The Rays defeated the Rangers today by a score of 8-6 to complete a three game sweep and maintain their place atop the AL East standings. They won with pretty much the same two ingredients as last night: Good offense and good starting pitching.
James Shields was much better than in his previous two starts, when he allowed seven walks while striking out just four batters total. He dominated a somewhat weak Texas lineup for seven innings, allowing one earned run while walking just one batter and striking out six. Shields racked up an impressive 13 swinging strikes on his 106 pitches, with six coming on his curveball, which he threw 21 of. The fact that his changeup was effective isn't surprising, it's his best pitch after all. What makes me happiest is the fact that his fastball seemed on point today. He threw 36 fourseam fastballs and registered a strike on 26 of them. Currently Shields' fastball ranks dead last among qualified pitchers in Fangraphs' Pitch Type Values, so any game where that pitch is effective is encouraging. More starts like this down the stretch would be appreciated, Mr. Shields.
Shields was supported by a big offensive day by Evan Longoria. The third basemen was 3-4 with a double, home run, and four RBI. He crushed Texas this series, going 7-12, with two doubles, a triple, a home run, and eight runs batted in. Longoria had been in a slight slump as of late, hopefully this series served as a nice turnaround for the final 40 games or so. As hot as Longoria was this series, the Rays' hottest bat still belongs to B.J. Upton. Coming into today's game he was sporting a nice .423 wOBA in August, and all he did this afternoon was go 2-4 with a home run and two stolen bases. This offense is so much different when Upton is consistently hitting, it's amazing.
- The bullpen was a bit shakier than normal today. Chad Qualls got touched up for a few runs, and Lance Cormier was not effective at all in trying to close the game out, prompting Rafael Soriano to enter the game. Lance Cormier, along with Mike Eckstrom, are only used late innings of blowout games, so I couldn't care less about how each of them perform to be honest.
- Matt Joyce is good at baseball. He pinch hit in the 5th inning with the bases loaded and drew a walk and singled in a run in the 7th.
- If the Rays keep hitting like this they're really going to mess with becoming the second team since 1920 to average 5 runs a game while hitting .251 or lower. But, I'm ok with that.