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Inside the Tampa Bay Rays' hot streak

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 31: Logan Morrison #7 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run against the Texas Rangers during the tenth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 31, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. The Rays won 7-5. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) 700011038
ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 31: Logan Morrison #7 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates with teammates after hitting a solo home run against the Texas Rangers during the tenth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 31, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. The Rays won 7-5. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) 700011038
Published Jun. 2, 2017

SEATTLE — The Rays are not, as manager Kevin Cash often says, where they want to be. But they are somewhat pleased, despite the gravitational pull of .500, to be where they are, one-third the way through the season at 29-27.

The confidence comes from their recent results, winning 10 of their last 15 and five straight road series, and how they've done it, Wednesday's tie-it-in-the-ninth, win-it-in-the-10th victory over the Rangers the latest example of their resplendent resilience and fight.

Also, from the promise of reinforcements with catcher Wilson Ramos, reliever Brad Boxberger and, in theory, shortstop Matt Duffy all targeting returns to active duty this month.

"It seems," Cash said, "like we're trending in the right direction."

There's many elements to their success, from the obvious (Chris Archer pitching well) to the unexpected (Jose Alvarado pitching in the majors).

Here are five main reasons that seem somewhat of a surprise:

1. The hit show

The Rays went against some common convention in cobbling a lineup they felt, but not many experts agreed, would be markedly deeper, more dynamic and consistently productive. Perhaps there was no better example of their unorthodox thinking than in re-signing Logan Morrison when there were other better first base/DH options.

But here they are two months in, leading the majors with 83 homers, along with the other two true outcomes of walks (218) and strikeouts (577), while ranking third in the AL in runs (265).

And who is leading the way but Morrison, whose team-high 15 homers have already surpassed his total from his injury-shortened 2016 season and put him on a pace for 43, plus 105 RBIs.

What really stands out is the team effort aspect of the offense, where they not only talk about any hitter 1-9 being able to carry them, but play it out that way, with a pass-the-baton approach.

That includes everybody from Steven Souza Jr., whose massive Wednesday homer was his fifth in his last eight games, and 10th overall, to catchers Derek Norris and Jesus Sucre, who have quietly combined for seven homers and 35 RBI. (And, it should be noted, thus far less than expected from Evan Longoria, Kevin Kiermaier and Brad Miller.)

"A lot of them have a history to be able to knock the ball out of the ballpark," Cash said, "but there's no doubt they are feeding off each other a little bit. When a guy doesn't get the big hit, it's almost like the next guys goes to pick him up. And that's the sign of a pretty balanced lineup when everybody is doing their part."

2. Alex Cobb and Matt Andriese

The Rays had a pretty good idea what to expect from top starters Archer and Jake Odorizzi and obviously had no idea on Blake Snell, who was so erratic they had to send him back to Triple-A in mid-May.

But the margin was in what they got from the other two, veteran Alex Cobb in his first full season since his May 2015 Tommy John surgery, Matt Andriese in his first chance to open a season as a regular member of the rotation.

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And they've come up big, combining for a 9-5 record and 3.57 ERA.

For Cobb it became a matter of reinvention out of desperation, turning to his curveball when he was couldn't throw his primary past weapon, his changeup, for strikes, and pairing the deuce with a fastball he can locate on both sides of the plate.

Though Andriese went on the 10-day DL after straining his groin on Tuesday, he had impressed with his consistency and ability to work deep into games, and isn't expected to be out long.

3. Corey Dickerson

Fans voting for the AL All-Star team don't seem to have noticed, but Corey Dickerson has been quite a hit thus far.

When the Rays got Dickerson from the Rockies for last season, the prodigious power was obvious. Now mix in 25-pound weight loss that made him more athletic; the experience of adjusting to a new league, atmosphere and primary role as a DH; and his fierce determination to make amends for a somewhat disappointing 2016 Rays debut and you have one of the most overall productive hitters in the AL.

Dickerson, through Wednesday, was second in the AL in average (.346), first in hits (73), multi-hit games (24) and total bases (130), tied at the top in runs (40) and second in extra-base hits (31) and doubles (17), and fourth in OPS (.992).

And he's doing it almost all from the leadoff spot, including a majors-most-matching five leadoff homers.

4. Tim Beckham

When Tim Beckham was not called up last September it seemed a fair question if he would even be with the Rays in 2017. Two months in, the better question is where would the Rays be without him?

Beckham has filled in decently defensively during the extended and still not defined absence of Duffy and impressively offensively, his eight homers and 26 RBIs ranking in the top three of all major-league shortstops. Plus his intensity and competitiveness are often noted by teammates.

5. The Resilient Rays

This is harder to define, much less quantify, on a team built on metrics, but the Rays are developing a chemistry and a camaraderie that has manifested itself in a series of character building wins, such as the long cold May 14 day in Boston, the 15-inning marathon in Minnesota on Sunday and then twice in Texas.

The Rays have 15 come-from-behind wins, and five in their last at-bat.

"We're never giving up no matter how many runs we're down or anything like that," centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "That's something we really struggled doing in years past. This year, that hasn't been the case. We've proved we can come back when we're down."

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com and 727.893.8801. Follow >@TBTimes_Rays

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