This 6-0 start to the road-trip is better than any Rays fan could have expected given what has happened in the past on the road, particularly in Fenway Park. With the win yesterday, the Rays have assured just their third series win inFenway Park in the history of the franchise and that includes wins in three of the last five series in Fenway. Yes, the Rays have caught a series of breaks on this roadtrip as both nuisances Brian Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury have not made an appearance, but good clubs take advantage of teams when they are down and that is what the Rays have done on this trip. The Rays went to Baltimore and the pitching staff added to the misery the Orioles had hitting with runners in scoring position and they’ve brought that skill with them to Boston this weekend as Boston is 0 for 19 in this series so far with runners in scoring position. How bad did things get yesterday for the fans? They gave Dustin Pedroia a faux standing ovation for his sac fly in the 9th inning that brought in Boston’s only run. The Rays caught another break on Saturday as The Papeldouche missed the game to be with his wife for the birth of their second child. If there was ever proof that America needs to require its citizens to apply for a license to reproduce, he is it. The Rays essentially beat the Red Sox three times in less than 24 hours – I could not have asked for a better outcome this weekend. Other observations:
- Carl Crawford is 30 for his last 30 stolen base attempts against Boston – and that includes at least one steal on a pitch-out. You know it is bad when Carlos Pena is stealing bags in this series as well. If you combine the arm strength of Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek, you get a decent throwing catcher but it has not mattered who the Red Sox have put back there because Joe Maddon has not turned off the green light on the basepaths. After awhile, it has to get demoralizing for the Boston pitching staff and Jon Lester clearly looked bothered by it in yesterday’s contest.
- B.J. Upton is back. That home run he hit yesterday off Lester to dead center may have been the hardest hit ball I have seen him hit since his rampage through the ALDS and ALCS in 2008. He went down and got that pitch and hit it 400+ feet. It is good to have the old Bossman back at the plate and if he can start driving the ball like that with consistency, it will be a difference maker in this division.
- Kelly Shoppach may need knee surgery this week which will likely shelve him for the first half of this season. John Jaso has looked OK so far; he’s an upgrade as an overall package of guys like Shawn Riggans or Michel Hernandez that the club has had to use in the past in these situations.
- Desmond Jennings is back off the disabled list in AAA and back in the lineup for the Durham Bulls. This was a surprise as common wisdom was that Jennings would not be back until May. Given that Matt Joyce’s elbow is still not allowing him to play the field, it would appear that it is an open competition between those two as to who gets the next call-up if Sean Rodriguez continues to hit like Felix Martinez at the plate.
- Matt Garza has now gone eight innings in all three starts in 2010. He was at his nastiest yesterday and did not allow a hit until Adrian Beltre singled high off the monster only to be doubled off at second base by Carl Crawford. On that note, how sad is it that Crawford plays the monster better than anyone has in Fenway in a very long time? You see a lot of misadventures out there watching Red Sox games but Crawford makes it look so easy.
- Props to Pat Burrell for finally showing up for the 2010 season. His two big hits this weekend were both key parts of the Saturday victory. You may have thought it was strange to see Burrell on the bench yesterday against a lefty but I would be surprised if we see Burrell in there much against lefties until he gets hot. Burrell has had 125 at bats against lefties while in a Rays uniform and he owns a .192/.322/.240 slash line in that time frame. Willy Aybar is not much better with a .244/.318/.407 line against lefties in his Rays career but that’s the best option the club has these days and that’s not a problem any promotion is going to help any time soon.
- Niemann draws the tough assignment of going up against Rays killer John Lackey today. Lackey did very well as an Angel vs the Rays going 9-2 with a 3.07 career ERA. Given Lackey’s slow delivery to the plate and the rag arms behind the plate in this series, the Rays could set the tone early by getting to Lackey early. Historically, the 1st inning is one of his worst. Niemann has a very limited history against the Red Sox that includes a very early exit in Fenway last May when he was in the midst of his early season struggles.
- Consider that last season, the Rays’ 9th win did not come until April 30th yet here the club sits on April 19th with their 9th win already in their back pocket. A win today would clinch the first ever full-series sweep in Boston and tie the franchise record for consecutive wins on the road. The club heads to Chicago next to take on the struggling White Sox who will be throwing two lefties that have given the Rays fits in John Danks and Mark Buehrle to start the series. In fact, the Rays offense gets to face four lefties this week as they head home to get Brian Tallet and the red-hot Ricky Romero. Hopefully yesterday’s success against Lester can be built upon and the club does not revert to the helpless look they had against Brian Matusz and C.C. Sabathia.