I wouldn’t say the Rays are out of the weeds just yet — after all, they’re still down a couple of pitchers and Ben Zobrist is out for the time being, while he mends from a bone dislocation in his left thumb. Yet, I can’t help but feel a sense of cautious optimism. Generally speaking, the pitching staff seems it may have turned a corner, and over the last week or so the team has started to play like the vintage Rays — their wins Saturday, Tuesday, and Wednesday speak to that. Tampa Bay still hasn’t shown it can win more than a few games here and there, so the next step for the Rays is to string together wins with consistency. They’ll attempt the to do just that in Anaheim, where they’ll face the Los Angeles Angels (or as Neil deGrasse Tyson called them, The The Angels Angels) in a four-game weekend series.
Really, is there any better time than now to show what they’re made of? Beyond everything, the Rays have performed well in Anaheim since the 2008 season, going 15-10 at Angel Stadium while posting a 29-20 record overall. Tampa Bay will throw Erik Bedard, Chris Archer, Cesar Ramos, and David Price on the mound. In turn, they’ll face the tandem of Tyler Skaggs, Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, and Ray Mysterioso — you know, since they’ve yet to name the starter for Sunday’s contest.
Erik Bedard will get the start in the series opener opposite of Tyler Skaggs. Bedard looks to continue his streak of good starts on the heels of three consecutive outings where he’s given up one run or fewer, for the first time since 2008. He’s had good stuff in hs last few starts against the Angels, holding them to one run over seven innings of a 2-1 win at Anaheim on June 3, 2013 while pitching for the Astros, improving to 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA in his last four matchups. Skaggs is coming off an impressive outing in Toronto where he gave up three runs on four hits while pitching into the ninth. However, Skaggs is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA in four starts at home, including a 2-2/3 inning outing at home in a 14-3 loss to Texas. Friday night’s game should be interesting. Chris Archer is currently on a three-game streak where he hasn’t lasted more than five innings, while giving up three or more earned runs in each of those starts. Then again, Jered Weaver has been handled many a few times by the Rays over the years, so draw your own conclusion on that one. Cesar Ramos will look to bounce back from his less than stellar last outing, butting heads with the XStraight-EdgeXRacerX, CJ Wilson, Saturday. Finally, the Rays ace will round out a weekend of baseball against He Who Shall Not Be Named.
The Angels are coming off a 5-1 road trip, a feather in their cap. BUT they’re 8-10 at home, having been outscored 100-87 in the confines of Angel Stadium. What’s more, they’re 2-4 at home over the last six games, including the aforementioned 14-3 shellacking.
Tyler Skaggs: Tampa Bay has never faced the 22 year-old LHP Tyler Skaggs. He is described as having a quality fastball that plays up because of movement and strike-throwing ability. Skaggs likes to challenge hitters with his fastball, and will work inside to left handed hitters. He does have some command issues, and needs to consistently establish his fastball early in his starts. His curve ball is a plus pitch of the whiff variety, and the FB/CB tandem gives him two plus pitches and an exceptional base to work from. Skaggs’ changeup has some promise and should be considered a quality third pitch.
Jered Weaver: Jered Weaver has been anything but dominant since 2011. His velocity has been on a steady decline, and because of it his K/9 and first pitch K% have fallen (from 64.7% to 61.1% to 59.9%), all while the number of hard hits he’s given up has increased. Granted some of the regression can be attributed to a 2013 injury (a broken elbow), but that injury does nothing to explain his 2012 regression. His falling status is our gain — the Rays have tagged Weaver with 16 earned runs and a 5.92 ERA in his last four starts. Key matchups: David DeJesus (2 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 4 BB), Yunel Escobar (4-8, 2 2B, RBI, 2 BB), James Loney (9-29, 2 2B, 3 RBI), Evan Longoria (5-13, 3 2B, BB), Jose Molina (4-13, 2B, HR, 3 RBI), Wil Myers (2-3, 2 HR, 3 RBI), Sean Rodriguez (2-4, HR, 2 RBI, BB).
CJ Wilson: Picking up where he left off last season, CJ Wilson’s HR/FB has increased over that of 2013 — but then again, so has his K/9. Wilson has normalized somewhat following an inflated season the year prior, which isn’t necessarily good news since he’s been tough on the Rays — extending back to his time with the Rangers. Still, more than a few Rays have good numbers against Wilson, and they’ll be looked upon to carry the team against the Angels’ LHP. Key matchups: Yunel Escobar (4-8, 2B, 3 BB), Ryan Hanigan (1-2, BB), James Loney (2-7), Sean Rodriguez (6-18, HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB).
- As I wrote Wednesday, Ben Zobrist will be sidelined and could be headed to the disabled list due to a dislocated left thumb incurred while sliding headfirst into second base Wednesday Joe Maddon said the club will decide Zobrist’s fate on Thursday, but X-rays ruled out a fracture. Cole Figueroa is on the way to Anaheim in case he is needed.
- Evan Longoria is batting .377 with six homers and 17 RBI in 21 career games at Angel Stadium.
- Angels OF Mike Trout has 42 hits and 21 of them have gone for extra bases.
- 1B Albert Pujols had two hits Wednesday after going 1-for-25 over his previous six games.