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Monday Morning Rays Wrap Up: A New Beginning

The Rays are getting further and further away from the disappointing 0-6 start, the Evan Longoria injury, and the disappointing Manny Ramirez retirement. The Rays have evened their record at 11-11 by winning 5 out of 7 this past week (10 out of their last 13 games) and did so by riding some very impressive pitching performances by David Price and James Shields. The Rays starting staff once again delivered repeated strong outings by pitching 7 or more innings in 5 out of 7 games including two complete game victories by James Shields, something that only two other Rays in the history of the franchise have done (Rolando Arrojo in 1998 and Albie Lopez in 2000). The bullpen is pitching well and established roles have been assigned. The offense is still not hitting on all cylinders but the Rays continue to get strong performances by Sam Fuld, Johnny Damon (13 game hitting streak), and Matt Joyce. 

Notes from the week's games:

  • Sam Fuld, despite striking out 4 times Sunday, does not show signs of slowing down with 10 hits in 29 at-bats during the week. He also leads the AL in stolen bases with 10 and appears to be the ideal leadoff hitter that the Rays have sorely been without.
  • Johnny Damon missed the first three games last week and returned to the lineup and picked up where he left off with 6 hits in 17 at-bats during the week and is currently riding a 13 game hitting streak.
  • Matt Joyce had another impressive week with 6 hits in 19 at-bats during the week.
  • Ben Zobrist seems to have rediscovered his power stroke as he delivered 3 home runs last week. Zobrist, who only had 10 home runs in 655 plate appearances in 2010, has hit 5 home runs in his first 87 plate appearances in 2011.
  • James Shields threw back to back complete games defeating the White Sox 2-1 and the Blue Jays 2-0. He has only allowed 3 HR in 38.2 (1 HR/13 IP) as opposed to 2010 when he gave up 34 HR in 203.2 innings pitched (1 HR/6 IP).
  • David Price seems to have developed a cutter and is beginning to be more efficient in his outings. Price has delivered 7 or more innings in 4 out of his 5 starts this year.
  • Casey Kotchman was called upon to make five starts for the Rays last week. He responded by delivering 6 hits in 18 at-bats during the week possibly securing his spot on his roster when Evan Longoria is activated from the disabled list.
  • Felipe Lopez did not do himself any favors by not hustling to first base during Friday evening's game, earning a one-game suspension. Lopez has a history of making managers boil and has crossed Dusty Baker, Manny Acta, and Tony LaRussa prior to moving on. Now, as much as Joe Maddon downplays it, Lopez has gotten under his skin. Once with the bat flip in Chicago earlier this season and once by not hustling out a groundball on Friday evening. Delivering 4 hits in 24 at-bats during the week while striking out 8 times may make his roster spot the most vulnerable.
  • B.J. Upton is having a miserable time finding his rhythm at the plate. Last week he had 3 hits in 22 at bats, and after a hot start, has seen his average drop to .216 and his on-base percentage at only .308.
  • The Rays only drew 12 walks versus 59 strikeouts during the week. Is the lack of drawing walks a product of swinging earlier in counts (knowing pitchers are attacking the zone early against them), lack of experienced talent in the lineup, or simply impatience?
  • What will the Rays lineup look like when Evan Longoria returns? How would you construct the lineup, and how do you think Joe Maddon will construct it?
  • Whose roster spot is most vulnerable when Evan Longoria comes off the disabled list?

The Rays lost their Sunday matchup versus the Twins and on Monday the Rays turned to David Price to start a new winning streak against Edwin Jackson and the Chicago White Sox. Price responded by going 8 innings, striking out 9 and walking 2 prior to giving way to Joel Peralta who worked a scoreless ninth on the way to a 5-0 Rays victory. The offense had to play without Johnny Damon, who was out with a bruised/broken fingertip, but Sam Fuld delivered  a four hit performance and they got home runs from Ben Zobrist and Felipe Lopez.

On Tuesday, James Shields took the mound and looked to pick up where David Price left off and continue the Rays winning momentum. Shields delivered a complete game effort and the Rays defeated  the White Sox and John Danks 2-1. Shields was especially impressive in the ninth inning, ending the game by striking out Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko swinging with Juan Pierre representing the tying run at second base.

Wednesday’s game saw Wade Davis pitch 7 strong innings giving up 1 run and Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth each worked a scoreless inning as the Rays defeated White Sox and Phil Humber 4-1.  The big blow for the Rays offense came in the second innings as John Jaso hit a 2-run home run.

On Thursday, Jeff Niemann looked to give the Rays a sweep over the White Sox who countered with Gavin Floyd.  The White Sox jumped on Jeff Niemann early and often and put up 6 runs -- 5 earned in 4.2 innings. The bullpen gave up 3 more runs in 4.1 innings and for the second series in a row the Rays suffered from sweep deprivation by a score of 9-2.  The only highlight for the Rays on offense was the return of Johnny Damon who missed the first three games of the series with a bruised/broken fingertip.

The Rays moved on to Toronto on Friday evening, and Jeremy Hellickson matched up against Toronto lefty Jo-Jo Reyes. Hellickson gave the Rays 7 strong innings, giving up 3 earned runs, striking out 6, and walking 3 before leaving the game with the Rays leading 4-3. Joe Maddon went to Joel Peralta to work the 8th inning but Peralta walked Jose Bautista to lead off the inning and he came around to score on a double by Edwin Encarnacion to tie the game at four. The game remained tied until John MacDonald delivered a walk-off two-run home run against Adam Russell in the 11th inning to give the Blue Jays an 6-4 victory.

The Rays looked to David Price to play the role of stopper after back-to-back losses to the White Sox and Blue Jays.  The Blue Jays countered with Brandon Morrow who was coming off the disabled list and making his first start of the year. The Rays offense gave David Price an early cushion when Johnny Damon hit a 2-run home run in the first inning. The Blue Jays eventually tied the game thanks to two solo home runs by red hot Jose Bautista. The game remained tied at two until the top of the sixth inning when Ben Zobrist hit a 3-run home run off Carlos Villanueva who had come on in place of Brandon Morrow to give the Rays a 5-2 lead. The Jays entered the ninth inning down 6-2, but were not going to go quietly. David Price came out for the ninth inning but was met with a single by Jose Bautista, an RBI double by Adam Lind, and a single by Jose Molina. Price was lifted with runners at 1st and 3rd for Kyle Farnsworth who gave up an RBI single to cut the lead to 6-4 with the tying runs on base. After a sacrifice bunt put the tying runs in scoring position, Farnsworth was able to induce groundouts by John MacDonald (to the pitcher) and  Mike McCoy (to third base) to end the game.

James Shields took to the mound on Sunday to try and gave the Rays a series win against Ricky Romero. Shields was looking to build off his impressive complete game victory against the White Sox earlier in the week. The Rays gave Shields the only runs he would need thanks to a 2-run home run by Ben Zobrist (5th on the season and 3rd HR of the week) in the top of the first inning. Shields was dominant the remainder of the game. He only allowed 4 hits, striking out 7 and walking 2.    

The Rays enter this week 3.0 games behind the New York Yankees and only ½ game ahead of the suddenly surging Boston Red Sox. The Rays will have an off day Monday prior to a 3 game series with the Twins. The pitching matchups in the Minnesota series will be Wade Davis vs Francisco Liriano on Tuesday, Jeff Niemann vs Nick Blackburn on Wednesday, and Jeremy Hellickson vs Scott Baker on Thursday afternoon. The Rays will then return home to take on the LA Angels in a 3 game series that should include the return of 3B Evan Longoria to the middle of the Rays lineup. The pitching matchups are David Price vs Ervin Santana on Friday, James Shields vs Matt Palmer on Saturday, and Wade Davis vs Jeff Weaver on Sunday.

What does sternfan1 have to say after a 5-2 week coming right after a 5-1 week?

Hello again Rays fans.

What a beautiful week it was for the Rays, winning both series and going 5-2 along the way. The old traditionalists say pitching is the way to the playoffs, and the Rays displayed plenty. Shields had 2 CG, and the only hiccup was Jeff Niemann, who I would seriously think of replacing quickly.

Hitting is still a big problem, and as my fanpost suggests this team without the BB is going to really struggle (e.g. Sam Fuld on Sunday).

But even for me, it's hard to find fault with a team who has climbed back to .500. With the pitching they have, on most nights they should have a good chance to win.