Opposite dugout: Winning season for Rays lost in top-heavy AL East

rays-logo.jpgManager: Kevin Cash (4th season)

Record: 75-64

Last 10 games: 7-3

Who to watch: 2B Joey Wendle (.297/.346/.425), 3B Matt Duffy (.296/.354/.371), RF Mallex Smith (.302/.373/.424, SB), DH/1B C.J. Cron (26 HR, 61RBIs), LHP Blake Snell (2.02 ERA), RHP Sergio Romo (19 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 8-8

Pitching probables:

Sept. 7: RHP Dylan Bundy (7-13) vs. LHP Blake Snell (17-5), 7:10 p.m., MASN2
Sept. 8: RHP David Hess (3-9) vs. TBD, 6:10 p.m., MASN2
Sept. 9: RHP Alex Cobb (5-15) vs. TBD, 1:10 p.m., MASN2

Inside the Rays:

The Rays seemed to throw in the towel on the 2018 season early, trading away outfielder Denard Span and closer Alex Colomé more than two months ahead of the non-waiver deadline. By the time Aug. 1 rolled around, the Rays had unloaded starting pitchers Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Archer, along with catcher Wilson Ramos, who has had a career year. The Rays have somehow held their pitching staff together by employing an unorthodox approach to the starting rotation. But as they come home for their final three games against the Orioles this season, they find themselves 11 games above .500. They’re still 21 games behind the juggernaut Red Sox in the American League East, of course, but given the circumstances, one could rightly refer to the Rays as overachievers.

Designated hitter/first baseman C.J. Cron leads the team in homers and RBIs, but is batting under .200 with runners in scoring position. It seems to be feast or famine with Cron, who in every game he’s played since Aug. 21 has either gone hitless or had multiple hits. Ji-Man Choi, obtained in June in a trade with the Brewers for first baseman Brad Miller, gives skipper Kevin Cash a lefty-swinging option in the DH spot. Speedy right fielder Mallex Smith came off the 10-day disabled list Monday after being hospitalized with a mysterious infection that caused his neck and throat to swell, making talking, swallowing and even breathing difficult. Before the illness struck him, Smith had been on a tear, going 16-for-36 over eight games. Like Smith, center fielder Kevin Kiermaier brings a wealth of speed and defensive range. He’s notched seven triples this year, but generally his offensive production has not recovered following his stay on the 60-day disabled list with a torn ligament in his thumb. In his first year with the Rays - and his first full year in the big leagues - second baseman Joey Wendle is batting just a shade under .300. He’d been on a 17-for-40 run before going hitless his last two games. Third baseman Matt Duffy likewise has been hovering around the .300 mark, and he hits .320 with runners in scoring position.

Cash has gotten attention - and in years to come, perhaps, a few converts - with his “opener” gambit, in which a Rays reliever will pitch the first couple of innings of a game. A genuine starting pitcher, though, will be on the mound when this series begins tonight. Lefty Blake Snell has posted a breakout season and numbers that at least put him in the conversation about the American League Cy Young Award. His advocates won’t be bringing up his only appearance against the Orioles this year, though. Snell got through just 3 1/3 innings at Camden Yards on May 13, giving up five runs on six hits that included three homers. Beginning on Aug. 10, however, he’s reeled off five straight wins. Tampa Bay’s starters for the final two games of the series are currently listed as TBD.

The closer since Colomé’s departure, Sergio Romo last blew a save on Aug. 8, when the Orioles were in St. Petersburg and scored two runs on three hits. Romo got no outs and took a loss. He’s since logged six saves, a hold and a win while pitching to a 0.00 ERA.

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