Tampa Bay Rays on fire again

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:28 PM ET

The Tampa Bay Rays weren't given much respect in baseball's winter book and when the season started 0-6 there was a collective "I told you ..."

Evan Longoria is on the disabled list. Johnny Damon is hampered after taking a pitch off his finger and Manny Ramirez, who was to provide the power, instead retired. But somehow manager Joe Maddon seems to find the right levers to pull and just look at the Rays. Actually, maybe better not. It's scary.

Maddon has a team with a seemingly pop-gun offence but somehow before they lined up against the White Sox on Thursday night the Rays' record was back to 9-9 and there they were popping up near the top of the AL East again.

"I was hoping to be back to .500 before the end of April," Maddon told reporters. "I was not worried that it was going to be an awful April. We just weren't hitting ... we were still pitching pretty well. We were playing defence, we were running the bases. A lot of things were going well, we just weren't hitting. You've got to believe at some point that they're going to start falling."

As the Rays open a three-game series Friday in Toronto, just enough hits have been falling to back up what has been an outstanding run of solid pitching and defence.

In a seven-game span between April 12 and Wednesday, the Rays compiled a 1.83 ERA -- the best in the major leagues over that span, lowering their ERA from 4.66 to 3.46. The staff leads the majors in allowing the fewest number of walks at 46.

In other words, they are a mirror image of what has befallen the Blue Jays starters lately.

During an eight-game stretch, the starting pitching was 5-1 with a ERA touching on 2.00, and each starter has lasted at least seven innings in every game.

Meanwhile, the bullpen did not allow a run over those seven games, then wasn't even needed Wednesday when James Shields fired a complete-game four-hitter. And, unless the White Sox could do some damage Thursday night, they will come to Toronto with the only undefeated bullpen in baseball with four saves in four opportunities.


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