Rays need to make room on stage for the Marlins

Updated: July 2, 2008

Steve Mitchell/US Presswire

The Marlins defeated the Nationals on Wednesday to remain 1 1/2 games back in the NL East.

FLORIDA'S OTHER BIG STORY

There's been a lot of buzz about the what the Rays are doing, but how about sharing some of that buzz with the Marlins? The same organization that moved Miguel Cabrera this winter finds itself close to first place in the National League East. (They currently stand in second, 1 1/2 games back of the Phillies).

We talk about how the Rays have beaten teams with records better than .500, and their home-field advantage appears to be getting stronger by the win. Well, the Marlins have virtually no fan base though they are four games above .500 in a very good division.

I believe the Marlins are every bit the success story that the Rays are. Given the divisions the teams play in, is it that much of a reach to suggest Florida has a better chance to finish in first than the Rays do? The Marlins have handled their division with as much success as the Rays have. The Marlins are 19-14 against the East. They win close games, going 13-10 in one-run games. No team has been better at coming from behind.

Be careful celebrating all that the Rays have accomplished, because it may be the other Florida team that sneaks in and walks off with a playoff date.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: July 1 | June 30 | June 29 | June 26 | June 25 | June 24

EVAN ALMIGHTY

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The Rays are rolling. And they keep finding ways to win.

A big key to their success has been rookie third baseman Evan Longoria, who is making a great bid for last-second support to make the American League All-Star team.

Since June 17, Longoria is hitting .357 with five homers, eight doubles and 18 RBIs.

He had three RBIs in Wednesday's 7-6 win against the Red Sox, finishing a three-game sweep of Boston.

Longoria's 15-game run has raised his season average to .275 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs.

Inside the Rays' Sweep
Red Sox Rays
Runs 11 15
BA .238 .233
Walks issued 21 10
Bullpen ERA 12.00 3.12

FORWARD THINKING: THURSDAY

Brandon Webb • Brewers at Diamondbacks, 3:40 p.m. ET: After two consecutive rough outings, Brandon Webb (12-4, 3.21 ERA) returned to form his most recent start, pitching six strong innings against the Marlins. Manny Parra went 5-0 with a 2.59 ERA in June. Opponents hit just .223 against him during the month.

Cole Hamels • Phillies at Braves, 7 p.m. ET: Cole Hamels (8-5, 3.38 ERA) tossed a complete-game, four-hit shutout the last time he saw the Atlanta Braves, May 15. Jair Jurrjens (8-3, 2.94 ERA) has not permitted a run in two of his last three starts and is 4-0 over his past eight starts.

Jon Lester • Red Sox at Yankees, 7:05 p.m. ET: Jon Lester (6-3, 3.48 ERA) has had one career start against the Yankees -- it didn't go well. He allowed eight hits, seven runs and three walks in 3 1/3 on Aug. 18, 2006, as the Yankees won a 14-11 slugfest. Andy Pettitte (9-5, 3.58 ERA), meanwhile, is 15-6 with a 3.45 ERA in 29 career appearances (27 starts) against the Red Sox.

Complete list of pitching probables for Thursday's games

NEWS & NOTES

Brett MyersBrett Myers made his first start with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, giving up five hits and three runs in five innings. It was his first minor league appearance since being demoted by the Phillies.

Michael Young• Rangers shortstop Michael Young left Wednesday's game with a mild left groin strain. He is listed as day-to-day.


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BBTN ON THE AIR: THURSDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney, Fernando Vina
12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney, Fernando Vina

BASEBALL TONIGHT MINUTE: RAYS SWEEP RED SOX

PINIELLA'S BULLPEN JUGGLING ACT

I walked into Cubs manager Lou Piniella's office on June 11, and one of the first things he said was that he was going to start using some of the other pitchers in the bullpen to get to closer Kerry Wood.

Here we are in the first week of July and Carlos Marmol already has made 43 appearances. He didn't have a good one Wednesday, giving up a three-run homer to San Francisco's Ray Durham to erase the Cubs' 5-2 lead at the time. The Cubs went on to win the game 6-5. Piniella looks at the season as seven months long (April-Oct.) because he expects to be playing in the postseason. So don't be surprised if you see more of pitchers Michael Wuertz and Jose Ascanio, because Piniella knows he's going to need Marmol, Wood and Bob Howry to be fresh come October.

Piniella has been instrumental in the Cubs' success this season because of his ability to evaluate this team in spring training. He was the one who made Wood the closer, and he's 20-for-24 in save opportunities. Piniella also moved Ryan Dempster from the bullpen to the starting rotation, and he's now 9-3 and possibly making the All-Star team. Offensively, Piniella realized he needed a left-handed bat with some pop and he took a chance on Jim Edmonds after he was released by the Padres. Edmonds has hit eight home runs after hitting just one with San Diego in 26 games.

Wood's transformation reminds me a bit of Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley's. We were teammates with the Cubs in the mid-1980s, but Eckersley's career as a starting pitcher was over. When Eckersley moved to Oakland, he was transitioned into the bullpen and went on to become one of game's greatest closers. Now, I'm not saying Wood will be in the Hall of Fame, but he has made a smooth transition from being a starter to a closer.

Of course, you want to put your best pitcher on the mound each game, but that's not realistic. Piniella wants to find out what the other arms in the bullpen are made of and, at the same time, keep the pitchers who he knows can get the job done fresh for the stretch run.

WEDNESDAY'S NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES

GOOD
Jason GiambiJason Giambi drilled a grand slam and laced a two-run double as the Yankees piled up 18 runs in a win against the Rangers.
BAD
Jamey Wright• The Yankees scored half their runs in the seventh and eighth innings. Warner Madrigal and Jamey Wright gave up 12 hits and 12 runs in two innings of work.
UGLY
Manny DelcarmenManny Delcarmen gave up three hits and three runs without recording an out as the Red Sox's bullpen imploded in a loss against the Rays.

"TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME"

Ballgame It's the 100th anniversary of baseball's most famous tune, and "Baseball Tonight" has asked nine popular musical artists to record a rendition of the song to be used in a battle of the bands. Take a listen and vote on your favorite one. The top three vote-getters will be announced on July 6.

• Latest video: REO Speedwagon

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF THURSDAY'S GAMES

Will Harris examines the pitching matchups for the 11 games on Thursday's schedule of games.

Fantasy Harris also looks at injuries and details player reports that could help shape your roster for Thursday's games. Daily Notes