ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – After going 5-2 on their homestand, including a 6-3 win Sunday afternoon to take three of four from a Mariners team battling Houston for the American League West title, the Rays hit the road to play two more of the league’s top teams this week.
Kevin Cash’s squad opens a three-game series at AL-Central leading Minnesota on Monday night. From the Twin Cities, the Rays travel to Baltimore for a four-game series against the Orioles beginning Thursday evening. The O’s, who lost at Boston on Sunday, lead the Rays by three games (four in the loss column) in the American League East.
In winning the final three games of the series against Seattle, the Rays put themselves in very good position heading into their next-to-last road trip of the season. Not that Cash is getting ahead himself. After all, before his team can begin to think about a critical series at Camden Yards, they must take care of business at Target Field against Rocco Baldelli’s Twins, who had won six of eight before losing to the Mets on Sunday.
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“It’s a team we have not seen in quite some time,” said Cash, whose Rays swept a three-game series from the Twins at Tropicana Field in June and outscored them 13-3. “Obviously, they have done a lot of good things and have been in first place for the bulk of the year. We just want to go out and play well and not worry about (Baltimore) until we get there. I know we have plenty of challenges ahead and we have to feel good winning this series.”
After losing the series opener to Seattle, 1-0, on Thursday night, the Rays came from behind to win Friday (7-4) and Saturday (7-5) with the latter on Yandy Diaz’s two-run, walk-off homer in the ninth. There was no such drama Sunday as Zach Eflin picked up his 50th career win and AL-tying 14th this season. The Rays had a 5-0 lead after three innings before the Mariners made it 5-3 after five. That was as close they came.
“We knew coming in this was a very good team, maybe the hottest team in the American League,” said Cash. “We knew we had to play well and I felt like we played really good baseball. We did some good things late in games. Happy with everything.”
Cash is especially happy with the work of a bullpen that has a miniscule 1.10 ERA in its last 49 innings spanning 14 games. Pete Fairbanks struck out the side in the ninth Sunday for his second save of the series and 22nd in 24 opportunities this season.
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The recent success of Shawn Armstrong (no earned runs last 11 appearances) and Robert Stephenson (one hit last 9 2/3 innings) has particularly stood out.
“The bullpen has been pretty special of late,” said Cash. “Big pitch after big pitch. Army and Bob have really picked up a huge workload for us.”
Tyler Glasnow (8-5, 2.98) will be on the mound Monday night (7:40) for the Rays. He will be opposed by Sonny Gray (7-6, 2.98 ERA).
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