Thanks to some solid performances on the mound, the Tampa Bay Rays are sitting on top of the AL East after the season’s opening week.
Those same pitchers were the main reason they struggled so much against the Kansas City Royals last season.
As they open their first road series, the Rays are hoping Matt Moore can turn that around with the team’s fourth win in 14 meetings with the Royals on Monday night.
Tampa Bay (4-3) received another strong pitching effort Sunday, but couldn’t finish off a three-game sweep of Texas in a 3-0 home loss. Alex Cobb allowed three hits, walked one and struck out six in seven shutout innings before reliever Joel Peralta allowed a two-run homer in the eighth.
The Rays have limited opponents to three runs or fewer in five of seven contests and rank in the majors’ top 10 with a 2.57 ERA.
However, they surrendered seven or more runs five times while dropping six of the seven meetings with the Royals last season. Tampa Bay ended up with a 7.95 ERA in the series, its highest mark versus any opponent.
Billy Butler crushed Tampa Bay pitching, going 13 for 28 with a home run and nine RBIs. Mike Moustakas (7 for 18), Alex Gordon (10 for 29), Salvador Perez (10 for 30) and Alcides Escobar (9 for 29) also hit above .300 in the series.
Though Moustakas and Escobar have started a combined 1 for 32 this season, Perez has seven hits – four doubles – in 16 at-bats despite going 0 for 3 in a 5-1 home loss to Chicago on Sunday.
The Royals (2-3) have hit .214 with runners in scoring position while totaling 16 runs with no homers, but they’re looking to pick up where they left off against the Rays last season.
Kansas City knocked around Moore in one of those meetings, scoring five times over 5 1-3 innings in a 7-2 road win June 14. Now the left-hander seeks his first win of 2014 after giving up two runs over 5 2-3 innings in a 3-0 loss to visiting Toronto on Wednesday.
”I thought he pitched well,” manager Joe Maddon said. ”That’s definitely good enough to win a ball game.”
The Royals counter with Jason Vargas, who was sharp in his Kansas City debut after signing a $32 million, four-year contract in the offseason. He allowed one run and five hits over seven innings in a 2-1, 10-inning loss at Detroit on Wednesday.
”He was great,” manager Ned Yost said. ”I’ll take that kind of pitching performance every game right now.”
The left-hander had been 3-1 with a 1.32 ERA over a four-start stretch against the Rays before surrendering five runs and 10 hits in four innings of a 7-1 home loss Sept. 3 while with the Los Angeles Angels.
Yunel Escobar (4 for 19), Evan Longoria (4 for 17), Desmond Jennings (3 for 14), Matt Joyce (2 for 10) and former Royal David DeJesus (0 for 9) have scuffled in this matchup.
The Rays, who have totaled two runs in their three losses, are hitting .208 with runners in scoring position after going 0 for 11 in those situations Sunday.
Wil Myers, off to a 5 for 23 start, will play his first series in Kansas City since coming to the Rays on Dec. 9, 2012, in the trade that sent James Shields to the Royals.
The 2013 AL Rookie of the Year returned for one game after he was called up last season, going 0-for-4 Aug. 26.