ST. PETERSBURG -- Performing better at Tropicana Field is something the Rays know they have to do moving forward, but Tampa Bay ended the current seven-game homestand on a positive note, beating the Angels, 6-5, on Sunday. The club finished the homestand with a 3-4 record.
“It’s always good to get a win before you’re getting on a plane,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “It was really encouraging to see the offense get some runs and then tack on, we needed every bit of it.”
The Rays are now scheduled to hit the road for a 10-game road trip starting on Monday against the Yankees. Tampa Bay also travels to Oakland and Minnesota during one of the team’s longest road trips of the season. The club is a Majors-best 23-10 on the road this season.
Let’s take a look at three positives and three negatives from the club’s seven-game homestand:
1) Poche continues to impress
With Jose Alvarado still on the restricted list after attending to a family issue in his home country of Venezuela, Colin Poche has stepped up as a quality left-handed option out of the bullpen for the Rays. Since being called up on June 8, Poche has done a good job of controlling the strike zone. On Sunday, Poche needed just 15 pitches to get through two scoreless innings.
“From the pitching side, he was probably the highlight of the day,” Cash said. “He came in and he was him. He throws the fastball and he has a lot of life, a lot of carry to it. He can do some good things at the top of the zone with it and with the two innings he provided [Sunday], he was huge.”
2) Pham leads the way
While the Rays offense has been struggling over the last week, Tommy Pham certainly does not fall into that group. After going 1-for-17 after returning from a left calf sprain that forced him to miss five games, Pham has returned to form and has now reached base in 13 of his 23 plate appearances over the last five games.
His go-ahead home run in the fifth inning was his 10th of the season and the second one of the homestand. Since acquiring Pham from the Cardinals on July 31, 2018, the Rays are 68-35 with him in the starting lineup.
“Me getting hurt, man, that killed me,” Pham said. “That really killed me, because before that I was smoking the ball. … I need to find my power stroke.”
3) Lowe making strong All-Star Game case
Brandon Lowe’s solo shot in the first inning on Sunday was his 15th home run of the season, which leads the team. Lowe has been one of the most consistent players in the Rays lineup this season and is hitting .345/.406/.638 with four home runs and 14 RBIs over his last 16 games.
His first-inning home run gave the Rays a much-needed early run after the team fell behind at least 3-0 in the previous three games against the Angels.
“Any time someone hits a home run it’s pretty nice,” Lowe said. “It sparks the offense a little bit. It gets everyone’s energy going. That’s the way I look at it.”
1) Slow starts
The Rays were able to erase a four-run deficit on Friday, but the team struggled to get going early on in games, which was a strength for the team earlier this season. Coming into Sunday’s game, the Rays trailed at the end of 24 of their previous 29 innings, and were tied or trailing at the end of 36 of the last 40 innings. On Sunday, the Rays took an early 3-1 lead and were able to hold off the Angels.
“We gotta get on this road trip and get off to a good start because the way we played on this homestand was not ideal,” Cash said. “But we’ll certainly take this win today.”
2) Secure the Trop
Tampa Bay went 51-23 at home last season en route to a 90-win season. But in 2019, the Rays have struggled at Tropicana Field, going just 20-18. By salvaging a series split against the Angels, the Rays are now 6-4-2 in series play, as opposed to 8-1-2 in the team’s 11 road series.
“We haven’t won at the pace we did at home last year. That’s baseball,” said Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier. “It’s always nice playing at home. We know we have to play better all-around at home or on the road.”
3) Meadows’ struggles
Austin Meadows has been the best hitter on the Rays this season, but the left-hander had a tough homestand, going 2-for-25 at the plate in the last seven games. It’s the first time Meadows has struggled this season, and he saw his batting average dip from .341 to .314.