Street. Petersburg – Forget the score. That was an anomaly.
Focus, instead, on difference makers. Game changers. These are the rare hitters in the Rays lineup who are likely to stand between post-season disappointment and glory.
Revisit every panel appearance by Wander Franco and Randy Arrosarina in Thursday night’s 10-5 win against the Blue Jays.
Then they prayed that they would look so beautiful in October.
In a post-season that will be filled with big names and even bigger bats, the rays will be at a disadvantage. They don’t club, they don’t knock, they don’t dash.
This is not how this team is built. Tampa Bay is below average when it comes to scoring goals and way below average when it comes to home batting.
To scream it out loud, Aaron Judge has 60 Homer. The entire Rays field contains 40.
So if the Rays turn out to be post-season darlings, their merchandising crew will likely be in charge. Freshmen will need to be cast in high-quality roles, and it is best if their grammar is flawless.
But there will still be moments when the rays will have to answer the zinging bell. The Blue Jays have Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Beau Pechet. The Yankees have Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. The stars have Jose Altuve and Kyle Tucker.
And her rays Franco and Arosarina.
How important is it to Tampa Bay’s hopes in October?
As awkward as that can be, manager Kevin Cash said. “Not to pressure them, (but) they have to be who they are. And if they are, we are much better than the team.”
It’s been, at various points, a tough season for both of them.
For four months, it looked as if Arozarena was heading into a classic sophomore slump. During the first week of August, he was hitting 0.251 with an infantry-looking OPS of 0.725.
Since then, however, Arozarena has been Tampa Bay’s best player, posting 0.313 with a 0.931 OPS and 34 RBI in 42 games.
On the other hand, Franco got off to a hot start in 2022. He was hitting the .325 in mid-May but then started having four-way issues and later broke his hand. Since returning to the squad on September 9, Franco has reached 0.321 in 15 games.
“Fortunately, I feel really good,” Franco said through team interpreter Mane Navarro. “I think I’m starting to feel a little bit like I did at the beginning of the year. I’ve made some adjustments which I hope will continue.”
Between them, Franco and Arosarina had three pairs, two solos, one walk, five RBIs and three runs Thursday night.
Of course, those weren’t the only big nights in the series’ opening night against Toronto. Jonathan Aranda hit a pair of bullets, led David Peralta in two rounds, and Manuel Margo got a pair of hits. And when the post-season rolls around, Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe (if he’s healthy) will also be counted on for the big moments.
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But there is a difference between complementary players and stars. You welcome contributions from everyone, but you need your best players to come forward in October.
Astros? They have four men in their lineup with 21 or more carrier pigeons. So do the Yankees. With Homer Tuscar Hernandez on Thursday, the Blue Jays actually own five.
And what about the x-rays? zoom.
With Tampa Bay’s lineup neither as heavy-weight nor as deep as the other contenders, it is more important for Arosarina and Franco to drive balls into the gaps as they did Thursday night.
“They are our men,” Peralta said. “These two guys in the squad is what we need every day. (Thursday) we showed what kind of team we are with these two guys.”
There is still work to do, and time for the rest of the offense to find a better groove. Tampa Bay’s magic number is eight with 12 games left, so it will take a breakdown in epic proportions for Rays to fall out of the cut-off at this point.
But the idea that Arozarena and Franco are starting to heat up as we move into the post-season might be the best sign that Rays has a fighting chance in it.
On a night like this, you can see the possibilities.
John Romano can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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