Hello fellow Trop Talkers, I’m back from where ever it was that I went. Regardless this week had a lot of symbolism in terms of the direction of the franchise and how things have changed. I was talking to a buddy of mine recently on how had the Rays been at .500 in mid-July and only five or six games out of first place last season, we would have been the happiest kids around. Instead we were taken on that thrilling ride which was the 2008 season and now have set a high standard for this team.
While the season has had it’s ups and downs, there had been a lot of moments in which I had no idea how this team could win again. But then again, there were moments in which I thought how could this team ever lose again. As much as this team has underperformed, they have still managed to remain a mere five games out of first place and are showing signs of life.
While injuries have played a significant role in hindering this team’s ability to be successful, the storm has been weathered as Pat Burrell is back, Jason Bartlett is back, and Fernando Perez isn’t too far away. The run support is there (on most nights) as the Rays have scored an MLB-best 367 runs and the bullpen is on a fine streak tossing 22 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. They also picked up the potential of an effective high-leverage reliever in Winston Abreu.
All we need now really is for the starting pitching to be as good as previously advertised. James Shields is coming around and pounding the strike zone, along with Jeff Niemann and Andy Sonnanstine. David Price still has to work on closing out hitters and being more efficient while Matt Garza remains steady and holding opponents to a .214 average.
All this comes as the Rays have an off day to regroup and prepare to go on a fairly difficult road trip. While the confines of Coors Fields seems like an attractive offer with the way the bats have been going, the Rays get the task of facing the league’s hottest team in the Rockies, who have reeled off 11 straight wins. After that they travel to New York to face an extremely bipolar Mets team.
If this weekend against the Nationals showed anything, it’s that maybe the Rays are starting to get the bounces to go their way (and yes that was a reference to Willy Aybar’s game winning hit). While it was against baseball’s worst team, the Rays also picked up two wins in one-run ballgames, an area Joe Maddon has expressed they need to greatly improve in. They are also getting contributions in unlikely places: Gabe Kapler’s home runs, Randy Choates’ saves, and the miraculous season that is Ben Zobrist.
So at 34-31, in a tie for third place, and with key players back in the lineup, if there ever was an opportune moment for the Rays to start making their move, now is the time.