There was a time when the Rays had the best record of American League teams in interleague play and the Rays would use these games to help pad the schedule but so far, that appears to be a thing of the past as the club is now just 4-5 after nine games. Ironically, it was the first interleague series against the Astros that the Rays started showing chinks in the armor. The Rays rolled into Houston with a 30-11 record but the offense went quiet as Brett Myers shut them down. The next day, they were once again being shut down by Wandy Rodriguez until Rodriguez had a fourth inning that was eerily similar to the sixth inning that Shields had last night as Dioner Navarro hit a bloop double that feel just out of the reach of Hunter Pence much like Troy Glaus did on a bloop that Ben Zobrist could not reach last night. The next day, David Price had a 40 pitch first inning as he lost control of his curve but a tired Bud Norris and the Astros bullpen gave up the lead late.
The Rays left Houston and their offensive struggles continued through May and into early June but over the past few weeks, the club had turned it around offensively and had the second best team wOBA in baseball. Then came the Marlins and the Braves series and the Rays team wOBA went from second best to seventh best as the team soon discovered the NL East is just as competitive as the AL East despite the financial differences. After the nine run effort in the opening loss to the Marlins, the Rays came out slugging that next Saturday against Ricky Nolasco and tacked on five runs before Nate Robertson came in and shut the offense down for 5.2 innings (and he is tonight’s starter in Miami). The following day, Chris Volstad held the Rays to just one run as the Marlins took the first leg of the Citrus Series. Tuesday night, the Rays took to Kenshin Kawakami early and Chris Resop late in a 10-4 victory but were held very much in check by Tommy Hanson and Tim Hudson the past two nights. While the Rays went 1-2 in both series, the results in each series was quite different.
In the Marlins series, none of the Rays’ starting pitchers had a good game. Shields was absolutely bombed in the first game while Garza and Niemann were both rather erratic and inefficient in their starts over that weekend. While the Rays scored 16 runs in that series, the pitching staff gave up 25 which sounds a lot like the Devil Rays of old. In Atlanta, David Price, Wade Davis, and James Shields all had effective outings, particularly Davis and Shields. Davis has now looked good in two consecutive starts while Shields threw his best game in three weeks last night despite taking the loss. Frankly, the home run he gave up to Jason Heyward was the only hard hit ball of the entire night as the Braves rallied for two runs in the sixth inning on a bloop single by Hudson, a ground ball that just escaped the reach of a ranging Brignac and a questionable two out intentional walk that loaded the bases for Glaus. Shields did his part and got Glaus to hit a fly ball, but Zobrist had to respect Glaus’ power and was playing so far back, he had to dive at the ball as it fell and it landed safely on the ground just inches away from Zobrist’s glove.
The way Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, and their bullpen mates pitched the last few days, I am not certain the 1927 Yankees could have done much against them. Hanson is one of the best young arms in baseball and it showed on Wednesday and Hudson may not strikeout many batters these days, but he has yet to give up more than three earned runs in any start this season. As good as the Rays bullpen has been this season, the collection of arms in Atlanta has been right up there and I really hope to not see Johnny Venters, Billy Wagner, Peter Moylan, or Craig Kimbrel again this season. All losses bother me but losing a series to the Braves is a lot easier to take because they are a damn good team. The Rays and Braves both scored 13 runs in this series, but the Braves did a better job of spreading those runs out and the Braves now own sole possession of the best record in the National League after going 11-6 in a stretch of their schedule that included three first place teams as well as the Phillies.
The Rays now head down to Miami to take on the Marlins and have the imposing shadow of Josh Johnson staring at them on Fathers Day. It would be great if the Rays could actually win this series after dropping two series in a row for the first time all season and have now dropped three of their last four series. The 30-11 record the Rays had at the start of interleague play is now 41-25 as the club has gone 11-14 since May 21st which has allowed the Yankees to break even with the Rays and has let the Red Sox get right back into the mix as they are now just two games back. The Rays have definitely had the toughest schedule of those three teams in the month of June, but the club has been outscored 38-29 over the past six games and has been held to two runs or less in four of their last seven contests. Before that, the club had been held to two runs or less in three of thirteen games. The last time Matt Garza pitched in Miami, he had a one hit shutout; something close to that tonight would be more than welcomed.