ST. PETERSBURG, FL. – True, the Rays have beaten up on a Baltimore pitching staff that left Tropicana Field on Thursday afternoon with an ERA of 5.83.
However, no matter how you slice it, scoring at least eight runs in 10 of their last 13 games is impressive. The Rays fell a run shy of making it 11 of 13 as they settled for a 7-2 win Thursday.
In order to have production to that extent, contributions need to be realized throughout the lineup. That is exactly what is happening as the Rays head into a three-game series with the White Sox beginning Friday night.
“Top to bottom (we are) putting a lot of pressure on opposing pitchers,” said manager Kevin Cash. “From the dugout, you can really appreciate the quality of at-bats. If we don’t get the big hits, sometimes we get the big walk.”
The Rays have certainly been putting big numbers on the board. They are averaging an MLB-best 6.7 runs per game since July 23, the date of Nelson Cruz’s first appearance in the Tampa Bay lineup.
While Cruz’s numbers as a member of the Rays may not impress — .202, though with seven homers and 17 RBIs in 22 games — the team’s run production since his arrival from Minnesota is not a coincidence.
“It is one of those things whereas an opposing team, and we have guys like (Cruz) in our league, you know where they are at (in the lineup) and the positive effect they have on everybody throughout the lineup,” said Cash, in talking about what Cruz’s presence means to those hitting in front of and behind him.
The Rays’ recent streak of eye-opening run production is thanks in no small part to the long ball. They have hit 58 home runs in 31 games since the all-star break and have gone deep 28 times in their last 11.
Brandon Lowe leads the way with 29, including a two-run moonshot in Thursday afternoon’s win over Baltimore.
“It is always fun to put up a lot of runs,” said the second baseman. “Everybody has been hitting and everybody is a part of it. The vibe in the clubhouse is good and we are going to need that for this upcoming series.”
With homers in each of his last five games, catcher Mike Zunino heads into the weekend series against the White Sox with a career-high 26 homers.
Considering Cruz has 26 and Austin Meadows has 21, the Rays could have four players finish this season with at least 30 homers, though most of Cruz’s were with the Twins.
Of course, there is more to the recent tear than blasting home runs. Randy Arozarena, who is hitting a remarkable .479 (23-for-48) against the Orioles this season, carries an 11-game hit streak in the weekend. He has reached base safely in 18 straight.
Wander Franco has displayed much maturity at the plate of late, battling back in counts and making pitchers work. It has helped result in an average that has shot up from .197 at the all-star break to .259 heading to the White Sox series.
“He has been on a really good streak with very professional at-bats, going the other way, going up the middle,” said Cash, of the rookie who has reached base safely in 21 straight. “We are all confident in Wander’s ability. He is coming on real strong as of late.”
An exclamation point to the top-to-bottom production has been the effort of Brett Phillips, who has a team single-season record three grand slams this year. His inside-the-park homer Monday night against Baltimore was a sight to see and the Seminole native has four homers, 11 RBIs, and seven runs scored this month despite only 24 at-bats.
While the Rays will not be able to maintain such a lofty run-scoring pace, it should come as absolutely no surprise if everybody continues to chip in.
“You like to feel good about yourself heading into a series against Chicago,” said Cash. “Look forward to hopefully carrying some momentum into our three-game weekend series.”
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