The Tampa Bay Rays exit the friendly confines of the Trop Thursday on the heels of an outstanding 8-1/3 inning, three hit outing by Alex Cobb. What a difference a week makes. Tampa Bay is now one of the hottest teams in baseball, having won their last two series while taking five out of the last six games. From here, the Rays will go on another 11 day — 10 game — road trip taking them through Chicago, Kansas City, and Colorado. First stop: US Cellular Field and a four game set against the White Sox. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
Andy Pettitte dealt Wednesday night, though Alex Cobb bested him. Pettitte only allowed four base runners, on three base hits and a walk, in the front four innings. I wouldn’t really say that the floodgates opened in the fifth and sixth innings, though the Rays were able to take advantage of a few Pettitte mistakes, tagging him for three runs and a lead they’d never relinquish.
The fifth inning started innocently enough when Pittitte hit Rays catcher Jose Molina in the toe with an errant pitch. Kelly Johnson followed that up by slapping a single to right, though both he and Molina were able to move to second and third (respectively) when Boesch bobbled the ball before throwing it back into the infield. The scoring opportunities started to look bleak following back-to-back strikeouts of Desmond Jennings and Ryan Roberts. But Ben Zobrist came through in the next at-bat, slapping a two RBI double to center, handily scoring both Molina and Johnson. Evan Longoria grounded out to third to end the threat, but not before the damage was done. Sean Rodriguez led off the sixth inning with a solo 427-foot shot to center, capping the Rays scoring at three runs.
As mentioned above, Cobb threw 8-1/3 innings of three hit baseball on 106 pitches (72 for strikes, 68% K/BB), while striking out seven and walking only one. The Rays righty looked downright whiffy, inducing eight swings and misses with his changeup (30 changeups, 25 for strikes, 83% K/BB). Though the Yankees were able to hit the ball hard on a few occasions, Cobb was effective in inducing weakly hit ground-outs and pop-outs.
Fernando Rodney came on in relief of Cobb following an out and a Brett Gardner single to right. Rodney looked shaky to start his outing, throwing four balls in his first six pitches, while also giving up a single to — you guessed it — Ichiro Suzuki. But Rodney ultimately calmed down following a meeting on the mound with Jose Molina, getting Robinson Cano to ground into the shift in short right, and Travis Hafner to pop out to Ben Zobrist at short to end the game.
The New What Next: Bring on the White Sox
How the Rays Hitters Fare Against the White Sox Series Starters
Chris Sale: A thorn in the side, Chris Sale accrued a 5.06 ERA in 10-2/3 innings of work in a win and a loss to the Rays in 2012. He is very good, though he’s not infallible. Sale has a fairly hittable fastball and sinker especially when he leaves it in the zone. The old adage patience at the plate applies to Sale, and if the Rays force the issue, they could have some success Thursday night. Posting a combined .300 BA/.417 OBP/.400 SLG/.817 OPS slash line against Sale in 40 at-bats, though the fair majority of the hits he’s relented have been singles. Key match-ups: Yunel Escobar (1-1), Desmond Jennings (1-3), Kelly Johnson (2-3, 2 2B, RBI), Jose Lobaton (1-2, RBI, BB), Ben Zobrist (4-5, 2B, RBI).
Jake Peavy: Tampa Bay has traditionally fared well against the 31-year old right-handed pitcher (1-1, 7.41 ERA vs the Rays over the last three seasons), though you wouldn’t necessarily know it by looking at the numbers of the current Rays. Featuring a low 90’s fastball, a sinker, a cutter, a curve, a slider, and a change, Peavy tends lean heavily on his fastball in all counts, while peppering in his slider when he’s ahead. Posting a combined .220 BA/.265 OBP/.418 SLG/.683 OPS slash line, Tampa Bay has been able to tag Peavy for his fair share of big hits (four homers, six doubles), though they’ve only been able to knock in eight runs batted in. Key match-ups: James Loney (7-25, 2 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB), Ryan Roberts (1-3), Sean Rodriguez (1-2), Ben Zobrist (4-7, 2 2B, HR, 2 RBI, BB)
Gavin Floyd: Gavin Floyd (3-1, 2.08 ERA vs the Rays over the last three seasons) has been another perineal thorn in the side of the Rays, getting his fair share of wins at the hands of Tampa Bay over the last few seasons. Another fastball/sinker/slider/changeupcurveball pitcher, Floyd tends to lead with his fastball and slider, while throwing his curveball when he’s ahead in the count, or has two strikes against the batter. Though the Rays are posting a combined .236 BA/.299 OBP/.504 SLG/.803 OPS line against Peavy, he has given up his fair share of homers to Shelley Duncan, Kelly Johnson, Evan Longoria, and Ben Zobrist. Key match-ups: Sam Fuld (2-8, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Kelly Johnson (1-3, HR, 3 RBI), Matt Joyce (3-10, 2B, BB), James Loney (2-7, 3B, RBI), Ben Zobrist (5-16, 3 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB)
Dylan Axelrod: Tampa Bay has seen Axelrod for all of 1-2/3 innings of work in the last three years. That is to say, he’s pretty unfamiliar to the Rays hitters. Axelrod isn’t an overpowering pitcher, and tends to get a lot of ground balls as opposed to strikeouts.
- The 8-12 Chicago Whitesox are 2-4 in their last six games, having averaged just 1.8 runs per game. However, the pitching staff has been able to hold their opponents to a measly 2.6 runs per game. That is to say, they may have lost the last four out of six games, but not by much. The 10-11 Rays, on the other hand, are 5-1 in the last six games. The improved offense has averaged 4.6 runs per game, while giving up only 1.6 runs per game, on average.
- Per Noey Kupchen of Stats LLC, “Chicago now turns to Sale (1-2, 4.50 ERA), who’s dropped his last two starts — both on the road. The left-hander was tagged for a career-high eight runs over 4 1/3 innings against the Indians on April 13, then surrendered three over seven frames last Thursday in a 3-1 loss to Toronto.”
- Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar left the game early Wednesday night with right hamstring tightness, and is listed as day-to-day. He isn’t expected to miss much time as of right now. Per Ben Zobrist, Escobar said he doesn’t expect to be out too long.