The season’s end is finally upon us. Just three more games until Kevin Cash, Evan Longoria, Chris Archer, and the rest of the Tampa Bay Rays can put this nightmarish 2016 campaign to rest. First they must go into Arlington, where they’ll butt heads with the Texas Rangers — the AL West leading ball club that’s collected 52 wins at home, matching the franchise record set in 1978 and equaled in 2011.
Tampa Bay knocked off the Chicago White Sox on Thursday, snapping a six-game losing skid. The team enters the concluding weekend 30-48 on the road. Mikie Mahtook seems to finally have made the proper adjustments at the plate (editor’s note: a few months too late, but better late than never) homering on Thursday and going 7-for-18 over his last five games (.389 BA).
Texas can wrap up home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs with a win Friday, and the Rays will try to stave off what appears to be destiny for as long as they can. It won’t be easy; the Rangers have won six of their last nine contests after taking the final two of a three-game series against the Brewers earlier in the week. Carlos Gomez goes into the final series of the regular season red-hot, going 7-for-12 with eight RBI in his last three contests.
Over the final three games of the season, Cash will depend upon Matt Andriese (8-7, 4.34 ERA), Jake Odorizzi (9-6, 3.77 ERA), and Chase Whitley (0-0, 1.74 ERA). Jeff Banister will counter with Yu Darvish (6-5, 3.53 ERA), Colby Lewis (6-4, 3.93 ERA), and Martín Pérez (10-11, 4.37 ERA).
Rays Series Starters
Andriese allowed two earned runs on four hits and a walk over six innings against Boston on Saturday. He struck out five. Despite taking a no decision, the righty threw better than he had in his two most recent turns, posting six full frames for the first time since August 24. After a two-start stretch where he surrendered 14 earned runs over nine innings, Andriese has bounced back — allowing just five earned runs over the 16-1/3 innings covering his last three turns on the mound.
Odorizzi lasted just three innings Sunday afternoon, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks while fanning three. The righty threw 84 pitches over the course of his three inning stint before being pulled in favor of LHP Justin Marks. It’s just the third time in his last 10 trips to the mound that Odorizzi hadn’t been able post a quality start, putting up a solid 3.52 ERA and 2.26 K/BB over that stretch (56-1/3 innings).
Whitley has fared well since being promoted at the start of September — allowing just two earned runs and notching 11 strikeouts in 10-1/3 innings — and will get his first start of the season on Sunday. Whitley tossed a season-high 62 pitches in his most recent outing on Tuesday, and likely will be capped around 80-85 pitches.
Rangers Series Starters
Darvish threw seven scoreless frames on Saturday against Oakland, allowing two hits while fanning nine. It was a vintage Darvish start after the Athletics tagged him for seven runs on seven hits and four walks the previous Saturday. His command was on point as the righty tossed 67 of 99 pitches in the strike zone, and induced 18 whiffs. Darvish has had his way with Tampa Bay, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.50 ERA over his last two starts. Key matchups: nada.
Lewis lost after allowing seven runs on seven hits and a walk in 1-1/3 innings on Sunday. After posting a scoreless first inning, the righty flew off the rails in the second, exiting after Oakland took a seven run advantage. Lewis now has lost all three of his starts since coming off the DL in September. Sunday’s outing raised his ERA 53 points, and it was the first time in 18 starts this season that he failed to complete at least five innings. Lewis is 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA against Tampa Bay, extending back to 2013. Key matchups: Nick Franklin (2-2, RBI), Brad Miller (4-15, 3B, RBI, BB)
Perez allowed eight runs on nine hits and three walks over 6-2/3 innings against the Brewers on Monday. He stuck out three. The southpaw posted four consecutive quality starts heading into Monday’s contest, but his tendency to let games slip away has been ever present all season. He hasn’t allowed at least five runs in just eight of his 32 starts. The Rays beat him up back in August, tagging Lewis for six runs on five hits (including a homer) and three walks. Key matchups: Corey Dickerson (1-3, RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (1-3), Evan Longoria (5-1, 2 2B, HR, 5 RBI), Brad Miller (4-12, 2B, RBI, 3 BB), Alexei Ramirez (2-6, BB)
— Evan Longoria doubled in the ninth inning Thursday, matching his career high for hits in a season with 169 (2010). He enters the series four RBI shy of 100.
— Tampa Bay took two of three games from Texas at home from August 19-21, scoring eight runs in each of the final two contests.
— Elvis Andrus has gone 8-for-15 with two homers and five RBI over his last four games, raising his average to .304.