Wednesday’s matinee game against the Baltimore Orioles certainly wasn’t a must-win game. After hanging on for a 5-4 win against the O’s last night, the Rays took on the Orioles and Ubaldo Jimenez in a definite should-win game. And it’s the should-win games that add up when the stretch run comes.
The Rays took care of business in that respect on Wednesday afternoon.
Cobb Dominant Again
Alex Cobb continued his dominant streak on Wednesday, baffling O’s hitters over seven very strong innings. Despite one hiccup in the form of a solo shot by Jonathon Schoop in the fourth, Cobb found his strength and settled into a very effective groove.
That strength was built upon the continued increased use of his splitter.
Cobb’s splitter, the pitch that helped fuel his rise before suffering two major injury setbacks, comprised over a third of his entire pitch count and he threw it for a strike over 50% of the time. Nearly half of all of his splitter, both in and out of the zone, enticed swings from Oriole bats. Only five of those swings resulted in balls put in play, and only two of those pitches didn’t lead to an out. The return of Cobb’s dominant splitter is a huge boost for a staff that lost Jake Odorizzi to the DL Wednesday morning and has featured a weak bullpen.
On the day, Cobb’s line was a fantastic seven innings pitched, scattering four hits and allowing only one walk while striking out six.
Bats Bash Baltimore
The Rays offense did its part as well, tallying five runs on Baltimore’s pitching staff, including two home runs, one each from Evan Longoria and Steven Souza Jr.
Longo’s mid-season success continued on Wednesday when he launched a Ubaldo Jimenez mistake for a two-run dinger in the bottom of the sixth inning. To be fair, the biggest reason I call this game a should-win is that Jimenez sports a near-7.00 ERA, so he’s made more than a few mistakes this season, and an offense like the Rays’ should make him pay. Longo definitely took advantage of his chance.
Steven Souza Jr. blasted a solo homer the very next inning, this time off of veteran reliever Darren O’Day.
In the eighth, Logan Morrison and Souza Jr. both added insurance runs in the form of a single and an RBI fielder’s choice respectively. While those runs didn’t make a huge impact in terms of the final score, it was very encouraging to see the Rays’ lineup tack on some insurance late in a game, considering the bullpen in has to field on any given night.
Speaking of the Bullpen…
Those runs did allow Tommy Hunter and Brad Boxberger to pitch without duress in late stages of Wednesday’s game.
For a bullpen that’s been stretched and worn thin every which way to Sunday this season, albeit mostly of their own doing, not having the back-against-the-wall mentality was a visible relief to the relief pitchers themselves.
Hunter continued his strong season, when he’s not been injured, and Boxberger showed the level of pitching he’s capable of when he’s not hampered by the injury bug since coming off of the DL.
All very encouraging signs, but as we creep closer to August and the All Star Game gets further and further into the rearview mirror, these encouraging signs need to become strong trends in order to ensure a postseason appearance.