After a long and grueling eight-game road trip, the Tampa Bay Rays return to the domed confines of the Trop, where they’ll start a three-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday.
The Rays are coming off a big three-game series win against the Astros, and are winners of four of their last five. The Brewers took two of three from the Cardinals after coming off a series loss to the first-place Cubs.
Both teams sit four games over .500 and still very much in the division chase and the Wildcard race.
Had you told me the Rays would bounce back from a 1-and-3 series in New York — and a 14-7 loss in the first game of the series against the Astros — to win three consecutive games against the best team in the AL, I’d have laughed. Yet they snapped out of their slumber and are again winning games after dropping 8-of-10 (July 20-29). The Rays start the series with the Brew Crew 3-1/2 games behind the Red Sox for first, 1-1/2 games behind the Yankees for the top Wildcard, and 1/2 game behind the Royals for the final playoff spot.
Leading the NL Central going into the All-Star Break, the Brewers fell on hard times in the middle of July and lost six games straight, and 8-of-11. Kindred spirits … akin to what Tampa Bay went through, Milwaukee is mired in an offensive funk and averaging just 2.25 runs per game over an eight game stretch. They are currently 1-1/2 games behind the Cubs for the division lead.
Over the next three days Kevin Cash will lean on Jacob Faria (5-1, 2.93 ERA, 3.80 FIP), Alex Cobb (9-7, 3.89 ERA, 4.42 FIP), and Chris Archer (8-6, 3.89 ERA, 3.19 FIP). Craig Counsell will counter with Brandon Woodruff (6-5, 4.46 ERA, 4.43 FIP), Zach Davies (12-5, 4.42 ERA, 4.65 FIP), and Jimmy Nelson (9-5, 3.37 ERA, 3.11 FIP).
Faria has been one of the Rays best pitchers since being promoted from Triple-A Durham on June 7, notching quality performances in eight of 10 starts. He has delivered a quality start in each of his four outings at the Trop. A caveat: while he’s been a strike-throwing machine, Faria battled with command in his last start, allowing three runs on three hits and five walks while striking out eight over four innings of work.
Woodruff will make his big league debut against the Rays on Friday. The 24 year-old right-hander is recently had a stretch of three-games where he performed to a 6.75 ERA, although he threw five shutout innings in his last start. Baseball America gave a scouting report on Woodruff:
Woodruff was a hard-throwing wild man in college who was dropped from Mississippi State’s rotation and fell to the 11th round in 2014, but the Brewers cleaned up his mechanics, quickened his tempo and rhythm and found themselves a steal.
Woodruff pitches regularly at 93-94 mph with sink and can get up to 97 mph. He pounds the lower half of the strike zone with his fastball and above-average slider and was able to survive in Colorado Springs because of that, recording a 1.38 groundout-to-airout ratio. He also has an average changeup.
With a bulldog approach, three usable pitches and a ground-ball tendency, Woodruff projects as a mid-rotation starter as long as he maintains the solid control he has found as a professional.
Cobb posted his worst outing of the season on Monday, allowing eight runs on nine hits over three innings en route to a loss. He, however, is 5-3 with a 2.59 ERA in nine starts at the Trop this season.
Davies allowed three earned runs over seven innings in a loss to the Cubs on Sunday. A 4.42 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and 6.2 K/9 belie the fact that he has 12 wins on the season. Davies relies primarily on a 90 mph sinker with slight arm-side run, while also mixing in a 74 mph 12-6 curveball, an 80 mph changeup with slight arm-side fade, and an 87 mph cutter. Key Matchup: Wilson Ramos (3-6, RBI)
Archer saw his streak of six consecutive quality come to an end on Tuesday after he allowed four runs — two of which on a pair of solo homers. He did go six-plus innings, so he has pitched at least six innings in 14 consecutive starts. Archer cruised through the first four innings, giving up just one single. He, however, found himself in deep counts against a team that has struck out the fewest times in all of baseball. That, paired with some loud contact, speaks to the fact that Archer really wasn’t that dominant.
Nelson leads Milwaukee with 13 quality starts on the season, including a 3-2 win over the Cardinals on Tuesday. He has never faced the Rays, although he is 4-2 with a 4.66 ERA in 10 road starts this season. Nelson relies primarily upon a 94 mph worm-burner of a sinker and a whiffy 95 mph four-seam fastball. He also tends to mix in a hard 85 mph curveball, and a fly-ball inducing 80 mph slider. Key Matchups: Peter Bourjos (1-2, 3B, 2 RBI), Adeiny Hechavarria (2-3), Wilson Ramos (2-3, HR, RBI), Mallex Smith (1-2, 3B, RBI)
— INF Taylor Featherston has been optioned to Triple-A Durham, likely making room for UTL/INF Daniel Robertson, who will be activated from the disabled list. Robertson had been on the DL with neck spasms and played Wednesday for Durham.
— Jake Odorizzi (lower back strain) will make a rehab start in Dunedin for the Charlotte Stone Crabs Friday night. Jose De Leon (lat strain) is expected to pitch in that game as well. Odorizzi is projected to come off the DL early next week.