The American League East will square off with the American League West, when the Tampa Bay Rays begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Monday. The Rays followed a three-game sweep against the Blue Jays by dropping three-of-four to the Yankees, while the Astros have won 11 in a row.
With the win on Sunday, the Rays snapped a nine-game road losing streak, their longest since 2016.
The Rays struggled in the series against the Yankees, plating a total of seven runs in the four games. It, frankly, will not get any easier for in their upcoming against the Astros, who have the top ERA in the American League. For their part, the reigning World Series champs scored 24 runs in their series with the Royals.
Tampa Bay’s offense has dramatically regressed, due in large part to a 25.5% strikeout rate. In fact, the Rays’ 13.2% SwStr rate is a mere eight points lower that the Astros overall strikeout rate over the last 14 days. What’s more, the overall batting average, walk rate and on base percentage have fallen over the same span of time, meaning they’ve left a lot chicken on the bone when given the opportunity to plate some runs.
Kevin Cash will lean on Ryne Stanek (1-1, 2.55 ERA) — who likely will be followed by Matt Andriese (1-3, 3.27 ERA) — Blake Snell (8-4, 2.58 ERA), and Nathan Eovaldi (1-2, 4.63 ERA) the next three days. A.J. Hinch will respond with Gerrit Cole (8-1, 2.40 ERA), Justin Verlander (9-2, 1.61 ERA), and Charlie Morton (8-1, 2.94 ERA).
Ryne Stanek will get the nod ahead of Matt Andriese on Monday. Stanek has been very good over his last 14-innings of work, allowing just two runs on six hits while fanning 15. He is in the midst of an eight inning, six-game scoreless streak. Andriese allowed just two hits and one walk across 3-2/3 innings on Wednesday against Toronto. He struck out two. It was a nice bounce-back performance for the right-hander, who had allowed eight runs (five earned) over his previous five appearances (11 innings of work). Andriese now owns a solid 3.27 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 5.00 K/BB over 41-1/3 innings this season.
Gerrit Cole allowed four runs on six hits and two walks across six innings. He struck out six. Cole allowed a pair of homers, but but otherwise pounded the zone after the Astros lineup staked him to a 10-run lead over the first two frames. The right-hander ate innings, avoided any major uprisings and earned his sixth consecutive win (his third straight start). This season Cole has relied primarily on a whiffy 97 mph four-seam fastball with some slight armside run, an 89 mph slider, and an 83 mph worm-killer curveball with sharp downward bite and some glove-side movement. He is 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA in six starts at Minute Made Park. Key Matchups: C.J. Cron (1-1, 2B, RBI), Carlos Gomez (5-12, 3B, BB)
Blake Snell allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over five innings on Thursday. He struck out eight. Snell had won his last four decisions heading in to this tough matchup against the Yankees, last taking a loss on May 13 against the Orioles. That was also the last time he allowed more than two earned runs. Even with the rough outing, the southpaw has performed to a stellar 2.58 ERA across 87-1/3 innings with a 3.34 K/BB. Snell is 0-1 with a 7.50 ERA in three career starts against Houston.
Justin Verlander allowed three runs on five hits while striking out seven across seven innings against the Athletics on Thursday. It wasn’t Verlander’s sharpest performance, as the right-hander allowed a pair of homers in the game, but it got the job done. At the end of May he owned a 1.11 ERA, although that number jumped to a still-pristine 1.61 after Thursday’s contest. This season Verlander has relied on a whiffy 95 mph four-seam fastball with good “rising” action, and an 87 mph slider. He has also mixed in an 80 mph curveball with sharp downward bite. The 35 year-old is 8-3 with a 3.29 ERA in 16 career starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: Rob Refsnyder (2-2, RBI), Mallex Smith (1-4, BB)
Nathan Eovaldi allowed five runs over 7-1/3 innings in his last start on Friday. He struck out five. Eovaldi largely cruised through the Yankees lineup, with the exceptions of a third inning solo shot and a sixth inning sac fly, before running out of gas in a three-run eighth. Eovaldi has been hit or miss in his four starts since returning from the DL, allowing three runs or more in three of those starts. He is 1-0 with a 2.52 ERA in four career starts against the Astros.
Charlie Morton allowed three runs on four hits over six innings against the Royals on Friday. He struck out nine and walked four. Morton gave up a two-run double to Mike Moustakas in the third inning then later walked Moustakas with the bases loaded in the fifth. The walks are a problem for Morton (he walked six in 3-2/3 innings in his previous start), but he was still able to come away with the win thanks to an Evan Gattis grand slam. The right-hander has performed to a 2.94 ERA and 1.14 WHIP along with an excellent 3.18 K/BB over 82-2/3 innings. This season Morton has relied primarily on a 97 mph four-seam fastball with obvious tail and natural sinking action, a whiffy 80 mph knuckle curveball with sweeping glove-side movement and sharp downward bite, and a 96 mph two-seam sinker with some slight armside run, while also mixing in a whiffy 89 mph cutter and an 88 mph splitter with armside fade. Morton is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in three career starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: Matt Duffy (1-3), Carlos Gomez (6-16, HR), Adeiny Hechavarria (2 2B, BB), Wilson Ramos (5-13, RBI, BB)