There were a number of questions coming into this season about Chris Archer's ability to be a dependable, solid starter in a recently thinned out rotation for the Rays.
He was labeled as a hard-throwing righty who could rack up the K's, but could get pretty wild and gave up a lot of runs when his command suffered.
Despite that, Archer has managed to prove all the naysayers wrong so far this season, and this afternoon's start was the icing on the cake, and potentially the cherry on top as well.
From the second inning you could tell that Archer was dialed in: his fastball was getting to the plate in a hurry (94-96 mph on a number of his fastballs), and he was locating his off-speed pitches well. Not only that, but he forced the Astros' hitters to chase pitches that were well outside the strike zone; a benefit of displaying great command during an outing.
Only the heart of the Astros' lineup managed to get a hit off of Archer: Altuve, Martinez, Castro and Wallace all got one hit apiece, accounting for four of the meager five hits the Astros managed to compile.
What really impressed Joe Maddon was the fact that there was a nice, round "Zero" in the Walks column. A "hard throwing" pitcher is a title that refers to pitchers who throw gas and rack up strikeouts, but will give up a decent number of walks over the course of a game/season. Archer managed to strike out eight batters and walk none: a pretty impressive ratio for any pitcher.
What complemented Archer's masterful complete game shutout was a surprisingly healthy dose of offense.
Desmond Jennings hit a two-run shot to center of reliever Paul Clemens in the sixth, and Evan Longoria doubled home a run off of starter Erik Bedard in the first inning. The other two runs the Rays scored came from a Fielder's Choice, and a throwing error which allowed Kelly Johnson to score despite initially advancing to third base (in the fourth inning).
The hot streak the Rays are on is something many didn't expect to see from a team that's lacking in players with offensive capabilities like a Chris Davis or Miguel Cabrera. In a division where every team except the Blue Jays pace to have a final record of over .500, every win keeps the Rays in the hunt, and a single loss could end up being the deciding factor come season's end.
As long as the starting pitching can keep producing quality starts like Archer did today, and the offense consistently puts more than three runs on the board, it could be one of the tightest races in recent memory.
Notable stats from today's game:
C. Archer: (W, 4-3): CG, 5 H, 8 SO
D. Jennings: 2-5, 2 R, HR, 2 RBI
E. Longoria: 1-3, 2B, RBI
K. Johnson: 3-4, 2 R