The way Tampa Bay’s Joey Wendle sees it, it’s really quite simple.
“We’re having fun. We’re playing relaxed,” Wendle told a television audience after the Rays won their seventh game in a row — a 5-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Saturday night at The Trop.
With the series already won, the Rays, eight games above .500 for the first time this season, send ace Blake Snell to the mound to face former teammate Nathan Eovaldi in Sunday’s series finale.
“We’re playing just good fun baseball, fundamentally sound,” Wendle said. “Our pitching staff just night after night, it’s just been unbelievable.
“It seems like offensively we contribute one through nine — somebody’s coming up with the big hit every night.”
And now, as Wendle and manager Kevin Cash talking about newfound confidence, they turn to Snell, who is 3-0 in August after coming off the disabled list, 7-1 in his last eight starts and 15-5 with a 2.07 ERA this season. He has also handled the first-place Red Sox to the tune of 2-0 with an 0.95 ERA in three starts.
Last weekend at Fenway Park, the Red Sox missed Snell, who pitched the finale of the series against the Yankees in the Bronx. The Red Sox won the first two games of that weekend series. The Rays won Sunday, ripped off four straight over the lowly Kansas City Royals and topped the Red Sox twice — by a combined count of 15-4.
The club record for consecutive wins is 12 in 2004.
“Our pitching … we’ve been on a nice little run here and it’s been outstanding,” Cash said. ” … Any time you go up against that team, that lineup, and you limit them offensively, you’re doing a lot of things correctly.”
The Red Sox, who saw their lead over the Yankees shrink to seven games (six in the loss column), have not been swept in a series all season. They have lost five of their last seven games. They have lost a series for the first time in their last 15.
“They’ve been throwing the ball well for a while,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of the Rays. “They throw the ball WELL here … we’re competing, but that’s good stuff over there. They have a lot to do with it.
“Tomorrow, hey, we’ve got our hands full. He’s the guy … he’s been great against us. We’ll see how we react to it. We’ll go out there and compete. We’ve been good on getaway days and day games — you guys know all the stats — so it would be a good day to put everything together and finish this series and strong and turn the page on this stadium (for the year).”
Eovaldi, acquired from the Rays in the deal that sent Jalen Beeks, winner of two of the Boston games in long relief, to St. Petersburg, started his Red Sox career with two scoreless outings but has had two bad starts of the last three. Overall, he is 5-5 with a 3.81 ERA this season.
Eovaldi has never faced the Rays, but Carlos Gomez is 4-for-11 (.364) against him. Kevin Kiermaier, the only other Tampa player to face the right-hander, is 1-for-6 (.167), but the hit is a home run.
Tampa Bay’s Tommy Pham returned after suffering a dislocated finger earlier in the week and hit a home run in the win.
Besides Sandy Leon, who is 6-for-10 (.600), the Red Sox have some ugly numbers against Snell in his young career. Mitch Moreland, who returned to the lineup Saturday after missing almost two full games with a knee bruise, is 0-for-12, Eduardo Nunez is 0-for-7, Jackie Bradley Jr. 1-for-11 (.091), Xander Bogaerts 2-for-15 (.133), J.D. Martinez 1-for-7 (.143) and Steve Pearce 2-for-9 (.222) against the left-hander.
Martinez, who has flirted with the triple crown through much of the season, passed teammate Mookie Betts in batting average Saturday night — his two hits leaving him at .337. Betts fell to .335 with an 0-for-4.