After an exhilarating weekend of play, the Tampa Bay Rays will play host to the Washington Nationals in a brief two-game interleague series, starting Monday night. The Rays are coming in off a sweep of the Yankees, after defeating the top team in the AL East, 7-6, in 12 innings Sunday afternoon. The Nationals avoided a sweep of their at home against the Phillies.
Washington swept the two-game series against Tampa Bay at Nationals Park earlier this season.
The Rays improved to 37-40 on the season and look to maintain some momentum despite trailing Seattle by 10 games in the Wildcard race. Jake Bauers, Carlos Gomez and Jesus Sucre each had two hits in the series finale for Tampa Bay. Bauers hit a walk-off homer (his second of the season) on the first pitch of the bottom of the 12th inning.
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) June 24, 2018
The solo shot marked Tampa Bay’s first hit since the third inning: five Yankee relievers had combined for eight no-hit innings prior to that. It should be noted, however, that the Rays were able to chase Domingo German after tagging the right-hander for six runs in the first three innings.
Washington dropped the first two games of their series against the Phillies, yet bounced back to defeat Philadelphia by an 8-6 margin in the finale. The Nationals enter the series 41-35 on the season, putting them three games behind the Braves in the NL East. In spite of their plus .500 record though, the Nats have gone just 5-10 over a 15-game span following the above mentioned two-game sweep of the Rays in DC. They’ve averaged just 3.6 runs per game along the way.
Yes it’s true that the Nationals are a powerful team, and in all fairness they have outpaced the Rays in most offensive categories over the last 14 days. Even so, they have scored just four more runs than Tampa Bay over that that span, and their -0.7 wRAA certainly isn’t anything to write home about. In fact, according to BaseRuns, the Rays and Nationals should have essentially the same Win/Loss record; 42-35 with a .540 theoretical WP for Tampa Bay, 42-34 with a .549 theoretical WP for Washington.
It also is true that the Rays are coming off a 10-game stretch of play where they scored more than three runs just once. Be that as it may, Tampa Bay scored 13 runs against a very good Yankees’ pitching staff, and has shown it can win games if the hurlers can keep the ball in the park.
Over the next two days Kevin Cash will lean on Blake Snell (9-4, 2.48 ERA) and Nathan Eovaldi (1-3, 4.91 ERA). Dave Martinez will counter with Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08 ERA) and Max Scherzer (10-3, 2.09 ERA).
Blake Snell was credited the win last Tuesday after he allowed one run on three hits and seven walks while fanning six over seven innings against Houston. Snell wasn’t at his sharpest with a season-high seven walks and only just over half of his pitches going for strikes (57 of 102, 56% strike rate), though he allowed just three base hits and was helped out by his defense with a couple of double plays and another out on the basepaths. Snell’s nine wins trail only Corey Kluber and Luis Severino in the American League, and he now sports a sterling 2.48 ERA. The southpaw has struggled with command of late with a 1.15 K/BB in his last three starts (18 innings), yet he’s now at 9.8 K/9 on the season.
Gio Gonzalez allowed two runs on five hits and struck out two over four innings of a rain delay-shortened loss Wednesday against Baltimore. Gonzalez allowed a second inning home run to Mark Trumbo but was otherwise sharp. The rain delay lasted two hours and 43 minutes, leaving the Nationals with no choice but to go to the bullpen. Prior to that start, the southpaw allowed at least three runs in three consecutive starts, with the shortest lasting just 3-1/3 innings against San Francisco (6/9). Gonzalez is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six career starts against the Rays (26 innings of work), and 0-1 with an 11.25 ERA in three career appearances (one start) at Tropicana Field. This season he has relied primarily on a 90 mph sinker, a whiffy 91 mph four-seam fastball, an 83 mph changeup with some natural sink, and a 76 mph curveball with exceptional bite and sweeping glove-side movement. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (2-3, HR, RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (1-2, 2B)
Nathan Eovaldi allowed four runs on seven hits across six innings of a loss to the Astros on Wednesday. All the damage against Eovaldi came on four solo home runs — three on consecutive pitches in his final inning of work. Despite having good stuff, Eovaldi has relinquished eight homers over his last four starts, including one against Washington in a 4-2 loss on June 5. The right-hander is 2-5 with a 5.30 ERA in 10 career starts against the Nationals.
Max Scherzer threw seven innings of two-run ball in a 4-2 win over Baltimore. He allowed five hits (including two solo homers), walked one and struck out nine. Overall it was a strong start even though Scherzer made two mistakes on the solo shots by former Ray Colby Rasmus and Mark Trumbo. Scherzer still owns a ridiculous 6.71 K/BB in 107-2/3 innings, and has given up more than two runs in just one of his 16 starts this season — back on May 25 when he allowed four runs to the Marlins in a 9-5 defeat over Miami. In his previous start against Tampa Bay, Scherzer allowed just two runs on five hits over eight innings. He fanned 13. Overall, Scherzer is 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA in nine career starts against Tampa Bay, but is 2-1 with a 4.11 ERA in five starts at the Trop. Key Matchups: Matt Duffy (3-5, 2B, HR, 2 RBI), Johnny Field (1-3, 2B), Carlos Gomez (2-7), Mallex Smith (2-7), Joey Wendle (1-3)
— Relief pitcher Jonny Venters left Sunday’s game with a strained right hamstring after trying to cover first base on a bunt play.
Rays manager Kevin Cash said that Venters will be placed on the 10-day disabled list. The Rays responded by again promoting RHP Austin Pruitt, who can provide length after the bullpen was taxed over the weekend.
— According to Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) both Chris Archer and Jake Faria threw bullpen sessions at the Trop on Monday. While there is no word on how Faria, well…fared in his 30-pitch bullpen, Archer reportedly did well in his 40-pitch session, complete with PFP drills throwing to bases.