The Tampa Bay Rays ended their latest scoreless streak Sunday afternoon, although the ultimately fell to Cleveland, 4-3. Cleveland took three of four from Tampa Bay, which dropped seven of nine during the home stand. The Rays boarded a plane for the cooler digs of Toronto, where they’ll take on the Blue Jays over the next four days.
‘Cause I am barely breathing, and I can’t find the air.
— Duncan Sheik
The Rays snapped their scoreless streak at 20 innings with a third-inning RBI single by Evan Longoria, capping the number of times the Rays were shut out during the homestand at five — finishing a 17-game stretch in which the Rays played teams in playoff contention. They, however, went 6-11.
Perhaps, as Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) suggested, a change of scenery could do the struggling team some good. After all, they didn’t cross the plate too often at the Trop.
They scored 1.22 runs per game during the homestand — their fewest during any three-series homestand in team history.
They scored 11 runs during the nine games, which were the fewest over a nine-game stretch in the majors since the Indians scored 11 in August 2012.
Longoria’s run-scoring single was the Rays’ third hit that inning, marking the only time during the homestand they had three hits in one inning and the first time they turned that trick since Aug. 1 in Houston.
The Rays start this crucial series against Toronto with their playoff hopes intact, but also in the balance. If the team can succeed and put together a good series — and get back over .500 — Tampa Bay could regain a foothold in an AL Wildcard chase in which the leader has changed hands over seven consecutive days (as of Sunday). However, this could also be the end of their postseason aspirations if they continue to stagnate. Dare I call it a make or break moment?
Over the next four days Kevin Cash will hand the ball off to Jake Odorizzi (6-5, 4.38 ERA, 5.65 FIP), Blake Snell (0-6, 4.69 ERA, 4.87 FIP), Jacob Faria (5-3, 3.19 ERA, 3.63 FIP), and Chris Archer (8-7, 3.84 ERA, 3.17 FIP). John Farrell will counter with Nick Tepesch (0-1, 10.38 ERA, 10.99 FIP), Marco Estrada (5-7, 4.85 ERA, 4.35 FIP), Marcus Stroman (10-6, 3.00 ERA, 3.75 FIP), and Chris Rowley (1-0, 1.69 ERA, 2.58 FIP).
Odorizzi struggled with his pitch count early in his last start on Wednesday, throwing 55 pitches over the first two frames. He was struck on his heel by an Eduardo Nunez comebacker on his 89th pitch of the night. Odorizzi was helped off the field without putting any weight on his right leg, but thankfully the X-Rays on his right foot came back negative. The right-hander tested his foot in a bullpen session, and the Rays have him a green light to start Monday night in Toronto.
Tepesch allowed five runs on eight hits over 4-1/3 innings during his last start against New York. He has a temporary hold on a rotation spot until Joe Biagini is properly stretched out at Triple-A Buffalo. This season he has relied primarily on a 90 mph four-seam fastball, and an 86 mph slider. He’s also mixed in a 79 mph knuckle curveball, and a 90 mph sinker. Tepesch is 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA over two career starts (totaling 14-1/3 innings) against Tampa Bay. Key Matchup: 2-7, HR, 2 RBI
Snell put together one of his strongest starts of the season on Thursday, limiting Cleveland to one run on four hits and two walks while striking out four over 6-1/3 innings. The southpaw leaned heavily on his fastball (65 thrown, 36 strikes, five whiffs) to great effect. Even though he wasn’t pitch perfect (pun intended) — he didn’t rack up a ton of strikes, and he left more than a few pitches in the zone — Snell settled in, and more importantly, kept the ball in the park. The left-hander attributed his strong start to the game plan called by Jesus Sucre.
Estrada was again excellent in his last time turn, and he’s now gone seven innings in three consecutive starts. The right-hander has pitched to contact of late, coaxing plenty of weak fly-ball outs. After performing to a 9.52 ERA through nine starts, Estrada has now allowed just six runs in 26 innings over his past four outings. The Rays torched Estrada for 16 runs over his previous three starts, totaling 14-1/3 innings. They hope to see the negatively regressed right-hander on Tuesday. Key Matchups: Corey Dickerson (8-17, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Logan Morrison (6-18, 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 10 RBI), Daniel Robertson (2-4), Steven Souza Jr. (4-16, HR, 4 RBI), Jesus Sucre (1-2, HR, RBI)
Faria was perfect through the front four innings against Cleveland on Friday, before he allowed a career-high five runs — on a homer and four horrendous fielding gaffes by Wilson Ramos and Logan Morrison, Evan Longoria, and Brad Miller. It was just the second time in his previous 12 big league starts that he’s allowed more than three runs. He has gone six or more innings in 10 of those starts.
Stroman was excellent his last time out, although poor defense led to four unearned runs. The right-hander gave up all four runs in the third inning against Pittsburgh, but he shut the Pirates’ bats down the rest of the way. After struggling over a pair of recent starts, he’s allowed just two earned runs over his last 14-2/3 innings of work to lower his ERA from 3.19 to 3.00. Overall, he has generated a huge ground ball rate with his sinking fastball, and he is capable of working deeply into each game. The Rays couldn’t get much started against Stroman in two starts against Tampa Bay this season, tagging him for just three runs over 13-2/3 innings. Key Matchups: Peter Bourjos (2-3, 3B), Corey Dickerson (6-21, 2 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB), Evan Longoria (9-27, 2 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB), Steven Souza Jr. (5-15, 2B, 2 BB)
Archer saw his 15-start streak of pitching at least six innings come to pass Saturday night against Cleveland, after surrendering three runs in 5-1/3 innings. Archer allowed single runs in the first, third and sixth innings, but was fairly inefficient, thus his removal one out into the sixth. The right-hander continues to collect strikeouts, and he’s consistently kept his ERA just below 4.00 over the past month and a half. He is 0-0 with a 2.57 ERA in three starts against Toronto this season.
Rowley was excellent in his Major League debut on August 12, working very quickly over 5-1/3 innings, while allowing just one run on five hits. He threw just 75 pitches in that outing, but he could go longer against the Rays. According to one scouting report, Rowley is a finesse pitcher that will move the ball around the zone:
Rowley will not blow the ball by hitters. Topping out at 91-92, he relies on command and his secondaries to keep hitters off balance:
“My game is based on throwing three pitches, all at different speeds, all in the strike zone and all moving differently, and the idea is for them to look the same until they get to the plate,” said Rowley.
Still, he has managed to strike out almost a batter per inning at AA. Rowley’s 47% ground ball rate shows that he excels at keeping the ball down in the zone, and his 15.8% line drive rate is proof that while he pitches to contact, it’s not often of the hard variey. The knock against him may be that he doesn’t miss a lot of bats, but the other side of that coin is that his sinker is very tough to square up, and his change and slider keep hitters off balance.