The Oakland Athletics were 12-4 when they walked into the Trop on Friday, while the Rays were 5-10 following an atrocious 2-7 road trip. The insanely hot Athletics were largely considered to be one of the best teams in baseball, while the Rays were a sub .500 team struggling to keep their collective heads above water. The Athletics had the best run differential (at 33+) in the AL, and though the Rays offense showed a spark of life on the tail end of their 10-game road trip, the Tampa Bay clubhouse was in shambles by all accounts. What a difference a week makes.
The A’s left town Sunday with a feeling of slack-jawed guffaw, following a three game sweep at the hands of a team that is 28th in batting average and 23rd in runs scored. In fact the A’s were lucky to score four runs off the Rays pitching staff, while Tampa Bay’s offense continued to improve, ultimately scoring 17 runs on 27 hits. Most encouraging, the struggling players in the Rays lineup started to come up big.
Roberto Hernandez had his best start as a Ray, picking up his first win of 2013, while also lowering his ERA to 4.74. Though Hernandez may not have had the most masterful of starts Sunday, he was able to post an encouraging 6 IP/1 R/3 H/3 BB/7 K slash line. After being shut down for most of the 2012 season Hernandez finally got his first win since September 2011.
Then there was the offense. The traditionally quieter bats in the lineup — James Loney, Yunel Escobar, and Ryan Roberts — became quite productive over the the last week as evidenced by Sunday’s game. Escobar had an outstanding day at the plate, going three for four with a home run and a double. Per DRaysBay, the Rays announcers mentioned a couple times how Escobar has switched to using a heavier and slightly longer bat over this weekend (at the prompting of Joe Maddon), and it appears to be getting him good results so far. Roberts went two for five with a pair of runs and an RBI, and Loney is suddenly posting a .302 BA/.375 OBP/.488 SLG after going one for one with an RBI and a run Sunday.
It’s been said many times but it bears mentioning again: this is why the Rays play every game. It goes without saying, the narrative surrounding the Rays is changing once more, this time for the better.
Enter the 10-7 Yankees. Coming off an 8-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees will make their way into the Trop Monday for a three-game set. The Yankees are a bit of an anomaly; though they have a number of players on the DL, their offensive production has not dropped. The Yankees are seventh in overall runs, third in team batting average (.273), fifth in on base percentage (.339), and second in slugging (.467). But don’t count out the Tampa Bay Rays just yet. Dare I say they’re red hot? The Rays have increased in all of the aforementioned areas, and are 4-1 in their last five games.
How Do the Rays Hitters Fare Against the Yankees Series Starters?
- CC Sabathia: Per Rotowire, Sabathia got the win in Wednesday’s game despite topping out at 90 miles per hour with his fastball, and acknowledged that he may have permanently lost some of his velocity, the New York Post reports. Sabathia (3-6, 3.16 ERA vs the Rays since 2010) once owned the Rays when he donned an Indians jersey, but that dominance has fallen by the wayside since he joined the Yankees. The current Rays have posted a combined .251 BA/.324 OBP/.408 SLG/.733 OPS against the swarthy Grimmace-like lefty, with nine homers and 35 RBI’s in 267 at-bats. Key match-ups: Yunel Escobar (6-22, 2 2B, HR, 6 RBI, BB), Sam Fuld (1-3, 3B, RBI), Desmond Jennings (6-23, 2 2B, RBI, BB), Kelly Johnson (5-15), Jose Lobaton (2-2, RBI, BB), Evan Longoria (14-39, 3 2B, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 10 BB), Sean Rodriguez (9-28, 2 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 3 BB), Ben Zobrist (14-58, 2B, 3B, HR, 8 RBI, 4BB).
- Phil Hughes: Per Rotowire, Hughes was effective against Arizona on Thursday, allowing a pair of solo home runs and six hits over seven innings. He did not issue a walk, struck out six and did not factor in the decision. Tampa Bay has also done well against Phil Hughes (2-3, 3.90 ERA vs the Rays since 2010) since 2010. The current Rays have posted a combined .280 BA/.363 OBP/.470 SLG/.833 OPS slash line against Hughes in 100 total at-bats. Key match-ups: Yunel Escobar (7-16, 2 2B, RBI, BB), Matt Joyce (5-11, 2B, 3B, HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB), James Loney (1-3), Evan Longoria (5-16, 2B, RBI, 3 BB).
- Andy Pettitte: Per Rotowire, Pettitte allowed three runs on six hits, walking one and striking out five over 7.1 innings in a 9-4 win over Toronto on Friday night. Pettitte (1-1, 5.52 ERA vs the Rays since 2010) has done well since his return from retirement last season, though the Rays have been able to touch him up every now and again. The current Rays have posted a combined .218 BA/.326 OBP/.410 SLG/.736 OPS slash line against Pettitte in 78 at-bats, with six doubles, three home runs, and 12 RBI’s. Key match-ups: Yunel Escobar (2-5, 2B, 3 RBI, BB), Kelly Johnson (1-4), Jose Molina (1-3, 2B, RBI, BB), Sean Rodriguez (1-4, 2B, 2 BB), Ben Zobrist (7-19, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB).
- CC Sabathia hasn’t fared as well against the Rays. He’s 3-8 despite a 3.67 ERA in his last 18 starts in this series overall and 1-4 with a 4.01 ERA in his previous eight at Tropicana Field.
- The Rays have scored at least four runs in fiver of their last six games.
- The Rays have won 11 of 13 meetings in St. Petersburg dating back to the 2011 season.
- After hitting a double in Sunday’s game, Evan Longoria has now safely reached base in 32 straight games (extending back to 2012).
- After running the bases Sunday, Luke Scott said it was his “best day yet” and noted that he was ready for a minor-league rehabilitation assignment. “I’m going to go in there and get on my hands and knees and beg to send me out,” Scott was quoted as saying. The Rays will wait to see how Scott feels Monday. If all is well, Scott will start his rehab assignment Tuesday.
We’ll post more in a bit.