This week, the Royals begin a seven-game roadtrip first up is a trip to St. Pete to face the surging Rays at the Trop. In the last series between the two teams June 25-27, the Royals swept Tampa Bay getting to 35-39, led by Luke Hochevar‘s complete game shutout performance to begin the series and Billy Butler had the hit of the series in the bottom of the eighth that helped KC complete the sweep.
Kings of Kauffman – Tampa Bay is 8-2 over its last 10 including a 4-game sweep of the Angels in Anaheim, is this all having Evan Longoria in the line-up or more to it?
Robbie Knopf– The Rays are not 8-2 in their last 10 purely because of Evan Longoria‘s play. Heck, he’s not even hitting that well yet, posting a .265/.316/.471 line with 2 homers, 8 RBI, and 12 strikeouts versus 3 walks over that stretch. But his presence has been huge. Adding him to the lineup makes it look a lot scarier. It allows the Rays to slot players in lineup spots where they’re comfortable instead of shuffling players all over the place. And then there’s the fact that the Rays know that they have their leader back, they have the player who has taken this team on his back before. Now they can just relax, contribute what they can and know that now they don’t have to overcompensate. Oh, and by the way, the Rays have allowed just 2.77 runs per game during this stretch. The pitching has been great all year, and now that the lineup is finally up to par, the Rays have the potential to win a lot of games.
KOK – Do Rays fans feel they can catch the Yankees given this current run and capture the AL East?
RK – This is a team that overcame a 9-game deficit in September of last season to make the playoffs. 5 games out with 42 games to go is a deficit that the Rays are confident they can overcome. Everyone knows that the Yankees are a great team. The Orioles are right behind the Rays and refuse to fade away. But no one in the AL can parallel the Rays’ pitching and the Rays know that if they can continue this offensive surge or anything near it, they have the ability to beat anyone in baseball. This is a team that some experts picked for the World Series, and one of those experts happens to be Joe Maddon. The Rays may have the highest upside of any team in baseball given their incredible starting pitching, bullpen, revived defense, and the flashes of excellence from the lineup. Rays fans believe that the sky is the limit for this team. They just hope that the Rays’ lineup can continue playing well to give them a chance.
KOK – Why does Tampa Bay seem to be better on the road (eight games over away from the Trop) than in St. Pete (five games over at home)?
RK – That Rays are undeniably better on the road. The Rays got off to an incredible 13-1 start at home, and that skews their home record. Since May 5th, they’re just 19-26. Part of that is definitely Longoria being out, part of it is that Tropicana Field is just a tough place to play. Between the empty seats and just how annoying the stadium is in general, no one wants to play at Tropicana Field. But then you have to consider that Tropicana Field is a significant pitcher’s ballpark, which doesn’t help the Rays very much because their pitching is great anyway. The Rays’ hitters get to see much better hitter’s parks on the road which has led to better performance overall. The Rays have been able to establish a home field advantage before, especially when the stadium has been filled, and hopefully that will happen the rest of the season. But so far this season, they’ve definitely been more comfortable on the road
KOK – Is David Price one of the AL Cy Young/MVP favorites given how he’s pitched this season and helped keep the Rays afloat given the injuries?
RK – Price absolutely has to be one of the favorites for the AL Cy Young. By conventional measures, he’s leading the league in wins with 16 and in ERA at 2.39, and he’s 6th in strikeouts and innings pitched. In 24 starts, he has thrown 20 quality starts and allowed more than 3 earned runs just twice. If you want to get into a little sabermetrics he’s 3rd in FIP at 3.16, striking out 8.8 per 9 innings, walking just 2.8, and allowing 0.7 homers per 9 without being overly lucky. His 3.16 xFIP, yes, the same as his FIP, leads the AL. He has just gone out every 5th day and dominated. Price finished second in the Cy Young voting in 2010 and he has been significantly better this year. There are plenty of worthy candidates, but Price has to be right among the top two or three names on the list.
Probable Starters this week (All Times Central) –
Head over to Rays Colored Glasses for the other half of the series Q&A