For better or worse, gritty games have become par for the course for the Tampa Bay Rays over the last week or so. Nevertheless, a wise man once said, “A win, is a win, is a win.” The Rays won a hard fought 7-4 game against the Orioles Tuesday night — marking their fourth consecutive win and their third consecutive series win. The Rays success can largely be credited to the pitching staff, helmed by Alex Cobb, and a huge five-run ninth inning.
To put it bluntly, Cobb was on his game for most of of his six plus inning outing. However, a rough seventh inning and four walks may overshadow an otherwise excellent start. Make no mistake though, Cobb was dominant for most of his time on the mound.
Making his second start after being activated from the DL, Cobb lasted six innings and gave up two runs on three hits and four walks, striking out five. Leading the way with a very good two-seam fastball, Cobb pounded the zone with his primary pitch, throwing it for strikes almost 70% of the time. And while the Rays righty continued to regain the feel for his change-up, Cobb leaned on a deadly spiked curveball which proved to be an equalizer against a hungry Orioles team. Three of his five strikeouts came on that pitch.
If I may, the one thing I loved about Jeff Niemann was his ability to dominate batters with his filthy spiked curveball. However, if this start speaks to anything, it’s that Alex Cobb can be just as effective with his version of the deadly off-speed pitch. Sorry Niemann, but I really don’t see a place for you on the roster next season. I digress.
As BA pointed out, Cobb was able to get the majority of his outs after getting ahead in the count — forcing the Orioles batters to expand their strike zone, ultimately inducing weakly hit grounders and a handful of fly-ball outs. But all was not perfect with Cobb, he got into trouble in the second and seventh innings.
The second inning was particularly troubling, if not unlucky, for the Rays. The inning started innocuously enough, with an Adam Jones infield single to short. Yunel Escobar almost gunned down the speedy center fielder as he flew through the air, after ranging to his right to field the ball. With a runner at first, Nick Markakis tried to put an inning together, hitting a hard liner to Loney. But the ball hung up just long enough for the Rays first baseman to cleanly field it and tag first for a double play, ahead of Jones who was caught between first and second. Tampa Bay employed the shift with the bases empty and Matt Wieters at the plate. Wieters slapped the ball to Evan Longoria who was positioned on first base side of second. However Longo bobbled the ball, which allowed the O’s catcher to reach first on an error. Alex Cobb followed the error with a JJ Hardy walk ahead of Ryan Flaherty, who then hit an RBI single to right — plating Wieters from second. Though the error proved costly, Cobb induced a Brian Roberts fly-out to right, limiting the damage to only a run.
The seventh was also troubling. Cobb allowed three consecutive base runners to reach on a pair of walks to Matt Wieters and Ryan Flaherty, and a JJ Hardy single to to center to load the bases with no outs. After throwing 92 pitches (55 for strikes), Maddon pulled Cobb in favor of Alex Torres who came into the game with a bases scenario for the third time this season. The Rays left handed reliever quickly got Brian Roberts to ground into a double play at third, following that up with a nine pitch Nate McLouth strikeout — locking up Nate McLouth on a filthy change-up over the heart of the plate. Torres limited the damage to only one run while preserving the Rays 3-2 lead.
If anything, I’d imagine Cobb’s seventh had more to do with exhaustion than anything else. Mind you, he was on the DL for two months. And beyond a handful of bullpen sessions and a couple of rehab outings, Cobb really didn’t spend a lot of time on the bump leading up to his two post DL starts.
On the other side of things, Tampa Bay entered the ninth ahead by only a run and needing a buffer of sorts. A buffer they got in spades. Kelly Johnson lead off the inning by slapping a single to right. Desmond Jennings was next, hitting the second consecutive base hit of the inning to center. Ben Zobrist moved the runners up on a fielder’s choice to third, setting up an intentional walk of Evan Longoria to load the bases. Joe Maddon made a calculated decision to leave Matt Joyce in the game to face LHP T.J. McFarland. The risk was worth the reward — Joyce sent a 1-1 pitch to deep right field, plating a pair of runs. Wil Myers was next, shooting an RBI single to right which drove in Longoria and Joyce to give the Rays a five run lead going into the bottom of the inning.
A troubling trend, a Rays reliever made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth. Recent acquisition Wesley Wright gave up two runs on a homer and a pair of walks. But Fernando Rodney came on in relief to mop things up with one on and no outs, refreshingly retiring the Orioles in order to lock down the win and get his 29th save of the year.
The New What Next
Tampa Bay expanded its lead over the Orioles both in the AL East and the wildcard standings. They’ll go for the sweep Wednesday with Hellickson on the mound. He’ll take on Wei-Yin Chen. You can read about the pitching match-up here.
Rays 8/21/13 Starting Lineup
- The Rays are percentage points ahead of the Red Sox — .581 to .578. Triple-A Durham, Class-A Charlotte, and Class-A Bowling Green are also in first place.
- After losing six consecutive games, Tampa Bay has won six out of seven and their last three series.
- Per the Rays, “Alex Cobb has made five starts this year vs. 2012 postseason teams. He is 4-0 with a 1.43 ERA and the Rays have won all five games.” Furthermore, “Since August 1, 2012, Alex Cobb is 15-3 with a 2.95 ERA. Rays are 20-6 in his 26 starts.”
- “Premier, elite curveball for Alex Cobb tonight. I don’t know who in the game throws a better curveball than him.” – Joe Maddon
- Since the All-Star Break, Yunel Escobar leads all MLB shortstops with a .326 average. He’s currently batting .394 over the span of a nine game hitting streak.
- Since dropping the “Devil” from their name in ’08, they have the second best win percentage in all of baseball.
- Matt Moore was very encouraged after throwing a bullpen session this afternoon. He threw 69 pitches – including change ups – with no issues from elbow. He’s expected to throw a simulated game on Sat.