Despite Eric Patterson’s best crane kicks in the last two games, the Rays have taken the first two games of this important mid-season series and in doing so have jumped firmly back into second place. The Rays absolutely had to take at least two games in this series because this Red Sox team is tough to discern from the Pawtucket Red Sox right now. The Rays lucked out when John Lackey and Jon Lester pitched over the weekend and Boston is doing without Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Lowell, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jeremy Hermida, Clay Buchholz, and Manny Delcarmen. To make matters worse, Kevin Youkilis had to leave the game early tonight after hurting his ankle while clearing chalk in the batter’s box. That changed the complexion of the game because David Ortiz never saw another pitch in the game as he was walked intentionally the rest of the night thus neutralizing the Red Sox best threat.
I will be the first to admit that the Rays have had some extreme fortune with health this season as only J.P. Howell and Jason Bartlett have missed significant time with injury and both have been rather easily replaced by Joaquin Benoit and Reid Brignac. That said, I have little room in my heart to feel pity for the Red Sox because both teams are competing for a playoff spot so it helps the Rays in that regard. Secondly, the Red Sox have a payroll twice the size of the Rays and the one weakness of a top-heavy payroll is a very shallow bench. The Yankees have had a similar problem at times this season, but not to the depth of the Red Sox. They’re currently without both catchers, their second baseman, their backup corner guy, their centerfielder, their fourth outfielder, and two pitchers of their regular staff. If the Rays were to go through these same issues right now, they would call up Dioner Navarro rather than Kevin Cash, play Reid Brignac rather than Bill Hall, call up Desmond Jennings rather than Darnell McDonald or Eric Patterson, and could bring up Jeremy Hellickson rather than Felix Doubront. Simply put, it is not the Rays’ fault that they have organized the depth in the 25 man roster and AAA better than Boston. In fact, it says something when Ryan Shealy opts out of his Durham Bulls contract to sign with the Pawtucket Red Sox.
Tonight, the Rays got the job done with a little bit of everything. The oddest moment of the game was when Gabe Kapler was walked by Felix Doubront – the same Felix Doubront he managed back in 2007 in Greenville. Aside from that, Jeff Niemann was effective once again permitting just seven baserunners in six innings while striking out five and pitching out of a couple of jams. B.J. Upton was put back in the lineup and hit leadoff but did not reach base as he flew out deep, deeper, and deepest late in the game against the fence where J.D. Drew hauled it in. Carl Crawford only had one hit on the night but it was a bomb off of Okajima who he entered the game just 1 for 12 against lifetime. Everyone else got on base but Evan Longoria’s night was rather forgettable. He made a throwing error from shortstop that contributed to Boston’s first run and then was later picked off of third base with the bases loaded and just one out. As usual, the bullpen did their job for three innings but Rafael Soriano showed signs of fatigue in the 9th by allowing an earned run and walking two Boston hitters. It was his fourth straight game and his fifth in six nights so Soriano is likely out of pocket for the game tomorrow night as the Rays try to return the favor to Boston and sweep them. A sweep would give the Rays a 8-5 record against the Red Sox which would include two sweeps of Boston, one in Tropicana Field and one in Fenway.
It has been no secret that the Rays have been rather mediocre at home this year as they were just 20-19 to start this home series but are now 22-19 and have five more home games heading into the break against a depleted Boston lineup and the final four against a pesky Cleveland club that is playing for 2011 having lost key cogs Grady Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Shin-Soo Choo while trading away the large power threat in Russell Branyan. Given how poorly the Rays played going into the break the past two seasons, this start in July is just what the doctor ordered and they need to continue to show no mercy as they prepare for the three day break in the schedule.