ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – One of the marks of a good team is how it fares against sub-.500 opposition. As such, a worn-out expression rings true: beat the teams you should beat.
The Rays wrapped up an eight-game homestand Thursday afternoon by sweeping the Angels. On the front end, they took three of four from the Royals. Mission accomplished against two struggling clubs.
Kevin Cash’s team opens a three-game series Friday night in Boston having won six straight and 11 of 13.
“We needed to play well here,” the manager said after Thursday’s game. “No doubt about it. We know that it is going to go down to the wire. There are a lot of good teams right in the thick of things. If we can kind of focus of each game, the series at hand, we will be better for it. But really impressed with how the guys went about their business over the last eight days.”
Manny Margot, who returned to the lineup during the homestand after missing two months due to a knee injury, banged out four hits Thursday and is 7-for-21 (.333) with four RBI since his return.
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“He is showing how much we missed him,” said Cash, whose team is 69-55, second in the American League East 7.5 games behind the Yankees, and atop with the wild-card race with a four-game lead over Baltimore, which is the first team out of the wild card. “(Manny), Harold and, hopefully Wander soon, are big parts of our club. We know we are a better team with them in the lineup.”
While Wander Franco continues to feel good taking batting practice and fielding grounders, the timing of his return is uncertain. Conversely, there is nothing uncertain about Harold Ramirez, who is hitting .333 (13-for-39) with a homer and nine RBI in nine games since his return from a fractured right thumb that cost him a month.
In visiting Boston, the Rays take on a team that is last in the AL East and five games under .500. Following a day off Monday, they play a pair against the 54-70 Marlins in Miami before the schedule gets much tougher.
For now, the Rays have been taking care of business and doing it with tremendous pitching. Drew Rasmussen, in particular, has been a roll. The righthander allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings Thursday to get the win to improve to 3-1 with a 1.59 ERA in August.
Meanwhile, the lineup has clearly benefitted from the return of Ramirez and Margot.
“Our starting pitching the last eight days, and even back into New York, that could have been our best stretch of the season, our most consistent stretch,” said Cash, referring to a series against the Yankees prior to the homestand. “I think (pitching) sets the tone, that is always going to set the tone. The offense being able to open up and separate some games here of late certainly helps freshen up the bullpen.”