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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: Rays make hay against AL's bottom-feeders

ST. PETERSBURG - The way it's going, Matt Moore goes out, throws like an All-Star, comes in ... and finds out he's an All-Star. The way it's going, it doesn't matter where anyone is batting, because somewhere, someone is going to get that hit, or a few guys will. The way it's going, the Rays can't lose.
At least not for the last eight games, or 12 of their last 13, or 15 of 18. It's raining Astros, White Sox and Twins, and the Rays are playing the tuba, catching these losers, then beating them like a drum.
Thursday afternoon, to complete a four-game sweep of the Twins at the Trop, now 13-game winner Moore was superb and Luke Scott and Evan Longoria hit back-to-back homers. Rookie Wil Myers had three hits and two RBIs. Jake McGee, spelling Fernando Rodney, got his first career save. And the express rolled on.
Right over all the bunny rabbits.
Make it 10-1 in the last 11 games against the junior varsity, Houston, Chicago and Minnesota, who are a collective 59 games under .500. Does it get any better for the Rays than 13 games over .500 and the only thing standing between them and the All-Star break is the Astros, the worst record in baseball?
It's nothing personal against the Have Nots. It's just how you build 90-win seasons.
You beat who you should beat. Period.
"(Against) the better teams in the league, man, you've got to really stand your ground and hold your own and hopefully come out on top of that," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And, (against) teams that are not doing as well, you really do have to put some hay in the barn at that point, you got to."
Throw in the Rays' 4-0 record against the Marlins, the team with the second-worst record in the majors.
Tampa Bay is 28-16 against teams with losing records. The Red Sox, leaders in the AL East, with the best record in the league, were 30-18 against losers entering play Thursday, including 4-0 against the Astros. By the way, the A's, with the second-best record in the AL, are 9-0 against Houston. Say Hay!
And now, after the Rays held their own against what was, statistically, at least, the roughest schedule in the league, they're cleaning up. They now have baseball's best record (39-22) since May 8.
They're doing it with the starting pitching they expected all along. They're doing it by not kicking away games on defense, which they did a lot in the first half of last season. And they're doing it with an offense that's a lot better than it was last season, when the batting order seemed riddled with outs.
"Tremendous balance," said DH Scott, who is sizzling, with a seven-game hit streak and a .373 average and 12 RBIs in his last 21 games. "You break a lineup into three sections - top three, middle three, bottom three, and you're getting production from all three parts, consistent."
It's not as if everyone is hot at once. Kelly Johnson and Matt Joyce are struggling. Longoria's homer Thursday came after he'd gone 14 games without an extra-base hit. Even All-Star Ben Zobrist has been fighting it, though he won Wednesday night's game with a walk-off hit. But somebody always seems to come through.
Now the pitching has the Rays dialed in. It's only a matter of focus against Houston this weekend and ratcheting it up when they return from the break with a 10-game AL East trip, including four in Fenway. The Rays are a lousy 3-9 against the Red Sox.
"That, to me, says if we've struggled against Boston, we're likely to be better against them in the second half," Zobrist said. "That's the way we kind of feel about that. It's not likely that somebody in our division can just sort of own us all year."
First, they needed to own who they should own.
There's hay in the barn.
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