Many, myself included, will say it's just April 19th; however, a four-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox is important regardless of the date. Despite the season being less than two weeks old for the Tampa Bay Rays, the team sits a full six games ahead of their Boston rivals.
It's no secret that both teams will experience some regression along the way. The Red Sox will get healthier, better, and also have the ability to pull of a big time trade at any point. The Rays will have their struggles at some point (hopefully not soon and not prolonged), but that's why putting a six-game cushion between them and us is a wonderful thing. Had the Rays lost today's game that six game cushion would be a less-comfortable four-game spread.
Once again, the Rays batters jumped on the Red Sox starting pitcher quickly. Following Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, John Lackey had a early introduction to the talented Rays lineup. Jason Bartlett led off with a double, and was moved to third on a sac-bunt by Carl Crawford. I can't stress enough how much I hate this play especially in the first inning.
The run expectancy for a runner on second base with no outs is 1.189. For a runner on third base and one out, it goes down to 0.983. Luckily for the Rays it worked out and Bartlett crossed the plate, but in the first inning let's play for more than one run. Not to be outdone, the Red Sox employed a similar strategy by lowering their run expectancy from 0.953 to 0.725 when Dustin Pedroia executed a sac-bunt moving Marcos Scutaro 90 feet in the bottom-half of the FIRST inning.
The Rays played for more than one run in the third inning as five men scored - pushing the lead to 6-0. After Ben Zobrist was "called out" on a ball five of the at-bat, Evan Longoria played the role of karma and laced a two-run double. Carlos Pena reached base next and B.J. Upton brought both men home on a home run to right-center field which landed in the Red Sox bullpen; keep the souvenir. It's so hard to contain my excitement about Upton's start; four home runs including some bombs to center and right-center field are extremely encouraging signs.
Jason Bartlett came into the game suffering from early season regression, however, he was the catalyst today with three hits and three runs scored. He ended the day a home run short of the cycle. Also battling back against regression, Pat Burell added three more hits today including a double. Reid Brignac got the start at second and added a double of his own. In total, seven Rays registered a hit with Ben Zobrist and Dioner Navarro as the only starters without a hit. It's early, but can we get some more John Jaso?
On the mound Jeff Niemann had to work hard for his seven innings. The Big DayQuil used 100 pitches to get through seven innings striking out four and walking three. As always, Niemann doesn't need much pitch f/x explanation. He was text book Niemann today, working off his low 90s fastball. He mixed in a few sliders and a few curveballs, but went with a heavy heater (four seam and two seam) diet. This type of outing has become par for the course with Niemann, and I'll take it every time out. Andy Sonnanstine took us home with an uneventful final two innings.
The Rays have started their first road trip of 2010 with a 7-0 mark with three to go in Chicago. There's some tough lefties coming up which makes this winning streak that much more important. However, until tomorrow's game starts let's enjoy the evening as we sing SWEEP CAROLINE, OH OH OH all night long.