Featuring a lineup filled with unknown, unproven commodities, the Oakland Athletics got off to a surprisingly competitive start, but lately the losses are piling up as they’re struggling to score runs.
Kazmir, who hasn’t given up a run in his last two starts, will look to help the Rays beat Oakland for a fifth straight time in the middle game of the teams’ series at McAfee Coliseum.
Tampa Bay (26-19) has emerged as an even bigger surprise than the Athletics during the season’s first two months, but while Oakland (24-22) has lost six of seven and scored only 16 runs, the Rays haven’t shown any signs of fading from contention.
The big reason for Tampa Bay’s success has been its pitching. A year ago, as the Rays were on their way to the franchise’s ninth last-place finish in 10 years in the AL East, they had a 5.53 ERA—the worst in the major leagues.
But in 2008, the Rays’ pitching has been vastly improved. Their 3.73 ERA is eighth in the major leagues, and Kazmir (2-1, 1.69 ERA), after starting the season on the disabled list, has helped lower that in his last two starts.
Kazmir lasted only four innings while allowing three earned runs in his first start after recovering from a left elbow strain, but he’s looked great in his last two. He pitched six scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory over the Angels on May 10, then repeated that feat five days later in a 5-2 win over the Yankees.
“He hasn’t hit his rhythm yet and that’s the exciting part,” manager Joe Maddon said of the reigning AL strikeout leader.
Kazmir has already been around for four losing seasons in Tampa Bay, during which the team finished a combined 119 games below .500. With arms like his and James Shields, and a young lineup led by Carl Crawford (.278, 28 RBIs) and B.J. Upton (.286, 27 RBIs), Kazmir feels like the Rays can only improve.
“It’s going to be fun, the next couple of weeks, the next couple of months, how we’re going to get better,” Kazmir told the team’s official Web site.
Kazmir has been excellent in his career against Oakland, going 4-1 with a 2.42 ERA in his last seven starts. He struck out 13 in eight innings of a 14-3 win over Oakland on Aug. 25.
The A’s scored six runs on Monday—a total they’d reached only once in their previous nine games—but lost 7-6 in 13 innings thanks to Rays rookie Evan Longoria’s two-run homer.
“I couldn’t help but think about the way the last two ended,” Longoria said, referring to the two one-run games Tampa Bay dropped in St. Louis over the weekend. “It’s always nice to get an extra-inning win.”
Oakland will send a rookie of its own to the mound on Tuesday to counter Kazmir. Greg Smith (2-3, 3.26) was acquired in the offseason deal that sent Dan Haren to Arizona, and looked highly impressive in his first six starts, going 2-1 with a 2.54 ERA.
He’s struggled in his last two outings, however, losing both games while posting a 5.91 ERA.
Though the A’s have had their problems offensively, outfielder Emil Brown has been producing through the first quarter of the season. He’s only hitting .260, but Brown hit a homer for his team-leading 34th RBI on Monday.
Brown has hit well in his career against Kazmir, going 4-for-10 with two extra-base hits against the left-hander.