After splitting a brief two-game series against the Washington Nationals, the Tampa Bay Rays hit the road for the last time in the regular season. The first stop is Baltimore, where the Rays will face the Orioles in a four-day, five-game series which includes a doubleheader. The Orioles are coming off a series win against Atlanta.
Tampa Bay enters play 13 games over .500, three games ahead of the second-place Yankees in the division, and with a magic number of two to clinch a postseason spot (eight to win the AL East).
The Rays looked great in the first game of the set against Washington, as they plated six runs, limited the reigning World Series champions to just one, and scored three two-out runs. Yet in the series finale, Tampa Bay went 0-11 with runners in scoring position, and, as Dave Wills would say, they left a lot of chicken on the bone. Put another way, they could have swept Washington, yet the all-important “big hit” eluded them. Consistency in the batter’s box continues to be an issue with Tampa Bay.
Yet even though the Rays haven’t been what one would call an offensive juggernaut over the last five series, things are starting to trend upward for them … even though the rate of change is at a glacial pace. They are starting to get “lucky” again when they put the ball in play (as it relates to BABIP), while their OBP and SLG are still in good (well, decent) order. The Rays have been striking out at an alarming clip, however, curbing the number of times they actually put the ball in play. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s offense looks similar to the Rays over the last 14 days, so this series could be good for the pitching staff, and bad for the hitters.
Tampa Bay should clinch a playoff spot during the series.
Over the next five games, Kevin Cash will depend on Blake Snell (4-1, 3.23 ERA), a pitcher to be named before the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader, Tyler Glasnow (3-1, 4.47 ERA), Charlie Morton (1-2, 5.14 ERA), and Ryan Yarbrough (0-3, 4.31 ERA). Brandon Hyde will counter with Dean Kremer (1-0, 1.64 ERA), a pitcher to be named before the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader, Alex Cobb (1-4, 5.03 ERA), John Means (1-3, 5.63 ERA), and Jorge Lopez (2-0, 3.80 ERA).
Blake Snell got the start Friday night against Boston and fired off 5-1/3 scoreless innings, allowing five hits, and two walks while striking out five on 103 pitches (62 strikes, 60% strike rate, 24% SwStr%). Snell bounced back with a sharp performance against Boston, albeit one filled with deep counts — the left-hander found himself in seven full count situations which limited his ability to pitch deep in the ball game. That being said, it was Snell’s first scoreless start in nearly a month and he now carries a 3.23 ERA/4.37 FIP and a 3.57 K/BB over 39 innings on the season.
Dean Kremer allowed one run on four hits over five innings on Saturday against the Yankees. He struck out seven and walked three. Kremer managed to keep the Yankees in check for the second time in as many starts and has surrendered just two runs on five hits with a 2.33 K/BB through his first two big-league starts (11 IP). Kremer is a three-pitch pitcher who relies primarily on a whiffy 94 mph four-seam fastball with slight arm side run, and a 76 mph curveball with exceptional bite, while also mixing in a hard 88 mph slider that coaxes a lot of swings and misses.
Tyler Glasnow gave up four runs on six hits and a walk over seven innings on Saturday against the Red Sox. He struck out seven. It wasn’t the sharpest outing for Glasnow yet he got just enough offensive support to get the win. Part of Glasnow’s problem was his inability to control the running game —the Red Sox went 6-for-6 on steal attempts against the battery of Glasnow and Michael Perez, an ongoing weakness that other teams could exploit down the stretch if they get the chance. The right-hander will take a 4.47 ERA and 3.84 K/BB across 46-1/3 innings into his next start on Friday. Glasnow is 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA in five starts against the Orioles, and 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA in two starts at Camden Yards.
Alex Cobb coughed up five runs on seven hits — including three homers — and a walk over four innings of work against the Yankees. He struck out three. The right-hander’s first start since August 29 went poorly, to say the least, as New York took Cobb deep twice before he even recorded the first out. It’s the first time in eight outings he’s served up multiple homers, while the rough return to action pushed his ERA above 5.00 for the first time this season. The Rays scored two runs on four hits over four innings of work against Cobb back on July 31, although they were able to chase him after 87 pitches. Overall, Cobb is 0-3 with a 4.61 ERA in five starts against his former team. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (2-4, 2B), Manuel Margot (1-2, 2B), Michael Perez (1-4, 2B), Hunter Renfore (1-2, 2B), Yoshi Tsutsugo (1-2, 2B), Joey Wendle (4-11)
Charlie Morton allowed three runs on six hits and no walks while striking out four across 4-1/3 innings on Sunday against the Red Sox. The Rays’ offense staked Morton to a narrow lead in the fourth inning, but the advantage quickly slipped away in the top of the fifth inning. On a more encouraging note, the right-hander threw 77 pitches (55 strikes, 71% strike rate) as he continues to steadily build back up to full strength following his month-long absence. Morton is 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA in six career starts against Baltimore.
John Means allowed one run on five hits and one walk while striking out four across six innings on Sunday against the Yankees. After posting shaky results to start the season, Means has settled into a groove over his past two outings, allowing one run over six innings in each appearance. While he was rewarded with the win his last time around, he had to settle for a no-decision Sunday as Baltimore mustered only one run. The right-hander relies primarily on a whiffy 94 mph four-seam fastball that has some added backspin, and an 85 mph changeup, while also mixing in a hard 87 mph slider and an 80 mph curveball with sweeping glove-side movement. Means is 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA in four games against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Michael Brosseau (4-9, 3 HR), Nate Lowe (1-3, HR), Kevan Smith (1-3, 2B)
Ryan Yarbrough took over with one out in the second and quickly went to work against the Nationals, working around a Carter Kieboom single and striking out two to get out of the frame unscathed. Even though Yarbrough went just 2-2/3 innings against the Nationals in his last start, the lefty posted 5-2/3 frames of one-run ball on this night, allowing five hits, and hitting a batter while striking out five. He threw 52 of 86 pitches for strikes (60% strike rate, 17% SwStr%). Yarbrough allowed just four hard-hit balls and kept the Nationals off-balance throughout the night.
Yarbrough’s biggest frame came in the fifth inning. After he allowed back-to-back hits with just a 2-0 lead, Victor Robles laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving the runners up to second and third. But Adam Eaton grounded to third with the infield in, and Trea Turner popped to first to end the threat.
Washington was able to get run off Yarbrough in the sixth inning when Juan Soto doubled then came around to score on a pair of groundouts. Even so, Yarbrough held the Nationals to 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Yarbrough is 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA in seven games (two starts) against Baltimore.
Jorge Lopez allowed one run on five hits and two walks over seven innings on Monday. He struck out three batters. Lopez dominated Atlanta’s lineup all night with the lone blemish — a solo shot by Freddie Freeman in the sixth inning. It didn’t hurt that his offense tallied 14 runs of support for the right-hander. Lopez moved to 2-0 on the season and lowered his ERA to 5.23. Lopez relies primarily on a 94 mph sinker with slight arm-side run, a hard 81 mph 12-6 curveball with sharp downward bite, and a 94 mph four-seam fastball with some natural sinking action, while also mixing in a firm 87 mph changeup with slight arm-side fade. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (1-2), Kevin Kiermaier (2-2, 2B), Manuel Margot (1-1)