After sweeping Cleveland in an important three-game series with postseason implications, the Tampa Bay Rays continue their homestand on Monday, when they welcome the Baltimore Orioles into the Trop for a two-day, three-game series. The Orioles took one of three from the Royals this past weekend.
Because of the sweep, the Rays enter play with a 0.5 game lead over Cleveland and Oakland in the AL Wildcard race. In spite of the fairly difficult schedule ahead, when the Rays play eight consecutive games against plus .500 teams (the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Yankees), FanGraphs gives Tampa Bay a 73.3% chance of a postseason berth — up 25.8% in the last five days. Baseball Prospectus views their chances similarly, giving the Rays a 72.8% chance — up 9.8% from yesterday.
The Orioles have won four of their last seven games since they dropped a pair in last series against the Rays, which is impressive for a team that has struggled all season long. Even though they’ve held their own over the last 14 days, Baltimore hasn’t played well overall. The Orioles are 22nd in the league in batting average (.246), 23rd in the league in on-base percentage (.309), and 24th in the league in slugging percentage (.414) and runs scored (598).
On top of that, Baltimore’s pitching staff is one of the worst in the league. Opponents have tagged the Orioles with a .273 BA and a 5.77 ERA, while their 34 quality starts is 28th in the league.
That doesn’t mean this will be a slam-dunk series. It should be remembered the Rays are 10-6 (62.5% WP) against Baltimore this season, which is good, not great, and the Orioles outscored them 15-4 in the final two games of the previous series. But, with 2/3 of the season left against sub .500 teams, Tampa Bay needs to pad the win column as much as possible before they face LA, Boston, and New York in the final two weeks of the season.
Kevin Cash will throw Ryan Yarbrough (11-3, 3.36 ERA), and likely Trevor Richards (4-12, 4.29 ERA), and Austin Pruitt (2-0, 4.78 ERA) over the next two days. Brandon Hyde will counter with Asher Wojciechowski (2-7, 5.12 ERA), a pitcher to be named before the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, and John Means (10-9, 3.55 ERA).
Ryan Yarbrough allowed three runs on four hits and a walk over six innings against the Astros while striking out five. Yarbs kept Houston off the board for the first three frames before getting tagged for three runs in the fourth, yet the southpaw still delivered his third quality start in his last four turns. He carries a 3.36 ERA, an 0.87 WHIP, and an outstanding 7 K/BB across 115-1/3 innings on the season. Yarbrough has been tough on Baltimore over his career, posting a 3-0 record with a 2.86 ERA in six games (28-1/3 innings).
Asher Wojciechowski allowed five earned runs on six hits and no walks while striking out three across four innings against the Nationals on Wednesday. Wojciechowski surrendered all five of his runs in the first inning, punctuated by a two-run homer off the bat of Kurt Suzuki. He was able to settle down, allowing only one hit across his final three frames, although the damage had already been done. Granted he’s had some success, yet Wojciechowski has allowed at least one home run in each of his past seven outings. His inability to keep the ball in the yard combined with a lack of command — he has a 3.6 BB/9 — has led to uneven results. He will wear a 5.12 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP with 61 strikeouts across 58 into the start on Monday. Wojciechowski is 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in three career games (two starts) against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (1-4, HR, RBI), Avisail Garcia (1-4, 2 RBI), Nate Lowe (1-1, RBI), Tommy Pham (3-9, 2B, RBI, 2 BB), Eric Sogard (2-8, BB), Joey Wendle (1-1, 2B, BB)
Trevor Richards exited Thursday’s contest against Houston after hurling just 2-1/3 innings. He allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks while striking out four. Richards entered with two Astros on base in the second inning and served up an RBI double to allow an inherited run to score. He also served up a leadoff homer in the third inning to George Springer and got himself into trouble with a pair of walks and a throwing error in the fourth before being pulled from the game. Although Richards has allowed just three earned runs while striking out 15 hitters in 11-2/3 innings since joining the Rays, Kevin Cash appears determined to keep his pitch count low; he has averaged a mere 72.3 pitches in his three outings. Richards blanked Baltimore on five scattered hits and a walk across six innings on August 23.
Austin Pruitt got the start against Cleveland on Friday because the Rays had used seven pitchers against Houston the day before. Contrary to his season numbers, “Cy” Pruitt set the tone with the best outing of his big league career. Pruitt surrendered four hits while striking out six across 5-1/3 scoreless frames. The right-hander threw 52 of 77 pitches for strikes (68% strike rate) as well as 14 of 20 first-pitch strikes while coaxing 11 swinging strikes. He lowered his ERA by almost a full point — from 5.57 to 4.78 — and now carries a 1.27 WHIP and a 3.67 K/BB over 37-2/3 on the season. Color me surprised … I’ll take it.
John Means allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings while striking out four against the Royals on Friday. Kansas City got on the board first, but Means settled down after he served up a solo shot to Jorge Soler in the first inning. The lefty carries a 3.55 ERA and a 3.09 K/BB through 124-1/3 innings on the season, although he is 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA in three starts against Tampa Bay in his campaign. Key Matchups: Avisail Garcia (4-10, 2B, 2 RBI), Nate Lowe (1-3, HR, 2 RBI), Tommy Pham (3-9, 2 2B), Eric Sogard (2-3, HR, RBI)
— Tampa Bay will make a roster move on Monday, adding right-handed reliever Cole Sulser (6-3, 3.27 ERA), who was on the taxi squad. It will be Sulser’s first-ever big-league promotion. He came to the Rays organization in the trade involving Jake Bauers.
— The Rays also promoted RHP Anthony Banda from Triple-A Durham.
— Tyler Glasnow is set to pitch two innings for Triple-A Durham in the final regular-season game. He could join the Rays thereafter pending the outcome of his outing.
— Juan Toribio (MLB.com) made his predictions of the Rays postseason roster.