TNWN: Rays look to clinch the division on Saturday

Big RAAAAAAAANDY came up big once again on Friday. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

After blanking the Miami Marlins on Friday, 8-0, the Tampa Bay Rays can clinch the division on Saturday with a win at the Trop, and a Red Sox loss for the second consecutive day at Fenway.

At 95-59 on the season, Tampa Bay enters play 36-games above .500 and with an insurmountable 7.0 game lead over Boston in the American League East. The Rays also have a four-game advantage over Houston for the best record in the American League with eight games left to play.

We know what’s at stake, and we know if we come to the field and handle our business, then we’ll be able to celebrate sooner than later. And we want to do that as soon as possible. “Hopefully once we do, we just keep going and do not get content. We have to keep that motivation because we just need to keep this competitive fire that we’ve had and just ride that out as long as possible.

We know it’s close, but there’s still a lot left that we need to accomplish.

— Kevin Kiermaier

Ryan Yarbrough pitched out of the bulk role on Friday, scattering just two hits across six scoreless frames on 80 pitches (54 strikes, 68% strike rate, 6 whiffs, 8% SwStr%) — striking out four while walking none for the second time in as many games.

Yarbrough was terrific, allowing just one batter into position in his scoreless outing. He had a rather interesting, yet effective, pitch mix, throwing his curveball 29 times while coaxing 33% swings and whiffs. He rounded things out by leaning on the rest of his repertoire — his sinker, changeup which boasted a lot of sweeping movement, and cutter — essentially equally. In two of his previous three outings, Yarbrough was hammered for 14 runs over 4.1 innings, yet he’s allowed just four runs over 12 innings since. He now owns a 5.09 ERA and a 4.42 FIP, with a 1.23 WHIP, and a 4.28 K/BB across 150.1 innings.

Tampa Bay scored eight runs on 11 hits and six walks last night. Nelson Cruz and Wander Franco returned to the lineup and combined for two hits, a walk, and a run. Franco extended his on-base streak to 40 games after he earned a sixth-inning free pass, then an eighth-inning double in his next at-bat. He is hitting .323 during his on-base streak and now owns a .812 OPS on the season. In the 36 games when both Franco and Cruz have played, Tampa Bay has averaged 6.44 runs per game. All told, Tampa Bay has scored seven runs or more 59 times — the most in MLB.

THE NEW WHAT NEXT

Shane McClanahan (9-6, 3.51 ERA) will get the start Saturday, pitching opposite of Sandy Alcantara (9-13, 3.05 ERA).

Shane McClanahan allowed one run on two hits and two walks while striking out seven over five innings on Sunday against the Tigers. McClanahan returned to the mound for the first time in 11 days after hitting the IL due to back stiffness. He touched triple digits with his fastball and punched out seven hitters after throwing just 64 pitches (44 strikes, 69% strike rate). The lone tally against him was allowing a solo home run to Eric Haase in the fourth inning. The 24-year-old hasn’t reached six innings in five of his last six starts despite only giving up more than two runs just once in those outings. He maintains a 3.51 ERA and a 3.28 FIP, with a 1.27 WHIP, and a 3.75 K/BB across 115.1 innings.

Sandy Alcantara allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits and a walk over six innings on Sunday against Pittsburgh. He struck out four. Alcantara committed a pair of errors in the first inning, leading to an unearned run. He later gave up an RBI triple to Anthony Alford before recording an out in the seventh. It was his shortest outing and lowest strikeout total since his August 6 start in Colorado. Even so, he lowered his season ERA to 3.05 and his FIP to 3.37, with a 3.86 K/BB through 194.2 frames. Alcantara is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-3), Ji-Man Choi (3-5, 2 2B, BB), Brandon Lowe (1-4, 2 BB)

You can read the series in our preview, while the starting lineup and Noteworthiness are below.

RAYS 9/25/21 STARTING LINEUP

  1. B. Lowe 2B
  2. Choi 1B
  3. Arozarena LF
  4. Meadows DH
  5. Wendle SS
  6. Díaz 3B
  7. Kiermaier CF
  8. Phillips RF
  9. Zunino C
  10. McClanahan

NOTEWORTHINESS

— RHP Matt Wisler is slated to throw a bullpen session on Sunday. If that goes well, the right-hander could join rejoin the roster on the upcoming road trip.

— Cody Reed continues to rehab in Durham although, due to the fact that he underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in early June, he has longer odds to rejoin the team before the end of the regular season.

The southpaw should continue to pitch throughout the offseason, and he’s expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training 2022.

— The Rays have made a roster move, optioning LHP Dietrich Enns and recalling fellow southpaw Josh Fleming.

TNWN: Rays vs Marlins — a series preview

The Rays clinched their third consecutive postseason berth on Wednesday. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

After clinching their third consecutive postseason berth on Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Rays open one last regular-season home series of the 2021 campaign, a three-game set against the Marlins of Miami. The Rays took two of three from the Blue Jays, while the Marlins dropped two of three against the Nationals.

At 94-59 on the season, the Rays enter play 35-games above .500 and in sole possession of first place in the AL East by 6.0 games with nine left to play. They already clinched a playoff spot and have a magic number of four to clinch the division.

Tampa Bay bounced back from a quiet offensive output in the middle game of the series against Toronto, plating seven runs on 11 hits, three walks, and a pretty bush-league eighth inning hit by pitch of Kevin Kiermaier. Nelson Cruz, who did not start Tuesday or Wednesday due to illness, should be back in the lineup on Friday. Meanwhile, in a rehab game with Triple-A Durham on Thursday, Wander Franco grounded out and walked twice. After his second walk, Franco moved up to second then third on wild pitches and came around to score on a sacrifice fly. Assuming all is good with his previously strained right hamstring, the shortstop is expected to be activated from the 10-Day Injured List on Friday or Saturday.

While Miami has been a pretty good team at home, the Marlins enter the friendly confines of the Trop having gone 4-15 in their last 19 road games, and 24-50 overall away from loanDepot park. They are among the lowest-scoring teams in the league, ranking 27th with just 601 total runs this season. Of their run output, less than half (285) have come on the road. Even so, the Marlins have a handful of young players that are making some noise and could pose problems for the Rays this weekend.

The Rays are 2-1 against the Marlins this season, yet they maintain a -2 run differential across those three contests.

PITCHING PROBABLES

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Ryan Yarbrough (8-6, 5.30 ERA) behind opener David Robertson (0-0, 5.63 ERA), Shane McClanahan (9-6, 3.51 ERA), and Shane Baz (-0, 3.60 ERA). Don Mattingly will counter with Edward Cabrera (0-2, 5.31 ERA), Sandy Alcantara (9-13, 3.05 ERA), and Jesus Luzard0 (5-8, 7.01 ERA).

Ryan Yarbrough got the start Saturday and turned a corner, tossing six innings of four-run baseball on five hits with no walks. He struck out four and threw 86 pitches (58 strikes, 67% strike rate). Yarbrough gave up four early runs in the first two frames on a pair of homers, then was stingy from that point on, retiring 15 of the next 16 hitters, including the final 13 he faced. The movement on the left-hander’s cutter was much better this time around, and he improved the use of his changeup; he threw it to get ahead in counts and to force early contact. He also worked quickly and efficiently, — a night-and-day change from his two previous outings. On the season, Yarbrough maintains a 5.30 ERA and a 4.50 FIP, with a 1.27 WHIP, and a 4.23 K/BB across 144.1 innings.

Edward Cabrera allowed two runs on three hits and three walks while striking out four across 3.2 innings on Sunday against Atlanta. Cabrera was already at 75 pitches into the outing at the time of his removal and was struggling with both his command and control. On the season, Cabrera maintains a 5.31 ERA and a 7.29 FIP, with a 1.23 K/BB, and a 1.62 WHIP across 20.1 innings. He relies primarily on a 97 mph four-seam fastball with natural sinking action and slight arm-side run and a hard 92 mph changeup with arm-side fade, while also mixing in an 88 mph slider that has two-plane movement, and an 83 mph 12-6 curveball.

Shane McClanahan allowed one run on two hits and two walks while striking out seven over five innings on Sunday against the Tigers. McClanahan returned to the mound for the first time in 11 days after hitting the IL due to back stiffness. He touched triple digits with his fastball and punched out seven hitters after throwing just 64 pitches (44 strikes, 69% strike rate). The lone tally against him was allowing a solo home run to Eric Haase in the fourth inning. The 24-year-old hasn’t reached six innings in five of his last six starts despite only giving up more than two runs just once in those outings. He maintains a 3.51 ERA and a 3.28 FIP, with a 1.27 WHIP, and a 3.75 K/BB across 115.1 innings.

Sandy Alcantara allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits and a walk over six innings on Sunday against Pittsburgh. He struck out four. Alcantara committed a pair of errors in the first inning, leading to an unearned run. He later gave up an RBI triple to Anthony Alford before recording an out in the seventh. It was his shortest outing and lowest strikeout total since his August 6 start in Colorado. Even so, he lowered his season ERA to 3.05 and his FIP to 3.37, with a 3.86 K/BB through 194.2 frames. Alcantara is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-3), Ji-Man Choi (3-5, 2 2B, BB), Brandon Lowe (1-4, 2 BB)

Shane Baz looked like he belonged in the big leagues on Monday, holding Toronto to two solo home runs over five innings, but relinquishing nothing else. The right-hander struck out two of the first three batters he faced in a perfect first inning and ended up with five punchouts on the night.

Leaning primarily on a mid-to-upper 90’s four-seam fastball and slider combination, while sprinkling 15 curveballs, Baz was both whiffy and efficient against one of the best hitting teams in baseball, throwing 65 pitches overall (51 strikes, 78% strike rate, 15 whiffs, 23% SwStr%). All told, Baz retired 15 of the 17 batters he faced.

Jesus Luzardo surrendered five runs on six hits and four walks while striking out two across four innings on Monday against the Nationals. The 23-year-old was pulled after two batters reached base against him to open the fifth inning, one of whom would score. It was his second consecutive sub-par turn, both of which were against Washington. In those two outings, he has allowed nine runs, 13 hits, and six walks across 8.1 frames. Luzardo maintains a 7.02 ERA and a 6.02 FIP, with a 1.78 K/BB, and a 1.67 WHIP over 86.0 innings on the season. He relies primarily on a 96 mph four-seam fastball that has slight arm-side run, a whiffy 84 mph slider with 12-6 movement, and a hard 87 mph changeup with natural sink, while also mixing in a 95 mph sinker.

Rays punch their ticket to the postseason

For the seventh time since 2008 — and for the third season in a row — the Tampa Bay Rays have punched their postseason ticket after a 7-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday.

Tampa Bay was able to clinch a playoff spot thanks to a loss by Oakland Tuesday night. While the Rays did clinch a playoff spot, their exact spot in the postseason bracket remains to be determined. They had a magic number of five to win the American League East as of Wednesday morning, with nine games left to play.

Looking ahead, if the standings remain the same through the end of the season, Tampa Bay would play the winner of the AL Wildcard game, likely between the Boston Red Sox and the Blue Jays, in the AL Division Series. The Rays are 11-8 against the Red Sox on the season — after a 1-4 start to their 2021 campaign against those Massholes — and 11-8 against the Blue Jays.

On Friday, the Rays will begin their final home series of the regular season against the Miami Marlins. From there, they will travel to Houston then to New York for the final six regular-season games. After that? TROPTOBER!

LBWMF: Rays come from behind to defeat Toronto, 6-4

Yandy Díaz got the Rays on the board with a fifth-inning three-run homer off Robbie Ray. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

Shane Baz turned in an impressive big-league debut on Monday, while Tampa Bay rallied in the fifth inning, thus chasing Robbie Ray, as the Rays defeated the Blue Jays, 6-4.

At 93-58 on the season, the Rays ended their day of play 35-games above .500, moving a step closer to a postseason berth. They have a magic number of three for a playoff berth, and five for the American League East title.

Shane Baz looked like he belonged on Monday, holding Toronto to two solo home runs over five innings, but relinquishing nothing else. The right-hander struck out two of the first three batters he faced in a perfect first inning and ended up with five punchouts on the night.

Leaning primarily on a mid-to-upper 90’s four-seam fastball and slider combination, while sprinkling 15 curveballs, Baz was both whiffy and efficient against one of the best hitting teams in baseball, throwing 65 pitches overall (51 strikes, 78% strike rate, 15 whiffs, 23% SwStr%). All told, Baz retired 15 of the 17 batters he faced.

Down by a pair in the fifth inning, Tampa Bay finally broke through against Robbie Ray. Taylor Walls sparked the rally by hitting a one-out bullet to third that hit third base umpire Nic Lentz, yet stayed on the infield for a single. After Ray wild-pitched Walls up to second, Kevin Kiermaier hit a chopper to third that he was able to beat out for an infield single — putting runners on the corners and ending the team’s 0-for-16 stretch with runners in scoring position. The next man up, Yandy Díaz, fell behind 1-2 before he belted a 93 mph waist-high fastball to left to not only put the Rays on the board but to give them the go-ahead lead.

After chasing Ray in the fifth, Tampa Bay continued to tack on insurance runs against the Blue Jays’ bullpen. They would need all those runs.

In the sixth inning, Joey Wendle was hit by a pitch then moved up to second on a groundout. Kiermaier followed by chopping a ball toward third. Jake Lamb quickly fielded the play and rushed his throw to (and away from) first, consequently allowing Wendle to score. Kiermaier also tried to score, subsequently blowing through Rodney Linares’ stop sign at third and getting thrown out at home.

Then in the seventh inning, Díaz singled to center against Nate Pearson and moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch. He came home on Margot’s two-out base hit to center, putting Tampa Bay up by three.

Finally, Wendle capped the scoring for Tampa Bay by hammering a solo shot to right off fellow southpaw, Ryan Borucki, in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Meanwhile, all was quiet on the mound through the eighth inning. Collin McHugh followed Baz and threw two perfect frames with a pair of punchouts, while J.P. Feyereisen worked a hitless eighth with a pair of strikeouts.

Yet, things got interesting an inning later with David Robertson on the bump. The right-hander allowed a bloop double to right off the bat of George Springer before Marcus Semien homered to left-center, making it a two-run contest. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. walked, and Kevin Cash had seen enough of Robertson.

Enter J.T. Chargois.

Chargois got Bo Bichette to pop out into shallow right for the first out of the inning. Teoscar Hernández struck out, yet Danny Jansen singled to center on a 1-2 fastball that the right-hander left up in the zone. As if things weren’t ugly enough, Lourdes Gourriel Jr. fell behind 1-2, worked the count full, then earned a base loading free pass.

Enter Dietrich Enns.

As they say ” the third time’s a charm,” and Enns entered to face pinch hitter Breyvic Valera as the third pitcher of the inning. After he got ahead of the count 3-0, Enns threw four consecutive strikes (including a foul ball) to Valera, who struck out looking to end the game.

THE NEW WHAT NEXT

Drew Rasmussen (3-1, 3.00 ERA) will get the start Tuesday, pitching opposite of Alek Manoah (6-2, 3.39 ERA).

Drew Rasmussen got the start against Toronto on Tuesday and pitched five scoreless frames. The right-hander surrendered two hits and one walk while striking out three. Rasmussen was able to limit the damage to just three baserunners, none of which got past second base.

He only threw 52 pitches (35 strikes, 67% strike rate) in the contest as the team continues to limit his innings likely due to the fact that he leans heavily on a two-pitch mix. Even so, Rasmussen attacked the strike zone, and challenged hitters with high-octane fastballs, giving the Rays a chance to win. Since the All-Star Break, Rasmussen has posted a 2.04 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, and a 3.5 K/BB.

Alek Manoah gave up one hit over eight scoreless innings against the Rays on Monday. He struck out 10 without walking a batter. The rookie right-hander retired 14 consecutive batters to start the game before Joey Wendle lined a two-out single in the fifth inning, a knock Manoah requited by plunking Wendle in the eighth inning — the only other baserunner he allowed all night. That hit by pitch may have factored into Charlie Montoyo’s decision to pull the right-hander after 97 pitches (62 strikes, 64% strike rate) rather than letting Manoah go for a complete game shutout. On the season he maintains a 3.39 ERA and a 3.89 FIP, with a 1.03 WHIP, and a 3.29 K/BB through 93 innings. Key Matchups: Francisco Mejía (1-4, 2B), Joey Wendle (2-7)

You can read about the series in our preview, while the starting lineup is below.

RAYS 9/21/21 STARTING LINEUP

  1. B. Lowe 2B
  2. Choi 1B
  3. Díaz 3B
  4. Meadows DH
  5. Wendle SS
  6. Margot LF
  7. Kiermaier CF
  8. Zunino C
  9. Phillips RF
  10. Rasmussen RHP

TNWN: Rays vs. Blue Jays — one last series preview

The Rays averaged 16,882 fans per game over the four-game set against the Tigers. (Photo Credit: X-Rays Spex)

After splitting a four-game series with the Tigers, the Tampa Bay Rays will be out for blood when they start a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday, at the Trop. The Blue Jays took two-of-three from the Twins over the weekend.

At 92-58 on the season, the Rays enter play 34-games above .500 and 6.5 games up in the division. They also have a magic number of four to clinch a playoff berth (over Oakland), and six to win the American League East. Meanwhile, it’s make or break time for Toronto, which holds a slim 1.5 game lead over the Yankees, and a 2.0 game lead over the Athletics in the AL Wildcard race.

This series pairs the second and third highest scoring teams in baseball; Houston has moved past both teams. Neither team has performed to the height of their capabilities against their respective opponents over the weekend. Yet, neither walked away with a series loss. For the Rays, it was a tale of two halves of the same set. They put up 12 runs in the first 18 innings of the four-game set against the Tigers, yet just three runs in the final 18 frames including none on Sunday. Since Wander Franco hit the Injured List on September 10th, the Rays have scored three runs or fewer in five of the last nine games.

As for Toronto, while they walked away with two wins versus a sub .500 ballclub, they only outscored the Twins by one run over the life of the series. This is the same team that has put up 103 runs over the last two weeks, including a +8 run differential against the Rays just a week ago. That’s not to say the Jays aren’t scary good, they are — the numbers bear that out. However, Toronto’s production will slow down at some point, and if you’re Tampa Bay, whose pitching staff has tightened up over the last few games, you hope that time is now.

Put bluntly, the Rays are in the throes of an insipid 8-and-10 month of September. And as with the month of June, when the team promoted Wander Franco in part to light the proverbial fire during an 8-and-11 spate of play, Tampa Bay is promoting their current No. 1 prospect, Shane Baz, who will take the mound in the first game of this series.

Whatever the case, the Rays should clinch a postseason berth at some point between Monday and Wednesday (the earliest they could clinch at least a Wildcard berth is Tuesday), and win the division during the homestand. Suffice it to say, the better they perform against Toronto, the sooner they can punch their postseason ticket.

PITCHING PROBABLES

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Shane Baz (3-0, 1.76 ERA at Triple-A Durham), Drew Rasmussen (3-1, 3.00 ERA), and a pitcher to be named before the series finale on Wednesday. Charlie Montoyo will counter with Robbie Ray (12-5, 2.64 ERA), Alek Manoah (6-2, 3.39 ERA), and a pitcher to be named before the series finale on Wednesday.

Shane Baz, the Rays No. 1 prospect (No. 20 0verall) not only tore through Double-A and Triple-A this season, but he also appeared in the 2021 Olympics for Team USA. Baz posted a 1.76 ERA and a 3.32 FIP, with a 0.85 WHIP, and a 5.82 K/BB over 46 innings at Triple-A after opening the season with the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits.

What should you expect out of Baz?

The right-hander’s fastball sits around 97 mph and can touch triple-digits when he really rears back. He also leans on a mid-80s slider with good, hard bite that right-handed batters have a hard time squaring up. His changeup grades at 45/50 according to FanGraphs, and boasts enough fade to be a weapon against left-handers. Baz also rarely throws a curveball which the organization has had him rely on less and less over the years.

Robbie Ray allowed one run on four hits over seven innings against the Rays on Wednesday. He struck out 13 without walking a batter. The southpaw continues to plow through the opposition, regardless of who he’s facing. Ray has fanned double-digit batters in five of his last six starts, lowering his ERA to 2.64 and WHIP to 1.01 while taking the MLB lead in strikeouts at 233 and bolstering his Cy Young case. On the season, Ray maintains a 2.64 ERA and a 3.36 FIP, with a 1.02 WHIP, and a 5.30 K/BB across 177.1 innings. Key Matchups: Yandy Díaz (4-16, 3 2B, 2 BB), Kevin Kiaermaier (1-4), Austin Meadows (2-6, 2 2B, RBI)

Drew Rasmussen got the start against Toronto on Tuesday and pitched five scoreless frames. The right-hander surrendered two hits and one walk while striking out three. Rasmussen was able to limit the damage to just three baserunners, none of which got past second base.

He only threw 52 pitches (35 strikes, 67% strike rate) in the contest as the team continues to limit his innings likely due to the fact that he leans heavily on a two-pitch mix. Even so, Rasmussen attacked the strike zone, and challenged hitters with high-octane fastballs, giving the Rays a chance to win. Since the All-Star Break, Rasmussen has posted a 2.04 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, and a 3.5 K/BB.

Alek Manoah gave up one hit over eight scoreless innings against the Rays on Monday. He struck out 10 without walking a batter. The rookie right-hander retired 14 consecutive batters to start the game before Joey Wendle lined a two-out single in the fifth inning, a knock Manoah requited by plunking Wendle in the eighth inning — the only other baserunner he allowed all night. That hit by pitch may have factored into Charlie Montoyo’s decision to pull the right-hander after 97 pitches (62 strikes, 64% strike rate) rather than letting Manoah go for a complete game shutout. On the season he maintains a 3.39 ERA and a 3.89 FIP, with a 1.03 WHIP, and a 3.29 K/BB through 93 innings. Key Matchups: Francisco Mejía (1-4, 2B), Joey Wendle (2-7)

Michael Wacha coughed up six runs on seven hits and two walks over six innings against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. He struck out five. After a handful of solid outings, Wacha turned in a dud. The right-hander never really recovered from a first-inning three-run blast to Bo Bichette, although he was able to hang on for six innings to help save the bullpen a little. Wacha carries a 5.56 ERA and a 4.72 FIP, with a 3.89 K/BB, and a 1.40 WHIP through 111.2 innings on the season.