The Rays faced one of the best teams with one of the best offenses in all of baseball tonight.
Their starter, Alex Cobb, was probably due for some regression after a run of very effective starts despite still not having his full range of pitches from his pre-Tommy John surgery days.
Regression certainly came tonight, but it was more than that, as Cobb lacked control, command, and really any way to prevent hard contact. He was behind on most batters, and when was in the zone he was hit hard. The hits were hard, the fouls were hard, the outs were hard.
If you like watching an offense operating on all cylinders this was a game for you.
If you were hoping to see the Rays build a little momentum and hang on in the race for October play, this was one to miss.
The Houston offense was a well-oiled machine
The Astros were on base and threatening just about every inning. Cobb’s final line: 8 earned runs on 9 hits over 3 innings, along with 2 walks. He threw 68 pitches of which 38 were strikes (but keep in mind that the hits are all recorded as “strikes” so this overstates his command). These hits included 2 doubles and 2 home runs. His game score, for those who think about these things, was 0.
Chase Whitley replaced him in the fourth and looked good only in comparison to Cobb. In his three innings he gave up a mere 3 runs on four hits and one walk.
The Houston # 9 hitter, Jake Marisnick, hit two absolutely towering home runs. Alex Bregman, Derek Fisher, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Beltran joined Marisnick in having multi-hit games, and every Houston starter had at least one hit.
The Rays offense was quiet when it mattered most
Meanwhile, the Rays offense was quiet. The game started with a four pitch walk to Corey Dickerson, which suggested that Astros starter Charlie Morton might have been struggling a bit. But he rebounded with the help of a wide strike zone and struck out the next four hitters in a row. For the most part, the Rays were unable to get much traction against him, tagging him for just two hits in six innings, although he did walk three.
By the sixth inning, when the score was 11-2, Cash had removed Longoria and Souza, with Hechevarria replaced in the seventh, as the key starters were saved for another day.
The Rays did get a rally going in the eighth, at which point they were facing the lower tier of the Houston bullpen. A Dickerson solo shot, a Plouffe single, LoMo and Miller walks, Ramos and Smith singles and Featherston HBP added four runs, to make the score 11-6.
At least the threat forced the Astros to warm up their higher leverage bullpen arms and bring in Chris Devenski (oddly enough the righty was brought in to face Dickerson, batting for the second time that inning, this time with bases loaded.) I’ll admit that I thought about what another home run would mean in that situation, but it was not to be: Dickerson grounded out and the chance of an unlikely comeback evaporated. A Lucas Duda ninth inning solo shot accounts for the Rays’ final run.
Any positive takeaways from the Rays?
Corey Dickerson led the Rays offense. Is the Corey of June back? He had some great at bats with results to show for it: a walk and two home runs, one with a runner on base.
Brad Miller has shaved his beard! He was beardless last season ,too, but generally had that scruffy, I’m too cool to shave look. So seeing him fresh from the razor, with glowing pink cheeks, was something new.
We'd rather not say the score, so look at Brad's fresh shave. pic.twitter.com/xPHDI8qi7J— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) August 1, 2017
Jesus Sucre pitched!
After two heavy bullpen use days, Cash apparently did not want to waste bullets on a losing cause, so he brought in the Rays backup catcher to pitch the bottom of the eight. Sucre has pitched before - well, two innings — and mixed 85 mph fastballs with 75 mph curveballs. I think. He got a quick out on an infield line drive from Evan Gattis, walked the next two hitters who he then balked to second and third. After that there were a bunch of hits and a sacrifice fly and yadda yadda yadda another three runs were in.
A baseball season is long and in the course of any season a devoted fan will have many highs and lows.
Today represents one of those low points. The Sunday win in New York, after losing three games in a variety of heart breaking ways, seemed meaningful only if it presaged some turn in the team’s fortunes. A game like today’s is nothing if not a momentum killer.
Although the Rays can be commended for some great trades in the lead up to the deadline, there was still some hope they would make further improvements in the flurry of deadline day activity. Instead, they traded away someone who has contributed in an area of need, and saw their AL East competitor acquire an elite starter still on a rookie contract without making a significant dent in their own talent pool.
A win would have gone a long way toward changing a narrative of disappointment, and while there is no disputing just how tough an opponent they faced in the Astros, with a few key players injured and a starter on the mound who has been far from dominant, the Rays should have had a chance to compete.
But it was not to be.
Some had speculated that the players would be angry or at least disappointed by the Beckham trade, losing a contributor with nothing in return for the 2017 team, and losing a teammate who appeared to be well liked. But honestly I don’t see this loss as attributable to players giving up. Trades happen, players are used to it. This was an outstanding offensive team meeting a pitcher who was having a really bad night.