Despite the continued quality performance in the box, the Ray’s pitching staff failed in the previous series — the team batted .315 and averaged four runs per game, however, the pitching staff compiled a combined 7.88 ERA, while surrendering seven homers and allowing 11 free passes.
We ran into a pretty hot team, manager Kevin Cash said.
Aside from the lack of solid pitching in the series with the Rangers, the Rays’ biggest problem was the inability to get that crucial hit that could have altered the outcome of each game. Despite racking up 12 hits Sunday, Tampa Bay went 3-for-11 wRISP and left nine on base.
After putting together a disappointing 2-7 road trip, Houston did a good job of erasing the sour memory by taking three of four at home from the Tigers this weekend. The Astros rebounded from Saturday’s 4-2, extra-inning loss with a 6-5 walk off victory Sunday.
At 64-54 on the season, Houston improved to a major league-best 16-3 home record since June 28. During that 19-game span, the Astros are batting .282 and averaging 5-1/2 runs per game while totaling 31 homers. The pitching has also compiled a 2.53 ERA, with the starters posting a 1.55 mark in the past eight games.
The last Tampa Bay pitcher to record a quality start was Erasmo Ramirez (9-4, 3.59), who was outstanding in a 2-0 win Tuesday over Atlanta. He’ll take the mound in the series opener and be followed by Jake Odorizzi (6-6, 3.09 ERA), Nathan Karns (7-5, 3.53 ERA), and Chris Archer (10-9, 2.93 ERA). Ramirez has tossed 12 consecutive scoreless innings since allowing five in the first inning against the White Sox on August 5. One of his nine victories came against the Astros on July 10, when he yielded one run in six innings.
I just feel like everything is working, Ramirez said. It’s been great to have that feeling.
Odorizzi struggled Wednesday, relinquishing six runs on nine hits and a walk, while striking out six in six innings against the Braves. Karns came away with a no-decision after allowing two runs on two hits, walking five and striking out four over 4-2/3 innings to Texas on Friday night. Archer took a rough loss against the Rangers on Saturday, allowing seven earned runs on 11 hits in 5-1/3 innings.Scott Kazmir (6-7, 2.12 ERA) is tied for second with a .210 opponent batting average. The lefty has posted a 1.04 ERA in four starts since coming over in a trade from Oakland, yet he’s only 1-2 in those games since he’s twice received little to no run support. He’s lost his last two starts — both on the road — despite giving up just three earned runs over 11-1/3 innings. Kazmir yielded three runs and eight hits over 5-2/3 innings in a 5-2 loss to the Rays on May 22. Key matchups: Tim Beckham (1-3), Brandon Guyer (2-3), James Loney (3-9, 3B), Rene Rivera (2-7).
Scott Feldman (5-5, 4.17 ERA) tossed six shutout innings in Wednesday’s win over the Giants, allowing just four hits and a walk while fanning four. The 32 year-old cutter/curveball/change-up/fastball throwing hurler owns an 0-1 record and a 3.86 ERA against Tampa Bay in his last two appearances (one start). Key matchups: Asdrubal Cabrera (4-7, 2B, RBI), John Jaso (3-11, HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB), Desmond Jennings (3-9, 2B), Daniel Nava (5-10, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Grady Sizemore (4-8, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB).
Dallas Keuchel (14-6, 2.36 ERA) gave up one run on six hits and a walk while striking out eight over seven innings in a win over Detroit. The lefty gave up three runs on seven hits and two walks over seven innings in a loss against the Rays on July 11. Keuchel’s allowed four or more runs in just five of his 24 starts this season (three losses). Key matchups: Asdrubal Cabrera (3-9, 2B, HR, RBI), Logan Forsythe (4-10), Brandon Guyer (3-6), Evan Longoria (4-9, RBI), Rene Rivera (2-3, 2B, 2 RBI).
Collin McHugh (13-6, 4.09 ERA) took a hard-luck loss Saturday night, allowing just one run in seven innings while striking out seven. McHugh went 0-2 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts against the Rays last season, and allowed three runs on four hits in his sole start against Tampa Bay on July 10. When relies on his fastball, he throws is with less velocity and higher in the zone. Because of it, right-handed hitters have tattooed McHugh. Key matchups: Desmond Jennings (2-5, 2B, BB), James Loney (2-8, BB), Daniel Nava (1-3, 2B, RBI), Rene Rivera (1-2), Grady Sizemore (1-3).
— Asdrubal Cabrera enters as the Rays’ hottest hitter, batting .475 with 11 extra-base hits in 16 games since returning from the DL.
— The Rays typically dependable pitching is showing signs of concern. In 13 August games, the starters have a 6.13 ERA in August after working to a 3.35 mark through the front 104 games. And, as Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) was quick to point out, that’s just as the bats have come to life: The Rays’ .302 August average is second best in the majors, their five runs per game solid, but their record only 7-6.
For a team that depends upon strong starting pitching, that inflated ERA isn’t acceptable. It also prevents the team from making a real run in the Wildcard race. The offense cannot be depended upon to bail out the pitching staff every night.
Nevertheless, pitching coach Jim Hickey believes the rotation is good enough to keep the Rays in the hunt:
I feel good overall, absolutel. We certainly need to perform a little bit better. This is a little bit disappointing in this month where we’ve swung the bats considerably better than we have and failed to capitalize on that, and for the most part that’s due to the pitching, so we need to step it up a little bit, and there’s time to do it, but it needs to start (tonight).
— Speaking of pitching, the Rays have optioned 3B/1B/OF Richie Shaffer to Triple-A Durham and recalled LHP Enny Romero. With Alex Colome picking up an extensive amount of work in relief of Drew Smyly on Sunday, the team would have entered the upcoming series short staffed in the bullpen. Shaffer, who made a big splash with the team upon his recent promotion, will be available to return to the bigs in 10 days. If he isn’t recalled then, it should be assumed that he’ll be added to the active roster once more with the September roster expansion.