ST. PETERSBURG, FL – Tampa Bay has a lot to cheer about these days. The Buccaneers has a relatively solid draft, the Lightning are two wins away from advancing to the conference finals in their Stanley Cup quest and across the bay the Rays are showing signs they are more like the team that won the American League East in 2010 instead of the one that stumbled out of the gate last month.
Just three games off the pace in the division, the Rays have turned things around and have done so without their cleanup hitter via retirement and their star third-baseman who was out with an oblique strain. You take away your only two legitimate thumpers and that would normally spell disaster but this is not your average big league club.
As expected, the rotation and defense has been solid. The bullpen has overachieved but that may be more the norm than an aberration. They are still in the “tweaking” stage but it has been remarkably dependable.
For the third straight week a Ray was named as AL Player of the Week with Ben Zobrist the latest in an amazing run. Now they get back a player that could make all the difference in the world if they are to track down New York for the top spot in the East.
Evan Longoria will be at the hot corner tonight when the Rays (15-13) host the Blue Jays in the first game of a three-game set at Tropicana Field (6:40pm, FSN, WDAE) and the lineup just became that much better.
Zobrist has been holding down the fort with the long ball and Matt Joyce seems to have found his home run swing but one Longoria shakes off the rust from a lengthy absence there won’t be many holes in Tampa Bay’s lineup.
There has been a huge void at third since the Gold Glove winner went down as his three replacements, Felipe Lopez (.169), Sean Rodriguez (.222) and Dan Johnson (1-for-1), have combined to hit just .198 (19-96, 3 HR and 11 RBI) in his stead (stats courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times).
Longoria’s return not only stabilizes the lineup but solidifies the infield with Reid Brignac at short, Zobrist at second and Casey Kotchman at first, all getting the bulk of the playing time.
Johnson (Dan), 1B
Johnson (Elliott), SS
Davis, SP (3-2, 2.73)
DIAMOND DUST: Zobrist hit .440 (11-for-25) with two home runs and a .444 on-base percentage in six games last week to win the POW ….. Righty Brandon Gomes, who was acquired in the Jason Bartlett deal with San Diego, has been called up by the Rays to replace Alex Cobb. Cobb was returned to Durham after a spot start ….. Gomes joins former Padres’ Cesar Ramos and Adam Russell in the bullpen ….. Longoria’s activation from the disabled list necessitated another roster move with Felipe Lopez being designated for assignment. The team has 10 days to trade, ask waivers on or release the infielder ….. John Jaso and Joel Peralta will visit All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg Wednesday as part of “Rays Kids Spirits Day” presented by Sagicor Life Insurance….. After completion of their third homestand of the season, the Rays hit the road to play six games in seven days against the Oriones nand Indians before returning May 13 to host Baltimore for three and New York for two.
YOUNG AT HEART: Did you know the Rays have gone 630 straight games since they had a pitcher 30 or older start a game? It’s the longest such streak since the Giants had a run of 651 from 1974-77 and Expos 646 from 1970-74. The closest team to that streak is the Toronto Blue Jays who have gone 131 games since Brian Tallet toed the rubber on June 8, 2010 against the Rays.
AND THE FIRST SHALL BE SECOND: The Rays have scored 21 runs in the first inning this year, the highest output of any inning thus far, which is second in the league behind the Yankees 27.
WHOLE LOTTA GLOVE: In the last 13 games the Rays have committed just four errors and their .989 fielding percentage in 2011 leads the American League. In addition, Tampa Bay has not had a multi-error game over their first 28 contests.
TURN YOUR HEAD AND ….: Major League home run leader Jose Bautista was scratched from tonight’s lineup due to a stiff neck.
MINOR MATTERS: Organization Record 47-51 (.480)
DURHAM BULLS: 14-11, T-1 (+4.5), W3
NEXT GAME: at Indianapolis(PIT) 11:05 am& 7:05 pm
PROBABLE STARTER: RHP Brian Baker 0-1, 6.23 & RHP Jeremy Hall 0-1, 17.18
Yesterday’s contest against Indianapolis was postponed due to rain. The Bulls will play a day-night double header to make up for the rainout.
MONTGOMERYBISCUITS: 11-14, 4th (-4.0), L1
NEXT GAME: at Carolina (CIN) 7:15 pm
PROBABLE STARTER: LHP Frank De Los Santos 0-0, 0.90
Evan Longoria homered in his final rehab start before joining the Rays on Tuesday. It was his third but it wasn’t enough because the Biscuits fell to the Jacksonville Suns 6-5.
LF Steven Vogt hit a two-run homer in the game and finishes the series going 10-20. He is tied for second in the Southern League with 14 extra base hits.
CHARLOTTE STONE CRABS: 9-16, 6th (-9.5), L2
NEXT GAME: at Jupiter (FLA) 6:35 pm
PROBABLE STARTER: LHP Kyle Lobstein 0-0, 7.36
The Stone Crabs blew a ninth inning lead then fell to the Ft. Myers Miracle 4-3 in ten innings.
BOWLING GREE HOT RODS: 13-10, 4th (-2.5), W3
NEXT GAME: vs. Dayton (CIN) 12:05 pm & 7:45 pm
PROBABLE STARTER: RHP Braulio Lara 1-1, 5.17 & TBD
Yesterday’s contest against Dayton was suspended due to rain after the first inning. The Hot Rods will continue their suspended game against the Dragons and then play their regularly scheduled game as part of a day-night doubleheader today.