I love writing about this team that doesn't conform, finds ways to win outside the MLB norm and has some of the BEST promos and fans. Never count this team out until that 27th out of the 162nd game…Always a thrill to watch this team evolve….daily.
Got to Know When to Hold ‘Em
During their 13 year existence, the Tampa Bay Rays have always had trouble with their foes in the American League West. Coming into this recent three game series against the Texas Rangers, the Rays have gone a combined 187-277 against this division. The Rays do have a few bright spots in 2010 so far as they swept the Seattle Mariners this season, plus won in Anaheim for the first time since 2008. It is paramount right now that the Rays rise up and throw down their own gauntlet towards this division that has always been a thorn in their side. And it all began again in an upcoming ten game AL West swing beginning with a trip into Tropicana Field by the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers come into Tropicana Field as the American League West division leader, and a threat to the Rays surge to again hold onto first place in the American League East. The Rangers came in with the simple thought that if they could beat the Rays in their own house, they could effectively put some seeds of doubt in the Rays minds before their West Coast road trip. The Rangers wanted to play their own special brand of Texas Seven Card Stud with the Rays hoping that Texas could out hustle the Rays with a few well placed losses that would eventually bring these two squads back together in the American League Divisional Series in October, with the Rangers holding the momentum card.
With the Rangers beating the Rays in two of their three games under the June heat in Texas, the team came into Tropicana Field wanting to show the Rays that Texas had the might and the winning hand to take this critical late season series. As the first cards were dealt on the night of the first contest, with both Texas and Tampa Bay going with their left-handed “Aces”. The Rangers sent to the mound the cunning Cliff Lee, while the Rays sent cool-handed David Price and it was soon evident that this game would be an instant classic.
It was a match-up of two of the better left-handed pitchers in baseball going at it with each and every pitch. And the game was a classic pitcher’s duel until Lee flinched first in the bottom of the fifth inning to give up two Rays runs. Both teams fought back and forth before Lee showed his final hand and the Rays put 6 earned runs on the Texas southpaw who had lost this third straight game against the Rays this year. In the end, the Rays had converted the better hand with their Ace (Price) giving them the top card to take this first of three games.
And in the second game, The Rays put up a second “Ace”, Matt Garza on the mound to oppose the 9-1 record of Texas starter Tommy Hunter, but the Rangers were easily out hustled in this contest. The game quickly turned into the Rays favor in the bottom of the first inning as the Rays spotted three quick runs on the board off Hunter and never looked back in this game. The Rays “Kings” Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford went a combined 6-9 with 6 RBI and the Rays went 6-15 with runners in scoring position in taking the second game of the series. The final score of 10-1 showed that the Rays had the winning cards on that night with their ace in the hole, Garza going 7 inning with 10 strikeouts and surrendering only 5 hits.
But it was in the third game, which was played as a matinee game where both squads brought this game to another level and fought tooth and nail to the final out. The Rays sent their third “Ace” in a row to the mound in this contest James “Big Game” Shields who finally got some of his control back and gave up only 4 hits in his seven innings of work. Even though Shields did not shut out the Rangers, he did have one of his best performances of the season’s second half tonight to give the Rays the much needed series sweep. But Shields also got some tremendous run support from the Rays as they posted 8 runs in this final game. And that is huge as the Rays were averaging 3.13 runs per game for Shields in 2010.
The Rays ended up playing some amazing offensive cards against the Rangers in this three game series. And within the grasp of this series a few things did end up happening. The Rays are again in a tie for the American League East crown with the New York Yankees, and the Rays have also seen Longoria and Crawford emerge from their recent struggles. By out hustling the Rangers with their own cards, the Rays showed that they might be dealing the best cards of the season right now. Combined with the Longoria and Crawford offensive explosion, B J Upton is also riding high on a 9-game hitting streak to help the surging Rays.
The Rays next two series against Oakland (4 games) and Anaheim (3 games) could be just as critical as these first three games against the Rangers. The Rays have played twenty games against the A L West division during the 2010 season, going a unprecedented 14-6, but have gone a combined 3-3 in journey’s to Anaheim and Oakland, which also included a May 6th Perfect Game by A’s starter Dallas Braden. For once in the past few season, the Rays have a bit of an edge on this division, but again the team will have to play their cards close to their vest. They will begin on Thursday night by sending Rays “Jack of all trades” Andy Sonnanstine, who has performed great in relief starts to the mound.
For the Rays to finish off this 10 game A L West stretch in a positive light, the cards have to play right for the Rays. So far with a 3-0 start to this stretch, things are looking extremely positive to begin this road trip. But a losing record on this road trip might damage the Rays cred to both stay atop the A L East race, and have one of the top records in baseball. This road trip could also illustrates or expose a few kinks in the Rays armor heading into other crucial battle with their A L East rivals. Every game can hold a vital part to the Rays quest to again go into the Playoffs, or secure another A L East crown. Hopefully the Rays “Kings” and “Aces” are ready to again throw down the superior cards…or the Rays could fold.
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