Just one day after the Arizona Diamondbacks their number two starter on the IL with an apparent calf injury, Zach Davies had arguably his best outing in a D-Back uniform. But just as the team was feeling its least confident in the rotation, Davies absolutely shined by shutting out the team with the best record in baseball across seven innings and allowed just four baserunners in the outing. Before tonight, there had only been two other games in which Davies had tossed seven or more innings as a D-Back: last June 4th and 14th against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati respectively. To say the least, this Tampa Bay team is an entirely different beast than either of those opponents. Unfortunately, they showed exactly why they have such an outstanding record late in this game, but that’s for later.
Meanwhile, to his credit, Zach Eflin matched Davies zero for zero through much of this game. Eflin, one of the few big offseason additions by a traditionally penny-pinching franchise like the Rays, has been worth nearly every dollar to this point of the season. Tonight was also arguably his best performance in his new uniform and continued a breakout season for the right-handed journeyman as he allowed just two runs across a mirrored seven innings. However, while Davies severely limited baserunners across his start, Eflin managed to sneak out of several jams and curbed the D-Backs to a pitiful 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position for the game. The D-Backs got one of those hits in the third by stringing together two-out singles from Alek Thomas, Jake McCarthy, and Ketel Marte to grab the early lead 1-0.
That second hit came in the very next inning as Christian Walker leadoff the inning with a ground-rule double. Even still, the D-Backs did their best to squander the opportunity as a sacrifice flyout from Lourdes Gurriel Jr that moved Walker up 90 feet set the table for Emmanuel Rivera who promptly grounded out to Wander Franco. Carson Kelly however delivered his biggest hit of his injury-shortened season by slapping an Eflin cutter into right field to score the second and final D-Back run of the game 2-0. The Arizona offense would move a runner into scoring position in three consecutive innings, but no one else could deliver the knock - much to our chagrin.
Fatefully, after Miguel Castro worked a clean eighth, Torey Lovullo called on Scott McGough to close the door on an excellent win. It was a fair bet on Lovullo’s part: McGough has been one of the steadiest relief options throughout the season and was working on a five-game scoreless streak. Frustratingly, some of the FIP-differential (3.55 to 2.41) McGough has been flirting with so far came back to haunt him and the D-Backs tonight. While it started benignly enough with a Yandy Diaz single up the middle, it quickly became messier as McGough instinctually grabbed at a sharp comebacker that allowed Wander Franco to reach first. Luke Raley then shot a ground ball into right field to score Diaz and slash the lead in half 2-1. Miraculously though, McGough buckled down by striking out phenom Randy Arozarena and inducing a lineout from Isaac Paredes to bring Arizona within a strike of sealing the win. Instead, Josh Lowe continued his breakout season by lashing a fastball to deep center that gave the Rays a 3-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Emotional losses like tonight are excellent opportunities to remind us all that even good to very-good teams like the 2023 version of the D-Backs will lose quite a few games. That doesn’t take away from the frustration or emotion of a loss like this. It also doesn’t erase the clear fact that this team needs an infusion of bullpen help from either the minors or the trade market. But it’s also worthwhile to take a step back from the day-to-day emotional rollercoaster we can sometimes have as fans to reiterate that games like these don’t take away from the excellence of this season to this point.