The Tampa Bay Rays will cap a five-game home stand by playing host to the Atlanta Braves in a two-game interleague series starting Tuesday. Despite falling 2-1 in the finale against Toronto on Sunday, the Rays took two of three from Jays, and are 11-4 over their last 15 games. Meanwhile, the Braves are coming off a series sweep at the hands of Evan Longoria and the San Francisco Giants, and are 8-7 over their last 15.
The Rays are swinging the bats well, currently averaging 4.44 runs per game thanks in large part to, C.J. Cron, who’s reached base safely in 13 consecutive games. Over that span Cron has accrued 13 RBI, and is now hitting .256 with seven home runs and 20 RBI on the season. Then there’s Wilson Ramos, who’s hit safely in 14 consecutive games — including nine extra base hits (four homers, five doubles) — and driven in 15 RBI.
The offense for the first place Braves (19-14) has played a large role in the team’s strong start, and is now averaging 5.48 runs per game, good for third in the Majors. Freddie Freeman continues to be one of the more productive members of Atlanta’s squad, collecting 10 hits and eight RBI in his last nine games. The 28 year-old slugger now boasts a .950 OPS and is hitting .307 with five home runs and 25 RBI on the season.
All told, Atlanta’s hitters are a big league best .274 at the plate, and lead the league with a .341 on-base percentage. However, with the exception of the number of runs scored (or driven in), the Rays and Braves offenses are startlingly close with one another over the last 14 days.
Whether Tampa Bay can end the home stand with an overall .500 record will depend on whether the team can sweep Atlanta. Pitching and defense will likely determine the outcome of series. Can the Rays defense — which has been very good all season, committing just 14 errors in the field (only Houston and Arizona have fewer) — continue to be solid? How about the pitching staff, which has gelled over the last 14-day, performing to an overall 3.27 ERA/3.03 FIP/3.53 xFIP line (3.14 ERA/2.92 FIP/3.64 xFIP by the starters, 3.46 ERA/3.17 FIP/3.42 xFIP by the ‘pen)?
Over the next couple of days Kevin Cash will lean on Blake Snell (4-1, 2.55 ERA) and the bullpen (6-10, 4.58 ERA). Brian Snitker will counter with Sean Newcomb (2-1, 3.38 ERA) and Julio Teheran (2-1, 3.65 ERA).
Blake Snell allowed two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out four over 6-2/3 innings against the Tigers. The southpaw allowed a game-tying two-out solo home run against the final batter he faced in the seventh inning, although he was again impressive and efficient, throwing just 86 pitches (57 strikes, 66% strike ratio). Snell didn’t rack up the strikeouts after fanning at least nine in three of his past four starts, yet the effort was still good enough for his fifth straight quality start. Suffice it to say, Snell has fared well thus far, posting a 2.55 ERA and a .190 batting average over 42-1/3 innings. A cursory tale, the Braves rank third in the Majors with 181 runs scored and a .274 team batting average against left-handers.
Sean Newcomb picked up a win against the Mets on Wednesday, scattering two hits and a walk over seven scoreless frames while striking out eight. The left-hander threw 70 of 97 pitches for strikes (72% strike ratio) while generating 16 swinging strikes. He now has a total of 42 strikeouts on the season. Newcomb has conceded just three homers so far. This season he has relied primarily on a whiffy 93 mph four-seam fastball with little arm side movement, while also mixing in a hard 88 mph worm-killer changeup, and a biting 77 mph curveball with arm side movement. Key Matchups: Denard Span (1-3)
I will update this piece when Wednesday’s starter for the Rays is announced.
Julio Teheran tossed seven scoreless innings against the Mets on Thursday, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out six — carrying a no hitter into the seventh, which former Ray Asdrubal Cabrera broke up. Teheran exited his previous start with upper-back tightness, although his strong showing in his last start should ease any injury concerns. The 27 year-old has now thrown four quality starts over his past five outings, with his injury-shortened start against the Phillies marking the only time he didn’t toss six innings in that stretch. This season he has relied primarily on a whiffy 90 mph four-seam fastball with natural sinking movement, an 89 mph sinker (using a two-seam fastball grip) with arm side run, and a whiffy 80 mph slider, while also mixing in an 82 mph changeup wit arm side fade. Key Matchups: Matt Duffy (1-2, 2B, BB), Carlos Gomez (4-16, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Wilson Ramos (4-11, 2 2B, HR, 2 RBI, BB), Denard Span (13-35, 2 2B, 2 3B, HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB)