ST. PETERSBURG -- For years, the Rays’ foundation has been pitching and defense, their success a product of elite run prevention. That may still be true, but their Saturday afternoon slugfest against the Twins was a good reminder that this is shaping up to be the best run-scoring team in franchise history, too.
The Rays slugged a club record-tying six home runs in an 11-4 win over the Twins at Tropicana Field, a banner day for the Majors’ highest-scoring lineup. It was the first time in team history they’ve hit six home runs in a game at home, and they came from a franchise-record six different players.
In each of the Rays’ four previous six-homer efforts, including their most recent one on July 13, 2019, one player was responsible for multiple home runs. Not this time. Yandy Díaz, Jordan Luplow, Manuel Margot, Randy Arozarena, Nelson Cruz and Brandon Lowe each homered before the fifth inning rolled around, also making Saturday the first time the Rays bashed six home runs in the first four innings of a game.
“We got just a lot of good at-bats, a lot of power, just a lot of damage,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Very good to see.”
Of course, the Rays have seen it a lot this year. They’ve hit 76 home runs in 46 games since the All-Star break. They rank third in the American League with 186 homers this season.
They have the Majors’ most productive lineup, averaging 5.35 runs per game overall this year, and it’s been even better (6.51 runs per game) since the addition of Cruz. Previously, the highest-scoring team in franchise history was the 2009 club that averaged 4.96 runs per game.
So, how good is this year’s lineup?
“The best,” Díaz said through interpreter Manny Navarro.
The Rays’ win improved their AL-best record to 86-50, a franchise record-tying 36 games above .500. Combined with the Yankees’ loss to the Orioles on Saturday, they boosted their lead in the AL East to 7 1/2 games with 26 left to play. Tampa Bay has won 15 of its last 18 games while scoring 120 runs during that stretch.
“I think this team has a lot of confidence,” Cash said. “If they have an off night, they know what they're capable of doing the following day.”
They did their damage early on Saturday. Arozarena tripled off Twins lefty Andrew Albers and scored in the first inning on an RBI single by Wander Franco, who extended the Majors’ longest active on-base streak to 34 games in his return to the lineup. Díaz then drove in Franco with a single to right, giving the Rays a two-run lead.
Then came the home run barrage. Hard as it might be to believe after the fact, the Rays hadn’t gone deep in 24 innings when Mike Zunino stepped to the plate to lead off the second inning Saturday.
After Arozarena singled, Franco doubled and Cruz was intentionally walked following a run-scoring balk by Albers, all with two outs, Díaz launched a three-run homer to left-center field. It was the infielder’s first homer since Aug. 13 but his 10th of the season, which is no small feat considering he went 61 games without one to begin the year. Up came Luplow, who blasted a solo shot to left to give the Rays their fourth pair of back-to-back homers this season.
Margot led off the third with a homer to left, his 10th of the season, and Arozarena followed with a two-out blast to right. Three innings into the game, Arozarena was a double away from joining B.J. Upton (2009) and Evan Longoria (‘17) with the franchise’s third-ever cycle.
“Once I got that triple, you kind of have it in your mind since the triple is the hardest one to get,” Arozarena said through Navarro. “So you immediately start thinking about it.”
He wound up falling short, as he was hit by a pitch in the fifth inning and struck out in the seventh. But that didn’t stop the crowd from chanting “RAN-DY, RAN-DY” during his last two plate appearances, a gesture Arozarena appreciated.
“They buy a ticket to come watch their favorite baseball players play, so I like to kind of return the favor,” said Arozarena, who has bolstered his AL Rookie of the Year candidacy with a 1.016 OPS since the All-Star break. “They support us. I like to go out there and support them.”
The Rays didn’t let up in the fourth inning, even after Albers exited in favor of right-hander Ian Gibaut. Cruz ripped his 27th home run of the season out to center to lead off the inning, and Lowe launched his team-leading 32nd out to left field with two outs in the fourth.
“Usually it's one or two guys,” Arozarena said. “But today it was everybody, which was good.”
That staked starter Chris Archer to a big lead. The right-hander completed five innings for the first time this season while allowing four runs to earn his first win in the Majors since June 6, 2019, when he was with the Pirates, and his first win with the Rays since May 17, 2018.
“A lot of times you hear the saying, ‘Hitting is contagious,’ but it was contagious tonight,” Archer said. “Guys homering left and right, it was so much fun to be a part of."