Momentum: The driving force or advancing strength of a development or course of events. I’d add an alternate definition for momentum — something the Tampa Bay Rays found hard to accrue in their most recent home stand. Despite the golden opportunity they were handed to leapfrog the Minnesota Twins in the Wildcard standings, and a chance to gather a full head of steam against the Kansas City Royals, the Rays settled for two wins instead. Ouch. Momentum: something the Rays desperately needed to accrue ahead of their trip into Baltimore, where they’ll start a three-game set against the Orioles on Monday. And while the action on field felt rather uninspired and blasé this week, Tampa Bay still has a chance to play relevant baseball in September.
That said, here’s your recap of the last week in Rays baseball.
On the same day Tampa Bay C Curt Casali crushed his tenth homer of the season, the Rays pitching staff imploded and relinquished 11 runs in an ugly loss to the Minnesota Twins. Starter Nathan Karns and long reliever Matt Andriese combined to allow 10 runs on nine hits and five walks. As of that game, 24 of Karns’ 57 runs and five of his 18 homers came in the first inning.
Casali, who felt tightness in his left hamstring prior to the game, was pulled from the contest with a strain. The Rays catcher spoke about the injury following the game:
It was weird. I was really weird. It’s never happened to me. I’ve never seen it. It just stinks right now. On top of the loss, it’s not a good day. As soon as I hit the bag it didn’t feel very good rounding the bases. I was trying to take it as slow as I could. I knew I had to get around the bases somehow. It was just unfortunate timing.
Casali wasn’t the only hobbled Ray; OF Desmond Jennings hurt is left knee sliding into second in Oakland, yet it swelled up Tuesday. He too was pulled from the game.
Prior to Wednesday night’s game, Casali was placed on the 15 day-DL. The contract of JP Arencibia was purchased from AAA Durham as the corresponding move. To make room on The 40-man roster for Arencibia, Tampa Bay placed P Grayson Garvin on The 60-day DL with a torn lat muscle. JP hit .227 with 22 HR and 65 RBI in 384 at-bats this season for the Bulls.
As if another roster move wasn’t bad enough, the team fell to the Twins for the second straight day, this time by a score of 5-3. Tampa Bay loaded the bases in three consecutive innings, yet nothing came of it. The most egregious inning of play was the sixth. Asdrubal Cabrera, James Loney and Kevin Kiermaier singled to load the bases with none out. Rene Rivera found himself in a prime run-scoring opportunity, yet he popped out to first. In that at-bat, Rivera took a 91 mph middle-middle fastball for strike one. Center cut, right in his wheelhouse, strike one...not a swing to save his soul.
Brian Duensing then took the mound in relief and got Daniel Nava to pop out to second and pinch-hitter Brandon Guyer to fly to left. By that point the Rays were hitting .217 this with the bases-loaded, tied for 28th in MLB with Seattle. Kevin Cash called Rivera's pop out a "non-competitive" at-bat. That’s putting it mildly.
Jennings, who was pulled from Tuesday’s game, was placed on the 15-day DL with a bruised left knee. OF/DH Joey Butler was recalled to take his place. Jennings was productive in his 10-game stint on the active roster, slashing .353 BA/.361 OBP/.529 SLG/.891 OPS in 34 plate appearances, with a triple and a home run. On the bright side, at least the Rays won Thursday.
Butler went 2-for-4 with an RBI in the victory over Minnesota, while Brad Boxberger tallied his 31st save of the season, in and overpowering three strikeout appearance. Boxberger spoke on the importance of getting back in his groove after picking his 31st save:
Brad Boxberger on the importance of getting back in his groove after picking up a save Thursday. https://t.co/SxWkrHZMcN
— FOX Sports Florida (@SunSportsFOXFL) August 28, 2015
Fun fact, Pedro Martinez isn’t a fan of the Rays calling the bay area home, and demanded a move to Montreal:
I would love for the Tampa Bay team to go to Montreal!! They are so eager for a team. For them to build a brand new stadium in downtown!!! — Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) August 28, 2015
Another former Expo chimed in on the subject, yet he clarified things:
@TBTimes_Rays to be clear, only agreeing with the @45PedroMartinez part where it would be nice to have mlb back in mtl. That's it. — Tim Raines (@TimRaines30) August 29, 2015
Friday’s game started on an emotional note. It was Ben Zobrist’s first homecoming since being traded before the season, and the Rays put together a pre-game tribute to the beloved utility man.
Watched on #Periscope: Here's a look at #Rays pre-game tribute to Ben Zobrist, with Julianna singi… https://t.co/xnGK14NGvr — Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) August 28, 2015
Longoria encouraged the fan base to give BenZo a standing ovation, saying: "He’s the ideal teammate," and he warrants a standing ovation. The fans responded in kind, and many a tear was shed.
Things eventually got ugly in the contentious 3-2 loss to the Royals, culminating in a third inning ejection of Kevin Cash. With two outs and none on, Nava and Longoria went back-to-back with base hits. Tropicana Field’s roof helped plate a run when John Jaso skied a ball into shallow left-field. Paulo Orlando misjudged and overran the easy play, allowing the ball to bounce off his glove and onto the turf. One run scored, and both runners were able to advance into scoring position.
Logan Forsythe grounded a ball to short, but Alcides Escobar was late with his throw to first and Forsythe appeared to beat it out. Yet Brian O’Nura (the first-base umpire) called the Rays second baseman out, ending the inning. O’Nura clearly got the call wrong, yet with no challenges left to burn, Cash stormed out of the dugout and gave it to the first base ump before getting the old heave-hoe. At least there was one moment of flare in the midst the flurry of missed opportunities, Kiermaier climbed the wall in center as he anticipated a play on Kendrys Morales' homer that hit off the catwalk.
Another night of missed opportunities. While I guzzled a couple of expensive beers at the Straz Center before Patton Oswalt’s standup performance, I listened on the MLB app as Kiermaier reached on an infield hit, Rene Rivera was hit on the jaw — by way on the wrist — with a pitch (he received attention from the training staff and was able to stay in the game), and Nava worked a walk to load the bases. The heart and soul of the team stepped to the plate, and despite of the opportunity to kick down the door...Longoria went down swinging on a fastball to end the inning. The rest, as they say, is history.
Though Tampa Bay fell for the fourth time in five games, I was able to do a little market research on traffic patterns. I found that it is entirely possible to drive back and forth over both the Howard Franklin and Gandy bridges. That knowledge will surely come in handy the next time someone complains about making it to a ballgame.
Prior to the series finale, a little birdie noted that the the team is expected add another catcher — either Justin O’Conner, who is on the 40-man roster, or Luke Maile, who is not — when the rosters expand Tuesday. Richie Shaffer and Mikie Mahtook are also slated to return. LHP Blake Snell may receive his first big-league call-up as well. The team expects two waves of call-ups: Tuesday and September 8, the day after Durham’s season ends.
LHP Matt Moore, who is is 3-1 with a 3.30 ERA in five starts since returning to Durham, is also expected.
I think there is potential for all of that, Cash said. We’re still not ready to announce anything. We know how important Matt Moore is to this organization, not only right now, but going forward, and the innings build up. We need Matt to pitch.
Moore has fanned 43 batters and walked just eight in 30 innings.
The Rays followed the news with a win. An actual win! The Outlaw single handedly defeated the Royals excellent bullpen with one swing of the bat, going deep to right-field in the sixth inning to give the Rays a one run lead. For Kiermaier, it was his second homer in as many days:
Shoutout to Brandon Guyer for tying the game in the second inning by clubbing a solo shot to left:
And with that my friends, I bid you adieux. Until next week...