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Monday Morning Rays Wrap Up: The First Place Edition

The Rays finished another stellar week with a record of 5-1, have improved their record to 20-14, and are tied with the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East. The team received a much needed boost with the return of Evan Longoria to the lineup and defense.  Joe Maddon get thrown out of a game after yet another reversed call at 1b and B.J. Upton get thrown out for his reaction to a called third strike which has since resulted in Upton facing a two-game suspension. The Rays made several roster moves during the week.  Alex Cobb was sent down following last Sunday's start and Brandon Gomes was called up from Durham.  Felipe Lopez was out-righted to Durham in order to activate Evan Longoria from the disabled list (Lopez cleared waivers and reported to Durham).  Brandon Guyer was called up from Durham to take Jeff Niemann's spot after Niemann was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained back and Guyer was sent back to Durham and replace by Rob Delaney.

This Weeks Notes & Thoughts:

  • The Rays currently have an 8 game road winning streak which establishes a new team record.
  • The Baltimore Sweep was the Rays second 3 game sweep of the season and the Rays have won 7 of their last 8 series (h/t to price14rays for pointing out an error).
  • Entering Sunday's game, several Rays hitters excelled during the week.  Casey Kotchman (.545/.667/.636), Ben Zobrist (.421/.522/.526), Evan Longoria (.333/.455/.667), and Matt Joyce (.333/.286/.333).  
  • B.J. Upton ended the week with 10 RBI and 2 HR.
  • Entering Sunday's game, several  members of the offense struggled during the week.  Sam Fuld (0.056/0.056/0.056) and Sean Rodriguez (.167/.167/.250).  Dan Johnson and Reid Brignac also struggled during the week.
  • David Price and James Shields continue to form an impressive 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.
  • Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson  struggled with control and the inability to give Joe Maddon 6 or more innings.
  • The Rays will turn to Andy Sonnanstine to replace Jeff Niemann in the rotation. If Sonnanstine is ineffective in the rotation, how long before Maddon turns to Alex Cobb?
  • J.P. Howell should return to the Rays in the next 7-10 days. Who will be the odd man out when the time to activate Howell? I believe that the leading candidate would most likely be Rob Delaney. Would Joe Maddon use a shortened bullpen and utilize guys with options to go up and down (Jake McGee, Brandon Gomes, etc.) as a strategy to only keep 6 relievers?
  • Is Dan Johnson becoming an expendable member of the Rays? He has played in 22 games,  has 76 PAs, and has put up a slash line of .127/.197/.186. He has hit 1 HR and has struck out 15 times and walked only 5 times. He's already splitting first base duties with Casey Kotchman in a platoon role but gets removed for a defensive replacement. 
  • Speaking of Casey Kotchman. He is still a lightning rod between the average fan and the stat guy/analysts. Kotchman has appeared in 24 games and put up a slash line of .355/.437/.452. He has more walks (8) than strikeouts (5) and has played a very good defensive first base. With that said, how long will Kotchman be able to produce at a high level? Will the Rays be able to shield him against left handed pitching and will that mean seeing Ben Zobrist make an occasional start at 1b (If Dan Johnson is no longer a member of the team?).
  • Reid Brignac is hitting .195 with a .235 on-base percentage. He has yet to deliver an extra base hit on the season in 82 PA. The Rays are not scheduled to face a left handed starter in Cleveland or when they return home to face the Orioles so Brignac should have ample opportunity to break out of his season long slump. If Brignac continues to struggle over the next six games and puts up poor plate appearances, will the Rays send him down to AAA to get his swing worked out?

Tuesday's game versus the Blue Jays saw the return of Evan Longoria from the disabled list.  His return to the lineup wasn't realized (1-4 with a single) but his contributions in the field were seen immediately as he robbed J.P. Arencibia of a double with a nice backhanded stab of a ground ball and threw across his body for the out. Wade Davis didn't have command of his pitches but still gave the Rays 6 innings, giving up 2ER, and 3BB/2K.  Davis would exit the game trailing 2-1 in favor of newly promoted Brandon Gomes (acquired in the Jason Bartlett deal). Gomes worked two scoreless innings giving up no hits and one walk.  Cesar Ramos started the ninth inning and retired the first two hitters before Joe Maddon called on Kyle Farnsworth to finish the inning. The Rays entered the ninth inning down 2-1 and were facing Jays closer Jon Rauch who was a perfect 5-5 in save opportunities on the year.  The crowd at Tropicana Field (10,248) was energized after the announcement that the Tampa Bay Lightning had taken a 3-0 series lead over the Washington Capitals and shortly after Ben Zobrist singled to lead off the inning.  BJ Upton would continue the good vibe and hit his 4th career walk off home run on a 0-1 pitch.

Wednesday's game matched Jeff Niemann versus Rays nemesis Brandon Morrow.  Jeff Niemann wasn't sharp as the Blue Jays tagged him for 3 runs on 6 hits in 4 innings before departing due to a stiff back.  Brandon Morrow limited the Rays to 1 earned run over 6.1 IP, allowing 5 hits, striking out 7 and walking 4.  Andy Sonnanstine worked a solid three innings to keep the score at 3-1 after 7.  In the bottom of the seventh the Rays had men at 1st and 2nd when Sam Fuld sent a ground ball to third baseman Edwin Encarnacion who stepped on third and threw wildly to first allowing Sam Fuld to get in before the tag by the first baseman Adam Lind. For some inexplicable reason the umpires had a conference and on the word of 2nd base umpire Angel Hernandez, Joe West reversed his call ending the inning. It's odd to see a reversal at first base once in a season, but twice (happened to Rays in Chicago earlier this season)?  Of course, Joe Maddon came out to argue with Joe West and was ejected, but after the game Joe West admitted that overturning the call was a mistake!   Chad Fairchild was having a horrible day behind the plate and already had thrown out Blue Jays manager John Farrell for arguing balls and strikes but he seemed to really be craving attention as he emphatically punched BJ Upton out on a horrible pitch.  As Erik Hahmann displayed in his Draysbay recap, he had never seen BJ so upset and neither have I.  

Thursday's game featured David Price versus rookie Kyle Drabek.  The Rays jumped on Drabek with 3 runs in the bottom of the third inning giving Price all the runs he needed. Price worked into the ninth inning finishing with a final line score of 8.2 IP, 4H, 1R/0ER, and 10K/0BB.  Kyle Farnsworth worked to two batters, giving up 1 hit, and earned his sixth save of the year.  The victory gave the Rays their sixth series win in their last seven series.

Friday's game featured a new name in the lineup card as Brandon Guyer (details here) was called up to take Jeff Niemann's spot as he was placed on the 15-day DL with a lower back strain.  Guyer made the most of his Friday night start as he homered off Baltimore starter Zach Britton in his first at-bat to push the Rays lead to 3-0. James Shields pitched through at times heavy rains and worked 7.1 IP, 1ER, and 5K/3BB.  The offense tacked on 3 more runs and Joel Peralta and Brandon Gomes were both effective in relief and the Rays won 6-3.

Saturday's game matched Jeremy Hellickson versus Jeremy Guthrie.  The Rays used a 15 hit attack, including 4 hits from Ben Zobrist,  3 hits from BJ Upton and Casey Kotchman, and 4 RBIs from Evan Longoria including his first home run of the year. Hellickson wasn't sharp but was able to complete five scoreless innings, giving up 3 hits, while striking out 5 and walking 4.  Cesar Ramos, Juan Cruz, Adam Russell, and Brandon Gomes each worked an inning and the Rays won the game 8-2.  On Saturday evening the New York Yankees lost to the Texas Rangers drawing the Rays even with the Yankees in first place in the AL East.

Sunday's game was an opportunity for the Rays to earn their first 3 game sweep of the season.  Additionally, it was an opportunity for the Rays fans to see yet a third new Ray appear in a game this week as Brandon Guyer was sent back to Durham and Rob Delaney was recalled to join the bullpen.  Wade Davis was matched up against Brad Bergersen and the Rays jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth.  The Orioles responded with two in their half of the fourth.  The Rays added two more runs in the top of the fifth to lead 5-2 and the Orioles added a solo run in the bottom of the fifth on a home run by Derek Lee to make the score 5-3.  Wade Davis was only able to go 5 innings, giving up 3 ER, 4H, while walking 5 and striking out 3. The Rays turned the ball over to Rob Delaney who was making his Rays debut and worked a scoreless inning striking out 1 and walking none. Joel Peralta worked 1.2 scoreless innings before giving way to Kyle Farnsworth who work a final 1.1 innings giving him his 7th save in 7 opportunities on the year and his first multiple inning save.

The Rays will enjoy an off day in Cleveland on Monday prior to opening a 3 game series in what has in the past been the Rays own house of horrors.  The Rays will send Andy Sonnanstine up against Josh Tomlin on Tuesday evening, David Price up against Jeanmar Gomez on Wednesday evening, and James Shields versus Justin Masterson on Thursday afternoon.  The Rays will return home to Tropicana field for a weekend series with the Rays. The pitching matchups are Jeremy Hellickson versus Jeremy Guthrie on Friday evening, Brad Bergesen on Saturday afternoon, and Andy Sonnanstine versus Jake Arrieta on Sunday.

The Yankees begin the week tied with the Rays for first place in the AL East and will return home to face the Kansas City Royals and the Boston Red Sox.  The Boston Red Sox have moved into third place and are 4 games behind the Rays and Yankees.  The Red Sox will finish their 4-game series with the Twins on Monday, then head to Toronto, and finish the week in New York.  The Blue Jays begin the week in fourth place and are 5 games behind the Rays and Yankees.  The Blue Jays finish their 4 game series with the Tigers on Monday, then head to Boston, and finish the week in Minnesota against the Twins. The Orioles are in last place 5.5 games behind the Rays and Yankees. The Orioles host the Seattle Mariners before heading to Tropicana Field for a weekend series against the Rays.

Another week of positive performances by the Rays resulting in a 5-1 record.  What does SF1 have to say about the state of the Rays.

Well, not even me can fault this week.  A 5-1 week where we end up with a sweep of the O's in their place is poetic justice.

The SP was again the lead as we saw strong performances by Price and Shields, and gutsy ones by Davis twice and Hellickson, I was so glad our bullpen was as deep as it is because with Niemann's problems and the short starts by Davis and Hellickson, I'd shudder to think what would have happened with the depleted pen.

I did not understand the Guyer call up, seeing that he only played one game, but we needed more bullpen arms.  Also, good to see the offense get untracked.  Casey Kotchman has been a Godsend, both at the plate and in the field, a true pro.

I'd like to see Sam Fuld take more pitches and also stop trying to loft th ball so much.  Also, Joyce and BJ had great weeks and welcome back Longo.

Other than that, it's off to Cleveland and let's sweep those lucky Indians.