After being shut out for the second consecutive game — and the fifth time in eight games — the Tampa Bay Rays look to split the four-game series against Cleveland in a matinee ball game this afternoon.
The Rays prolonged offensive slump continued Saturday evening against a hurler that had performed to a 15.00 ERA/5.81 FIP over the last 14-days. Yet here were are Sunday, in the waning hours leading up to the first pitch, and things will not get any easier this afternoon against one of the best pitchers in the league. The Rays have now scored just eight runs in eight games — becoming the first team to do so since the Dodgers in 2012 (June 23–30). They are hitting .175 during this prolonged stretch, and are 2-for-35 wRISP. Tampa Bay is at .500 for the first time since June 16th.
I will never imply that Derek Shelton was better equipped to be the Rays hitting coach than Chad Mottola. In fact, the players appear to respond better to Mottola than they did to Shelton. However, with Shelton out of the way, there’s no scapegoating the team’s lack of offensive production, nor can we blame any member of the coaching staff for the team’s collective woes. Simply put, the league has adjusted to the Rays’ free swinging ways, and the Rays haven’t adjusted back. When you attempt to launch every pitch into the outfield stands, and you change your launch angle so you can create some lift, you expose yourself to strikeouts as well as weak grounders and fly balls. That’s especially true when pitchers try to avoid the homer juice zone between 2-1/2 feet and four feet above the ground.
Take Logan Morrison for example. He has seen his fly ball rate fluctuate from 37.1% in April, to 52.9% in May, 47.1% in June, 47.8% in July, and finally 44.8% in August. It’s no coincidence that he hit a monthly high-watermark 10 home runs in May, when he had a higher FB% and hit the ball harder.
To their credit, the Rays are still in the playoff hunt … but just barely. The two Wildcard spots are for the taking, and in the last five days, five different teams have held a share of second AL Wildcard spot; the AL Wildcard leader has changed hands in seven straight days. However, if Tampa Bay cannot take advantage of the chances the are given, it’s all for not.
The New What Next
Austin Pruitt (6-3, 5.14 ERA, 3.67 FIP) will start for the Rays this afternoon, toeing the rubber opposite of Corey Kluber (10-3, 2.65 ERA, 2.43 FIP).
Pruitt nearly matched Chris Sale, working around a leadoff double to start the game, and facing just one over the minimum over the first three frames. Boston was able to touch the right-hander for a one-run rally, but he limited the damage, and worked around any trouble all night. Pruitt scattered seven hits (only one to the pull side) and one walk, while fanning five and holding the Red Sox to 0-for-8 wRISP.
Kluber pitched Cleveland to victory with his second consecutive complete-game performance in his last turn. He allowed one run on three hits with no walks and 11 punch outs against the Rockies on Tuesday. Kluber now has 13 straight starts with eight-plus strikeouts. Even though he missed a month on the DL due to a back injury, the right-hander ranks fourth in Major League Baseball with 172 strikeouts over 132-2/3 innings. Since his return, the 31-year-old is 7-1 with a 1.70 ERA over 13 starts. Key Matchups: Corey Dickerson (3-9, 2 2B), Evan Longoria (7-20, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Trevor Plouffe (13-46, 2 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI)
Rays 8/13/17 Starting Lineup
Souza Jr RF
— Kevin Kiermaier went 0-for-4 with a run scored yesterday for the Charlotte Stone Crabs as the DH in his first post-back strain rehab game. Kiermaier will DH again today and Matt Andriese will make a rehab start on the mound.
— Just how historic has this slump been?
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) August 13, 2017