The Tampa Bay Rays’ 11-game road gauntlet has gone well so far, and they’ll attempt to continue their success this weekend, when they head to Detroit for a four game wrap around series against the Tigers. For the Rays, they are currently 6-1 on the road, coming off a huge three-game sweep of the New York Yankees. Tampa Bay has found a way to remain relevant, thanks in large part to a productive offense that has averaged just under five runs per game (over the last 14-days).
At 12-6 since June 15th, Tampa Bay has improved its overall win/loss record to 38-49 for a .437 WP — or, 40-47 for a .460 Pythagorean Expectation if you prefer. Despite the sub .500 win/loss record, when you factor in the Rays’ pitching and defense — especially over the last three weeks — one thing becomes glaringly obvious: They should be a formidable opponent for the Detroit Tigers.
In kind, the Tigers have always been a formidable opponent for Tampa Bay, and it would be frankly stupid to assume that they won’t pose a hurdle for the Rays over the next four days. Much like the Rays, the Tigers have been hot over a 10-game span; going 8-2, while averaging five runs per game. And in those 10 games, the pitching staff has held opponents to three runs or fewer five times, including two shutouts by Rick Porcello, who the Rays will face Sunday.
Neil Solandz said it best in the post-game show following the series finale Wednesday; if the Rays can split the series with the Tigers, they’ll return Monday with an impressive 8-3 road-trip under their belts. In the end, they’ll need to win between 66%-75% of their upcoming games if they have any hope of remaining relevant, and an 8-3 road-trip completely fits those parameters.
Max Scherzer: Scherzer has always been tough on the Rays, and there’s no reason to expect anything different out of the Tigers’ 29 year-old RHP. Then again, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner has had a rough go of things of late, surrendering a career high-tying 10 runs over four-plus innings in an 11-4 defeat to Kansas City on June 17. For Scherzer, it was the fifth time in six starts he allowed at least four runs — something he had done just four times in his previous 33 games. However, he boasts a 2.70 ERA during during a three-start winning streak against the Rays, striking out 25 and walking five over 20 innings while allowing just 12 hits. In the Rays favor, opposing hitters have been able to make more contact on pitches off the fastball/curve ball/slider/changeup throwing pitcher. For a team that likes to force pitchers over the plate, this may offer a glimmer of hope.
Drew Smyly: Per Rotowire, “Smyly, who gave up four runs over 2.1 innings in Sunday’s start against Houston, is dealing with an upper respiratory infection, MLive’s James Schmehl reports.” The Rays have had a measured amount of success against Smyly in his last two starts, tagging the lefty for four runs on eight hits, including a homer in 11 innings of work — measured being the operative word. Those 11 innings have come over two starts in which the Rays slashed a combined .174 BA/.269 OBP/.391 SLG/.661 OPS line. If anything holds true for Smyly: 1. He is try tough on lefties, 2. He is prone to giving up home runs (his 1.19 HR/9 speaks to that), 3. His +4 FIP is largely predicated on the 10 homers he’s given up, and 4. Smyly strands a lot of runners on base. Key matchups: Evan Longoria (1-1, 2B, BB), Jose Molina (1-2, 2B, RBI).
Anibal Sanchez: The Rays have had success against Sanchez over the last few years, extending back to when he was a Marlin. Despite that, he’s been good this season. The Tigers are on a four game winning streak when Sanchez is on the bump, and Sanchez ceded all of 12 earned runs in his six June starts. Key matchups: Matt Joyce (4-12, 2B, 2 3B, HR, 3 RBI), James Loney (4-10, 3B), Jose Molina (2-4, HR, 2 RBI).
Rick Porcello: And your marque pitching matchup of the series, Rick Porcello vs. David Price. Porcello is on a run of three consecutive shutout starts. Overall, Porcello has given up two earned runs or fewer 10 times this season. Porcello throws both a two-seam and four-seam fastball — both of which can reach the mid-90s (although the four-seamer is a bit faster). His heavy two-seamer/sinker has plenty of life down in the zone and induces ground balls (his 47.4 GB% speaks to that). Key matchups: Desmond Jennings (3-10, RBI), James Loney (2-7, 2B, RBI, BB).
- The Tigers have won 11 of 13 and are coming off a three-game sweep of Oakland, which owns the best record in baseball. They were losers of 20 of 29 before the current hot spell.
- Tampa Bay split six meetings with the Tigers in 2013, losing two of three in Detroit.
- Logan Forsythe is 11-for-21 during a streak of five straight multiple-hit games.
- The Rays are 4-1 in Erik Bedard’s last five outings, a stretch during which he’s struck out 30 and walked five over 26 1-3 innings.
- The Rays have recalled IF Vince Belnome from Triple-A Durham, corresponding by optioning LHP Jeff Beliveau back to the Bulls. It should be noted: The 10-day rule (on staying in the minors) does not apply to paternity leave cases; Ramos is expected to leave Saturday.