The schedule gets a bit more forgiving beginning tonight for the Tampa Bay Rays as they open a seven-game homestand against the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A's, two teams that fell a game under .500 with losses Sunday.
After finishing a three-game series at Texas, the Rays return home with a winning record, meaning their preseason goal to get off to a strong start was accomplished.
"I think really good," right fielder Ben Zobrist said about the start to the season. "The first part of our schedule was pretty tough, so I think with where we're at right now we got to feel pretty good about that. Yeah, you'd like to think it will get a little bit easier and you know there are ups and downs to the season, but as far as the teams we have played so far, we feel pretty good about our team. Regardless of wins and losses, we feel good about how we played."
The Rays opened the season with a three-game sweep against the visiting New York Yankees then embarked on a 10-game, three-city road trip through Detroit, Boston and Toronto. They lost five of the first six but returned home with wins in three of the last four then rolled to a 5-1 mark on the subsequent homestand against the Twins and Angels.
"I think we've had a great April, not a good April, a great April based on the schedule and not only the teams that we've played, but also the schedule itself," manager Joe Maddon said, referring to the seven straight day games to start the long road trip.
The Rays also managed to stay at or near the top of the American League East standings without center fielder B.J. Upton, who missed the first 13 games while rehabbing a back injury suffered in spring training, and without closer Kyle Farnsworth, who has yet to pitch this season because of a right elbow strain. They also lost one half of their catching tandem when Jose Lobaton was placed on the DL on April 15 with a sore right shoulder.
"We've always done well in stormy weather," Maddon said.
The Rays began play Sunday with Zobrist batting under .200 (.183) and zero wins from rookie pitcher Matt Moore.
But right fielder Matt Joyce was batting .323 and third baseman Evan Longoria was hitting .329 prior to Sunday's game.
Opening Day starter James Shields is 4-0, tying Andy Sonnanstine (2008) and Matt Garza (2010) for the best April in team history.
Fernando Rodney has filled the void left by Farnsworth injury by being perfect in his first six save opportunities.
The emergence of right-hander Wade Davis as a reliever helped settle the bullpen, which allowed one earned run in their previous 18 innings heading into Sunday's game.
Since April 16, the day Shields and Rodney combined for a 1-0 shutout against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, the pitching staff has recorded a 2.55 ERA.
"We're getting better," Maddon said. "We have not played at the top of our abilities yet but we keep getting better."