Salvaging a Split in Baltimore

The Rays played one subpar game, then a horrible one before finally saving themselves in the finale of their weekend series at Camden Yards.

They narrowly lost the first game 5–4 when Akinori Iwamura, who couldn’t hit with two outs in the ninth inning with a firing squad in front of him, struck out to end the game.  Evan Longoria’s two home runs and Dioner Navarro’s line drive shot off George Sherrill were not enough to save Andy Sonnanstine, who uncharacteristically ran into walk problems early in the game.  The second game started and ended with Jeff Niemann, who made a case for David Price by surrendering five runs in the first inning, including a grand slam to Melvin Mora, whom I honestly thought wouldn’t be in the league by now.  They lost 6–0, the end coming when with two runners on base, Jason Bartlett — guess what? — struck out to end the game.

Before I get to the last game, I would like to address a few things that Joe Maddon and everyone else knows have been going wrong with the Rays.  They have been striking out too much, especially with runners on base.  They have left the bases loaded on multiple occasions with nothing to show for it.  They have left a small town on base during their first six games, which has Maddon telling his team to stop striking out and hitting meaningless flyouts.  They could really use some better situational hitting.

The Rays got their hitting in general rolling Sunday with an impressive 11–3 win.  After they left two men on base in the first inning, Carl Crawford lifted a three–run triple down the right field line to open up the scoring.  The Rays later got home runs out of Ben Zobrist on a line drive over the high right field wall, Jason Bartlett on a smash into the center field seats (you read that correctly), Evan Longoria on a line drive into the left field stands and Carlos Pena on a high fly ball just over that right field scoreboard.  James Shields was masterful, giving up only three hits and no runs in seven innings before leaving due to the huge lead.  After a scoreless inning from Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour loaded the bases with nobody out and allowed two runs before mercifully being pulled.  Although a third run later scored on a double play, J.P. Howell got out of the inning and the game with a comfortable win.

Longoria has been killing the baseball in the first week of the season.  He is hitting .481 (13–27) with five home runs and only three strikeouts.  He also took an opportunity to steal a base yesterday, which I consider a nice bonus.  Now he just needs some lineup protection to keep up the pace.  Despite my previous knocks on him, Iwamura has been producing well so far.  His three hits in the last game make him 8–22 on the season, and he already has four walks and three stolen bases.  Crawford finally stole a base yesterday and is hitting .308.  Pena hasn’t been that great, but he has hit two convincing home runs.  Jason Bartlett hit .391 on the opening roadtrip.  So there have been a few big bats that just need to keep it going.

Speaking of which, another big bat is scheduled to return tonight.  B.J. Upton, the team’s center fielder and tablesetter, is coming back into the lineup for the Rays’ home opener.  The team optioned Matt Joyce to Durham to make room for Upton, who will bat leadoff and (hopefully) hit home runs and run circles around everyone.  He can be an additional spark plug who can give this team more critical wins and push them into another playoff race.  We’ll see how he is when he takes the field.  I can see it only going uphill from here.

The Rays play their first home game tonight at Tropicana Field, kicking off Championship Week against the New York Chokees Yankees.  The pennant is raised tonight and championship rings are to be given out tomorrow night.  Scott Kazmir beating Chien–Ming Wang would be a great start.  Until next time, go Rays.

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