The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have shown some signs of coming out of their recent tailspin--a stretch where the team lost 21 of 26 games.
Wednesday night the Rays registered their second win in their three-game series against the hot Los Angeles Angels (55-38). It was the team's first two-game winning streak since June 24 when the Rays beat the LA Dodgers for the second time in a row.
The biggest difference-maker? B. J. Upton.
I wasn't a big Upton fan last year. His glove at shortstop seemed to be make out of wood instead of leather, and his batting average was a paltry .246. I figured he'd get better at the plate, but the key to his major-league career was earning his way onto the field with capable defense.
Upton opened my eyes from early on this season. He hit for power and average from the start of the season, and rightly registered a healthy All-Star vote total before pulling a quadriceps muscle while playing against the hated Florida Marlins.
The coaching staff earns some credit, even if it's D'oh! credit. They moved Upton away from shortstop. Third base didn't work out. Upton isn't exactly a Gold Glove second baseman, but he gets the job done.
The coaches think his future is in the outfield. Upton proved to be particularly adept at tracking down pop flies from second base. The coaches extrapolated that into outfielding skills, after factoring in Upton's considerable speed.
Upton has appeared to prosper in the batter's box when he has less to nag at his mind on defense.
So what do the numbers say? While Upton was on the 15-day disabled list, the Rays worked in their season-high losing streak (11 games) and scored a shade under 4.5 runs per game (4.48). In the eight games before Upton's injury, the Rays scored 5.5 runs per game. In the five games since his return, they've scored 6.2 runs per game.
Manager Joe Maddon appeared to acknowledge Upton's role as the team's offensive catalyst when he moved Upton to the #3 spot in the batting order.
Upton's numbers since coming off the DL?
7-13 with 8 walks and four RBIs. He raised his batting average from .320 to .333.
Upton may be able to work his way to Gold Glove status in the outfield. If he keeps handling the bat like he has this year, the kid may be on his way to All-Star status.