After rattling off five consecutive wins, including a three-game seep of the Tigers, the Tampa Bay Rays are set to open a four game series against the Minnesota Twins, in Minneapolis. The Twins won the rubber game of their three game series with the Royals on Wednesday. The Rays, who enter the series four-games over .500 for the first time this season, swept the three-game series between the teams at home earlier this season (April 20-22).
Tampa Bay looks to build on its 48-44 record heading into the All Star Break. They still trail the Red Sox by 16 games in the AL East entering Thursday night, however, the Rays made up a game in a half in the Wildcard rankings, sitting 9.5 games out of the final spot with 70 left to play.
Minnesota bounced back from a loss in the middle game of the set with Kansas City, improving to 41-49 on the season with their sixth win in seven games. Although the Twins trail Cleveland by 8.5 in the AL Central, and the Rays by six games in the AL Wildcard rankings.
Minnesota has put 75 runs on the board over the last 14 days, as compared to Tampa Bay which has scored 23 fewer. Yet the Rays pitching staff has performed to a combined 2.47 ERA/3.19 FIP (1.66 ERA/2.21 FIP by starters, 3.00 ERA/3.84 FIP by relievers) over the same stretch. Compare that to the Twins, which have performed to a combined 4.95 ERA/4.69 FIP (4.92 ERA/5.33 FIP by starters, 5.00 ERA/3.83 FIP by relievers). Good pitching beats good hitting, advantage Tampa Bay.
If the Rays can win the series, they’ll enter the All-Star Break with a 51-45 record in the very least, six games over .500.
Over the next three days Kevin Cash will start Blake Snell (12-4, 2.09 ERA), Nathan Eovaldi (3-3, 3.35 ERA) and Chris Archer (3-4, 4.41 ERA), then rely on the bullpen (23-22, 3.46 ERA) in the series finale. Paul Molitor will counter with Kyle Gibson (3-6, 3.59 ERA), Jake Odorizzi (4-6, 4.28 ERA), Jose Berrios (9-7, 3.41 ERA), and a pitcher to be named before the game on Sunday.
Blake Snell allowed six hits and three walks while striking out nine across 7-1/3 scoreless innings against the Mets on Sunday. Snell threw 112 pitches (70 strikes, 63% strike rate), generated an impressive 16 swinging strikes (23% SwStr rate) and stayed out of trouble by coaxing 10 groundouts including two double plays. While the Mets typically struggle against left-handers, Snell has been dominant in his last three starts, fanning 29 batters across 21-2/3 innings. Those three turns on the mound have added to his impressive 2018 campaign, as Snell ranks among the AL leaders in wins, innings pitched, strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. (Cough, yet he was still snubbed for the All Star Game)
Kyle Gibson fired seven strong innings to earn the win over Baltimore on Saturday, allowing three runs on four hits and four walks while striking out nine. Gibson has been solid for most of the season and he continued that on Saturday, with most of the damage coming on a first-inning home run hit by Chris Davis. Even so, Gibson is 1-1 with a 5.21 ERA over his last three starts (19 innings), with seven walks but 19 strikeouts. The right-hander is 1-5 with a 6.81 ERA in eight career starts against Tampa Bay, including a 6-1/3 inning four run, five hit loss on April 21. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (1-3, HR, RBI), CJ Cron (4-11, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Carlos Gomez (4-15, 2B, RBI), Adeiny Hechavarria (1-1, BB), Kevin Kiermaier (5-8, 3 2B, BB), Wilson Ramos (1-3, 2B, RBI), Joey Wendle (2-3, 3B)
Nathan Eovaldi blanked the Mets across seven innings, allowing just one hit while striking out nine. The right-hander has had his best stuff over his last three starts, allowing just two runs across 19 innings while striking out 23. Even considering the hefty number of punch outs he collected, Eovaldi was extremely efficient Sunday, needing just 79 pitches (59 strikes, 75% strike rate) to breeze through seven innings, but manager Cash decided to pull the starter due to a seven-run lead.
Jake Odorizzi allowed five hits and a walk while striking out five over six innings against the Orioles on Sunday. He now has thrown two scoreless outings in his last three starts. And while both of those starts have come against weak lineups — the White Sox and Orioles — the former Ray is making up for a rough stretch from late May and June, during which he allowed 22 earned runs across 20-1/3 innings. He has gone at least five innings without surrendering more than two earned runs in 10 of his 19 starts this season. Odo has never faced his former team, although a handful of batters have faced him over the last few years. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (2-4, HR, RBI), Matt Duffy (1-2, 2B), Carlos Gomez (2-7, BB)
Chris Archer did not fare well in his return outing after spending on the DL with an abdominal strain, allowing three runs on six hits and two walks over 3-1/3 innings Monday night. He struck out three. Archer threw 15 of 18 first pitch strikes and induced 11 whiffs, although he had a hard time putting batters away efficiently. He struggled in the third inning, when he allowed three runs on three hits and a walk, running up his pitch count before his removal with one out in the fourth. Archer appeared to be turning a corner leading up to his DL stint, firing off five quality starts over a stretch of seven appearances that was bookended by an injury marred, five inning outing against Seattle on the fifth of June. Over his last four previous starts against the Angels, Red Sox, Athletics and the Mariners, Archer allowed a total of three runs, while sporting a 2.18 K/BB.
Jose Berrios held the Royals to just one run on six hits over seven innings on Monday night. He struck out eight. Berrios has now thrown quality starts in six of his last seven outings. The right-hander leaned heavily on his curveball Monday, throwing it 41 times, inducing five swinging strikes and four outs in play with it. Overall, Kansas City’s batters whiffed 16 times (22% SwStr rate) on 111 (74 strikes, 67% strike rate) pitches as Berrios showed why he’s the ace in Minnesota. Aside from his 82 mph curveball, this season Berrios has relied on his 94 mph four-seam fastball and an 84 mph changeup. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (1-3), Kevin Kiermaier (2-6, 2B)
I will update this piece when the pitching probables for the series finale are announced.