The Tampa Bay Rays are set to kick off the ceremonial second half of the season against the Miami Marlins at home, in the final arm of the 2018 Citrus Series, starting Friday. The Rays dropped two of three against Miami at the start of July.
Tampa Bay is coming off a 1-3 road trek in Minneapolis, although they outscored the Twins 35-33 thanks in part to a 19-6 shellacking in the third game of the series. Meanwhile, the Marlins took two of three from the Phillies ahead of the All-Star Break.
The series against the Twins was an odd one. On one hand, the Rays pushed across 35 runs — including 12 with two outs — and went 24-58 with runners in scoring position (.414 batting average). Yet the pitching staff royally crapped the bed, relinquishing 33 runs — including 16 when they should have slammed the door shut on Minnesota — and allowing a .404 opponent batting average wRISP (19-47). Either way, the Rays’ offense has been clicking of late, averaging five runs per game over a 22-game stretch.
Credit where it’s due, the Marlins have won four of their last five series, including the above mentioned three-game set against Tampa Bay in Miami. Similarly though, the Rays have won five of their last six meetings, including a pair of five-game win streaks.
It fails to be seen what impact the loss of Wilson Ramos might have on the team, and who will take his place while he is on the shelf. Can Carlos Gomez lead the team in Ramos’ absence? After all, Gomez has sizzled throughout the month of July, slashing .343 BA/.439 OBP/.543 SLG/.982 OPS with an ISO of .200, and lowering his strikeout rate some 3-1/2% — from 23% to 19.5%. Will Kevin Kiermaier ever get toasty in the leadoff spot which he, frankly, shouldn’t be hitting out of?
Whatever the case, Tampa Bay looks to exact some revenge on Miami, and further increase its win/loss separation since it starts the “second half” as fringe contenders in the American League Wildcard race — 8.5 games behind the slumping Mariners, who currently hold the final Wildcard spot. A hot streak could give the Rays some solid footing as they seek their first playoff berth since 2013, while a stretch of sloppy play out the gate could change their presumed holding position at the trade deadline, to that of sellers.
Kevin Cash will lean on Nathan Eovaldi (3-4, 4.59 ERA), a TBA hurler thought to be Blake Snell, and Chris Archer (3-4, 4.29 ERA). Don Mattingly will respond with Dan Straily (3-4, 4.29 ERA), Pablo Lopez (1-1, 6.35 ERA), and Trevor Richards (3-5, 4.74 ERA).
Nathan Eovaldi allowed eight runs on nine hits in a loss to Minnesota last Friday. Eovaldi fanned just one and walked two over 2-2/3 innings of work. The right-hander has had an uneven campaign since coming off the DL at the end of May, putting together three scoreless starts in nine outings, but coughing up four runs or more in four others. Friday’s performance was his worst yet, which really doesn’t bode well for he or the team, especially since the Rays have noted they are open to dealing the soon to be free-agent at, or before, the trade deadline.
Dan Straily didn’t factor into the decision in the 5-4 extra-inning win over the Brewers on Wednesday. Straily allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks over six innings while striking out seven. The right-hander left the game after 101 pitches (67 strikes, 66% strike rate) and in line for the win, but Drew Steckenrider blew the lead in the eighth inning. Straily has now turned in four quality starts in a row, allowing him to lower his ERA to 4.29. This season Straily has relied primarily on his 91 mph four-seam fastball boasting some added backspin and an 84 mph slider, while also mixing in a whiffy 85 mph circle changeup that has some natural sink to it. He is 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA in his career against the Rays. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (2-2, 2B, HR, 2 RBI), Adeiny Hechavarria (1-4), Mallex Smith (1-2, RBI, BB)
The Rays haven’t listed a starter for the middle game of the series, and I’ll update this piece when a hurler becomes clear.
Pablo Lopez gave up five runs on six hits and three walks while striking out six over six innings against the Brewers on Tuesday. He took the loss. The Brewers made their hits count in this one, as they were able to pummel Lopez early for the first big league loss of his short career. He settled down later on, not allowing a hit or a walk over his final four frames of work. This season Lopez has relied primarily on his 93 mph worm-killer sinker and a 93 mph four-seam fastball, while also mixing in a 78 mph curveball with slight glove-side movement, and a whiffy 86 mph changeup. All of his offerings boast natural sinking action.
Chris Archer lasted just 4-1/3 innings on Saturday, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits and a walk while striking out seven. The erratic right-hander failed to finish five innings for the second straight start, laboring with just 59 strikes on 93 pitches (63% strike rate). On the bright side, he induced 16 swinging strikes (27% SwStr), allowing him to supplement his line via the strikeout column. It was only his second start since returning from the DL, so maybe he still has some rust to shake off. For Archer, the hope is for a turnaround in the second half, pushing him more toward his 3.79 FIP.
Trevor Richards threw 3-/23 innings in a no-decision against Washington on Sunday, allowing two earned runs on four hits, while striking out five but walking seven (a season-high). Richards couldn’t put himself in line for a win thanks to his command issues, resulting in him tossing 87 pitches over the course of his outing. Overall, Richards’ 5.24 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP through 56-2/3 innings. Richards allowed four runs on nine hits (including a homer) against the Rays on July 3. Key Matchups: Adeiny Hechavarria (2-2, 2B, RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (1-3), Daniel Robertson (1-2, 2B), Mallex Smith (2-2, RBI), Joey Wendle (1-3)