By Bob Hurst
Tampa Bay’s start to this season is even better than its start in 2008, when the Rays went to their first World Series. Although it doesn’t guarantee another trip to the Fall Classic, the Rays have served notice that they’ll be in contention.
Going into this week, Tampa Bay was 14-3, with just one series loss, in the first week to the New York Yankees. The Rays went 9-1 on their first road trip, winning seven straight to tie a franchise-record, including a four-game sweep at Boston.
“We really stayed focused, which translated into a lot of wins,” said first baseman Carlos Pena, who was second in the American League with 18 RBIs going into Tuesday’s game. “It’s part of our maturity. Regardless of where we are, regardless of the weather, to focus the way we did, having good at-bats, our pitchers grinding it out…I like what I see.”
Although the Rays had their seven-game win streak snapped against the White Sox in Chicago, they came back to win the final two games of the series by a combined score of 22-2.
That run production is typical of this year’s team, which led the AL with 113 runs (nearly six runs per game). Tampa Bay had scored seven or more runs eight times.
Some of the big bats in the Rays’ order other than Pena include Evan Longoria, who was batting .324 with three home runs and 14 RBIs; B.J. Upton, who had four homers and 15 RBIs, and Carl Crawford, hitting .319.
Others, like Jason Bartlett, are contributing too. Bartlett drove in two runs for the second consecutive game in Sunday’s 6-0 home win against Toronto.
The pitching hasn’t been bad either, with the Rays ranked second in the AL with a 3.21 ERA. Dave Price, who is 3-1 with a 2.20 ERA, pitched his first career complete game and shutout on Sunday, allowing four hits with nine strikeouts and one walk. At one point, Price retired 12 in a row.
Matt Garza started this week with a 3-1 record and 2.17 ERA.
The Rays began the week in first place in the AL East, leading the Yankees by 1 1/2 games. Their pace is better than the 2008 AL pennant-winning club that went 97-65, and is helping to erase the bad taste of an 84-78 record last season.
“Our group is very hungry,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “They’re not satisfied. We did not like last year. We’re very motivated.”
Brewers dominate Pirates: Last week’s 20-0 drubbing by Milwaukee was hard for the Pittsburgh Pirates to swallow. It was the most lopsided defeat in the Pirates 124-year history.
“Lots of times, I felt like I was throwing batting practice to them,” said Pirates pitcher Daniel McCutchen, who gave up six runs and eight hits in 3 2/3 innings.
Milwaukee pounded out 25 hits, and 10 Brewers batters had at least one RBI. The Brewers outscored the Pirates 36-1 in the three-game series in Pittsburgh.
“They came in and kicked our butt,” Pirates manager John Russell said.
Milwaukee tied a team record for margin of victory and set a record for its biggest shutout win.
After losing three in a row at Houston over the weekend, the Pirates picked up where they left off, on the losing end of a 17-3 beating by the Brewers in Milwaukee. Going into Tuesday’s game, the Brewers had outscored the Bucs 53-4 this season.
“At some point it’s got to turn around,” Russell said. “It’s a young team, and they need to decide when they want to do that. It’s not just Milwaukee — everyone’s kicking us right now.”
The Brewers were 37-12 against Pittsburgh since 2007, with 22 straight victories at Miller Park through Monday’s contest.
A taste of their own medicine: The baseball gods have a way of punishing teams who have regaled in battering fellow teams. Milwaukee, riding a four-game winning streak going into a three-game set at home over the weekend, was crushed by the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs outscored the Brewers 25-4, including Sunday’s 12-2 score.
“The Pittsburgh series, we not only hit the ball, but we pitched very well,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said. “This series we did neither.”
Diamond Notes: Tampa Bay’s win on Sunday had only one negative aspect. The Rays became the first team since 1978 to be caught stealing in four consecutive innings. Toronto catcher Jose Molina threw out each runner…In a game last week at Oakland, the Yankees turned their first triple play since 1968. With runners on first and second, third baseman Alex Rodriguez caught a grounder by Kurt Suzuki and stepped on the base to force the runner. Then he threw to second baseman Robinson Cano for another force, and Cano relayed the ball to first baseman Nick Johnson, beating Suzuki for the third out…After losing a series at Washington, the Los Angeles Dodgers are now 7-11 in games in D.C.
Copyright © 2010 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.