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Monday Morning Rays Wrap Up: Welcome Back Mr. Longoria

The Rays have survived the month of April. They have successfully overcome their 1-8 start, the oblique injury to Evan Longoria, the Manny Ramirez debacle, the sluggish offense, and the uncertainty of the new bullpen. Although it is a great accomplishment to roar back to have a winning record by the end of April, the Rays season will not be defined by clearing the hurdle of the aforementioned obstacles, they will be defined by being a contender late into the season and hopefully being a post-season candidate again. Currently the Rays offense ranks 10th in the AL with a .239 batting average, 12th with a .300 on base percentage, and 7th with a .391 slugging percentage. On a more positive note, the offense ranks 6th in the AL in runs per game at 4.26 and a very respectable +15 in run differential (120 run scored - 105 runs against). The offense will receive a big boost with the return of Evan Longoria from the disabled list on Tuesday. Not only will the offense receive a much needed middle of the order bat, the pitching staff will benefit from having his glove back at third base.  

The Rays finished another successful week by posting a 4-2 record including a sweep over an undermanned Minnesota Twins team. Unfortunately, the Rays week ended on a sour note by losing two out of three to the LA Angels including a game started by David Price and a 5-0 lead wasted by Alex Cobb making his first debut. The series lost to the Angels broke a string of five straight series wins.

Notes from the Weeks Games:

  • Several Rays had outstanding weeks entering Sunday's games: Ben Zobrist (.476/.478/1.048), Matt Joyce (.438/.500/.875), B.J. Upton (.316/.435/.526), and Casey Kotchman (.412/.412/.647).
  • Several Rays had not-so-productive weeks entering Sunday's games: Sam Fuld (.053/.250/.105),  Reid Brignac (.143/200/.143), and Felipe Lopez (.182/.250/.182).
  • The Rays will most likely bring up a reliever on Tuesday to replace Alex Cobb and a corresponding roster move will have to be made when Evan Longoria is activated. The roster move when Longoria comes back has been well debated and it appears to come down to Felipe Lopez or Elliot Johnson, but could also involve Dan Johnson being sent to the 15-day DL as he has been battling a wrist problem.
  • The pitching staff continued to be the focal point of the Rays. After a down 2010 season, James Shields continues to pitch like the ACE of the pitching staff and along with David Price give the Rays a nice 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. 
  • Kyle Farnsworth has pitched very well in the closer's role and the rest of the bullpen has performed, but the future addition of J.P. Howell will only strengthen it.
  • Which reliever will be called up on Tuesday to replace Alex Cobb?
  • Sam Fuld has struggled recently. Will Joe Maddon continue to put him in the leadoff spot? Or will we see a return to the alternating leadoff man which will include Fuld against righties and B.J. Upton against left handed pitchers?
  • Will Matt Joyce get a chance to play everyday and prove that he can or can't hit left handed pitching.
  • Will Casey Kotchman continue to get most of the starts at 1B or will Dan Johnson (if not on the DL) begin to see more time in order to try and get his bat going?
  • Who will be the first position player to be called up from Durham and who will be the odd man out in Tampa?  When is the earliest we could see a non-injury move to the roster?

After an impressive 2-0 complete game victory by James Shields over the Toronto Blue Jays last Sunday, the Rays traveled to Minneapolis for a three game series against the Twins. The Rays had a scheduled off day on Monday and their game Tuesday was snowed/rained out. Even with poor weather in the immediate forecast, the decision was made to play a day night doubleheader on Thursday rather than make the game up on the Rays next trip to Minnesota on July 4th through July 6th when the weather would be considerably better.

On Wednesday, the Rays offense jumped on Twins starter Francisco Liriano with 4 runs in the first inning keyed by a two-RBI triple by Ben Zobrist. The 4 runs were all that Wade Davis would need as he only gave up 1 run in 6.2 innings and Cesar Ramos, Joel Peralta, and Andy Sonnanstine worked a scoreless final 2.2 innings and the Rays won 8-2. Ben Zobrist went 1-4 with a 2-RBI triple and a sacrifice fly giving him 3 RBI on the day, but Zobrist was just getting warmed up.

On Thursday afternoon, the Rays battered Twins starter Nick Blackburn to the tune of 8 runs (7 earned) in 3.1 innings and added 8 more runs on the Twins bullpen on their way to a 15-3 victory. Jeremy Hellickson gave up 3 runs in 6.1 innings and the Rays bullpen was once again sharp in pitching 2.2 scoreless innings.Ben Zobrist led the charge by going 4-6 with a home run, two doubles, and 8 RBIs.

On Thursday night, the Rays faced spot starter Anthony Swarzak and took advantage of him early with 2 runs in the second inning thanks to another home run by Ben Zobrist. Jeff Niemann carried a no-hitter into the 7th inning before giving up his only 2 hits and only run on the day. The bullpen worked the final two innings and the Rays finished the three game sweep over the Twins with a 6-1 victory. The story of the day was Ben Zobrist, between the two games he went 7-10 with 2 HR, 3 doubles, and 10 RBIs. 

On Friday, David Price was spotted to a 4-1 lead against the LA Angels after 3 innings but quickly gave the lead back in the top of the fourth.  The Rays bullpen was unable to hold the Angels offense down and the Rays bats were unable to regain the lead.  The Rays lost the game 8-5.

On Saturday, James Shields gave the Rays another strong outing by working into the ninth in a 1-0 game before giving way to Kyle Farnsworth who gave up the game tying run.  The Rays won the game in the bottom of the tenth when Fernando Rodney uncorked a wild pitch allowing Matt Joyce to score the organizations first ever wild-pitch walk off win.

Alex Cobb made his major league debut on Sunday and despite being handed a 5-0 lead after the first inning was unable to get through five innings. Cobb worked 4.1 innings, walking four and striking out three, before leaving with one out and runners at first and third. Andy Sonnanstine immediately walked Ray killer Howie Kendrick to load the bases before giving up a sacrifice fly to Torri Hunter. Another run scored on an errant throw by John Jaso on a stolen base attempt. Alberto Callapso singled in the tying run before being thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double. The Angels scored the winning run on a ground ball to Ben Zobrist who turned an unconventional double play which allowed the go ahead run to score.

The Rays will enter this week with a 15-13 record, 2.5 games behind the New York Yankees. The Rays will have an off day Monday before taking on the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field Tues through Thursday and heading to Baltimore for a three game series Friday through Sunday. The pitching match-ups for the Blue Jays series are Jo Jo Reyes vs Wade Davis, Brandon Morrow vs Jeremy Hellickson, and Ricky Romero vs Jeff Niemann.  The Baltimore series will feature David Price vs Zach Britton, James Shields vs Jeremy Guthrie, and Brad Bergersen vs Wade Davis. 

In other AL East action, the Yankees will play a 4 game series in Detroit and a weekend series against the Rangers in Texas.  After the Blue Jays are done in Tampa they return home for a weekend series against the Tigers. The Orioles are in Kansas City prior to their series with the Rays. The Red Sox host the LA Angels for 4 games and the Minnesota Twins.

The Rays have won 14 of 18 games and 5 of their last 6 series, is that enough for SF1 to overcome the emotions of a poor weekend performance against the Angels?

Some might be happy with a 4-2 week that saw a sweep of the injury plagued AAA-like Twins, a winning April after a 1-8 start, and within shouting distance in the ALE. I am not.

With our ace on the bump and staked to a 4-1 lead we watched as David Price and the pen turn it into a 8-5 loss. On Sunday we're throwing a sacrificial lamb Alex Cobb in his first MLB start against Jeff Weaver. But as Rays luck would have it, Weaver is scratched and we rough up Tyler Chatwood for a 5-0 lead. Cobb who typical Ray's apologists tweeted had a 'good first start' was awful, giving it all back, and of course we never score again and lose 6-5

The solution for me is three fold. Felipe Lopez (gone) Longo returns Tuesday. John Jaso and Reid Brignac need to be replaced. Sean Rodriguez should become the every day short stop and Jose (Sanchie) Lobaton recalled to take Jaso's spot. You can't have a catcher who is so bad at blocking balls that a pitcher has to change his pitch sequence. Besides neither Jaso or Brignac can hit their hat size./p>