The Tampa Bay Rays welcome Joe Maddon and the Chicago Cubs into Tropicana Field, where they will start a two-game Interleague series on Tuesday. Hanging on by a thread of a 0.5% chance of a playoff berth, the Rays salvaged the final game of the series against the Red Sox on Sunday, while the Cubs are in the midst of a six-game win streak.
I liken the Rays playoff pursuit to those that purchase lottery tickets and expect a large windfall. While there is a statistical probability that you or I could walk away with the jackpot, the likelihood of that happening is a one in 175 million chance (a .0000005714286% chance). Those are pretty astronomical odds.
Likewise, it would take a lot for the Rays to punch their proverbial postseason ticket over the next 12 games. Possible? Sure. Probable? Not so much. Suffice it to say these are must win games, and whatever the case it all starts Tuesday.
To put it bluntly, with a 5.30 ERA over the last 14 days, if there is any hope of the Rays taking the series against the reigning World Series champs, two things must occur:
- Chris Archer, who has performed to a 4.26 ERA/3.74 FIP in the second half, MUST pitch well in the series opener (Blake Snell on Wednesday too).
- It is incumbent upon Evan Longoria, Logan Morrison, Corey Dickerson and Lucas Duda to slip out of their individual (well, combined) funks.
Over the next two days Kevin Cash will lean on the aforementioned Chris Archer (9-10, 4.06 ERA, 3.36 FIP) and Blake Snell (3-6, 4.25 ERA, 4.36 FIP). Joe Maddon will counter with former Rays farm-hand Mike Montgomery (4-5, 4.62 ERA, 4.05 FIP), and Jon Lester (11-7, 4.30 ERA, 4.05 FIP).
Archer allowed three runs over four innings on Wednesday against the Yankees, and taking the loss in doing so. The right-hander has struggled in two starts since his return from a bout with forearm tightness, allowing nine earned runs on 15 hits over seven innings, although the Rays have not indicated that that is still an issue. Archer is 2-5 with a 4.26 ERA in 12 post-All-Star break starts; he beat he Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 4 when he allowed three runs over six innings.
Montgomery, the Rays former left-handed farm-hand, returned to the Cubs rotation after bouncing back and forth, to and from the bullpen. Montgomery is 4-5 with a 4.62 ERA in 12 starts. The left-handed 93 mph sinker/92mph four-seam fastball/78mph curveball throwing hurler os 0-3 with a 3.60 ERA in four appearances (one start) against the Rays. Key Matchups: Corey Dickerson (1-2, RBI), Trevor Plouffe (1-3, 3B)
Snell allowed just a run on two hits against the Yankees on Tuesday, yet he walked away with a no decision. The southpaw threw 51/83 pitches for strikes, although he didn’t stick around long enough to benefit from Adeiny Hechavarria’s game-winning solo homer in the bottom of the eighth inning. He now is 3-1 with a 3.75 ERA in 11 post-All-Star Game starts, and has given up two runs or fewer in four of his last five outings — performing to a 2.73 ERA with a 28/8 K/BB over that 29-2/3 inning stretch. Snell faced the Cubs on July 5 but took a no-decision after tossing five scoreless frames.
Lester is no stranger to beginning games slowly. He threw 78 pitches over the first three innings against the Mets in his last start, yet needed just 36 over the final three innings. In spite of that, he’s won each of his last two outing, allowing just three runs over 12 total innings of work. Lester is 13-10 with a 4.22 ERA in 29 games against the Rays, including a five inning loss on July 4 when he allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits including a homer. Key Matchups: Peter Bourjos (7-17, 2B, BB), Danny Espinosa (2-3, 2 2B, 2 RBI, BB, Adeiny Hechavarria (3-10, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB), Evan Longoria (14-58, 3 2B, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 7 BB), Brad Miller (1-3), Steven Souza Jr. (2-3, 2B, 2 RBI)
— The Cubs have eight players and coaches who spent time in Devil Rays/Rays uniforms: Chris Bosio (pitching coach), Wade Davis (RHP), Eric Hinske (assistant hitting coach), Joe Maddon (manager), Dave Martinez (bench coach), Mike Montgomery (LHP), Rene Rivera (C), Ben Zobrist (INF/OF).
— Wednesday’s first pitch will be thrown out by Beau Zimmer, the grandson of Don Zimmer, who had extensive connections between both ball clubs.
— The Rays are expected to have a video tribute to their former manager at some point during the upcoming series, be that Tuesday or Wednesday.
— Evan Longoria and Kahwa Coffee are teaming up for a “brand collaboration” to help Hurricane Irma relief efforts. More details will be announced Tuesday.