I’ll be honest.
After the Rays got swept by Seattle, and then came home to lose two of three to the reeling Oakland A’s, the Sunday game in most heartbreaking fashion, I was concerned. The team was under .500 and just couldn’t seem to put it all together.
About to face a Toronto team that was likely to be fired up after their "face of the franchise" was first beaned by the Texas pitcher and then cold-cocked by their second baseman; about to face J.A. Happ and Marcus Stroman, both of whom have looked awfully good against the Rays this year, it was hard to feel optimistic.
But I’m writing now on the other side of 25 Rays runs in two games, and suddenly the sun is shining a little brighter, the birds' chirps are more mellifluous.
The Rays were victorious tonight, 12-2, and all is right with the world.
We on the hard working Rays Recap team have frequently found ourselves with little offense to recap. We’ve learned how to milk the three consecutive singles into a rich paragraph; to add a few lines about missed opportunities and hard hit balls that went straight into opponents’ mitts.
So I’m a little unsure how to recap a twelve run game. Do I summarize my eight pages of notes capturing each seeing eye ground ball and double in the alley?
Perhaps, instead, we should just hit some of the highlights.
The Rays took a first inning lead, always a good sign, on an Evan Longoria two-out single and a Steve Pearce frozen rope double. Unfortunately Archer quickly gave it back. He walked the lead-off batter, indicative of the control problems that plagued him throughout the game, and then gave up a two run home run to Jose (isn’t this guy supposed to be suspended?) Bautista.
And that was it for the Blue Jays offense. They would manage a total of four walks and five hits off of four Rays pitchers, but they never had another significant scoring threat. That’s not to say that Archer was particular sharp (more on that later) but he was sharp enough.
The Rays, however, had a lot more runs in them. The managed to score in every inning but the fourth, sixth and eighth, and had men on base every inning. Everyone but pinch hitter Hank Conger was in on the action, led by Brad Miller (three hits, three RBI); Kevin Kiermaier (three hits, one RBI, three runs scored) and Steve Pearce (two walks, two hits, one RBI and one run scored).
Seven Rays runs were scored with two men out. Runs came on ground outs, on errors, on singles and triples.
The Rays beat up on starter Marcus Stroman (seven earned runs in 5.2 innings). They beat up on Drew Storen (two earned runs in one inning) and took advantage of poor Pat Venditte, the ambidextrous wonder, who actually pitched a very good, bullpen saving 2.1 innings but yielded three unearned runs after Josh Donaldson committed two errors on two consecutive ground balls and Brad Miller followed up with a double.
Some Rays offensive highights
Logan Morrison is toasty. Logan Morrison earned his first run batted in of the season, hitting a ground ball to Tulowitzki that scored Steven Souza Jr. Giddy from that success he proceeded to double his 2016 RBI total, driving in Steve Pearce with a single in the fifth inning. He was even sort of responsible for a third run, but because he reached on an error he did not get an RBI.
Brad Miller just short of the cycle. Miller had a single, double and triple and was due up to bat again in the ninth. It might have been nice for Cash to leave him in to see if he could finish off with a home run, but instead he replaced him with a pinch hitter. That was a shame, except then something even better happened….
Taylor Motter hit his first major league home run. Pinch hitting for Miller with one man on base, Motter hit one just over the left field fence. That’s a great career milestone, and we still get to say: "Rays shortstops hit for the cycle."
Archer: I tip my cap.
So far this year, we’ve seen terrible Archer and occasionally, not very sharp Archer who somehow manages to get outs. Tonight was the latter, and I have to say Archer has earned my respect, even as I’m screaming "throw strikes!" at the TV set.
Chris’ line isn’t bad – he walked four (ouch!) but only gave up four hits and two runs, striking out seven. But it was a struggle. He missed consistently with his fast ball; indeed he rarely threw a quality fast ball strike (although he seemed to get a bit better as the game went on). He didn’t look comfortable. He fell behind on many hitters. He had only one clean inning.
But he gave the Rays six innings of 2 run ball against a lineup that may be scuffling but can still do damage. You’d think that the hitters, knowing that his fastball was failing him, could sit on the slider. But they couldn’t. While watching a pitcher like Archer at the top of his game is a thing of beauty, seeing someone who still doesn’t quite have everything working nonetheless gut out a decent six innings can also make a fan proud.
It’s hard to say why Archer has not been as effective as he was in the first half of last year.
While I’ve heard talk – from the media, from Cash, and certainly within our comment sections –of his needing to "be aggressive" I don't think his problem is a fear of throwing strikes. Even pitching with a four and five run lead, when a pitcher doesn’t need to be "nibbling", his fast ball was sailing in every possible direction.
I have no idea if it's mechanical or mental, or more likely at this point some combination, but let's stop acting as though Archer is just lacking the will to throw a strike.
Some concluding thoughts
- How nice is it, Rays fans, to have a middle of the batting order that does not embarrass us!
- Does Corey Dickerson end up on his knees after every swing? His willingness to go low did pay off when he golf balled a pitch in the dirt into a single.
- Marcus Stroman certainly had a rough night. At first it seemed as though he and Archer were pitching similar games. Chris issued more walks, but both were often behind in the count and both were running high pitch counts. Stroman, however, seemed to be missing more in the zone, which is more dangerous than Archer’s plain old wildness.
- Let’s hear it for three nearly perfect bullpen innings. The only player to reach against the trio of Romero, Webb and Eveland was pinch hitter Jimmy Paredes, who hit one that deflected off of Ryan Webb’s chin. Fortunately Webb didn’t seem to be seriously injured and he finished out the inning.
Let’s hope Jake Odorizzi can reprise his performance from his last game against Toronto (when he gave up just one run in seven innings) as the Rays go for the sweep.
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