Rays have pitching, need better offence

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:46 AM ET

Pitching and defence are the cornerstones to winning championships, so in that regard the Tampa Bay Rays are looking pretty good.

Winning teams also have to hit the ball and score some runs, and lately, that is an aspect of the game that has eluded the Rays and has resulted in them spinning into a four-game losing streak heading into play Wednesday.

When it comes to pitching, however, few teams can match the Rays -- either their starting rotation of their bullpen.

Since the all-star break, the Rays have posted the lowest ERA in the major leagues -- 2.39 -- as they have allowed just 83 runs over their past 37 games. In that time their bullpen ERA is also the best in baseball -- 1.26 -- while they have held the opposition to a .208 batting average, also a league best.

The Rays can pitch, of that there is little doubt, and a rotation that may be the deepest in the big leagues just got better as right-hander Jeff Niemann makes his return Saturday against the Jays.

Niemann hasn't pitched since a line drive off the bat of Adam Lind fractured his right fibula on May 15.

"I want to come in and just continue the trend," Niemann told reporters this week of rejoining a hot rotation. "And I feel like we can do that and just make the team better. And that's what I'm trying to do -- make the team better and contribute."

Contributions on the offensive front, however, are what the Rays are in desperate need of.

On Tuesday, the Rays lost 1-0 to Texas, marking the fourth time this month that they have lost by a 1-0 score.

Winning the close games used to be their calling card but now that card has flipped the other way. Seven of the Rays' last eight losses have been by a single run.

About the only player in their lineup who is hitting the ball with any regularity is infielder Ben Zobrist, who is hitting .329 in August.

"We've been involved in a lot of (one-run losses), and we've come out on the wrong end," manager Joe Maddon lamented Tuesday following his team's loss. "A lot of it has just been inability to get that hit in extra-inning games, the later innings of games. I like the way we're playing, but as we go forward, to get to the promised land, we have to get over that hump.

"We did so well with that earlier in the year. Sometimes it's just baseball luck, too. There's some of that involved, and we've got to keep knocking on the door until it comes back to us."

When you have the pitching, though, it's easier to turn things around, to once again have the close games go your way.

"Pitching-wise, we've been there," Maddon said. "We've been there at the end of games. Since the all-star break, it's been incredible how well we've pitched, no matter where we've been. The games we've lost, you look at the games in Seattle -- 3-2 and 1-0. We've pitched well enough to win a lot of games. And we've been hitting better overall, we just haven't hit to the level we're capable of."

The Jays can relate to that.


RAYS AT BLUE JAYS

THURSDAY 7:07 p.m. LHP Matt Moore vs. RHP Carlos Villanueva

FRIDAY 7:07 p.m. RHP J. Hellickson vs. RHP Brandon Morrow

SATURDAY 1:07 p.m. RHP Jeff Niemann vs. RHP Henderson Alvarez

SUNDAY 1:07 p.m. LHP David Price vs. LHP Ricky Romero


RUTSEY'S TAKE

Given that neither team can hit at the present time and the Rays sport the best pitching in the American League, we can have four consecutive 1-0 games. Seriously, though, the Rays' pitching is simply too formidable for the Jays current lineup to handle. The Rays may be in a hitting slump, but they won't need many runs to better the lowly Jays.

PREDICTION

The Jays can't beat the Rays when their lineup is healthy. This series the Rays get back on track and win three of four.


RAYS WHO'S HOT

  • Rays closer Fernando Rodney has a career-high 39 saves and leads all major league relievers with a 0.70 ERA.
  • Right-handed reliever J.P. Howell has established a club-record scoreless innings streak of 26 2/3 innings, which is the longest active streak in the major leagues. He has not allowed a run since June 13 in a game against the Mets.
  • Ben Zobrist has started 15 of the Rays' last 19 games as their shortstop and in those games he has batted .351 (19-for-54) with six doubles, three home runs, nine RBIs and 11 runs scored.

RAYS WHO'S COLD

  • OF Desmond Jennings is batting just .188 (9-for-48) over his last 12 games.
  • OF Matt Joyce injured his left forearm on Tuesday loss and is day-to-day. At the plate he is in a pronounced 4-for-39 (.103) slump.
  • 1B Carlos Pena is in a 0-for-17 skid and since the all-star break he is hitting just .159 (21-for-132)

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