The Tigers are surging on the heels of a 6-3 homestand, this in spite of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Indians. They are set to face a ball-club in the midst of an 11-game homestand — a ball-club in dire need of more consistent play and success at the Trop, as the Rays try to scratch and claw their way back to the .500 mark.
And while the series win against Boston was an excellent step forward, the Rays will have to play clean baseball if they hope to further their ambitions of playing relevant baseball into the fall.
I know what you’re thinking, the Rays enter the series 11 games under .500, with 11 games left until the All-Star Break. The potential for a playoff run is unrealistic at best.
To you I posit this: in order to be viewed as something more than a team destined for a massive sell off at the trade deadline, the Rays need to hover around the .500 mark going into the break, thus putting themselves into a position to make a run in the second-half of the season. I highly doubt they’ll win the next 11 consecutive games, but it is conceivable for Tampa Bay to string together at least eight wins — taking three-of-four from both the Tigers and Angels, and two-of-three from Boston — and end the first-half of the season with a 41-47 record, within striking distance of the .500 mark.
The Rays and Tigers already faced one another three times this season at Comerica Park. Tampa Bay won the first game of that series, extending what was then a season-long, four-game winning streak, however, the Tigers won the last two games of the set. If you recall, that was the ill-fated series in which Kevin Kiermaier fractured his left-hand on a diving play.
Rays skipper Kevin Cash will throw Jake Odorizzi (3-3, 3.93 ERA), Drew Smyly (2-8, 5.32 ERA), Blake Snell (1-2, 4.11 ERA), and Chris Archer (4-11, 4.76 ERA) over the span of the series. Brad Ausmus will counter with Jordan Zimmermann (9-4, 3.81 ERA), Michael Fulmer (7-2, 2.40 ERA), Justin Verlander (7-6, 4.30 ERA), and Mike Pelfrey (2-7, 5.02 ERA).
Rays series starters
Odorizzi took a no-decision on Saturday after he allowed five runs on eight hits (including three homers) over six innings. He struck out and walked one. The Rays took an early four-run lead, yet Odorizzi left with just a one-run cushion after six frames. The long ball has hampered Odorizzi this season. Since May 13, he’s allowed 12 homers in 48-2/3 innings, giving him a 2.22 HR/9 rate over the last nine starts (3.27 HR/9 over the last 14 days). Be that as it may, Odorizzi maintains a respectable 3.93 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 89-1/3 innings of work.
Smyly was tagged for eight runs on 10 hits (including three home runs) and a walk over five innings on Sunday. He struck out six. He’s still whiffing batters with the best of them — Smyly generated 17 swinging strikes among his 90 pitches — although he’s now given up at least one home run in seven straight starts, and 19 home runs total in 89-2/3 innings on the season for an ugly 1.91 HR/9 (2.41 HR/9 over the last 14 days).
Snell collected his first Major League win on Monday, despite allowing four earned runs over just 5-1/3 innings of work. He allowed eight hits and four walks, while striking out four. The four runs allowed were the most he’s surrendered in any of his four big league starts. The culprit: too many free passes, giving him a bloated 5.87 BB/9 and an ugly 1.77 WHIP.
Archer dropped his fourth consecutive start in Tuesday’s contest opposite of the Red Sox. He threw 6-1/3 innings and allowed four runs on seven hits and four walks while fanning nine. Once an All-Star, Archer now leads the big leagues in losses, as he continues to struggle with suppressing batters.
Tigers series starters
Zimmerman allowed seven runs on nine hits while striking out three in just 3-2/3 innings of work on Friday. The righty relinquished a pair of runs in the second inning before the bottom fell out in the fourth, when Zimmermann allowed five runs without completing the frame. Since May 11, when he owned a 1.50 ERA, he’s allowed 30 earned runs over his last 41-2/3 innings, raising his ERA to 3.81. He allowed two runs on five hits (including a homer) the last time he faced the Rays. Key matchups: Tim Beckham (1-2), Curt Casali (2-4, HR, RBI, BB), Corey Dickerson (2-3, HR, 2B, RBI), Brandon Guyer (1-4), Evan Longoria (2-8)
Fulmer, who was knocked out of his last start after just 4-1/3 innings due to dizziness, set a team rookie record for most consecutive scoreless innings at 33-1/3, although he has allowed an earned run in each of his last two starts. Fulmer stymied the Rays on May 21, allowing just one earned run on four scattered hits over seven innings of work, striking out 11 while walking one. Key matchups: Oswaldo Arcia (1-2), Brandon Guyer (1-3, 2B), Evan Longoria (1-3, HR, RBI), Brad Miller (1-3, 2B)
Verlander got hammered to the tune of eight runs on nine hits (including four homers) and two walks on Sunday, while striking out five over 4-2/3 innings. Verlander looked good the first time through the order, but then he gave up a couple runs in the fourth inning and four homers in the fifth before getting chased. It’s the first time Verlander has allowed that many homers in a game (much less a single inning) since September 2007. Verlander is 7-3 with a 3.49 ERA in 14 starts against the Rays. In one Tropicana Field start last season, the righty held Tampa Bay to one run on four hits over eight innings, striking out 10. Key matchups: Logan Forsythe (1-3), Desmond Jennings (4-11, 3B, 2 HR, 2 RBI), Evan Longoria (7-28, HR, 2B, 3B, 4 RBI, BB)
Pelfrey gave up four runs on 12 hits over 5-1/3 innings on Tuesday against Miami. He walked and struck out one. The righty wasn’t as bad as he’s been at other points in the season, however, he certainly wasn’t good either. Opponents are hitting .337 against Palfrey (including .417 over the last 14 days) and his 1.74 WHIP is the worst among qualifying starters. Pelfrey relies primarily on 93 mph sinker with slight arm side run, while also mixing in an 82 mph splitter with depth, and an 85 mph slider. Key matchups: Oswaldo Arcia (1-2, RBI), Desmond Jennings (2-2, BB), Evan Longoria (4-8, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, BB)
— Brad Miller hit his 10th homer on Tuesday, which is the most in club history for a shortstop before the All-Star break. His next milestone is the Rays’ shortstop single-season record of 15.
— Both Tampa Bay and Detroit have hit over 100 home runs this season, but the Tigers have five players with at least 12 homers, and the Rays have two.
— Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote about Cash’s sequencing of the Alex Colome-less bullpen, saying,
With their first lead to protect without injured RH closer Alex Colome, the Rays used RHP Erasmo Ramirez in the eighth and LHP Xavier Cedeno in the ninth. Cash said that sequencing was a product of the Boston lineup, and they will continue to mix and match as needed.
Colome is expected to return from the DL on Monday.
— DH/OF Corey Dickerson said the sore left thumb that sidelined him for the past four games is better, and he hopes to be back in the lineup on Thursday.
— Alex Cobb and Chase Whitley (Tommy John surgeries) are scheduled to throw live batting practice on Thursday. OF Steven Souza Jr. (hip strain) may hit against them ahead of his pending rehab assignment.
— To my point above, Cash thinks the Rays can still make a run and get back in this thing.
— **620 WDAE** (@620wdae) June 30, 2016
— Cash said OF Steven Souza Jr. (left hip strain) will start his rehabilitation stint Friday at Class-A Charlotte. It could be a quick turnaround if his timing returns quickly.