It became surreal to watch. There was little pleasing about seeing the Tampa Bay Rays shut out in three consecutive games from June 8-10. The streak, for a while, became no different than reading a cliffhanger or sitting in a dark theater with a suspense flick.
How’s it going to end?
We received our answer when outfielder Matt Joyce introduced a little sanity Wednesday at Tropicana Field and smacked an RBI single into center field in the bottom of the fourth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals that scored James Loney from second base. Ben Zobrist, seconds later, scored from first on a throwing error by center fielder Peter Bourjos. The sequence was part of a four-run outburst in a 6-3 victory, just the Rays’ second triumph since May 26.
Six runs? Hitting coach Derek Shelton should have stepped from the dugout for his curtain call.
Look, it’s understood why Shelton has become a convenient target of late. The Rays rank 18th in the majors with a .316 on-base percentage. They rank 23rd with a .242 batting average. They rank 27th with 242 runs.
Sure, the Rays’ offense has issues.
Still, it’s humorous to hear Shelton’s name rise again and again when things go south. At some point, most of the blame must fall on the men holding the lumber in the batter’s box. Most of the Rays’ lineup has underwhelmed this season. Only so much of the development is Shelton’s problem.
These are professionals. These are grown men. No one reaches the majors without a strong grasp of how to swing and produce runs. (The Rays entered Wednesday hitting 10 for 101 with runners in scoring position throughout their previous 15 games. Shelton can’t hold these guys’ hands at the plate.)
"That’s typical from outside looking in that people want to blame somebody when things aren’t going well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And again, I would do something if there was a communication breakdown, a philosophical breakdown, methodology breakdown. Of course. But there isn’t. So just to think that you’re going to bring somebody up that’s going to push different buttons, that always amuses me, quite frankly."
So now it’s off to Houston for a three-game series before returning to Tropicana Field for 10 more. Tampa Bay hasn’t won consecutive games since winning four straight from May 22-25.
Is this the time?
Here’s a closer look at the upcoming Rays-Astros series:
SCHEDULE AND PROBABLE PITCHERS
James Loney (Rays): He hit .333 (7 for 21) with one home run and two RBI in six games from June 6-11. He had two multi-hit games in the span. He has hit .286 with three home runs and 31 RBI this season.
Dexter Fowler (Astros): He hit .429 (12 for 28) with one home run and two RBI in seven games from June 6-12. He had four multi-hit games in the span. He has hit .287 with four home runs and 19 RBI this season.
Matt Joyce (Rays): He hit .111 (2 for 18) with six strikeouts in six games from June 6-11. He went hitless four times in the span. He has hit .262 with three home runs and 24 RBI this season.
Jason Castro (Astros): He hit .167 (3 for 18) with five strikeouts in five games from June 6-11. He went hitless twice in the span. He has hit .224 with six home runs and 29 RBI this season.
10: Times the Rays have been shut out this season, after losing 1-0 to the Cardinals on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. They became the third American League team since 1992 to be shut out at least 10 times through 66 games, joining the 2003 Detroit Tigers (10) and 2012 Oakland Athletics (11).
7 1/3: Innings pitched by right-hander Jake Odorizzi, a career-high, in the Rays’ loss Tuesday. He retired the first 11 batters he faced and allowed just three hits.
31: Consecutive scoreless innings for the Rays before scoring four in the bottom of the fourth of their 6-3 victory over the Cardinals on Wednesday at Tropicana Field. All four runs against right-hander Michael Wacha came with two outs.
"Today, I felt I was really executing my pitches and nothing they could do was going to beat me. One mistake by me, and I got beat. It was the best outing I’ve ever had in the big leagues." — Odorizzi after his start in the Rays’ loss Tuesday, when the lone run came on a home run by Matt Holliday in the sixth inning. A native of Highland, Ill., located near St. Louis, Odorizzi faced his favorite childhood team.
"It’s been so awkward to watch this other side of this whole thing. I’m not going to say we’re cured, but I definitely believe it’s a step in the right direction."— Maddon after the Rays’ victory Wednesday. Tampa Bay won for just the second time in its past 16 games.
"That’s a great feeling to come through and really kick-start the party," — Joyce after the Rays’ victory Wednesday, when he went 1 for 4 with one RBI. His RBI single to center field in the fourth inning broke the Rays’ franchise-worst 31-inning scoreless streak.