Baseball sky. (Photo Credit: X-Rays Spex)

After downing the Twins on Saturday, 11-4 – and thus winning the series – the Tampa Bay Rays look to close out the home-stand on a high note this afternoon.

At 86-50 on the season, the American League-leading Tampa Bay Rays enter play 36-games above .500, and 7.5 games up on the Yankees in the division thanks to their loss against Baltimore in the Bronx. Tampa Bay can move to 37-games above .500 for the first time in franchise history with a win today. They now have an MLB-best record of 33-13 since the All-Star Break.

Tampa Bay hit a franchise-tying six home runs (in one game) on Saturday — the first time six different Rays had done so in the same contest.

Chris Archer allowed four runs on four hits and four walks with three strikeouts through five innings on Saturday. This wasn’t Archer’s finest outing, but with the Rays clobbering six home runs on the afternoon, the right-hander recorded his first win since 2019. Even with the victory, there are still some concerns with the two-time All-Star. All of the runs allowed came on a pair of two-out, two-run homers that followed a walk. Speaking of free passes, he walked a season-high four batters and found the zone just 59% of the time.

On a positive note, his five innings are the deepest he’s gone in a game this season, while his average fastball velocity ticked up. The right-hander hit 94 – 95 mph on multiple occasions. On the season, Archer maintains a 5.28 ERA and a 4.60 FIP, with a 1.50 WHIP and a 2.50 K/BB across 15.1 innings.

Meanwhile, after exiting Thursday’s game with a severe headache, SS Wander Franco returned to the lineup yesterday and extended his on-base streak to 34 games after he collected two hits on the day. Per Neil Solondz (Rays Radio), “It’s the third-longest stretch by a player 20-years-old or younger, eclipsed only by Frank Robinson (43) and Mickey Mantle (36). He’s hitting .318 with 26 RBI during this stretch.”

The New What Next

Luis Patiño (4-3, 4.24 ERA) will get the start for the Rays, pitching opposite of Griffin Jax (3-3, 6.71 ERA).

Luis Patiño allowed one run on five hits and a walk over 5.2 innings on Monday against Boston. He struck out five. Patiño came up one out shy of his third quality start of the season, tossing 102 pitches (67 strikes, 66% strike rate) before exiting. The workload was encouraging, and Kevin Cash seems confident he won’t need to be treated with kid gloves down the stretch. Righties have posted a .633 OPS against him, while lefties sit at .813. In seven outings since the All-Star Break, Patiño maintains a 3.89 ERA and a 4.66 FIP, with a 1.30 WHIP, and 2.00 K/BB across 37 innings.

Griffin Jax allowed six runs on six hits and three walks while striking out five across five innings on Sunday against the Brewers. Jax had a clean opening frame but was chased after he allowed six runs over the next three innings on a solo homer, a double, a walk, a three-run blast, and one last double. The 26-year-old has given up 15 runs in his last two turns, which has inflated his ERA to 6.71 to go along with a 1.40 WHIP, and 2.0 K/BB over 53.2 innings. Jax relies primarily on a 93 mph four-seam fastball and an 83 mph slider that sweeps across the zone, while also mixing in an 85 mph changeup with slight arm-side fade and some natural sink, and an 80 mph 12-6 curveball.

You can read about the series in our preview, while the starting lineup and Noteworthiness are below.

Rays 9/5/21 Starting Lineup

  1. Lowe 2B
  2. Franco SS
  3. Cruz DH
  4. Meadows LF
  5. Arozarena RF
  6. Wendle 3B
  7. Diaz 1B
  8. Kiermaier CF
  9. Zunino C

Noteworthiness

— OF Brett Phillips (ankle sprain) and 1B/DH Ji-Man Choi (hamstring) played in the Florida Complex League on Saturday and should join the big-league squad on the upcoming road trip. Choi is eligible to return at any point, while Phillips can be activated after Thursday’s off day.

— RHP Matt Wisler is to pitch for Triple-A Durham today, while RHP Nick Anderson allowed a run in his inning for the Bulls last night.

— Because the jabroni below angered me yesterday, I’m going to do something on the blog that I haven’t done this season: discuss attendance for a brief moment.

I’ve eschewed the subject here for myriad reasons, saving my hottest takes for Twitter. Yet, I think it’s a subject worth touching on for a moment.

Two things are happening in Tampa Bay at the same time: a historic run by the Rays, and a historic pandemic rendering Florida a hotspot. And while the Bay Area as a whole is averaging a 63% vaccination rate (64% in Pinellas, 62% in Hillsborough), due to the sheer amount of misinformation floating around the web — among other places — people are spooked. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Pinellas and Hillsborough also have an infection rate of roughly 18%, which is higher than the national average.

What bears mentioning is that attendance is also down league-wide due in part to the spike in COVID cases, although TV viewership is up. Put another way, while attendance is down at the Trop, it’s not because the team doesn’t have a strong fan base, rather, the pandemic is still impacting people’s desire to go out and do things.

Beyond that, I speculate another thing may also be at play.

Unemployment is down, yet the quality of jobs any one person in the area may have is also down. In other words, less good-paying jobs are available with an eviction crisis pending. Good paying construction job openings are down, while leisure and hospitality jobs — Tampa Bay’s bread and butter — which typically aren’t high paying, have inched up over the last few months. Even though there are fewer openings in kitchens and dining rooms across the area, the average restaurant worker isn’t bringing home a living wage by any stretch of the imagination. As the person I spoke about in the Instagram post (above), mentioned, he just came into a few dollars and attended a ballgame because of it. He willingly spoke poorly of fans for not attending games at the Trop, although I’d venture to say that there are a good number of working-class fans who, like him, have had to make a choice between buying their family of four a set of $16 tickets (for the cheapest seats in the stadium) + parking + food, or putting food on the table and watching a game on TV. In this recession economy, born of the pandemic, +$80 is not easy to come by.

Forget not that many fans are tired of Stu Sternberg’s constant dragging of the fanbase, and they have just given up supporting the team because of him. And while this is far from an exhaustive list explaining why attendance is down at the Trop, these are three impactful factors off the top of my head.

…Come to think of it, perhaps it’s time to do a deep dig into the situation?

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