, though he pinch-hit.

• Traded RHP Chris Archer is scheduled to make his much-hyped debut for the Pirates on Friday at home against the Cardinals.