Home-field dominance, some luck, unlikely contributors and quality pitching — the Tampa Bay Rays appear to have it all while racing to baseball’s best record.
The Rays go after their seventh consecutive victory Sunday when they continue a four-game series with the Kansas City Royals.
Tampa Bay (54-32) pushed its advantage in the AL East to a season-high four games with a 3-0 victory Saturday. The Rays are 5-0 on their current seven-game homestand and 35-13 overall at home, second in the AL to their closest pursuers in the division—the Boston Red Sox—and third in the majors.
They scrapped together two runs in the third on an infield single by Cliff Floyd and a two-run double by Akinori Iwamura off the glove of Royals center fielder Joey Gathright around a base hit by Dioner Navarro.
“Hitting-wise, when we don’t do what we want to do, we capitalize on a couple of breaks, and that’s what we did tonight,” Floyd told the Rays’ official Web site.
Shortstop Ben Zobrist added a run with a homer in the seventh, his third in as many games since being recalled from Triple-A Durham on Thursday.
James Shields (6-5, 3.70 ERA) will try to follow up the strong pitching of fellow starters Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine, who combined to limit the Royals to two runs in 15 innings in the first two games, in a bid to win three consecutive starts for the first time since May 30-June 9, 2007. He turned in a strong outing Monday against Boston, retiring the first 10 batters and giving up two runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-4 victory.
“When the whole team is winning a lot of games in a row, I’m just hoping to jump on that bandwagon,” Shields told the Rays’ official Web site. “I’m feeling good. Feel like I’m where I need to be right now and hopefully I can keep it going.”
Shields has been dominant at home—compiling a 4-1 record and 2.08 ERA in nine starts, striking out 53 in 65 innings. The right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA in three lifetime starts against the Royals, but has not faced them this season.
Kansas City (39-49) has lost six of its last eight games and must again put aside an internal distraction caused by Jose Guillen. The right fielder got into a heated argument with pitching coach Bob McClure prior to the game, and players had to step between the two after Guillen had knocked over some chairs.
But Royals manager Trey Hillman said the matter was “handled in house” before adding, “it’s a non-issue. It’s not a big deal. It’s not going to characterize anybody.”
In May, Guillen criticized his teammates in a profanity-filled tirade.
Royals rookie Luke Hochevar (5-6, 4.91) will try to bounce back from one of his worst starts. The 21-year-old righty was reached for six runs - all in the first three innings - and six hits in six innings of a 7-5 defeat at Baltimore on Tuesday.
Hochevar has yet to find consistency on the road, going 2-4 with a 5.70 ERA in eight starts and walking 25 in 47 1-3 innings. This will be his first appearance versus the Rays.