Rays Want to be “King of the Hill”

You remember playing that childhood game called “King of the Hill”. Of course in Florida we do not have many hills, but sometimes sand dunes, the rolling landscape or even a set of monkey bars can set the tone of the combatant game of skill and wits. As you push, shove and generally bully your friends to keep sole possession of that sacred space, in the back of your mind you always knew someone could or would topple you with a counter move or bum rush you never expected.

It always came, it put you firmly back on your heels or backside, and you always knew someone wanted the “Hill” as bad as you. That is exactly how I picture the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays right now. Both teams want to sit a top that hill all by themselves, and the Rangers, who have won 75% of their early contests is trying to dig in and stay firm for the long haul while the Rays are pushing, shoving and doing the general mayhem needed to irritate and cause mistakes of this Ranger squad.

Just like our own childhood backyard fights for superiority, honor and neighborhood glory, this 3-game knock-down drag-out square-off is as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Both teams know their own strengths as well as their oppositions weaknesses, but it was the Rays who forcefully shoved first last night pushing the Arlington crew back a step en route to the Rays 13th victory.

And the Rays did it the old-fashioned way by using their ace, James Shields who used his change-up and cutter to confuse and found the corners of the plate with sharpness and consistency last night, further helping develop the Rays chances of winning. Combine that with clutch hitting from Evan Longoria, some aggressive base-running that produced mixed results, but served notice the Rays are not standing in the base paths on their heels, and this team served notice it has come to take a few victories before heading back home for another home stand.

When I first saw this road blip on the Rays 2012 schedule I firmly thought this would be a nice checking point to see how this team will endure during the 2012 season. Usually around the 20 game mark teams show their developing interwoven character, and pitching begins to get closer to the hitter’s early season advantages. The Rays have fine-tuned their starter’s rough edges, and with that this Rays team has been rewarded with an impressive winning streak. For this to keep happening, the Rays have to keep doing what got them here, post up at least 6 runs in support for the starters and Bullpen, then find ways to secure outs and get this game quickly in the books.

Still, the Rays want to be the “King of the Hill”. For the Rays to keep pressure on the Rangers and possibly take the hill for themselves, they need to keep pushing the Texas squads mental buttons, shove runs across the plate and take it to this Rangers squad hard and rough especially when they are down. Aggressive actions along with calculated moves could bring the Rays another “W” this afternoon and with that, a clear advantage in this series that the Rays can bank and will clearly pay dividends down the seasonal stretch. I mean baseball and “King of the Hill” are kid’s games…right?

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