Rays must show offensive momentum doesn't end with another win over Astros
JUN 22, 2014 8:10p ET
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- He has lived baseball long enough to form perspective, so Evan Longoria struck an appropriate tone after the Tampa Bay Rays' offense, suddenly hot after a deep freeze for weeks, turned up toasty results again.
The three-time All-Star third baseman was a quicker-than-normal arrival to his locker after the Rays' 5-2 victory over the Houston Astros on Sunday at Tropicana Field. The moment hinted at a thaw the past four days here because, face it, neither Longoria nor any of the Rays' stars would have been eager to speak about the latest letdown if their offense had sputtered in another defeat.
Longoria, not long into his postgame session, was asked about the Rays' offense producing another solid day. They had scored 19 runs in taking three of four games against the Astros, who look every bit the worst team in the American League West.
The veteran, showing his seasoned outlook, offered his answer with pause.
''I don't want to speak too soon,'' Longoria said. ''We're doing some good things. ... We've got a lot of work to do. We've put ourselves in a pretty good hole. But I think that the belief on a daily basis is still there, that we can come to the ballpark and win. And it's got to be that way regardless of the situation.''
Oh, the temptation is there to consider the Rays cured after watching them whip the Astros this series. Certainly, Tampa Bay hitters showed life at the plate -- a sight that was an improvement over those nightmare hours spent slogging through a team-record 31-inning scoreless drought that ended June 11.
But Longoria is correct in his statement, one that's a product of the time (the Rays remain the American League's worst team at 31-46) and the task ahead (they must show they can produce against an opponent with a stronger pulse).
This is no time for overconfidence. This is no moment to consider the season saved.
''It's always good when you're scoring runs,'' Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings said. ''We've been feeling better. We've been hitting the ball better lately. Hopefully, we keep it up.''
There's plenty to build from after what happened Sunday. Longoria went 3 for 4 with one RBI. Left fielder Brandon Guyer went 2 for 3 with two runs scored. Much-maligned second baseman Logan Forsythe went 2 for 4. Shortstop Yunel Escobar (1 for 2) and first baseman Sean Rodriguez (0 for 3) each had two RBI.
The Rays have won seven of their past 11 games after losing 14 of the previous 15. Five of those seven victories came against the Astros.
But will the offensive life continue when Tampa Bay faces someone other than Houston?
The question is legitimate, and it's one that will shape the Rays' run before the All-Star break begins July 14. Tampa Bay's pitchers have stabilized: They recorded double-digit strikeouts for the third consecutive game Sunday and produced a fine 1.25 ERA this series.
The Rays look at their worst when wasting strong pitching, like they did when squandering left-hander David Price's two-run, six-hit outing over eight innings in a 3-1 loss to the Astros on Friday. There have been too many similar occasions this year.
Now, pitching has become a strength again. Their hitting must follow.
''When you're hitting the baseball and guys are being offensively productive, it looks better,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ''And when they're not, people are going to say, 'Well, they're not into it. They don't care.' In other words, there's no energy. Regardless if it's Tampa Bay or in Tokyo, it's going to be the same gig.''
The recent criticism was warranted. But Maddon understands that when the hits arrive matter, too.
Placing runners in scoring position has become a reason to cringe when watching his team this season. But the Rays hit a respectable .429 (9 for 21) with runners either at second or third bases this series, perhaps showing there's something to the theory that hitting, when it goes well, can be contagious throughout the dugout.
Whatever the reality, the Rays looked smoother and less scary in the batter's box the past four days. This has been a wicked month for them offensively, one worthy of a paper shredder when history of this season is written.
So it's wise to use perspective when judging the Rays' results since Thursday. They haven't become an offensive juggernaut over the weekend. But perhaps some healing has taken place.
''From the sidelines, when you hear all the different comments, you have to process things and understand, 'What is going on here?' '' Maddon said of the offensive criticism. ''When you whisper and hear too much noise and you start listening to noise, then you can really be deceived and make some bad decisions.''
There has been plenty of negative chatter about the Rays' offense this season, and deservedly so. Anemic hitting is a major reason why their hole in the standings has become so steep so fast.
The Astros proved to be an elixir for the ills.
Now Tampa Bay must show the momentum doesn't stop here.