Even after the heartbreaking trade of ace David Price at the trade deadline, the Tampa Bay Rays are still working their winning formula of stellar pitching, solid defense and just enough offense. Coming off a 6-4 road trip which included three tough extra inning losses, the team finds itself at 60-61 and far removed from the worst in MLB squad seemingly left for dead at 18 games under .500 on June 10. Manager Joe Madden always kept the faith that his squad would turn around and they have responded in resounding fashion. While making the post season will still take a miracle given the teams in front of the Rays are still playing well, the Tampa Bay club continues to produce.
Even without Price, the core of the team lies in its starting rotation. Jake Odorizzi, after a rough start to the season, has found his groove. He pitched well again versus the injury plagued Texas Rangers last night. Chris Archer has become a strikeout machine, registering 12 against the Rangers on Wednesday. After learning from David Price last season, Archer is determined to become a standout starter. Joe Madden and pitching coach Jim Hickey rave about Archer’s potential and note that he is figuring out how to avoid meltdowns during adversity. Alex Cobb remains as steady as ever since he adjusted his pitching motion. Likewise, Jeremy Hellickson also appears to have found his form again after coming off the disabled list. Finally, Drew Smyly is showing skeptical fans why the Rays took the plunge to obtain him as part of the Price trade.
The winning formula working for the Tampa Bay Rays and their pitching staff also includes the two-headed closing committee of lefty Jake McGee and right-hander Bruce Boxberger. After Joe Madden decided the Grant Balfour closer era was finished soon after its launch, the closer duo of McGee and Boxberger has responded to his call. At this point, McGee is used more often in the ninth as closer, but Madden knows he has the flexibility to use Boxberger if McGee is needed earlier to restore order or if he needs more rest.
The Rays’ offense is still a concern, but generally manages to eke out enough production to keep the team competitive. Evan Longoria is not having the type of season that Madden expects from him, but even his .253 batting average is not as mediocre as it looks because he still hits .306 with runners in scoring position. Longoria appears to be pressing. Many of his at bats begin with a first pitch swing for the fence; therefore, he begins many at bats behind in the count. Nevertheless, the team overall displays good discipline at the plate. The Rays have drawn 419 thus far in the season, which ranks second in MLB behind only the Oakland Athletics at 446. To make up for Longoria’s difficulties and the loss of Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist has been riding a hot streak and James Loney continues to provide steady and well-timed production.
Credit Joe Madden for keeping things fresh. The Rays kicked off their early August road trip dressed in tuxes for a James Bond theme and to give the guys a bit of a break Madden has created American Legion weekend. Knowing that the players are tired after a 10 game road trip with four extra innings games, Madden is also paying homage to his own American Legion background by letting the players opt out of batting practice and other pre-game preparations. They will be permitted to show up just prior to game time to stretch and then take the field. Madden hopes this break from routine will be the right recipe to keep the Tampa Bay Rays and their winning formula working for a strong stretch run.
Commentary by William Costolo