D-Rays 8, Kansas City 2. It is difficult to get too excited about winning two of three from the worst team in baseball, but the Rays did what they had to do and maybe a trip to Kauffman stadium was exactly what this team needed. There is no way to be sure until the team completes there next couple of series against a very good Detroit Tigers team and a very good Philadelphia Phillies team. Both of those teams are playoff caliber and will be a good measuring stick for this Tampa team that finally has all of its pieces together and playing well.
On Sunday the Rays scored 8 runs for the 4th time in their last 10 games and are a modest 4-3 in their last 7. Tampa hit 6 home runs, tying the team record for a single game, including 2 home runs apiece from Jonny Gomes and Carl Crawford. Gomes now has 17 home runs. Crawford hit his 7th and 8th and now has 7 in the last 3 weeks, including 2, 2-home run games in that stretch. He is more than half way to his career high of 15. Crawford is one of the rare hitters that is intelligent enough to become a good hitter first and then let the power develop later (ie. Kirby Puckett). There is no reason Carl couldn’t hit 30 home runs each year, and he appears to be on the brink of becoming that player. Gomes, who only hit 3 home runs in May, now has 5 already in June. Aubrey Huff and Julio Lugo also hit home runs for the Devil Rays. Huff had three hits and is now within shouting distance of the Mendoza Line. Huff, could be the wild card in this lineup. A notoriously slow starter, he should begin his annual surge very soon. For his career, Huff is a .281 hitter before the All-Star break and a .312 hitter post All-Star game. Also, before the All-Star break he hits a home run every 25.7 at bats, compared to once every 17.7 at bats after. Huff has the incentive of playing for a new contract, as well as auditioning for playoff contenders. A free agent at the end of the season, he is very likely to be traded before the July 31st deadline, but could help jump start the offense in the meantime. Of course the return of Rocco Baldelli is already paying dividends. We must admit, we had forgotten how much fun it is to watch Rocco play the game, and he hasn’t disappointed so far. On Sunday he went 4-5 and is 7-16 since his return to the lineup.
Still, the key to this team’s future success will rest with the pitching staff. One pleasant surprise has been the emergence of James Shields, who won his second straight start on Sunday. He pitched 6 shutout innings for the second straight start, giving up 6 hits and walk, while striking out 5. The really encouraging part of his performances, has been his poise. On Sunday the leadoff hitter for the Royals reached base in 4 of the 6 innings that Shields pitched. In each case he was able to settle down and get out of the inning without allowing a run. It seems simple, but James does what many young pitchers appear to be afraid of doing in the majors…throw strikes. When he is on, he does not walk batters, and because of that, he should have a successful major league career.
Now the Rays (26-37) move on to Detroit, who own the best record in baseball and have a 1 game lead over the White Sox. Kid K, Scott Kazmir, will take the mound for the second straight start with the opportunity to give the Devil Rays a 3-game winning streak. Kazmir has been hittable recently as he is 0-2 in his last 3 starts, and has given up 16 runs in 13.2 innings.