Rays rolling, but will it be enough in loaded AL East?

Updated: June 30, 2009

Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire

Jeff Niemann leads the Rays' staff with seven wins after beating Roy Halladay on Monday.

Roy Halladay failed to complete seven innings for the first time all season Monday. Hey, when you're playing the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays 50-something times a season, these things will happen.

What was significant is that Halladay lost to Jeff Niemann, who almost got waived in spring training and now has a staff-leading seven wins for the Rays. He consistently threw his curveball for strikes to keep Toronto's left-handed hitters off his power sinker, two days after Scott Kazmir came off his rehab and dominated.

Accept this reality: One of the three best teams in the American League is not going to make the playoffs because the three best teams are, in no particular order, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. Tampa Bay has the best record in the league since April and, with another win over Toronto on Tuesday, is in the midst of a seven-game winning streak. The Rays lead the league with 434 runs. Their plus-90 run differential is the best in the league; Boston is second at plus-74. They're third in homers and first in steals, are easily the most athletic team in the AL East, and probably can run on Boston and New York. Plus, their OPS is tied with that of the Yankees for the league lead and now that Jason Bartlett is back, the Rays have the best defense in the league.

With Kazmir's delivery apparently fixed and Niemann emerging, with Matt Garza sure to get out of his slump and James Shields reliable (Garza and Shields are better than their combined 11-10 record) and David Price working on his fastball command, the rotation is poised for a three-month run. Tampa cannot afford to take on a veteran closer, so manager Joe Maddon will have to mix and match as he did last year.

"They are the team the Red Sox and Yankees fear the most because of the athleticism," one AL general manager says. "B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford are unique, game-changing players who bring dynamics the other teams don't have."

The next time the Rays have to deal with the Northeast Corridor monsters is a three-game series with the Yankees starting July 27 and two games with Boston on Aug. 4-5.

Meanwhile, may the Rays MVP so far, Ben Zobrist, please be in the All-Star Game? Few players could possibly be more valuable, competently playing everywhere but catcher and pitcher, leading the league in OPS, on a 35-homer pace. That's not bad for a guy who, going into this season, had 38 career homers in the major and minor leagues. He leads the AL in OPS, has 16 homers and is on base more than 40 percent of the time.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: June 29 | June 28 | June 25 | June 24 | June 23


Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
B. Upton, TB7TorRichmondTop 1: 0-0, 0 Outs. None on.
K. Youkilis, Bos13BalHillTop 1: 1-2, 1 Outs. 1 on.
P. Konerko, CWS13CleLeeTop 1: 1-2, 0 Outs. 1 on.
C. Crawford, TB8TorRichmondTop 3: 2-1, 1 Outs. None on.
T. Hafner, Cle8CWSRichardBot 2: 2-1, 2 Outs. None on.
D. Wright, NYM5MilBurnsTop 1: 2-0, 1 Outs. 1 on.
J. Ellsbury, Bos4BalHillTop 4: 1-1, 0 Outs. None on.
I. Kinsler, Tex19LAASaundersBot 1: 2-2, 0 Outs. None on.
M. Byrd, Tex6LAASaundersBot 1: 1-2, 0 Outs. 1 on.

The complete list of Tuesday's homers


Rays at Blue Jays, 1:07 p.m. ET

Ricky Romero is coming off a solid June. The rookie left-hander went 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA in June. He is coming off his best performance, when he tossed seven two-hit innings against the Phillies in a 6-1 win.

Red Sox at Orioles, 1:35 p.m. ET

Josh Beckett is on a roll, having won seven of his past eight decisions, but Brad Bergesen has been even a bit better. He has won his past four decisions and, since May 24, has dropped his ERA from 5.49 to 3.77.

Giants at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

Matt Cain had his seven-game winning streak snapped his last time out when he was hit hard by the Brewers. He already has beaten the Cardinals once, winning 4-2 on May 29. Adam Wainwright got plenty of help in June; in three of his five starts, St. Louis scored at least 11 runs.

For the rest of Wednesday's schedule, click here.



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10 p.m. ET
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: Buster Olney, Fernando Vina, John Kruk
12 a.m. ET
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Fernando Vina, Buster Olney, John Kruk



Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at Dan Haren, who allowed one run and struck out nine in seven innings for a win over the Reds. The performance has become rather common for Haren:

Haren's past seven starts
W-L 4-1
ERA 1.73
K-BB 50-6
Quality starts 7

He can hit a little, too. Over the seven games, Haren is batting .462.



Andrus• Yes, Albert Pujols went deep twice, arriving at 30 homers for the season. But the Rangers' Elvis Andrus accomplished something just as impressive. Andrus stole four bases -- the first AL rookie to do so since 2000 -- in Texas' 9-5 win over the Angels.
Masterson• The Red Sox's bullpen gave up 10 runs over the final two innings, coughing up a 10-1 lead in an 11-10 loss on the road against the Orioles. Justin Masterson gave up five runs in the seventh inning, then Hideki Okajima gave up the first four in the eighth, recording just one out.


Matt Cain Adam Wainwright The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals meet Wednesday, and they'll be starting two of the winningest pitchers in the NL this season: Matt Cain (nine wins) for the Giants and Adam Wainwright (eight wins) for the Cardinals.

When these two pitchers meet, it'll be a contrast in styles. Cain prefers to use his fastball predominantly, but Wainwright appears to use his fastball only to set up his breaking pitches, which are among the best in baseball.

Wainwright poses a problem for the Giants, who are hitting .199 against right-handed breaking pitches this season, the fourth-lowest total in the majors. The Cardinals are right around the league average against right-handed fastballs this year. They're hitting .284 with a 12.8 miss percentage (league averages are .282 and 14.5, respectively).

Matt Cain
Stats by pitch type (2009)
Fastball Curve/Slider Changeup
BA against .211 .293 .224
Miss pct. against 20.2 20.6 33.9
Pitch usage 65.1 22.4 12.5

Adam Wainwright
Stats by pitch type (2009)
Fastball Curve/Slider Changeup
BA against .362 .145 .143
Miss pct. against 7.8 33.2 28.1
Pitch usage 56.0 36.4 7.6

-- ESPN Stats & Information


Fantasy AJ Mass examines the 15 games on Wednesday's slate.

Mass ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound, and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Wednesday. Daily Notes