Looking Backward While Moving Forward: Rays Fall 5-0 in Series Finale

Desmond Jennings chases down a fly ball during the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers. (Photo courtesy of Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)

Desmond Jennings chases down a fly ball during the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers. (Photo courtesy of Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)

Just when you think you’ve got baseball figured out, it humbles you and beats you up.
– Orestes Destrade


Source: FanGraphs

The Tampa Bay Rays closed out their 17-6 July with a 5-0 loss against the Milwaukee Brewers, in the series finale Wednesday. David Price, who was bested by the Brewers ground ball inducing machine Yovani Gallardo, took the hard luck loss. And though he pounded the zone, with 83 of his 113 pitches coming as strikes (73% K%), the Brewers — namely Martin Maldonado — were able to take advantage of the pitches Price left out and over the plate, tagging the Rays’ ace for four runs (three earned) on seven hits. The uncharacteristic two walk second inning certainly didn’t help his cause.

David Price at-bat results. (Courtesy of Brooks Baseball)

David Price at-bat results. (Courtesy of Brooks Baseball)

To be fair, Price could have pitched like Nolan Ryan this afternoon and it still wouldn’t have mattered. After all, what’s the difference between one run or four, when you’re getting one hit into the eighth inning? Simply put, Gallardo was excellent. Even when Tampa Bay mounted scoring opportunities in the first, third and seventh innings, Gallardo was able to make that all important ground ball coaxing pitch (Longoria in the first and Escobar in the seventh) or ring up the batter (Zobrist in the third). They put up on final threat in the ninth, yet neither James Loney nor Yunel Escobar could come up big with runners in scoring position.

However all isn’t lost. The Rays were able to walk away with their fifth consecutive series win, and David Price is still a Ray as of now. And if the report out of Los Angeles speaks to anything, (as well as the acquisition of Justin Masterson by the St. Louis Cardinals) it’s that Price should still be the Rays ace come Friday.

Both Price and Joe Maddon feel the same:

Moving forward.

The Rays will resume action Friday, when they the Los Angeles Angels into the friendly confines of The Trop. While we collectively become Angels fans for the next two days, when they face off with the Orioles, Tampa Bay must continue to win series’ if they’re going to get to .500, then put up 66 wins (Don Zimmer’s number), and finally win 89 (1989, Zimmer’s favorite season as a manager) games or more. Our series preview is to come.

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Looking Backward While Moving Forward: Alex Cobb Excellent in Rays’ 5-1 Win

Ben Zobrist put the Rays on the board in the sixth inning with a two-out solo blast to right. (Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Rays)

Ben Zobrist put the Rays on the board in the sixth inning with a two-out, solo blast to right. (Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Rays)

The Tampa Bay Rays took down the Milwaukee Brew Crew Tuesday night by a score of 5-1, in a superbly pitched, eight inning outing by Alex Cobb. He and Grant Balfour combined to mow down 14 Brewers via the strikeout. For the Rays, they’ve now won their fifth consecutive series.

With the exceptions of one run and two walks, Alex Cobb outdid his last start of a week ago, tossing eight innings of one run, three-hit ball. Cobb started the night by retiring the first 10 batters in order, with four of those outs coming as strikeouts of the whiffy variety — all on his split-change. And though Cobb got himself into a run scoring jam in the fifth inning – on an Aramis Ramirez single, a Khris Davis walk, a well placed Mark Reynolds sacrifice bunt to third and a Scooter Gennett sac-fly to center — he was able to limit the Brewers’ damage to only one run, keeping the Rays in the game until the eighth inning when the offense ultimately kicked down the door.

It was clearly obvious that Cobb had good, deceptive stuff from the get-go. How deceptive was his stuff? Of Cobb’s 12 total strikeouts, 10 were swinging. The Cobber was particularly good – he threw his split-change for strikes 32 times and impressively coaxed 15 whiffs. The Brewers were able to put it in play only one time. For a pitch that was flat and lifeless a couple of weeks back, it is wonderful to see Cobb recoup and be able to get the depth and run that makes it an equalizing pitch.

With a four run lead in the ninth, Joe Maddon turned to Grant Balfour to close things out. Balfour was on. He quickly struck out Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy to open the inning and then induced a Ryan Braun ground out to short to end the game.

Matt Garza was also sharp for the Brewers, holding Tampa Bay to one run on five hits while striking out two walking two. Garza carried the one run lead into the bottom of the sixth inning, but made a mistake to Ben Zobrist – leaving a 95-mph fastball on the inner third of the plate. Zobrist, who hit into a pair of hard hit fly outs in his previous at-bats, turned on the pitch and delivered his ninth home run of the year — knotting the score at one apiece.

I wrote this in our recap of Monday night’s game, though it bears mentioning once again. Situational statistics can be a good predictor of things. The stats say if Tampa Bay doesn’t do anything early in the game, the odds are good they’ll make something happen in the fifth or sixth innings. The Rays combined slash line jumps from .243 BA/.320 OBP/.373 SLG/.693 OPS in the first inning, to .277 BA/.346 OBP/.410 SLG/.756 OPS in the sixth. Not so ironically, the Rays made their offensive breakthrough in the bottom of the sixth inning.

LHPR Will Smith entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning and Joe Maddon pinched Kevin Kiermaier in favor of Sean Rodriguez who drew a lead off walk. Rodriguez moved to second on a beautiful sac-bunt by Desmond Jennings, then to third on a wild pitch. Zobrist plated the go ahead run on a double, bringing Logan Forsythe (pinch hitting for Matt Joyce) to the plate. Forsythe crushed a double off the left field wall, bringing home Zobrist and putting himself into scoring position.

Evan Longoria was intentionally walked to set up the lefty-on-lefty matchup with James Loney, though Smith walked him to load the bases. Smith’s night was done; enter Marco Estrada.

Brandon Guyer sent a slow roller toward Mark Reynolds at first base. Reynolds barehanded the ball and, instead of taking the sure out at first, threw to home platel Bet Forsythe safely crossed the plate,stretching the lead to three runs.

With the bases still loaded, Yunel Escobar disagreed with a called first strike that was well outside of the zone. Escobar left the batters box and muttered something. Home plate umpire Bill Welke and Escobar appeared to have words with one another as he stepped back into the box, leading to Escobar’s ejection.

Ian Malinowski (of DRaysBay) put things into perspective,

Yunel Escobar got ejected for looking down and muttering, because umpires don’t like Yunel Escobar. I get it though. When the guy next to me looks at the ground and mutters on the subway, I move to the next car, but if I had the power of an umpire, I’d surely be drunk on it, and would make him leave instead.

Cole Figueroa came in and took Escobar’s plate appearance and delivered a sacrifice fly that scored Longoria to put the Rays up 5-1.  Loney was tagged out attempting to move up to third on the play, ending the inning.

The Rays ended the night 7.0 games out of first in the AL East, 2.5 games behind the third place Yankees, and 4.5 games back in the Wildcard standings — just a game behind the Royals.

The New What Next

The Rays will go for the series sweep Wednesday afternoon with David Price on the mound. Price will be opposed by Yovani Gallardo (5-5, 3.57 ERA) who the Rays have never faced. However, a handful of Rays have faced him when they appeared on other rosters. Eno Saris of Fangraphs writes of the ground ball pitcher,

Only his curve ball rates above-average by both grounders and whiffs. The sinker gets 55% grounders, so that’s good, but no whiffs (3.7%). Same for the four-seamer (45% and 3.4% respectively). The change gets ground balls (58%) but no whiffs (7.4%, 15% is average). Same on the slider (48% but only 11% whiffs). The cutter is probably his slider, but has the same numbers as his slider too. That’s how a pitcher reworks his arsenal to work after losing stuff — Gallardo has the best ground-ball rate of his career. With one pitch that’s all-around good. The arsenal seems to suggest that he can keep up the ground-ball work, for what it’s worth.

You can read about the pitching matchup in our series preview.

Rays 7/30/14 Starting Lineup

Jennings CF
Zobrist DH
Joyce LF
Longoria 3B
Loney 1B
Forsythe 2B
Escobar SS
Molina C
Kiermaier RF
Price RHP

Noteworthiness

  • Alex Cobb has won each of his last five decisions, but Tuesday night marked his first home victory of the 2014 season.
  • Clayton Kershaw this year: 12-2, 1.76 ERA, 112.1 IP, 76 H, 15 BB, 141 K. Rays staff last 12 games: 11-1, 1.42 ERA, 108 IP, 73 H, 25 BB, 123 K
  • We wrote about Ryan Hanigan, Wil Myers, and David Price yesterday. Check it out if you haven’t already.
  • If you’re keeping track, that’s the 11th win in 12 games and the 29th in 41. Tampa Bay is now one game under .500 at 53-54 — they were 18 under on June 10. The Orioles won in 12 innings, so the Rays remain 7.0 games back in AL East. Tampa Bay has seven games left against Baltimore. The question du jour: Is that the “magic” Price number?
  • Your tweets of the day:

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Updates on Ryan Hanigan, Will Myers, and David Price

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Ryan Hanigan, hampered with an oblique injury, was sore after taking early batting practice at The Trop, Tuesday afternoon. His rehab and imminent return have been pushed back at least a few more days because of it. Hanigan is now projected to return during the August 4-6 series in Oakland.

Wil Myers will learn his rehab schedule Friday, noting, “Friday is the day we figure things out. Saturday is BP. Tweet it.”

Per Marc Topkin, David Price is eager for a resolution to the trade situation surrounding both the Rays’ ace and Ben Zobrist, though his focus has not been distracted from the task at hand. Rather, Price is focused on helping the team win, saying, “Hopefully it’s in a Rays uniform in two starts.” Price went on, “I know no one in this clubhouse wants me to leave.”

Topkin also noted the next two games could factor hugely into the Price decision, in terms of the AL East race — the Rays could be within five of Orioles or nine back.

With Price scheduled to start Wednesday, the Rays decision is not likely to be made until the Thursday trade deadline. It should be noted: Alex Colome’s start has been moved to Wednesday at Durham in case he’s needed here, in St. Petersburg.

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Looking Backward While Moving Forward: Odorizzi Leads the Rays to A 2-1 Victory

Jake Odorizzi pitches during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers. (Photo courtesy of Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Jake Odorizzi pitches during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers. (Photo courtesy of Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Call me neurotic, but every time Tampa Bay loses a game I slip into worry mode, with my biggest fear being the Rays are going to regress back into the team with inconsistent performance on the field. And though that may not be the best way to enjoy the team I love, it’s been my uncomfortable approach to the Rays since 2011.

To be fair, that approach hasn’t been unwarranted.

And despite my better judgement, when they lost Sunday afternoon, I worried that the Rays were starting down an unproductive path back to the bottom of the AL East. However, Tampa Bay — behind an excellent seven inning start by Jake Odorizzi — was able to walk away with the series opener Monday night. Both Odorizzi and Kyle Lohse were impressive in what would go down as a duel. Both worked quickly and matched one another until the Rays took the lead in the sixth.

Lohse kept the Rays off balance all night by varying his four-pitch repertoire — striking out six over six innings, though he did walk three batters. His pitches had a ridiculous amount movement, something that was even noticeable from where I sat in the outfield. But Odorizzi was better.

It has been fun watching young Jake evolve with the progression of the season. Where he once struggled with pitch efficiency, Odorizzi needed just 91 pitches to work through seven innings — an average of 13 pitches per inning. More impressive, 71% of the pitches he threw were strikes. Odorizzi rung up five and walked none, giving up only three hits in the process.

The Rays’ righty has relied upon his plus curve ball of late, yet he tossed only two curves the entire night. Odorizzi instead relied on his slider – tossing it 20 times to go with 25 splitters and 44 fastballs (per Brooks Baseball).

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Jake Odorizzi’s pitching statistics. (Courtesy of Brooks Baseball)

Jake Odorizzi made one costly mistake last night – leaving an 89 mph fastball over the heart of the plate to Mark Reynolds. The result was predictable.

This isn’t to say there weren’t any close calls for Odorizzi. As a team, the Brewers swing the bats hard and hit a lot of fly balls. Kevin Kiermaier found himself with his back against the wall in right on a couple of different occasions, and Khris Davis clobbered two towering fly balls that easily could have left the yard under different circumstances.

Situational statistics can be a good predictor of things. The stats say if Tampa Bay doesn’t do anything early in the game, the odds are good they’ll make something happen in the fifth or sixth innings. The Rays combined slash line jumps from .243 BA/.320 OBP/.373 SLG/.693 OPS in the first inning, to .277 BA/.346 OBP/.410 SLG/.756 OPS in the sixth. Not so ironically, the Rays made their offensive breakthrough in the bottom of the sixth inning.

With two outs, Ben Zobrist drew a five-pitch walk, bringing Matt Joyce to the plate. Joyce lined an outside fastball up the third base line for a base hit, allowing Zobrist to advance to third. Despite looking bad in his first two plate appearances against Lohse, Evan Longoria stepped up to the plate determined to put Tampa Bay on the board (and then some). Though he didn’t get anything good to drive, Longo worked a disciplined at bat, accepting a walk to load the bases for James Loney.

Loney didn’t disappoint. He hit an inside fastball over the infield and into right-center, plating two runs – all the Rays would need.

Yunel Ecobar attempted to put together an inning in the bottom of the seventh, but Jose Molina happened. As Ian Malinowski (of DRaysBay) wrote,

Yunel Escobar lined a high fastball from Jared Jeffress the other way for a single. That was good. Then Jose Molina tried to bunt and did so badly, fouling it backwards. On the next pitch, he tried to bunt again, doing so back to the pitcher. Jeffress picked it up, turned, and threw to second base in time to get Escobar. With Molina running, it was a sure double play.

Here’s why the Rays should never have Jose Molina bunt in that situation again. It’s a true sacrifice with no upside and extra downside. When most players bunt, there is a chance that they might beat the throw out, or that they force a fielder to rush and he makes a mistake. There is, at least, very little chance of a double play. If the opposing team tries for the lead runner, they risk not getting any outs. But with Molina running, it’s essentially a free pass to try for that lead runner. If you get him, double play. If you don’t oh well, go get the out at first.

The dominant late inning duo of Brad Boxberger and Jake McGee blew the Breweres away over the last two innings. They combined to ring up five of the six batters they faced. Rays win, 2-1!

The New What Next

The Rays start the day with a 15.5% chance of a postseason berth (ahead of the Yankees), 7.0 games out of first in the AL East, and 4.5 games back in the AL Wildcard race. Alex Cobb will take aim at their fifth consecutive series win against former Ray Matt Garza. Allow me to take you back to 2013, when Tampa Bay faced former Ray Matt Garza for the first time. The Rays absolutely crushed Garza to the tune of six runs on eight hits in the abbreviated, 4-1/3 IP start. Expect for Maddon to put into place the same game plan that was in place a little less than a year ago — attempt to exploit Garza’s weaknesses (specifically fielding). Whatever it takes to pressure the former Rays and force a meltdown. Incidentally, Alex Cobb toed the rubber opposite of Garza in that game. Cobb led the Rays to a 6-2 win over Texas, in an excellent eight inning outing. You can read about the pitching matchup in our series preview, and I’ll post the starting lineup when it becomes available.

Rays 7/29/14 Starting Lineup

Jennings CF
Zobrist 2B
Joyce DH
Longoria 3B
Loney 1B
Guyer LF
Escobar SS
Casali C
Kiermaier RF
Cobb RHP

Noteworthiness

  • Ryan Hanigan, who has been on the DL with an oblique injury, is doing better. Per Marc Topkin, he’s eyeing rehab games with the Stone Crabs this week, with the plan to rejoin Tampa Bay Friday.
  • The Rays have won 28 of their last 40 games since bottoming out at 24-42 on June 10.
  • Your tweet of the day:

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Rays 7/28/14 Starting Lineup, Etc

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Rays 7/28/14 Starting Lineup

Jennings CF
Zobrist LF
Joyce DH
Longoria 3B
Loney 1B
Forsythe 2B
Escobar SS
Molina C
Kiermaier RF
Odorizzi RHP

Noteworthiness

  • As we mentioned earlier, the Rays designated Erik Bedard for assignment in order to clear roster space for right-hander Joel Peralta, who has been reactivated from the disabled list, the team announced. Per Marc Topkin, the Rays confirmed Peralta had the chikungunya virus.
  • Don’t forget to check out our Rays/Brewers series preview.
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