A day after the Tampa Bay Rays sent the Orioles back to Baltimore in the throes of a four-game losing streak, they welcome the AL Central-leading squad from Cleveland into the Trop for an important three-game series. The Rays outscored the birds 32-10, while Cleveland split a four-game series against the Blue Jays.
Tampa Bay continued its hot run this past weekend and have won 16 of 20 overall. Of those 16 wins, two came against Cleveland who the Rays faced a little more than a week ago. Suffice it to say, they are playing their best baseball since 2013 — when the Rays last went to the postseason.
Tampa Bay has won 11 consecutive games at Tropicana Field, improving to 78-64 on the season. Not since finishing the 2013 season at 92-71 have the Rays been as many as 14 games over .500.
Cleveland has gone 5-5 over the last 10 games, including losses to the Rays, Royals, and BlueJays. To their credit, Cleveland has performed very well against the AL Central, however, it’s a different story against teams outside of the division, having gone 35-37. While Cleveland has fared well on the road, they have won only four more games than they have lost (37-33).
According to BaseRuns, the Rays should have an 84-57 record thanks to 4.52 runs scored and 3.68 runs allowed (on average per game). Compare that to Cleveland, which has performed to their 81-61 record per the same metric. That is to say, Tampa Bay is a better team, at least statistically. Still, good pitching defeats good hitting, and Cleveland’s top of the rotation hurlers will take the mound this week.
In short, this will be an important series for the Rays as they try to keep pace with the Athletics in the AL Wildcard race. A series win will give Tampa Bay a lot of swagger going to the weekend series against Oakland, while a loss will surely make it a lot more difficult to reach the postseason.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will lean on Jalen Beeks (4-1, 5.67 ERA) — who will take the mound after opener Diego Castillo (3-2, 3.40 ERA) — Tyler Glasnow (1-5, 4.64 ERA), and Blake Snell (18-5, 2.06 ERA). Terry Francona will counter with Corey Kluber (18-7, 2.75 ERA), Shane Bieber (9-3, 4.63 ERA), and Carlos Carrasco (15-8, 3.43 ERA).
Diego Castillo last pitched on Saturday, throwing one inning of scoreless ball, but allowing one hit and a walk. Castillo has opened five times, allowing three runs across 6-1/3 innings of work.
Jalen Beeks continued to show well with Tampa Bay on Tuesday, hurling 2-2/3 shutout innings against Toronto while allowing one hit and no walks. He struck out four. Beeks cruised through Toronto’s lineup until the sixth inning when he gave up a leadoff single Aledmys Díaz, who was sacrificed to second a batter later. He was pulled shortly after when the Rays skipper chose to play the matchup game. Still, the left-hander threw 77% of his 31 pitches for strikes, as well as 8/9 first-pitch strikes. Over the span of his eight outings with the Rays, Beeks has progressively lowered his ERA from 15.83 to 5.67 where it currently sits.
Corey Kluber picked up the win Wednesday against Kansas City, allowing one run on two hits and one walk across 6-2/3 innings. He struck out 10. It was business as usual for Kluber, who allowed just two hits all evening while keeping the bases clear for five of the seven innings he appeared in. His 10 punch-outs were the most he’s recorded in a start since May 30, and he’s now primed to surpass 200 strikeouts for the fifth consecutive season. Kluber was outstanding in his last start against Tampa Bay, throwing seven shutout innings while allowing just two hits. Overall, Kluber is 5-2 with a 2.17 ERA in nine starts against the Rays, but 2-1 with a 3.38 ERA in four starts at the Trop. That extra earned run allowed will be important for Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (3-8, 2 2B), Kevin Kiermaier (3-11, 2B, 3B, 3 BB), Joey Wendle (1-3)
Tyler Glasnow was hit hard by the Blue Jays on Wednesday, allowing seven runs on five hits and two walks while recording just two outs. He struck out two. The right-hander just didn’t have it in this one, as Glasnow couldn’t make it out of the first inning. He issued a leadoff walk before allowing four of the next five batters to reach via base hits, putting Toronto up 3-0. Glasnow then served up a three-run homer to Aledmys Diaz. Adding insult to injury, the 25-year-old was almost out of the inning, but a wild pitch allowed Billy McKinney to reach base on a strikeout and Glasnow was chased after having thrown 39 pitches. The disastrous outing raised his ERA from 3.95 to 4.64.
Shane Bieber allowed four runs (three earned) on seven hits and one walk while striking out six across 6-1/3 innings on Thursday against the Blue Jays. All four of the runs against Bieber came in the fourth inning when he allowed four of the first five batters he faced to reach base. It was an impressive outing for Bieber otherwise, as 15 of his 19 outs came on either groundballs or strikeouts, limiting Toronto’s chance to do damage. It was a welcome change for Bieber, who had failed to record a quality start in three of his past four starts. The Rays tagged Bieber for four runs on nine hits across 5-1/3 innings on September 1. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (1-2), Jake Bauers (1-2, 2B), Ji-Man Choi (2-3, 2 2B), Matt Duffy (1-3, 2B, 2 RBI), Brandon Lowe (1-2), Joey Wendle (2-3, 2B)
Blake Snell threw five innings of scoreless ball on 90 pitches on Friday but was chased in the sixth after giving up a one-out infield hit to Cedric Mullins, then a two-run homer to Joey Rickard. It was Rickard’s fourth homer against Tampa Bay this season, giving him 17 of his 23 total runs batted in against the Rays. All told, Snell struck fanned nine and allowed five hits across 5-1/3 innings and 104 pitches (72 strikes, 69% strike rate, 15/20 first-pitch strikes).
I felt like I was around the zone, for the most part, Snell said. The offense did very well. Gave me a quick lead. All credit goes to them.
Carlos Carrasco allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits while striking out 14 across eight innings on Friday. Carrasco surrendered an unearned run in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly, followed by another run in the seventh. Despite fanning 10 or more batters for the fifth time this season, he left with the game tied at two apiece. The right-hander was sharp following an uncharacteristic outing his last turn through the rotation, allowing five runs across 6-1/3 innings against the Rays. The 31-year-old owns a solid 3.43 ERA/2.95 FIP with 199 strikeouts over 168 innings this season. Carrasco is 4-4 with a 3.21 ERA in nine career starts against the Rays, and 4-0 with a 1.11 ERA in four starts at the Trop. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (2-3), CJ Cron (2-3, 2B, HR, RBI), Brandon Lowe (1-3, HR, RBI), Tommy Pham (2-4, 3B, RBI), Mallex Smith (1-3), Joey Wendle (1-4, 2B, RBI)