After Saturday’s power-laden 11-4 win over Minnesota, the Tampa Bay Rays will carry hot bats into Sunday’s series finale against the Twins in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Rays (86-50) earned the series win by hitting a season-best and franchise-tying six home runs in the big win, which gave them a 3-2 edge in the head-to-head season matchup with Minnesota (58-77).
Randy Arozarena homered and was a double short of the cycle in a 3-for-4 outing, and Yandy Diaz had three of his four RBIs on a homer in a two-hit showing.
“We’re a team with a lot of strength, a lot of power,” Diaz said on the Bally Sports Sun broadcast. “If we come out here and do our work, we’re going to get results like that.”
The Rays improved to 33-13 over their past 46 games.
In a 2-for-5 day at the plate, rookie shortstop Wander Franco pushed his on-base streak to 34 games, the third-longest by a player 20 or younger.
After producing seven runs and 14 hits in the two losses, the Twins need to see the bats get busier to keep up with Tampa Bay’s sizzling sticks.
Of course, an imposing, familiar bat is over in the first-base dugout wearing the home whites of the Rays — former Minnesota slugger Nelson Cruz, who notched one of the six long balls on Saturday.
In three seasons in Minneapolis, the 41-year-old Cruz hit 76 homers and totaled 191 RBIs in 258 games.
He also hit for a high average — .304 – and recorded a .984 OPS.
When he was traded to Tampa Bay on July 22, Cruz was batting .294 and had 19 homers and 50 RBIs in 85 games.
His presence in the lineup gives the Rays a powerful, hit-for-average, right-handed bat that has been missing at the top of the order since Evan Longoria left after the 2017 season.
However, acquiring Cruz limited the flexibility manager Kevin Cash has with the DH position — forcing lefty-hitting Austin Meadows often into left field with Cruz just hitting.
The transaction also shifted Arozarena to right or left field, squeezing playing time for either Kevin Kiermaier or Manuel Margot in center.
In fact, Meadows — the team’s RBI leader with 94 — has missed three of the past four games with lefty starters on the mound.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli likely isn’t surprised at his offense’s diminished production without Cruz, but he would like to assess his players’ performance as the dismal American League Central campaign winds down.
“I don’t think there’s a collective reason why we’ve been in a little bit of a rut,” Baldelli said. “I think you have to look down, though, at each player and kind of figure out just where each guy is at.”
In the finale, right-hander Griffin Jax (3-3, 6.71 ERA) will pitch in his 13th game and make his ninth start overall. The outing will be his debut against the Rays.
Jax, 26, has lost his past two starts but won consecutive ones in early August.
Tampa Bay will counter with rookie Luis Patino (4-3, 4.24), who will make his second career start against the Twins in less than a month.
The right-hander lost his command over three innings in Minneapolis on Aug. 15, settling for a no-decision after allowing two runs, two hits and a season-high five walks.
–Field Level Media