The Tampa Bay Rays have set a franchise record with eight straight home wins. Judging by their play, that may not be the only record they set this season.
After 10 straight losing seasons - nine of them in last place - the Rays (20-16) appear to have finally turned a corner. Whether they can remain in the hunt for the playoffs remains to be seen, but there’s little doubt this year’s team is the best the franchise has fielded.
Besides a strong top of the rotation, Tampa Bay also features an effective bullpen anchored by closer Troy Percival.
Scott Kazmir gave up three hits in six innings Saturday in a 2-0 victory over the Angels (22-16). Percival finished the combined three-hitter for his eighth save in nine opportunities.
Kazmir’s performance came one day after Shields pitched a one-hitter in Tampa Bay’s 1-0 victory.
It was the 12th win in 17 games for the Rays, who climbed a club-record four games above .500 for the fourth time in the franchise’s 11 seasons. They were 16-12 on May 1; 11-7 on April 23, 1999 and 10-6 on April 19, 1998.
Tampa Bay starting pitchers haven’t yielded a run in their last 23 innings. The defense behind them has been outstanding, too, committing one error in the past 16 games.
“It’s been fabulous. … We know that we have good arms. We know that we are physically skilled pitching-wise,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
“It’s what we’ve been planning to do since spring training, just feed off each other,” Kazmir added. “We’re going to try to keep the momentum going.”
Tampa Bay has allowed 15 runs during its eight-game home win streak, recording shutouts in three straight contests at Tropicana Field.
To earn their fourth straight overall win, the Rays will have to overcome Santana (6-0, 2.02 ERA), who is bidding to become the third pitcher in Angels history to start a season 7-0 or better, joining teammate Jered Weaver (9-0 in 2006) and Aaron Sele (7-0 in 2004).
Santana may not even have been in the Angels’ rotation if not for injuries to John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar. The right-hander has been among the league’s top pitchers, looking nothing like the player who went 7-14 with a 5.76 ERA last season.
Santana was outstanding in his last start, pitching a four-hitter Monday in a 4-0 win at Kansas City. He did not issue a walk and struck out nine in his first complete game since he earned his first major league victory on May 23, 2005.
“He got a little frustrated last year because he was going out there at times without the tools he needed to do what he’s doing now,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “He needed to work on his delivery and get back into his game. When he’s out there on the mound and he has his mechanics together, it’s a great combination.”
Maintaining the perfect record won’t be easy for Santana, who is 1-3 with an 8.22 ERA in four career starts at Tampa Bay.
The Angels are trying to avoid their first four-game skid since they dropped six in a row from April 12-18, 2007.
Rays starter Sonnanstine (5-1, 4.63) looks to move into a tie for the league lead in wins. Although the right-hander wasn’t sharp, he hung around long enough to win his fourth straight start Tuesday at Toronto, yielding four runs and 10 hits in a 5-4 victory.
Sonnanstine is 10-3 in his last 16 outings after beginning his major league career 1-8.
He gave up three runs and eight hits through seven innings in a 3-0 loss to the Angels last July 19 - his only appearance against them.