The Rays are in the driver's seat to win the AL East, but they seem to be asleep at the wheel. I mean, my almighty spreadsheet says that the Rays should easily clinch an AL East Title, but the silly players are not complying.
Once again, the offense went into a coma for most of the game, though, at least this time it was against a pitcher we can all wrap our heads around. Zack Greinke is no Kevin Millwood, but he held the Rays to two runs in his seven innings tonight to earn the W. The Rays offensive firepower was limited to Carl Crawford's fourth inning home run, his 18th of the year, and B.J. Upton's double in the seventh. Upton would then steal third and score on a Reid Brignac sacrifice fly.
When you face up against the Royals pitching staff, there are only two names you have to worry about: Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria. With Greinke pitching seven strong innings, you know your only chance to sneak out a win before Soria comes in to close the door is in the eighth. Think I'm exaggerating? The Royals are the only team in the bigs to have not lost a game in which they were leading after eight innings. The only one. (According to the Royals broadcasters.)
The Rays did threaten in the eighth inning with Robinson Tejeda on the bump. Jaso hit a deep fly to center, but it was easily gobbled up by Royals CF Jarrod Dyson. Zobrist followed with an oppo double down the left field line that just kissed the chalk. Crawford then hit a sharp liner that Dyson snagged for the second out (there's a trend here). With Zobrist on third with two outs, Dan Johnson stepped to the plate and I'm sure I wasn't the only one praying for some DanJo magic, but, alas, Johnson was powerless as he struck out to end the inning.
Facing Joakim Soria in the ninth, Matt Joyce hit a one out single through the hole to right. BJ Upton then lined a shot to right center, but, yet again, there was the speedy Dyson to vacuum the ball for the second out. I guess this is what it feels like for other teams with Upton patrolling center against them. For the most part, the Rays hit the ball hard in the final two innings, but the Royals defense saved the day. More after the jump.
A pitcher that could have used some defensive help in this game was Matt Garza. Garza allowed one run in each of the first three innings on some questionable Rays defense, himself included. Garza botched a comebacker by Gregor Blanco to lead off the game and Blanco scored on a Kila Ka'aihue ground ball that Pena was set up to make the play at home on, but couldn't field the ball cleanly. I'm just going to list from here: In the second, Zobrist appeared to catch a Dyson popup, but the ball popped out of his glove into the dugout suite for a foul ball. Dyson would go on to hit an RBI triple over Crawford's head, a ball that Crawford appeared to lollygag after. In the third, again on a Kila Ka'aihue ground ball, Pena was in a better position to make a play at the plate, but threw wide of Jaso and allowed the run to score. Zobrist errored in the fifth and Garza muffed a backup play in the seventh, though Matt Joyce was credited with the error.
Are you sick of this yet? Because that's what it felt like watching this game. This is a Rays team that prides themselves on their depth, but there is a glaring hole at third without Evan Longoria. Dan Johnson, Ben Zobrist, or Sean Rodriguez do not even begin to compare defensively. It's really not their fault... It's Longoria's. He's spoiled us with his exceptional play at third and highlighted that while the Rays can successfully platoon at first, second, short, and right--at third, there is no substitute.
Just like Jeff Niemann last night, Garza pitched well, but was saddled with the loss. His final line: 7 IP, 3ER, 5H, 1BB, 6K. There is good to be taken from this game: Garza, Wheeler, McGee, but I'm sick of picking the silver lining out of a bad loss to a bad team.
The loss puts the Rays into a tie with the Yankees, but, as you already know, the Rays own the tiebreaker. Magic number is still three, and Grienke's out of the way, so I'm still positive, albeit a bit grumpy after this one. The more the Rays lose, the more I have to root for the Red Sox, and I hate rooting for the Red Sox.