Tampa Bay Rays
Rays rotation showing strength in numbers
ARLINGTON, Texas - Sometimes it takes a short outing like the one Alex Cobb had in Anaheim on the last road trip or a first inning like the one Jeremy Hellickson experienced Saturday to realize just how good the Rays pitching staff has been this season. Cobb allowed eight runs in less than three innings, while Hellickson allowed three runs and needed 41 pitches to get the first three outs of the game. "Sometimes," outfielder Sam Fuld said, "I think we take them for granted." That's easy to do when the rotation is putting up numbers not often seen by a rotation, when the story of the day is whether the Rays scored enough runs to win because David Price just threw another eight scoreless innings or James Shields allowed a run over seven innings or Matt Moore won again.But the five starters have been on quite the run. Consider: Since July 19, they have allowed 76 runs in 35 games, or an average of 2.17 runs per game. You have to go back to 1968 to find a team that allowed fewer runs over a 35-game span. They have held the opposition to one or zero runs in 15 of their last 31 games. They have allowed five or more runs just three times in the last 28 games. They have reached double-digits in strikeouts 45 times this season, which is the most by any American League team since 1918, which is the first year that statistic is available. Toss in the bullpen and the Rays pitching staff leads the league in strikeouts (1,055), ERA (3.26) and opposing batting average (.232). The last American League team to claim that triple crown in the past 25 years is the 1999 Red Sox. And the Rays are doing this with one rookie, Moore, and another starting pitcher who has yet to spend a full year in the big leagues, Alex Cobb. "What they're doing is sick," reliever J.P. Howell said. What they're doing is, what? Beyond the expectations placed on this team at the start of the season? "We'll this is a little bit of above and beyond right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought they'd be really good, but what they're doing more recently is almost record-setting historically. I would have to say it's a little more, but I have a lot of faith in all these guys." And Maddon points out that one starter, Jeff Niemann, who has been on the disabled list since May 15 with a broken right fibula, and another, Wade Davis, who has spent the season in the bullpen. "It's impressive to watch," said infielder Ryan Roberts, who joined the team in late July. "And as a hitter there's a sense of relief. We don't have to do a whole lot to win a game. We don't have to score a touchdown. We can win with a field goal." Price is having a Cy Young Award-winning year. He's tied for the major league-lead in wins with 16 and owns the major league's lowest ERA at 2.28. He faces the Rangers tonight as the teams begin a three-game series at the Ballpark in Arlington having won seven straight decisions on the road. While Price and Shields are seen as the 1-2 punch on the staff, Price said it's more like a 1-2-3-4-5 punch. "I know no team is excited about playing the Rays," he said. "It doesn't matter who they're getting. We know our five starters can go out there and go nine and strike some guys out and have some quality starts."