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July 22, 2013

What You Need to Know

Resurgent Rays

by Daniel Rathman


The Weekend Takeaway
At the end of play on June 28, the Rays were two games over .500 at 41-39, and their plus-15 run differential suggested that their middling record was just about what they deserved (42-38). To that point in the season, Joe Maddon’s squad, a pitching-first team in recent years, was in uncharted waters, relying on its offense to dig itself out of holes. And with the pitching staff’s ERA sitting at 4.22, compared to a league-best 3.19 finish in 2012, there was a good deal of digging for the lineup to do.

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.

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