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The Tampa Bay Rays finished the second-best homestand in their history
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, with a much easier path between now and the All-Star Game as they try to claw their way back into wild-card contention.
Tampa Bay (41-40) went 8-1 at Tropicana Field, finishing a grueling stretch of 16 games against the New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Washington Nationals and going 10-6 in those games to rise back above .500.
Now the Rays have a stretch of 16 straight games against teams with losing records, including a three-game series at the Miami Marlins (34-51) starting Monday.
The Rays have dominated with their patchwork pitching staff, allowing a total of seven runs in their last six games, with five wins and a 1-0 loss. They took three of four from Houston to close out the homestand and hope to continue the success to take some positive momentum into the All-Star break.
“The fact that we have been winning and everyone has been coming together at clutch moments has been great,” said outfielder Mallex Smith, who had a late solo home run in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Houston. “We’ve been jelling as a team. We’ve been feeding off one another. It seems like someone new coming through at the right time every day.”
Next for Tampa Bay is Nathan Eovaldi (2-3, 4.08 ERA), who played for the Marlins from 2012 to 2014 and will almost certainly fare better than his only career appearance against his former team. In June 2015, he played there with the Yankees and gave up nine hits and eight earned runs in less than an inning, leaving after two outs with a 108.00 ERA to show for it.
Eovaldi has shown promise since returning from Tommy John surgery — his last start against Washington lasted six innings and he gave up no runs, one and and two walks with nine strikeouts.
The Marlins will answer with Wei-Yin Chen, who knows the Rays from his days with the Baltimore Orioles. He has started 21 career games against Tampa Bay, more than any other opponent
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, and posted a 5-6 record with a 3.72 ERA.
That’s considerably better than his overall numbers this year — he’s 2-5 with a 6.14 ERA, though his last start was solid. He limited Arizona to one run and five hits in six innings last week. Against Tampa Bay last year, he pitched well, holding the Rays to two runs and two hits in six innings.
The in-state rivals will meet again right after the All-Star break for three more games, but the extended run against lesser opponents is something the Rays must dominate if they want to get back into wild-card contention.
Even after winning eight of nine games, Tampa Bay is still 11 games behind Seattle for the second AL wild card. Still, being 42-41 after opening the season 1-8 isn’t bad, especially considering the injuries they’ve dealt with and the talent traded away since the end of last season.
Membership in the group that calls itself the @PFTPMPosse carries with it an important obligation. Via the questions posed for every episode of the
podcast, the ever-growing group of loyal supporters introduces concepts and ideas that probably wouldn’t have otherwise entered my relaxed brain.
Here’s a great question that emerged in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision to allow legalized sports wagering in the 49 states that don’t have it: If Patriots coach Bill Belichick had planned to bench starting cornerback Malcolm Butler for the entirety of a Super Bowl (with the exception of one special-teams play) in an environment with widespread legal gambling, would Belichick have been able to keep that to himself?
The people who legally (in Nevada) and illegally (everywhere else) bet on the Patriots to cover in Super Bowl LII surely were miffed and perplexed that Butler didn’t play. If hundreds of millions of dollars legally had been bet on the Patriots and Belichick had made such an unexpected move for reasons that he chose (as he always does) to keep to himself, the reaction may have been far different.
This is just one of the many issues that NFL will have to consider as it braces for the unintended consequences of something that, on the surface, will result in much greater revenue for the sport. And it will be important for the league to anticipate the many unintended consequences and plan for them.
Given the Butler case, the NFL may need to demand a greater degree of transparency not just as to injuries (where there’s currently a very limited degree of transparency, thanks to the bare-bones injury reports) but also as to strategic departures from the reasonably expected status quo. Teams eventually may have to publish binding depth charts within
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, say, 48 hours before kickoff. Other than players listed as questionable or worse on the injury report, the starters as listed on the official depth chart would then be starting the next game.
But that would have unintended consequences, too, with coaches easily avoiding the spirit of the rule by listing a player as a starter — and then benching him after as little as only one play. So then the question would become whether the players listed as starters would be required to participate in a certain number of snaps barring injury or gross ineffectiveness. Which then would open the door for teams to claim a player was injured and/or grossly ineffective when perhaps he actually wasn’t.
It could quickly become an effort to juggle Jello for the league, with coaches who strive for maximum secrecy (and who already resent having to make basic disclosures about injuries) doing anything they can to find a way to comply with efforts to prevent another Butler debacle while keeping the flexibility to do whatever they want to do without explaining themselves to anyone. But the NFL will have a good reason to come up with something that works, and to compel the coaches to go along with it.
The unspoken nightmare scenario for the league office continues to be the creation of an independent agency charged with overseeing professional football. If enough gambling controversies emerge, whether due to corruption, incompetence, or an awkward intersection between coaches who want to win football games and gamblers who want to win money, the NFL may lose its stubborn insistence to handle its own business.
And if it seems far fetched to think that government would get involved in something like this, consider the overall purpose and mission of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
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