After making the postseason last year, the big question for the Rays coming into the 2020 season was whether or not they could put together enough offense to complement a dominant pitching staff.
Through 35 games, Tampa Bay has gotten exactly what it had hoped, and that was on display yet again in a 12-7 win over the Marlins on Sunday at Marlins Park. With the win, the Rays completed their fifth sweep of the season.
In the first two games of the series, Tampa Bay’s pitching staff stole the show by tossing back-to-back shutouts for the first time this season. On Sunday, however, it was the offense’s turn to prove that the Rays are a complete team this season.
“Where we are right now is a whole team effort,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’ve seen the offense, at times, pick up the pitching. We’ve seen the pitching pick up the offense, and that’s the way it goes in a long season -- and even in a shorter season. You’re going to lean on different strengths of your club at different times.”
The day began with the Rays dealing first baseman/outfielder José Martínez -- one of the big offseason acquisitions -- to the Cubs, but the early trade didn’t affect the Rays’ offense.
Tampa Bay recorded 13 hits on Sunday, nine of them for extra bases, and all 11 position players that appeared in the game reached base at least once. The Rays recorded 19 hard-hit balls on Sunday, the most in a single game this season. Perhaps more impressive is the Rays were able to do the damage without Brandon Lowe and Austin Meadows -- two All-Stars last season -- in the starting lineup.
Joey Wendle got the game started with a leadoff homer and Yoshi Tsutsugo followed with a two-run homer in the first inning. Willy Adames delivered the big knock, hitting his second career grand slam to give the Rays a 9-1 lead during a seven-run fifth. Brian O'Grady, Ji-Man Choi and Kevin Kiermaier also had big days for the Rays.
“A lot of good at-bats,” Cash said. “The guys just continued to put at-bat after at-bat together. When you score seven runs in an inning, everybody has to have a role in it.”
After 35 games, the Rays lead the American League with 72 doubles and rank second in the AL with 125 extra-base hits
“We have to continue to do that to help the pitchers,” Adames said. “We have a lot of guys in the injured list and we have to have their backs. We have to put up a lot of runs for them so they feel more comfortable. To continue to win, we’re going to have to continue to be aggressive.”
The Rays’ offense has done most of its damage on the road this season. Over their last 13 road games, the Rays have hit 24 home runs and are batting .296 over that span. Tampa Bay is 12-1 in its last 13 away from Tropicana Field.
With a 24-11 record, the Rays tied the 2010 team for the best 35-game start in franchise history. The win also helped the Rays improve to 18-3 in their last 21 games, which matches the ‘13 club for the best 21-game stretch.
“When you’re winning, everything is fun,” Adames said. “We talked about this at the beginning of the season, how it was going to be a little different, but I think we’re feeling really comfortable right now with the way that we’re playing and how we’re enjoying the season. If we continue to have fun, we’re going to be in a really good position at the end of the year.”
The Rays now travel to New York to face the second-place Yankees for the final time this season.
“This team is talented,” said Rays starter Blake Snell, who picked up his third win of the season. “We’re so excited to play, and it’s refreshing. Through all this, with no fans and everything, we still show up and the guys work hard. It’s a fun team to be a part of. Everybody wants to win, everybody knows we’re going to win. That’s the whole goal.”