Firing on all cylinders, Rays win 7th straight
A week before the Rays took the field in Baltimore on Thursday, hitting coach Chad Mottola sat down for a Zoom interview to discuss the state of Tampa Bay’s inconsistent offense. His message throughout was one of assurance and patience. “I have confidence in this group of guys,” he said, “that in time, we will be fine.”
Since then, the Rays have been more than fine. They’ve been on fire.
“It's been a 180, for sure,” Rays infielder Joey Wendle said.
Randy Arozarena put together a four-hit, four-RBI game, Wendle homered twice and Tampa Bay breezed past Baltimore on Thursday in a 10-1 win at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Rays have won seven consecutive games -- their longest winning streak since taking eight in a row from Aug. 16-26, 2018 -- while outscoring their opponents, 63-23, during that stretch.
Tampa Bay outhit Baltimore, 18-2, on Thursday. While the offense continued to surge, veteran starter Rich Hill’s impressive streak continued. After throwing six one-run innings against the Orioles, Hill has now allowed just one run on eight hits while striking out 21 in 21 2/3 innings over his past four starts.
“They're doing a lot of good things, and things are going our way. I think we're making things happen,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We're getting really well-pitched ballgames. The offense has really, really come to life. So, we've got a lot to be encouraged about.”
Arozarena sparked the lineup from the leadoff spot with a three-run homer in the second inning and three more hits on the day, giving him seven hits, three homers, a double and eight RBIs in his last nine at-bats. But it was hardly just the Arozarena show in the series finale. It was a group effort for the Rays, as it has been over the past week.
The Rays have scored at least nine runs five times during their seven-game winning streak after doing so just twice in their first 38 games of the season. They’ve shown their power by clubbing 17 homers during this stretch, including 14 over the past four games. And they’ve shown their patience, working 15 walks in this three-game sweep of the Orioles.
“We're just having a lot of good at-bats. The walks have been there just as much as the big hits,” Cash said. “ I think I know what our numbers were with guys in scoring position before this stretch. We were fairly confident that ultimately it was going to even out. Now, it's kind of evening out in a big way. It's happening really fast.”
And it's happening everywhere. Eight hitters in the Rays’ starting lineup Thursday had at least one hit, and the only one who didn’t -- Brett Phillips -- drew three walks and scored two runs. Over the past week, 10 different Tampa Bay hitters have gone deep and 11 players have driven in at least two runs.
“I could go through any player on our roster right now and say they've come up big for us or had a big hit or driven in runs within the past week or so,” said Wendle, who opened the scoring with a second-inning solo shot off Dean Kremer and finished 4-for-6 on Thursday. “It's hard to explain, but I think one guy feeds off the next guy, and then before you know it, everybody's seeing the ball well and driving the ball.”
Nobody seems to be driving the ball quite like Arozarena, however. Since making a slight mechanical adjustment during his pregame work last week, one Mottola referenced while calling Arozarena “the least of our concerns,” he’s gotten back to crushing pitches all over the field. Of the last 12 balls Arozarena has put in play, only one hasn’t registered as a hard-hit ball, according to Statcast: a 93.7 mph flyout in the first inning on Thursday. The postseason star then proceeded to record the three highest exit velocities in the game: a 111.6 mph, 422-foot homer and a pair of singles at 110.2 and 112.1 mph.
“He's taken his hits the other way, and when he's getting pitches that he can handle, he's hitting them out of the ballpark,” Cash said. “We all know he's got the ability to do that. He's just really locked in and seems to be seeing everything really, really well.
Or, as Wendle put it: “Randy's starting to do Randy things.”
Wendle added another wrinkle to the offensive attack in the ninth inning. After swinging through a 45 mph “curveball” from utilityman Stevie Wilkerson, Wendle stepped out of the box and smiled. He sent the next pitch into the right-center-field seats, punctuating another entertaining show put on by the Rays' lineup.
“I'm sure, between the home run and the swing and miss, I'll probably hear more about the swing and miss,” Wendle said. “I knew everybody in the dugout was probably laughing, especially our fearless manager, so I figured he was having a good time with that one.”