The northern lights appeared over the field last night. (Photo Credit: X-Rays Spex)

The best team in baseball pummeled the best team in the AL Central on Tuesday, as the Tampa Bay Rays got back into launch mode and defeated the Twins, 7-0.

At 44-19 on the season, the Rays enter play a season-high 25 games above .500, and 5.5 games ahead of the second-place Orioles in the AL East.

Zach Eflin was fantastic Tuesday night, scattering three hits and a walk over 6.2 scoreless frames. He pounded the zone and struck out nine batters on 101 pitches (66 strikes, 65% strike rate, 9 whiffs, 9% SwStr%). The Twins had no answer for Eflin, who logged nine or more strikeouts for the third time this season. The right-hander improved to 7-0 at Tropicana Field where he boasts a 1.85 ERA. Overall, his ERA and FIP sit at an impressive 2.97 and 3.31 (respectively), with a 0.96 WHIP, and a 7.33 K/BB through 11 starts (66.2 innings).

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay poured on the runs in the fourth and fifth innings — scoring five runs over the span of the two frames (seven overall) — and they did so by playing small ball and long ball.

Luke “Nuke” Raley led off the fourth inning with a triple into the right-field corner before Randy Arozarena plated the first run of the contest on an RBI base hit. After Harold Ramírez walked and Taylor Walls moved Arozarena up to third on a sacrifice fly, Christian Bethancourt lollipopped an RBI base hit into center for the Rays’ second run. Vidal Bruján capped the scoring in the frame on a perfect suicide squeeze bunt, putting Tampa Bay up by three.

Then in the fifth inning, after Wander Franco earned a free pass, Raley launched an 85 mph changeup, left over the outer third of the plate, 450 feet to centerfield — the farthest homer hit in his Rays career — for a five-run lead.

Not to be outdone, two innings later, José Siri worked a 1-1 count before he blasted an 82 mph center-center slider 457 feet to left-center for the second-longest homer at the Trop this season.

Tampa Bay still had one more run in them.

With impeccable strike zone management, Yandy Díaz earned a seven-pitch walk before Franco doubled him to third. Arozarena capped the scoring on an RBI ground out to third.

Jalen Beeks took over for Eflin in the eighth inning and worked around a one-out double and a two-out walk to maintain the seven-run advantage. While Beeks threw 2o pitches, which isn’t necessarily the height of efficiency, he struck out a pair — including Carlos Correa, much to the fanfare of those in attendance — and didn’t allow the situation to spiral out of control.

Finally, Jake Diekman put together a 1-2-3 ninth on 15 pitches (8 strikes) to put the Twins out of their misery.

Don’t look now, but the Rays’ much maligned relief corps has gone 43 consecutive outs (14.1 innings) without allowing an earned run. The Rays’ pitching staff has gotten back to dominant form over the last week, performing to a combined 2.55 ERA and 3.02 FIP — 2.01 ERA and 2.65 FIP for the starters, and a 3.32 ERA and 3.56 FIP for the relievers — having allowed just 15 runs over the last 53 innings, with 57 strikeouts to 25 walks.

The New What Next

Cooper Criswell (1-1, 6.11 ERA, 4.98 FIP) will serve as the bulk guy on Wednesday, pitching opposite Pablo Lopez (3-3, 4.54 ERA, 3.79 FIP).

Cooper Criswell will follow Shawn Armstrong, who is unlikely to work more than once through the order. Criswell has yet to make a start for Tampa Bay this season, although he has covered at least 2.1 innings in each of his five appearances with the big club, pitching to a 6.11 ERA and a 4.98 FIP, with a 1.64 WHIP, and a 3.00 K/BB. Over his last 6.1 big-league innings of work versus the Dodgers (5/26) and the Red Sox (6/3) Criswell has allowed two runs on eight hits with five strikeouts and three walks.

Pablo Lopez allowed six runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out five batters over 5.2 innings against Cleveland on Thursday. Lopez looked great early, giving up just one run over his first five frames, but he fell apart in the sixth. In that inning, Lopez allowed six hits — all singles — and a walk, surrendering five runs while getting only two outs. He’s yielded four or more runs in three of his past four starts. Lopez has a 6.95 ERA and 1.36 WHIP over that stretch, although he’s continuing to post decent strikeout numbers, notching 24 punchouts across 22 innings over the four-game stretch. Lopez relies primarily on a 95 mph fourseam fastball, an 84 mph slider, and an 89 mph change, while also mixing in an 82 mph curveball, and a 95 mph sinker. He is 1-3 with a 3.72 ERA in five career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (2-5, 2B), Francisco Mejía (1-1, BB), Harold Ramírez (2-3, 2B, HR, RBI), Taylor Walls (1-3)

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

Rays 6/7/23 Starting Lineup

  1. J. Lowe LF
  2. Franco SS
  3. Arozarena DH
  4. Raley 1B
  5. Paredes 3B
  6. Walls 2B
  7. Siri CF
  8. Margot RF
  9. Mejía C


— The Rays have placed RHP Calvin Faucher on the 15-Day Injured List (retroactive to June 6) with right elbow inflammation and recalled RHP Luis Patiño from Triple-A Durham.

— I could use a little financial help. Our (my wife and I) cat has had some major medical concerns of late, and he wracked up a hefty $4,700 vet bill. If you’d be so inclined, please consider donating a few dollars via the GoFundMe campaign embedded below.