The Tampa Bay Rays head south to Miami for the first three games of the annual Citrus Series matchup against the Marlins. The return visit at Tropicana Field is set right after the All-Star Break. The Rays are coming off an 8-1 home stand, having beat three playoff contending teams in the Yankees, Nationals, and Astros. The Marlins took two of three from the Mets this past weekend.
Both teams are having drastically different seasons, although they enter this series in a similar spot in their respective divisions. Tampa Bay enters the series 13-games out of first place in the AL East, and 11 out of the second Wildcard spot, while the Marlins are 15-½ games out in the NL East. Despite that, the Rays are entering one of the easiest stretches of play, with the next 16 games against the sub .500 Marlins, Mets, Tigers and Twins.
An easy stretch of play? Yes … albeit a crucial one for Tampa Bay, which has an opportunity to accumulate some tallies on the left side of the ledger. Baseball Prospectus gives the Rays a 5.6% chance of a playoff berth, odds that increase with each win. Granted they’ll need a lot of help along the way, and a postseason berth is far from an inevitability. But, they have an opportunity to play a role in their idealized outcome, and that is predicated on victories. Besides winning is fun, and so is watching the youth movement go to work.
Over the next three days Kevin Cash is projected to lean on Nathan Eovaldi (2-3, 4.08 ERA), Ryan Yarbrough (7-4, 3.76 ERA), and the Rays ‘pen (19-19, 3.45 ERA). Don Mattingly will counter with Wei-Yin Chen (2-5, 6.14 ERA), Trevor Richards (2-5, 5.06 ERA), and a pitcher to be named before the series finale.
Nathan Eovaldi was incredible in his debut on May 30, dazzling with six no-hit innings. Yet the right-hander got knocked around prior to his last start, allowing eight homers over a four-game stretch. Nevertheless Eovaldi returned to form and earned the win against Washington on Tuesday after he allowed just one hit and two walks over six scoreless innings, while recording nine strikeouts. The right-hander lowered his ERA to 4.08 (from 4.91) and has performed to a 0.82 WHIP with a 6/1 K/BB over 35-1/3 innings.
I definitely feel good about the way I’ve been pitching, Eovaldi told Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times). I’ve kind of surprised myself with how I’ve been filling up the strike zone with all my pitches. I’m going to try to repeat that and incorporate the curveball more.
Eovaldi spent parts of three seasons with the Marlins, going 13-27 with a 4.10 ERA in 63 starts.
It’s just another team, he said. Back when I made my first start against them, it had a little more meaning.
Wei Yin Chen was a tough-luck loser Wednesday after he allowed just one run on five hits and a walk over six innings against Arizona. He struck out five. Chen threw 60 of his 88 pitches for strikes (68% strike rate) and allowed just one extra-base hit as he stifled the Diamondbacks for much of the evening. The Marlins’ bats couldn’t pick him up though — getting blanked into the bottom of the ninth. The southpaw has thrown a pair of quality starts in his last three outings, however, the results for the bulk of the year have been significantly worse. Over 55-2/3 innings, Chen has a 6.14 ERA, 1.62 WHIP and 1.64 K/BB. He is 5-6 with a 3.72 ERA in 21 career starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (2-3), Carlos Gomez (1-3, HR, 3 RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (4-13, 3B, HR, 2 RBI)
Ryan Yarbrough allowed one just earned run on seven hits and a walk over 6-1/3 innings of hard luck loss to Houston on Thursday. He struck out four. Yarbrough entered the game with two outs in the second inning and worked into and out of trouble for a considerable amount of his appearance. However, the southpaw managed to coax 10 groundballs and allowed only one extra-base hit — a home run to Jake Marisnick — which limited the damage. He also threw 62 of 95 pitches for strikes. It was a nice bounce back performance for Yarbrough, who allowed 15 earned runs over four of his last six outings.
Trevor Richards gave up three runs on six hits and two walks while fanning three batters over 4.0 innings against the Diamondbacks. Arizona got to Richards early, scratching all of their runs across over the first two frames. Even though Richards was BABIP’d, his command was shaky from the start, as 28 of his 75 pitches went for balls (37% ball rate). Overall, Richards was hot and cold in the month June, following up strong quality starts with subpar work. This season he has relied primarily on his 92 mph four-seam fastball and a whiffy 84 mph changeup swith ome natural sink to it, while also mixing in a hard 81 mph 12-6 curveball.
Neither the Rays nor the Marlins have named a starter for the series finale, on Wednesday. I will update things when a hurler is announced.
— Is Carlos Gomez finally turning things around? Gomez got two of the team’s eight hits on Sunday, his fourth multihit game in his past 13 games. He’s hitting .310 over that stretch.
— Part of the Rays recent spate of success comes courtesy of the pitching staff, which has allowed two runs or fewer in six straight games, a club record. Their ERA during their nine-game homestand was 1.39.
— Sunday was the 36th one-run game for Tampa Bay this season, out of 83 (43.3% of their games). They, however, improved to 16-20 in one-run games.