(Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

After winning two of three against the Rangers over the weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays play host to the Houston Astros when they start a three-game series on Monday. The Astros won three of four against the Athletics.

At 82-64 on the season, the Rays enter play 18 games above .500 with a fairly firm grip on the second American League Wildcard spot by 1.5 games over the Seattle Mariners. They are also just 0.5 games behind the Blue Jays for the top AL Wildcard spot.

The Rays bounced back from a 4-3 loss on Friday to take the final two games of the series against the Rangers. And while they did diddly squat with runners in scoring position in the series opener, going 2-for-12, they bounced back to hit .272 wRISP on Saturday and Sunday, when they put up five runs in each of the final two games of the set. The pitching staff limited a powerful Rangers team to eight total runs. In other words, Tampa Bay did what they needed to on the bump, while the offense came through when it needed to. It would appear that their offensive woes could be behind them, with the Rays improving to a .248 BA/.309 OBP/.356 SLG/.665 OPS slash line with a 97 wRC+ (up from .238 BA/.290 OBP/.325 SLG/.615 OPS with an 82 wRC+ going into the series against Texas).

The Astros played well over the last week plus, winning seven of the last eight games, punctuated by an 11-2 win over the Athletics on Sunday. Houston has been an offensive juggernaut over the last week, slashing .285 BA/.358 OBP/.558 SLG/.916 OPS with a hefty .273 ISO and a 161 wRC+. Overall, the Astros are averaging 4.53 runs per game with a .424 slugging percentage (sixth in the league).

The Rays will have Drew Rasmussen, Shane McClanahan, and Corey Kluber going up against the Astros, all of whom are capable of stifling a tough offense like Houston’s. Meanwhile, the Rays will be facing the back half of Houston’s rotation over the next three days. A series win would go a long way in generating some momentum heading into the weekend series against the Blue Jays.

With the pending battle between a pair of excellent pitching staffs — the Rays with a combined 3.34 ERA and 3.63 FIP (3.39 ERA and 3.44 FIP from the starters, 3.29 ERA and 3.84 FIP from the relievers), and the Astros with a combined 2.95 ERA and 3.34 FIP (3.04 ERA and 3.49 FIP from the starters, 2.77 ERA and 3.04 FIP from the relievers) — we could expect three low scoring contests, much like in 2021 when Tampa Bay averaged just 3.33 runs against the Astros in the six-game season series, while Houston averaged just 3.83 runs against the Rays.

Pitching Probables

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Drew Rasmussen (12-8, 4.04 ERA), Shane McClanahan (12-5, 2.13 ERA), and Corey Kluber (10-9, 4.44 ERA). Dusty Baker will counter with Luis Garcia (12-8, 4.04 ERA), Cristian Javier (9-9, 2.87 ERA), and Lance McCullers Jr. (3-1, 2.34 ERA).

Drew Rasmussen allowed four runs on six hits and a walk over four innings against the Blue Jays. He struck out one. Rasmussen was not at his best Wednesday, allowing as many as four runs for the first time since June 10. Toronto got to him early, as Vladimir Guerrero hit a solo shot in the first inning. Rasmussen never settled in as he also conceded runs in the third and fourth innings. Overall, Rasmussen maintains a 2.77 ERA and a 3.17 FIP (3.41 xFIP), with a 4.07 K/BB, and a 1.07 WHIP across 126.2 innings.

Luis Garcia allowed three runs on eight hits and no walks over five innings against the Angels. He struck out four. Despite a couple of mistakes with home runs off the bats of Andrew Velazquez and Shohei Ohtani, Garcia earned the win as Houston plated 12 runs on the day. Superlatives aside, Garcia has not been at his best in the second half, owning a 4.87 ERA in 46.2 innings since the All-Star Break after delivering a 3.65 ERA in the first half. Overall, Garcia maintains a 4.04 ERA and a 4.03 FIP (3.81 xFIP), with a 3.40 K/BB, and a 1.17 WHIP across 140.1 innings. The right-hander relies primarily on a 94 mph four-seam fastball and a whiffy 85 mph cutter that has heavy sink and extreme cut, while also mixing in a 77 mph 12-6 curveball that has a sharp downward bite, an 85 mph changeup that has obvious arm-side fade, and an 80 mph slider that sweeps across the zone and has exceptional depth. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (1-2, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Wander Franco (1-3, 2B), Francisco Mejía (1-2, RBI), David Peralta (1-3, 2B), Ramírez (1-2)

Shane McClanahan allowed three hits and one walk while striking out five across five scoreless frames on Thursday against the Blue Jays. This marked the left-hander’s first start since being placed on the Injured List August 31 with a left shoulder impingement. He was limited to only 69 pitches but was otherwise excellent, racking up 14 swinging strikes (20% SwStr%) to shut down a strong Toronto lineup. Across 152.1 innings this season, McClanahan has a 2.14 ERA and a 2.60 FIP (2.31 xFIP), with a 6.03 K/BB, and a 0.86 WHIP.

Cristian Javier allowed two hits and no walks while striking out eight across six shutout innings on Wednesday against the Tigers. Javier dominated the Tigers throughout the start, racking up 14 swinging strikes across 90 total pitches (16% SwStr%). In 43.1 innings since August 2, Javier owns a 2.08 ERA with a 5.09 K/BB. Javier has surpassed his highest workload by over 30 innings, so Houston could continue to look for a way to limit his pitches prior to the postseason. When on the mound, Javier has maintained an excellent 2.87 ERA and 3.34 FIP (3.56 xFIP), with a 3.76 K/BB across 131.2 innings. The right-hander relies primarily on a whiffy 94 mph four-seam fastball and an 80 mph slider that sweeps across the zone, while also mixing in a 76 mph curveball that has a sharp downward bite and slight glove-side movement. Key Matchup: David Peralta (2-5, 2B)

Corey Kluber got the start on Friday and allowed four runs on nine hits while striking out six and walking none over 5.2 innings. For the fifth time in a row and the 15th time this season, Kluber did not walk a batter in a game. Unfortunately for the right-hander, he gave up four runs on two big extra-base hits (a double and a homer) in the third inning, giving him 10 earned runs in his last 6.1 innings pitched. Kluber’s ERA spiked to 4.44 on the season, while he maintains a 3.60 FIP, a 7.11 K/BB, and a 1.19 WHIP across 148 frames.

Lance McCullers Jr. allowed two runs on two hits and four walks while striking out 11 across six innings on Thursday against Oakland. McCullers navigated some wildness with just 59 of his 99 pitches going for strikes (60% strike rate), although he was able to hold the Athletics two just hits. Both runs against him came in the fourth inning when he allowed four of the first five batters to reach safely. It was the first time he exceeded seven strikeouts in a start this season, representing the most strikeouts in a game since Game 2 of the 2020 American League Championship Series. Overall, McCullers owns a 2.34 ERA and a 3.37 FIP (3.94 xFIP), with a 1.95 K/BB, and a 1.27 WHIP across 34.2 frames. The right-hander relies primarily on a 93 mph sinker that has heavy sinking action, an 83 mph worm-killer curveball, and an 86 mph slider that sweeps across the zone, while also mixing in an 87 mph changeup that dives down out of the zone and has slight arm-side fade and a whiffy 89 mph cutter that has heavy sink. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-3), Manuel Margot (2-7, BB), David Peralta (2-5, 2B, 3B, 3 RBI, BB)