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Rays bounce back from 1-8 start to climb above .500

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Tampa Bay began the season 1-8 as many people rushed to write the Rays off after numerous key players departed as free agents, but with last night’s win over the Twins they’re now 12-11 overall, going 11-3 since the dreadful start.

What’s particularly remarkable about the Rays climbing above .500 is that they’re winning with the same pitching-and-defense equation they thrived on last season despite losing Gold Glove left fielder Carl Crawford and basically their entire bullpen to free agency, trading shortstop Jason Bartlett, and being without third baseman Evan Longoria since the second game of the season.

Yet the Rays’ relievers rank fourth among AL teams with a 3.06 ERA that’s even better than last season’s league-leading 3.33 mark and their defense ranks second in the league in converting balls in play into outs. And their rotation has been strong too, with James Shields looking like his old self following a career-worst 2010 and ace David Price picking right up where he left off last season.

I’m not sure how long Sam Fuld is going to play like an All-Star and the Kyle Farnsworth closer experiment remains risky despite his being 5-for-5 converting saves so far, but this Rays team is very much a legitimate contender thanks to some shrewd low-cost pickups by the front office, a remarkable farm system that continues to churn out young talent year after year, and a manager in Joe Maddon who excels at mixing and matching to make the puzzle work no matter how odd the pieces may look coming out of the box.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 02:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on July 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images
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White Sox ace Chris Sale will return after serving his team-issued five-game suspension. He’ll take on the Cub’s John Lackey in an 8:05 PM EDT start at Wrigley Field.

The lefty protested wearing throwback uniforms, which featured collars, this past weekend. He reportedly got into a shouting match with White Sox coaches and front office staff, and took a knife to his uniform as well as those of his teammates. GM Rick Hahn punished Sale for three offenses: violating team rules, insubordination, and destroying team equipment.

Sale apologized to fans as well as to the bullpen, which had to pick him up when he was scratched from Saturday’s start. But he didn’t apologize for standing up for what he believed in.

This isn’t Sale’s first conflict with the White Sox organization. He was part of the spring training Drake LaRoche controversy. He also was part of the club’s recent protest against the Mariners’ policy that siphoned money from clubhouse attendants. As a result of what appears to be a contentious relationship between Sale and the White Sox, many think the club will trade him if they get an enticing offer. Pitchers like Sale, however, are tough to find, and he could be under team control through 2019 if the White Sox pick up his ’18 and ’19 club options.

Sale enters Thursday’s start leading the majors with 14 wins as well as a 3.18 ERA and a 129/29 K/BB ratio in 133 innings. Could it be his last start as a member of the White Sox?

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez) @ Minnesota Twins (Kyle Gibson), 7:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Aaron Nola) @ Atlanta Braves (Matt Wisler), 7:10 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha) @ Miami Marlins (Jose Fernandez), 7:10 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Yordano Ventura) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (David Price) @ Los Angeles Angels (Jered Weaver), 10:05 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (Tanner Roark) @ San Francisco Giants (Johnny Cueto), 10:15 PM EDT

Report: The Diamondbacks are on the verge of trading Daniel Hudson

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Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports that the Arizona Diamondbacks are close to trading Daniel Hudson. It’s not yet known who the trading partner would be, but obviously a number of teams are in the market for bullpen help.

Trading Hudson seemed like a good idea for a while, but he’s been on a terrible skid lately, with his ERA exploding by nearly three full runs in the past month. It now stands at 6.08, with Hudson having given up 22 earned runs in 16 and a third innings in June and July. The bad stretch has appeared to result in some frustration for Hudson. The other day he took to Twitter to describe his recent performance, calling the last month “brutal” and “absolutely awful.” He said this has “been one of the most frustrating stretch of games I’ve ever experienced in my life.” Then he deactivated his Twitter account.

Despite his recent struggles, and despite his checkered injury history, Hudson has been durable the past two seasons, pitching in 64 games last year and 42 so far this season. If this stretch is just that, a temporary skid, Hudson could help someone.