Led by team ace Chris Archer, and looking to turn around recent struggles, the Tampa Bay Rays entered Sunday's matinee against the Minnesota Twins looking to avoid being swept at Target Field. In order to do so, they'd have to get past the Twins' number three starter, Kyle Gibson, who has entered the afternoon contest enjoying an extended string of successful outings.
Through the sun and the rain in Minneapolis, the Rays did indeed avoid the sweep, winning it 11-3. The story of the day was the Rays' offense.
The offense wasn't powered by the long ball or frequent base-stealing; rather, it was solid, fundamental at-bats leading to base hits and station-to-station baseball. No one looked like they were trying to win the game on any one swing (except maybe Asdrubal Cabrera, who looked lost and frustrated all afternoon), as the Rays worked at-bats and hit balls where they were pitched.
The team loaded the bases twice, and here's the stat that stands out brighter than Rene Rivera's fingernail paint: the Rays went 10-for-23 with men in scoring position. That's outstanding, particularly by Rays' standards. If you play simple, get ‘em on - get ‘em in baseball, coupled with effective pitching from a guy like Archer, you're going to win more often than not, and it showed Sunday.
The Rays' bats got to work in the third inning, thanks in part to some questionable infield defense on the part of the Twins and veteran first baseman Joe Mauer when Rays' catcher Bobby Wilson hit a weak ground ball to the hole on the right side of the infield.
A miscommunication between Mauer and second baseman Brian Dozier led to a late pick up and a mistimed play by Gibson covering. The less-than-fleet-footed Wilson made the play closer than it could have been, but Gibson didn't get his foot to the bag and Wilson stayed at first on his infield single. The visibly irritated Gibson proceeded to walk Kevin Kiermaier and give up a single to Logan Forsythe to load the bases.
Evan Longoria wasted no time bringing Wilson home to score, smashing a first pitch, inside sinker to left to tie the game at one. After another misplayed ball by Mauer, this time off the slow chopper by James Loney (what should have been a double play) only earned one out at second, scoring Kiermaier and giving the Rays runners at the corners with only one gone. A fielder's choice out at home off the bat of Brandon Guyer and a ground out by David DeJesus would end the Rays' offense in the inning, but not before they had earned themselves a 2-1 lead.
The Rays extended their lead to 3-1 in the fifth, courtesy of an RBI single by Guyer.
Logan Forsythe hit a one-out rocket fair up the third base line that rattled off the base of the boards in short left. Twins' left fielder Eduardo Escobar's throw was a weak one, allowing Forsythe to reach second on a play that should have been closer than it was. Longoria flew out and James Loney was intentionally walked to bring Guyer to the plate with two men down. Guyer made Gibson pay for that decision, as he took the 0-2 offering right up the middle, scoring Forsythe from second base.
Nick Franklin Rises
Nick Franklin, making his season debut after missing the first part of the year with a strained oblique, got the Rays going again in the sixth, hitting a one out base knock to left center off of reliever Brian Duensing that he stretched into a double after submarining Dozier with a Karate Kid-esque leg sweep slide on the throw in.
Franklin then wound up at third on a wild pitch by Duensing and would score on a Kiermaier single. Michael Tonkin would take over the hill for the Twin Cities and promptly plunked Forsythe to load the bases for Longoria, who quickly picked up two RBI on a base knock to centerfield.
Loney followed suit, hitting an RBI single to give the Rays a 7-1 advantage. A DeJesus RBI single would make it a seven-run lead and send Asdrubal Cabrera, the only Rays batter without a hit to that point in the game, to the plate, having sent nine men to bat in the inning. Naturally, he would strike out to end the inning and keep himself hitless on the day.
This was a fun game
Archer's day was done after six innings of effective pitching. It wasn't his typical outing, in which he strikes out a large number of batters and shows emotion after each important play. Rather, it was a quiet and efficient afternoon for The Man in the Striped Socks, striking out four and only walking one. His slider was good, not great; his fastball was strong, not electric; but he was, as I said, effective. It was exactly the kind of start he needed after going 0-2 in his last three starts, giving up no less than four earned runs in each of those losses.
Archer gave way to another season debut, as Jake McGee, the flame-throwing lefthander got his first appearance since his return from arthroscopic elbow surgery. He was right back to his old self, hurling plus fastball after plus fastball, striking out two in an inning of relief work.
The offense wasn't done in the ninth, as the Rays hit four straight singles to start the inning off of Twins' lefty Aaron Thompson. Some heads up base-running by Tim Beckham after a Franklin line drive got himself to third and scored on Bobby Wilson's single. Franklin proceeded to score from second on a Joey Butler pinch-hit single, making it a 10-1 Rays' lead. Another run scored after Loney's fourth hit of the day, a double down the first base line, giving the Rays' first baseman three RBI in the game.
Ernesto Frieri came on to work the bottom of the ninth and quickly fell into trouble. After a leadoff single and walk to the top of the Minnesota order, third baseman Doug Bernier hit a one-out, two RBI double to make the score 11-3. He did settle in to finish the game, however, striking out Escobar and Chris Hermann to finish the game.
My Two Cents
- Nice to see Nick Franklin in the Rays' lineup. He should have worked harder on his acting skills during his time off, though, as he wasn't getting Eddie Rosario to bite on the ol' missing ball trick after Bobby Wilson's bad (read: awful) throw down on the steal. Nice idea.
- Based on the way Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson raved about them, the Twins should look into signing some of their fans for day-game infield duty.
- I continue to be impressed by Xavier Cedeno. Getting McGee back gives the Rays two plus lefthanders to turn to late in games, and allows each to be used ideally. Exciting stuff.
- Somewhere deep down inside, I've begun to wonder if Nick Franklin is able to bat consistently and Cabrera's struggles continue, how long will it be until Cash pulls the plug on Cabby? How much leash does the veteran get? Also, what does it say about Cabrera that a one game, two-hit performance by Franklin has got this conversation started?
- Longoria and Loney each had three RBI. Just pointing out some more good news.
- Boy, is it fun when the Rays are on the good side of a crooked score, or what?
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