The Tampa Bay Rays will welcome the Houston Astros into the friendly confines of the Big Top, a mere four days after they last faced them at Minute Maid Park. The Rays are in slightly better shape than they were last week when they first took on the Astros. Tampa Bay has won three out of their last six, averaging just under four runs per game in that span. Still, the last two games were winnable, and therefore left a lot to be desired.
When the Rays lose, it’s as though they find new ways to do so. Take the last series against the Orioles, for example. Tampa Bay scored five, yet the pitching staff — led by Erik Bedard — gave up seven. Then Wednesday, the Rays were blanked for the sixth time in the month of June (the 11th time overall), making Baltimore’s struggling starter, Kevin Gausman, look like the second coming of Cy Young himself.
The Astros, on the other hand, have dropped four of their last five, including a two game, Interleague set to the Washington Nationals — both by a score of 6-5. Still, as Marc Topkin writes,
Houston’s power and speed remain impressive: only Oakland and Toronto entered Wednesday with more homers, only Kansas City had more steals. 2B Jose Altuve had boosted his average to .326, third in the AL. Sunday’s starter, LHP Dallas Keuchel, is in the top 10 in the AL with a 2.63 ERA. But Houston is near the bottom of the league in ERA and shutouts.
Also unpalatable; Houston’s opponents have failed to score at least four runs, four times through 15 games this month — the Rays were responsible for two of those games.
I remain cautiously optimistic for Tampa Bay in this series. On one hand, the Rays pair well with Houston when you compare their numbers at The Trop, with the Astros’ numbers away. Too, Tampa Bay took two of three from Houston last week. Then again, nothing has been easy for the Rays, so who knows?
Collin McHugh: As I wrote of McHugh last week, McHugh has been very good this season, due in part to the use of his off-speed stuff — namely a very good curve ball with ridiculous vertical movement. The Astros righty has been able to incur a 19.5 percent swinging-strike rate, while opponents have hit a minuscule .025 with a .075 slugging percentage against it. Per the Brooks Baseball graph below, McHugh’s curve dropped an average of 9.02 inches in April and 8.61 inches in May. The second graph shows the horizontal movement, which was 8.73 inches in April and 7.73 in May.
Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated writes, “Moreover, when McHugh spots his curveball at or beneath the bottom of the strike zone, hitters have barely been able to lay off. Of the 118 curveballs that McHugh has thrown at or below opposing hitters’ knees, they have swung at 53 of them and come up empty on 29 of those swings. The Rays were able to tag him for four runs (three earned) in five innings of work, last Friday. Key matchups: David DeJesus (1-3, 2 RBI), Desmond Jennings (1-3, 2B), Matt Joyce (1-1, 2B, 2 RBI, BB), Kevin Kiermaier (1-3, 3B), Ben Zobrist (2-3, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI).
Jarrod Cosart: As I wrote of Cosart last week, Cosart’s quick arm generates a mid 90s fastball with plenty of movement to boot. He also features a power curve and change that has good separation from his fastball. His change, however, doesn’t feature notable movement. Expect Cosart to coax a fair number of grounders and a few strikeouts along the way. A caveat for Cosart, his motion features little deception, giving hitters an opportunity to see the ball for extended periods of time. To that end, Craig Goldstein of Fake Teams writes, “While Cosart generates a lot of movement on his fastball by using a crossfire delivery, he also sacrifices control, both due to the delivery and the exceptional spin imparted by it.” Cosart held Tampa Bay to three runs last Saturday, despite allowing 10 Rays to reach on nine hits and a walk. He was hittable then, and I’d argue he’ll be hittable Friday. The question du jour; can the Rays pounce on the opportunities they get? Key matchups: David DeJesus (1-2, BB), Ryan Hanigan (1-3), Kevin Kiermaier (2-4, 2 2B), James Loney (2-6, 2B), Evan Longoria (2-7, HR, 3 RBI).
Brad Peacock: Peacock has been plagued with control issues over the years, including last week when he gave the Rays four free passes in his 4 IP outing. The fly-ball pitcher has also given up his fair share of homers, which could bode well for the Rays. He’s given up three or more runs in six of his 13 outings, averaging just under five innings per outing. You’d expect the Rays to be able to hit Peacock hard — here’s to hope, anyway. Key matchups: Yunel Escobar (1-1, 2B, 2 RBI, BB), James Loney (1-2), Ben Zobrist (1-2).
Dallas Keuchel: Make no mistake, Keuchal has been very good this season, thanks to the fact that he’s been a ground ball inducing machine. If the heat map below is indicative of anything, it’s that Keuchal has an almost pathological avoidance of the high strike.
Tampa Bay owned Keuchel last season, tagging the 26 year-old LHP for eight runs in a pair of starts. Keuchel’s losses, this season, have been few and far in-between — with his last coming in a four run, 5 IP start against the Nats, Tuesday. This season, Keuchel has been able to bounce back in his starts following a loss. If you’re a Rays fan, pray that Tampa Bay can force mistakes and find the Keuchel of yore — after all, it’s not going to be Sunday. Key matchups: Yunel Escobar (1-3, 2B, 2 BB), James Loney (1-4, RBI), Sean Rodriguez (3-6, 2B).
- The Rays lead the series 13-9 overall, and are tied 3-3 at home.
- Evan Longoria has hit safely in seven straight games, batting .286 during that span.
- Jose Altuve leads the majors with 96 hits, recording multiple hits in four of his last six games.
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