Tampa Bay Rays
Offense rolling as Rays win third straight
ST. PETERSBURG - It's not like Rays manager Joe Maddon to stay with a lineup for more than one game, but at this point of the season, when you're climbing the hill his club is trying to climb, you stick with what's working. Right now, the Rays offense is working. The Rays rolled past the Blue Jays 12-1 on Friday in front of 14,187 fans at Tropicana Field for their third straight victory. Add Oakland's loss in New York and the Rays moved to within 4 1/2 games of the A's for the second wild-card spot with 11 to play. "Good," Evan Longoria said. "We can't really look up too much. I think when we were in this spot last year, we didn't really realize where we were until the last couple days of the season. If we continue to do what we did (Friday night), we should be able to put ourselves in a good spot. The bottom line is we have to continue to win."Right now, the Rays look as if they can't lose. They took the momentum generated by Thursday's six-run, ninth-inning rally against Boston and jumped on the Blue Jays, scoring once in the first on a home run by Ben Zobrist, four times in the second, twice more in the third, once in the fourth and four more in the sixth. Add Thursday's game, and the Rays offense scored 18 runs over seven innings. Add Wednesday's 13-3 win against the Red Sox and the offense has produced 32 runs during the winning streak after scoring only 26 in the previous eight games, of which they won just one. "A lot of guys are getting hot at the right time," Maddon said. "Up and down the lineup, I feel with those guys hitting toward the bottom we can score runs 1 through 9 right now. It's kind of a nice feeling." Beginning with Matt Joyce at the 5 hole, the second half of the lineup includes Jeff Keppinger, Luke Scott, Carlos Peña and Jose Molina. Scott had a pair of two-run doubles in Friday's win. Peña helped break the game open in the second inning with a two-run, opposite-field double. Molina hit a two-run homer in the second and a double in the fifth. "It's nice to see," winning pitcher James Shields said of the offense. "This is the time of year when we need to see it." Shields struck out J.P. Arencibia to start the third inning to give the Rays the American League record for strikeouts in a season at 1,267. The mark of 1,266 was set in 2001 by the Yankees. In the sixth inning, Shields got Arencibia swinging for his 200th strikeout of the season, making him the first pitcher in franchise history to strike out 200 batters in consecutive seasons. Shields improved to 15-9 with his sixth straight win at the Trop. Beginning with the loss at Baltimore to start the last road trip and carrying through the first two games of this homestand, the Rays' offense was pressing. As a result, Tampa Bay won once in eight games and appeared to be completely out of the playoff race. But this winning streak, which arrived when Maddon sent this lineup out Wednesday against the Red Sox, has given the Rays some hope. "That's a good one for us," Longoria said of Friday's win. "At least we were able to take the momentum from (Thursday) and bring it into the game. It was pretty promising. I saw a lot of spark and life that we haven't seen in the dugout as of late, so you just hope it's not too little, too late." Maddon, naturally, believes it isn't. "I totally, absolutely believe we can do this," he said. "I firmly believe that. And it is a bunch of one-game winning streaks on our part. We're very capable. We have the pitching to do it. I do believe guys are fresh. We've been able to keep guys fresh." Maddon has been able to rest some starters in the later innings of Wednesday's and Friday's blowout wins, and the Rays have been indoors this past week. "All this stuff, we're OK. We're OK right now," he said. "Keep them healthy, keep them engaged, keep pitching like we have and keep applying pressure to those slightly above us."