In the last two night, the Tampa Bay Rays’ season just got a whole lot more serious. Sure, the St. Louis Cardinals are a sub-par season by their standards, but the Rays still went into Busch Stadium and swept them rather convincingly. The second game was exhilarating, with Alex Cobb rolling on the mound and even drilling an RBI double, but it was the first game of the series that showed everyone in baseball just how good the Rays can be.
Lest you forget, going into Tuesday’s game, Adam Wainwright owned the best ERA in baseball at 1.83. Maybe Wainwright didn’t have his best stuff but the Rays hitters have to be commended with the job they did. And how about James Loney? He came in 12-26 against Wainwright and proceeded to get two more hits off of a pitcher who, for the season, has a 0.953 WHIP. Coming into yesterday’s game, Wainwright had given up 6 runs in the previous 52.2 innings. The Rays got 6 off of him in 4.2. I will temper the gushing a little and say those nights happen to all pitchers, but rarely do they happen to Adam Wainwright and rarely does it happen quite like that.
To coincide with the offense doing its job, Jake Odorizzi continues to develop in leaps and bounds. If you had to quantify Odorizzi place in the Rays’ staff when Moore comes back, assuming David Price is still there, he may slot in at number five, but he clearly is not a number five starter. Currently, Odorizzi ranks 9th in the American league in strikeout with 124 in 106.2 innings. David Price leads the league with 173 in 155.2 innings. If, for fun, you take Odorizzi’s strikeouts per inning and applied it to the 155.2 innings Price has pitched, Odorizzi would be leading the league with 181. Jake Odorizzi’s composure on the mound is growing more and more with each start. When he gets in trouble, you aren’t nervously looking at Joe Maddon and shouting, “Get him the heck out of there.” On May 3rd, Odorizzi’s ERA stood at 6.83 and there were calls from Rays fans to make him a long reliever. Odorizzi has a 2.96 ERA in his 14 starts since.
Then there is Kevin Kiermaier. It is hard not to get excited about this guy and it is evident Joe Maddon has all the faith in the world in him. Day in and day out, Maddon keeps trotting him out and Kiermaier has yet to turn into a pumpkin. Everyone continues to expect Kiermaier to come back to earth and he does, but only to refuel and blast off again. His makeup is such that when he does struggle he work his butt off to fix it. Last night against Wainwright, Kiermaier remained very patient and composed against the Cardinals ace. He drew a walk to begin the fifth that lead to five runs and put the Rays in control. Kevin Kiermaier is for real, and the Rays are a much better team because of that.
These are some of the things that factor into why the Tampa Bay Rays will make a seemingly improbable outcome into what actually occurs. The Rays currently sit 7 games out of the top spot in the AL East and 4.5 behind the Seattle Mariners for the last wild card spot. After tonight’s game, the Rays will have 60 games left. Thirty five of those final 60 games are against division rivals, seven of those against the division-leading Baltimore Orioles. From August 20 until September 17, the Rays only play division rivals. They have 10 against the Boston Red Sox, nine against the New York Yankees, nine against the Toronto Blue Jays, and and the aforementioned seven against the O’s. Each game will mean a two-game swing in the standings so the Rays season may be decided during that stretch. Baltimore has found its way to a great year and does feature a strong offense, but they can’t match the Rays’ starting pitching. The Rays’ have had the Yankees number this year and the injuries and poor play are going to catch up to the Bronx Bombers at some point. Toronto has fallen back to earth, with injuries a major reason why. If Jose Bautista is sidelined again, that could be the finishing blow. Boston, meanwhile, is not far behind the Rays, but lacks the talent in terms of both offense and starting pitching to keep pace. The Rays have the best team in this division and their rough start does not change that.
The Rays’ starting pitching has been showing its true form, led by David Price, who will not be traded. The bullpen has had its ups and downs, but for the most part has been strong. As well, the offense, including Jose Molina, is flying. The best omen of all from Tuesday’s game may have been Evan Longoria‘s ninth inning homer. Longoria returning to form is the last thing this Rays team needs to take the next step. Add it all up, and when the 2014 season ends, these Tampa Bay Rays will take the AL East crown.