Longoria, Pena pacing Rays' offense

Longoria, Pena pacing Rays' offense

ST. PETERSBURG -- They're not quite David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez -- yet. But Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena seem as though they're well on their way.

Going into the opener of a two-game series against the Orioles on Monday, the Rays' No. 3 and 4 hitters have combined for 18 home runs and 58 RBIs.

Entering Sunday's action, their power numbers were tops in the Major Leagues. And with the way they have continued to surge, their dominance doesn't seem as though it's going to go away any time soon.

So, is the Rays' 3-4 portion of the lineup the best in baseball?

"Right now it is, I know that," manager Joe Maddon said. "Coming out of Spring Training, we looked at a whole bunch of different ways to put this together. And even before that, we felt like B.J. [Upton], Carl [Crawford] leading into those two guys, and then Pat [Burrell] -- and then, like I said, trying to figure out after that -- would be the best way to put it together."

As the series with the Orioles begins, Longoria is batting .365 with seven home runs and a Major League-leading 30 RBIs. Pena, on the other hand, is hitting .271 with 28 RBIs and leading the Majors with 11 home runs.

On top of those power numbers, Pena is near the top of the league with 29 strikeouts. But the 30-year-old first baseman has always had an uppercut swing.

This year, though, Maddon said Pena has shown more discipline -- despite the number of punchouts.

"Two things I'm liking: One, he's pretty much got his strike zone organized," the skipper said. "There's only been a couple of games where he's expanded his strike zone. And the other part is he's hitting the ball on the line more.

"I think two years ago, when he had the exceptional year, he was more on a line that year as opposed to just hitting the ball in the air. I know he hit the catwalks, but I saw more line drives than hard ground balls. And I think I'm seeing that more this year, too."

Maddon added that when Upton -- batting just .162 through 19 games -- gets going, the rest of the lineup will improve even more.

But can you really be much better than Longoria and Pena have after one month this season?

"They've been feeding off each other very well, and Pat's been protecting both of them," Maddon said. "Talking about this, the six-hole is a big spot for us, I believe, because I want to see Pat [.253 with a home run and 12 RBIs] get a better pitch to hit on a more consistent basis."

Pitching matchup
TB: LHP Scott Kazmir (3-2, 5.40 ERA)
Kazmir's control has not been up to par in this young season. The trend continued on Wednesday at the Metrodome, when he was yanked after the fourth inning, having surrendered eight runs, six of them earned, on nine hits and four walks. He also threw two run-scoring wild pitches. This came 11 days after he gave up six earned runs on five hits and six walks in four innings against the White Sox. Kazmir has walked 16 batters in 26 2/3 innings. In 13 career starts against Baltimore, he is 5-3 with a 4.35 ERA.

BAL: RHP Adam Eaton (1-3, 7.17 ERA)
Eaton has shown a distressing tendency to run up high pitch counts early in the game, a trend that has knocked him out early twice in four starts. He worked six innings in his last start, though, and left with his team trailing by one run. The Orioles hope he can keep taking the ball every fifth day and help provide a safety net for some of the team's prospects.

At 11:39 a.m. ET on Sunday, Gabe Gross became a father, as his wife, Kelly, gave birth to a girl in Alabama. Allie Lee weighed in at seven pounds, five ounces, and both Allie and Kelly are said to be "doing great." Maddon expects Gross back for Tuesday's game against the Orioles. ... With a crowd of 32,332 on Sunday, the Rays raised their total at Tropicana Field through 11 games to 317,533. That is an average of 28,867 per game and gives them a 62.6 percent improvement over the same time period last season. ... Over his last 12 games, Carl Crawford is batting .435 (20-for-46) with 10 walks.

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On the Internet
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•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
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On radio
• WDAE 620

Up next
• Tuesday: Rays (Matt Garza, 2-2, 3.82) vs. Orioles (Koji Uehara, 2-2, 4.50), 4:08 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Rays (Andy Sonnanstine, 1-3, 6.75) at Yankees (A.J. Burnett, 2-0, 5.40), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Rays (Jeff Niemann, 2-3, 5.68) at Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 2-1, 3.82), 7:05 p.m. ET

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.