*Was it just me, or was that one of the most boring 8-6 games ever? I don't get it - there were big home runs, comebacks, some nice relief pitching, and a close score at the end, but I found myself having a very tough time paying close attention to the game. Maybe it was the fact that most of the scoring came in the beginning of the game. Maybe it was I was distracted by the work I was doing concurrently. And maybe - I think this is closest to the truth - I feel so confident in the Rays right now that any rally by the Athletics seemed a useless gesture. Why even bother, Oakland? We're just going to score more runs.
Thank goodness the Athletics have such an anemic offense. If we were facing the Yankees or Red Sox (or really, any team that doesn't have.320 wOBA players plugged into their 3, 4, and 5 slots), Wade Davis might have been knocked out as early as the 3rd inning, a problem for our current six-man bullpen. Davis had fared well in the first two innings, letting up only two hits while striking out two batters; he even picked a runner off first. He wasn't getting first pitch strikes - I counted seven first pitch strikes out of his 23 batters faced - but he was getting enough strikes to keep from falling behind in counts.
And then the 3rd inning happened.
The inning started poorly, with a walk to the A's 8th place batter; then the next batter singled. With two on and no outs, one of Davis's fastballs tailed back over the plate, allowing Cliff Pennington (who?) to homer and make it 4-3 Rays. Davis then proceeded to lose what little command he'd had, falling behind to the next few batters in a row and letting up another run on multiple hits and a walk. He eventually got the third out, but not before he'd thrown around 40 pitches in the inning and let the A's tie the game.
Davis's problem seemed to be that he relied upon his four and two seam fastballs too much last night to the exclusion of his other pitches. While Brooks Baseball is down right now and I can't check his Pitch F/x data, the velocities and pitch breaks provided by GameDay suggest that Davis threw his fastballs quite often while only mixing in his slider and curveball on occasion. Maybe Davis's secondary pitches weren't working as well today and so he chose to throw mainly fastballs, but his fastballs weren't enough to fool the Oakland batters multiple times through the lineup.
Luckily for Davis, the Rays' offense is still stuck in high gear. The Rays scored their first four runs on a combination of singles and doubles, including a 2 RBI double from John Jaso. (Is there anything this man cannot do?) Once the A's came back and tied the game, Pat Burrell decided to put the game out of reach and cranked a three-run home run off a hanging inside curve from Ben Sheets. Burrell still hasn't hit like we'd like (.305 wOBA prior to last night), but man, the couple hits he does get are BIG. The numbers back me up on this too; according to the clutch stat on FanGraphs, Burrell has been the third most clutch player on the Rays, right behind Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. He may not be contributing much, but at least he's making the most of it when he does.
Also noteworthy: Reid Brignac hit his second home run of the season and Randy Choate pitched an effective inning and a third (that sinker's sinkin'!). I love Sean Rodriguez and Barty, but Brignac needs to be playing against righties at this point.
Overall it was a good game and although I wish Davis had pitched better, he still managed to gut through five innings and keep the Rays in the game; you have to give him some credit for that. The one truly negative thing from the evening, though, was the attendance. Tonight was the Rays' first weekday (as in, Monday through Thursday) game outside of their opening series, and the attendance was meager: 10, 825. On one hand, hey, attendance blows for all teams during the middle of the week, so drawing around 11K fans isn't something to get in a tizzy about. Well, I wish it was that easy.
In the past, I've been extremely patient with the Tampa Bay-St. Pete area and fans, pointing out that there are a ton of variables that make it tough for the Rays to draw well - lack of public transport, oversaturated market for sports, inconvenient (especially for weekday games) stadium location, a franchise history of losing, high unemployment in the area, and the list goes on and on. With the Rays off to such a fast start, though, we're quickly reaching a tipping point where all those article written about the Rays' attendance issues start to gain credence. I'm not saying we're there yet, but I always said that the fans would come if the Rays won. Well, the Rays have won for the past two seasons and they're currently off to the hottest start for an AL East team since 2003, so those fans better start showing up soon. I'm the eternal optimist so my verdict is still out (it's still April, for crying out loud), but if the Rays stay hot, I hope we don't see many more games with attendance this low.