Does anyone else feel it? Over the last week, I've started to get this nagging feeling that this is it: the Rays are losing steam. They're currently nine games back in the Wild Card race, and with less than a month to go in the season, it's pretty obvious that it'd take a miracle for them to make the playoffs at this point. While they haven't gone on a skid like the '09 team yet, they're 5-5 over their last 10 games and they've played some pretty "blah" games. The end is nigh, and I think the Rays are starting to realize as much.
But despite the fact that the Rays lost tonight, this was still an entertaining game. The Rays jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning, as Desmond Jennings singled, Johnny Damon walked, and Evan Longoria doubled them both home. After this initial outburst, though, the Rays would only get three more hits all evening and wouldn't score again. Jose Lobaton led off the second inning with a double, but the Rays simply couldn't muster the offense to drive him in.
For a while, though, it looked like those two runs would be enough. David Price pitched masterfully, striking out 11 batters and only walking three through seven innings of work. This was his second start in a row where he's struck out more than 10 batters in a game -- he had 14 K's last game -- and after the game Price said he felt he had even better stuff than his last time out.
You know what's crazy? It looks to me like Price was throwing a slider-ish pitch last night. Look at this plot - what could that cluster of orange dots be? It's moving horizontally like a slider but not dropping off quite as much, and the pitches were traveling at around 90 MPH. Maybe it was a modified four-seam fastball? A hard slider without the bite? Whatever it was, Price threw a lot of them last night and they seemed to get the job done. Edit: Late night brain fart, it's a cutter. Duh.
The Luck Dragons wouldn't let this stand, though. In the seventh inning, he let up a bloop hit and two walks, and then the Orioles scored one run off a sacrifice fly. Price could still have gotten out of it, though, as the next batter hit a hard groundball to first, but the ball deflected off Kotchman and Zobrist couldn't get the ball out of his glove to make the throw in time. The next batter, J.J. Hardy, hit a weak through the left side to drive in the Orioles' third and winning run. Talk about dribbling a team to death.
- The Durham Bulls clinched their fifth consecutive division title tonight, beating the Orioles' Triple-A club 4-1. Matt Moore struck out 10 (does he ever stop?), and Dan Johnson cracked a two-run homer. The playoffs start for them Wednesday against Columbus. Hey, if the Rays can't make the playoffs, at least some team in the organization will.
- Brandon Guyer may have made the final out of the game, but he had a beautiful diving catch out in right field earlier in the game. We haven't had a chance to see Guyer much yet, but I am liking what I'm seeing. The speed and athleticism are definitely both there.
- Kevin Gregg tried his hardest to blow the save in the bottom of the ninth inning, which had the side effect of making me realize how lucky we are the Rays didn't sign him this offseason. Remember when we were all disappointed when the Rays signed Farnsworth instead of Jon Rauch or Kevin Gregg? Yeah, now both Gregg and Rauch have ERAs close to 5.00 and FIPs to match. You just never can tell with this sport.