The Rays are a maddening team. When things are rolling for them, they're as good as any team in the majors -- their offense can score 7+ runs a game, their starting rotation can roll through stretches where everyone is lasting 6+ innings, and the back end of the bullpen is surprisingly strong. There's a reason the Rays have a .547 winning percentage, high enough to put them in first place in either the AL West or Central.
And yet....when the Rays aren't rolling, they can be one of the most frustrating teams I've ever watched. And the frustration almost exclusively comes from one area of the team: the offense. You know that the offense can be brilliant -- heck, we've seen them burst out in scoring sprees against many teams this year -- but it can be downright miserable at times, scraping together only a handful of hits and scoring opportunities in a game. I want to turn the game off so badly...but I can never do it, since I know the Rays are capable of breaking out at any time. And so, I'm stuck.
Last night was one of those days where things just went miserably for the Rays. They nearly tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, as B.J. Upton hit a solo homerun and the Rays got two more baserunners before Johnny Damon made the final out, but they could have won the game easily if they'd just played solid fundamental baseball. They made too many miscues in the field today -- two, to be exact -- and it cost them the game in the end.
It all started in the bottom of the first inning. The Twins had baserunners on second and third thanks to a single by Ben Revere and a double by Alexi Casilla, and then with one out, Shields made Michael Cuddyer hit a soft groundball to third base. Longoria fielded the ball on one hop and could have easily thrown out the runner at home -- he was less than a third of the way down the line when Longo caught the ball -- but he elected to throw it to first base instead to get the second out of the inning. And just like that, it was 1-0 Twins.
Next up, in the bottom of the fourth inning, Michael Cuddyer was up again with two runners on (this time on first and second), and he hit a soft bloop into right field. Matt Joyce charged the ball and tried to make a play on it, but the ball got behind him and scooted away, allowing both runners to score. Shields got the next batter to ground out to end the inning, so if Joyce had just kept the ball in front of him, the Rays could have saved at least one run from scoring.
Such is life, though.
- You knew that James Shields had to come back down to earth sometime soon, and he made a brief appearance on earth during his start last night. He was throwing all his pitches and he generated 10 swinging strikes on the night, but his command wasn't as sharp as it has been recently. He missed his spots on occasion and walked three batters overall -- tied for his highest total in one game this season.
- Evan Longoria is reportedly dealing with "occasional nerve issues" in his left foot, which caused him to run slow to first base in the first inning. Let's hope this goes away quickly and all by itself...
- The Rays will have to beat Francisco Liriano in order to avoid a sweep. Consider he's struck out 10 batters per nine over his last five starts, the Rays could be in for an uphill battle.