ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There’s still a lot of baseball yet to be played — and right now it’s very uncertain whether a major league season can persevere through the pandemic — but so far the Rays have lived up to expectations.
In a 60-game season, every team wants to get off to a fast start, and the Rays ended their first homestand of the season by winning four of five following their 5-2 win over the Atlanta Braves at Tropicana Field.
They leave Wednesday morning for their first road trip of the season — two games in Atlanta and three in Baltimore.
The scope of the season has already changed after the Miami Marlins were forced to pause their season after 17 players and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Four games combined Monday and Tuesday involving AL East rivals Yankees and Orioles were postponed because the Orioles were slated to play the Marlins and the Yankees were in Philadelphia, where the Marlins played their last series over the weekend.
The Rays (4-1), meanwhile, have taken control of the AL East with a quick start defined by timely hitting and solid pitching.
In Monday’s series opener, the Rays scored eight runs in the fourth, their most productive inning in nearly five years. On Tuesday, the Rays scored five runs in the third inning, all with two outs. Tampa Bay has scored nearly half of its runs — 16 of 33 — this season with two outs in the inning.
After Braves starter Kyle Wright walked the bases loaded with two outs in the third, Yoshi Tsutsugo started the Rays’ rally by looping a hanging curveball into right field for a two-run single.
Jose Martinez singled on a line drive that dropped in front of left fielder Marcell Ozuna, scoring another run, and Joey Wendle’s single to right plated another. The fifth run came on Braves reliever Josh Tomlin’s wild pitch.
Rays starter Yonny Chirinos could have gone deeper had it not been for a 31-pitch third inning, but he allowed just one unearned run over four innings of work.
Chirinos loaded the bases with no outs in the third, but managed to hold the Braves (2-3) to one run. He struck out Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman, both swinging, and allowed an RBI single to Ozuna before inducing an inning-ending popup from Matt Adams.
Over the two-game series, Rays pitchers handcuffed the Braves’ best bats. The trio of Ronald Acuna Jr., Freeman and Ozuna went 3 for 18 with 11 strikeouts.
While the Rays starters have been limited coming out of a short summer camp, they’ve done the job one turn through the rotation. Take away Charlie Morton’s six-run outing on opening day and Rays starters have allowed just one earned run over 15 1/3 innings.
The bullpen held its own Tuesday. Five Rays relievers combined to allow one unearned run and four baserunners over five innings, capped by a perfect ninth by Oliver Drake, who recorded his second save.