The Tampa Bay Rays and the Minnesota Twins are both still fringe contenders in the American League Wildcard race, and neither can afford to lose a series. The Rays will try to push their four-game home win streak to five* at the expense of the Twins when they open a three-game series against Minnesota, beginning Tuesday.
In spite of a 62-62 record, Tampa Bay remains within shouting distance of the second Wildcard spot, thanks in part to wins in three of their last four games. The Rays have put up an average of 2.3 runs over the last six games, however, the pitching staff has kept the team in the thick of things with a 3-3 mark in that span.
Both clubs are among four that are within 2-1/2 games of the Rangers for the final playoff spot:
I know that they’re neck-and-neck with us and there’s a lot of teams involved in all of this but we’ve gotta play good baseball regardless of who we’re playing against, Rays manager Kevin Cash told Fox Sports on the importance of facing the Twins.
Minnesota is a game up on Tampa Bay in the overall standings, as they started to slow some of their woes on the road with a four-game sweep in Baltimore over the weekend ― including three straight one-run victories. That pushed Minnesota to 25-37 away from Target Field.
The Rays will throw Nathan Karns (7-5, 3.44), Chris Archer (11-9, 2.77 ERA), and Drew Smyly (1-2, 3.42 ERA) over the next three days.
Karns did not factor in the decision at Houston on Wednesday despite allowing one run and striking out eight in six innings. The righty allowed only one walk in that outing after walking five in 4-2/3 frames at Texas in his previous turn. He is 3-0, with a 2.81 ERA in six starts since All-Star break, and has made an AL-most 18 starts while allowing two runs or fewer, and an MLB-most 10 with three hits or fewer.
Archer was outstanding last Thursday, allowing just one hit and a walk while fanning 11 in a complete game shutout over the Astros. The Rays ace was sharp and efficient as he drew 19 swinging strikes and needed only 98 pitches to complete his start. He previously allowed 12 earned runs over his previous three starts, so it was nice to see him pitch well once again.
Smyly posted 5-2/3 scoreless innings Saturday in a win over Oakland, scattering seven hits and no walks while striking out two. It wasn’t his sharpest outing, but it’s hard to complain about a shutout. This was his second start after returning from the DL, and he looked far better here than he had in his previous outing against Texas.
Minnesota won two of three at home over Tampa Bay from May 15-17, yet the Rays captured seven of the last nine home meetings.
*Six and seven as well, in an ideal world.
Ervin Santana (2-4, 5.53 ERA): Santana will make his 10th start since returning from an 80-game steroids suspension. He fell to 0-4 in his last five starts after being touched for four runs in 7-2/3 innings against the Yankees on Wednesday. The righty surrendered a pair of home runs in that outing and has yielded seven blasts in his last five starts. Santana is 6-6 with a 4.98 ERA in 14 career starts against Tampa Bay, with his last one coming in June 2013. Key matchups: John Jaso (8-21, 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 3 BB), James Loney (5-16, 2 2B, 2 RBI, BB), Evan Longoria (6-15, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 3 BB), Rene Rivera (1-4, BB), Grady Sizemore (9-28, 2 2B, 2 3B, HR, 3 RBI, 5 BB).
Tyler Duffey (2-1, 4.60 ERA): Tampa Bay has never faced Duffey, who was promoted to the bigs at the beginning of August. The 24 year-old righty relies primarily on his 92 mph four seam fastball and 80 mph curve, which he uses to coax an extreme number of fly balls. He also mixes in a 91 mph sinker and an 85 mph whiffy change-up.
Tommy Milone (6-3, 3.69 ERA): Milone was pressed into action in an extra-inning ballgame on Sunday with the Twins already short of rested relievers. He threw a scoreless 12th inning to earn his first career save. The 28 year-old righty has not fared well against the Rays over the last few seasons, posting a 2-2 record and a 6.17 ERA over his last four starts (23-1/3 innings). Key matchup: James Loney (1-3, RBI).
― Evan Longoria is 0-12 with five strikeouts in the last three games.
― James Loney is 5-16 off Santana, though the Rays are unsure of whether or not he will be suspended after bumping umpire Paul Nauert during Saturday’s 5-4 victory against the Athletics in which he was ejected. Loney went 0-2 in Sunday’s loss and is in the throes of a 3-24 slump.
― Twins rookie Miguel Sano is hitting .321 with four homers and nine RBI in his last seven games.