Kevin Kiermaier hit an inside-the-park home run on Friday, in Minneapolis. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays, Illustration Credit: X-Rays Spex)

After defeating the Twins on Friday, 10-4, the Tampa Bay Rays look for a series win tonight.

At 71-45 on the season, Tampa Bay enters play a season-high 26-games above .500, and with a five-game lead over Boston in the AL East with 46 games left to play.

The Rays are in the midst of a history-making trip offensively, as they have scored at least eight runs in each contest thus far. They are the first team to score at least eight runs in seven consecutive ball games since the 2001 Cleveland squad. Moreover, as Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) noted, “Tampa Bay is the third team in the modern era to score at least eight runs in seven or more games on the same trip, and the first since the Philadelphia A’s in 1930 (nine straight).”

Tampa Bay now quietly boasts the third-most home runs in the American League (157) — the seventh most in all of baseball — and they hit four more last night.

In the second inning, Yandy Diaz — who later left the game with a left thumb sprain — laced an opposite-field homer to right-center. It was his eighth long ball of the season. The team is waiting for word on whether they will need to make a roster move to accommodate the injury.

Then in the third inning, resident Nerd Squad technician, Nelson Cruz, blasted a leadoff homer to left, his 24th of the season.

Two innings later, “Gator” Mike Zunino sent a laser into the bullpen in left-field, putting the Rays up by five runs.

Tampa Bay collected its sixth run in the sixth inning on an inside-the-park home run by Kevin Kiermaier. While the Outlaw wasn’t at full speed out of the batter’s box, he turned on the afterburners when he saw the ball carom off the right-field wall and bounce over Trevor Larnach’s outstretched glove as it rolled back into the middle of the outfield.

He was going back on the ball and he made it look really interesting. I’m like, ‘Come on, just let me get a hit right here’. I saw it carom off the wall, then I started going.

— Kevin Kiermaier

While his typical sprint speed this season is 29.2 feet per second, Kiermaier was tracked at 29.5 feet per second — 0.5 shy of “elite” speed.

All told, the Rays went 2-for-8 wRISP (.250 BA) and scored a pair of two-out runs across a 10 R/13 H/3 BB campaign. Brandon Lowe (2-for-5, 1 R), Cruz (2-for-4, 1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB), Kiermaier (2-for-5, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI), and Zunino (2-for-4, 1 HR, 2 R, 1 RBI) each put up a multi-hit attack on Friday.

Meanwhile, Shane McClanahan allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits and two walks across 5.1 innings against the Twins. He struck out six on 101 pitches (62 strikes, 61% strike rate), yet coaxed just eight swinging strikes (8% SwStr%). The left-hander started his outing with three shutout frames before he allowed a run in each of the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. He exited the game with two on and one out in the sixth, yet Matt Wisler — who threw all of two pitches — got McClanahan out of the jam by spinning a double play. It was the first time in four turns that the rookie failed to complete six innings, yet he lowered his season ERA to 3.73 in the process. McClanahan maintains a 3.47 FIP, 1.29 WHIP, and a 3.5 K/BB across 89.1 innings on the season.

Speaking of Wisler, Ben Clemens (FanGraphs) published an excellent piece on the right-hander’s small adjustment that has made him a valuable high-leverage piece out of the Rays’ bullpen.

Evan Phillips, who was recently acquired from Baltimore and recalled from Triple-A Durham, threw the final three innings to earn the save — allowing one run on three hits (including a solo homer) while throwing 43 pitches (33 strikes, 77% strike rate, 5 whiffs, 12% SwStr%). While very effective, the other hurler named Phillips was designated for assignment to clear roster space for right-hander Adam Conley (more on him in Noteworthiness). The Rays hope Phillips doesn’t get plucked up by another team, as it would be unfortunate to lose a quality arm.

The New What Next

Michael Wacha (2-3, 5.49 ERA) will get the start tonight, pitching opposite of Kenta Maeda (5-4, 4.69 ERA).

Michael Wacha allowed five runs on 10 hits and a walk while striking out two across five innings on Sunday against the Orioles. Wacha gave up at least one run in each of the first four frames, yet he avoided a loss since the Rays put up six runs in the top of the eighth. The 30-year-old has struggled mightily in five post-All-Star Break starts, with a 7.04 ERA and 1.70 WHIP in 23 innings during that time. Overall, Wacha maintains a 5.49 ERA and a 4.97 FIP on the season, with a 1.44 WHIP, and a 3.09 K/BB across 80.1 innings.

Kenta Maeda allowed three runs on six hits and three walks over five innings against Houston on Sunday. He struck out five. With a 1.80 WHIP and 100 pitches through five innings, it is safe to say it wasn’t Maeda’s most efficient outing. He allowed RBI base hits in each of the first, fourth, and fifth innings, yet still managed to escape with a tally in the win column. The right-hander has allowed at least three runs in four of his last five outings, raising his season ERA to 4.69 through 19 starts. Maeda now maintains a 4.69 ERA and a 4.24 FIP on the season, with a 1.34 WHIP, and a 3.47 K/BB across 96.0 innings. The right-hander allowed three runs on three hits including one homer in one, one-inning outing against the Rays. Maeda relies primarily on an 82 mph slider, an 84 mph splitter, and a 91 mph four-seam fastball, while also throwing a 90 mph sinker. Key Matchups: Manuel Margot (5-19, 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI), Austin Meadows (1-1, 2B), Francisco Mejía (3-5, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI)

You can read about the series in our preview, while the starting lineup and Noteworthiness are below.

Rays 8/14/21 Starting Lineup

  1. B. Lowe 2B
  2. Meadows LF
  3. Cruz DH
  4. Choi 1B
  5. Franco SS
  6. Arozarena RF
  7. Wendle 3B
  8. Kiermaier CF
  9. Mejía C
  10. Wacha RHP

Noteworthiness

— The Rays needed a fresh relief arm, and Conley, a 31-year-old left-hander, was the next man up. The southpaw spent five seasons with the Marlins between 2015 to 2019 and worked primarily as a starter for the first three seasons before moving to the bullpen for the latter two. In total, he logged 414.1 innings with an ERA of 4.82. Last season, Conley was designated for assignment by Miami and outrighted without ever appearing in a game. Tampa Bay added Conley on a minor league deal in May.

In 31 Triple-A innings this season, Conley has performed to a 4.35 ERA, yet with a spike in strikeouts … but also walks. His 14.1% walk rate is higher than any previous season at any level, although his 26.6% strikeout rate tops all previous seasons since 2012.

— Pete Fairbanks (shoulder) will throw off a mound this afternoon as he worked his way back from the IL.

— Nick Anderson will make his second rehab appearance on Sunday for Triple-A Durham.

— J.P. Feyereisen (biceps tendinitis) and Ryan Thompson are slated to throw rehab outings in the Florida Complex League on Monday, while Chris Archer will pitch for Durham on Tuesday.

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