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July 22, 2013
What You Need to Know
The Weekend Takeaway
In late May, when the story was much the same, R.J. Anderson wrote that the Rays still had plenty of time to “hold true to their identity,” which they seemingly had lost over the first two months. It took another month of sputtering for the pieces to fall into place, but if the past three-plus weeks are any indication, the Rays many expected to sting opponents from day one have finally arrived.
Sunday’s 4-3 win over the Jays, in which Chris Archer held Toronto to one run over seven frames to outduel R.A. Dickey, finished off a weekend sweep at the Rogers Centre and extended the Rays’ winning streak to five games. Tampa Bay has won 13 of its last 14 and 17 of its last 19, improving its overall record to 58-41 and climbing from fourth place to second in the American League East.
Evan Longoria whacked his 20th homer of the year in the victory, and Luke Scott and Kelly Johnson went back to back in the sixth inning to give Fernando Rodney the cushion he needed to finish off his 24th save. Archer, who tossed a five-hit shutout over the Astros in his final start before the break, has allowed only one earned run in his last three outings. He pitched five innings of three-run ball in the Rays’ 4-3 victory over the Tigers on June 29, which kicked off the ongoing 17-2 surge, and has emerged as a trustworthy member of Maddon’s rotation, contributing to the staff’s overall turnaround.
Over the last 19 games, the Rays’ arms have combined to amass a 2.14 ERA and a 160-to-44 K:BB ratio, permitting only 44 runs (42 earned) over 177 innings. That has ticked the team’s ERA for the season down to 3.81, good for 12th in the league; were it still 4.22, Tampa Bay would rank 22nd alongside the Angels and Jays, who also underperformed expectations early, but have—unlike the Rays—been unable to right their ships.
Meanwhile, Maddon’s offense has plated 94 runs, averaging 4.96 a game, more than enough for the Rays to double-up their opponents during their hike up the standings. Scott came into Sunday’s game batting .370/.452/.704 since June 29, and his sixth-inning long ball was his fifth homer during that span, over which he has appeared in 16 contests and started 15. Through June 28, the Rays were 28-29 in games in which they faced a right-handed starter; since then, they are 10-3, and Scott’s hot hitting is a big reason why.
Now 1 ½ games behind the Red Sox in the East and 3 ½ games up on the Rangers for the second wild card spot, the Rays—whose fate was dicey just three weeks ago—suddenly boast better than four-in-five odds of reaching the playoffs. They look like the team most of us thought they were. And with a four-game trip to Fenway Park set to begin this evening, they might soon enjoy a taste of first place for the first time since April 6.
Friday’s Matchup in Review
The big fly came on an elevated, 0-1 curveball that caught too much of the outer third of the plate. Leake’s earlier success against McCutchen had come largely on the strength of his cutter and slider, and his command of both of those offerings, which he routinely placed on or just off of the outside corner. He struck out McCutchen with a knee-high slider in his second plate appearance, but was unable to locate those two crucial pitch types as well as he had in their earlier encounters.
The Reds and Pirates have six head-to-head games remaining, but they will not see each other again until the penultimate weekend of the regular season.
Matchup of the Day
The first baseman’s outstanding first half is well documented: He has left the rest of the league in the dust when it comes to hitting home runs, putting himself on track to top Roger Maris’ 61-homer output, which Davis regards as the single-season record. Along the way, he has turned himself into a more well-rounded offensive threat, walking more, striking out less, and driving the ball to all fields. If the season ended today, he would merit consideration for American League MVP honors.
The right-handed Davis has scuffled through an inauspicious first few months in Kansas City, struggling to erase the question marks about his arsenal that led the Rays to transition him into a bullpen role and then package him with James Shields to obtain Wil Myers and other prospects from the Royals. Among the pertinent doubts: Davis’ ability to handle opposite-handed hitters—which, if the aforementioned .321 TAv is any indication, remains inadequate.
With only a show-me changeup, Davis has no off-speed pitch with which to throw off left-handed hitters’ timing, and, as a result, they are able to sit on his fastball, sinker, and cutter. Enemy lefties are slugging at least .484 against each of those hard offerings this season, leaving the curveball as Davis’ only effective weapon.
He will need it against Chris Davis…
… because pitchers who throw him hard stuff in the strike zone aren’t often living to tell the tale. Wade Davis, back in his second full season as a big-league starter, watched Chris Davis crank a fastball above the letters out of the yard. And that heater came in at 95 mph, a few ticks faster than the right-hander’s 92.47 mph average in 2013.
Based on the limited data on the matchup page linked above, Wade Davis has generally worked upstairs when facing Chris Davis, and he’s tried to paint the outside corner when aiming for the knees. That may be a wise strategy, in this case, because the league’s leading slugger is most dangerous when he can extend his arms and only five of Davis’ 37 big flies have come on pitches that crossed the plate above the belt. Fastballs and cutters up, and curveballs whenever the count is favorable, appears to be Wade Davis’ best bet to beat the odds.
What to Watch for on Monday