The Tampa Bay Rays continue their 10-game home stand on Friday, with the first game of a three game set against the AL West leading Texas Rangers.
The Rays enter the series with a lot of momentum after winning four straight, and scoring a franchise-record 35 runs over a three-game span to finish a three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres. The Rangers, likewise, are coming off their own three-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics, and have won nine of 12 entering the series.
Brad Miller has been a big part of Tampa Bay’s win streak, mashing three home runs in his last seven at-bats. The first baseman has hit 19 homers since June 17, matching the most in baseball in that span. He’s also been productive at home where 19 of his 25 home runs have been hit. Miller already set the Major League record for the most long-balls by a left-handed batter playing primarily at shortstop, as well as the franchise record for homers by a shortstop.
I think I’m picking the right pitch to swing at, Miller said after Wednesday’s contest with San Diego. When you do that, you can’t miss them, because you might only get one per at-bat. That’s all I’m trying to do is hit the one pitch I get per at-bat.
While their 72-50 record sets the Rangers apart from the lowly Rays, when you dig a little deeper, you’ll come to the the conclusion that both teams are pretty evenly keeled — luck is one of the separating factors between the two. Compare their Pythagorean Expectations, for example. Texas should be 62-60, while Tampa Bay should be 57-62. And with a 61-58 BaseRuns record, the Rays are actually outperforming their counterparts by four games in the loss column (60-62). To put it another way, this season Tampa Bay has scored the same number of runs as the Yankees (498), and have allowed 18 fewer runs. However, the good guys are 10-½ games behind New York in the AL East and 19 games under .500, while the Yankees are two games over .500 and 7-½ back of first.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will depend upon starters Matt Andriese (6-4, 3.36 ERA), Jake Odorizzi (7-5, 3.72 ERA), and Drew Smyly (5-11, 4.85 ERA). Jeff Banister will counter with Cole Hamels (12-4, 2.88 ERA), A.J. Griffin (5-2, 4.68 ERA), and Martín Pérez (8-8, 4.09 ERA).
Rays Series Starters
Andriese fanned eight but surrendered six earned runs on eight hits over five innings of an 8-4 loss on Saturday. The righty allowed four homers in one game after having allowed just three all season. He, however, also recorded a season high in strikeouts and fired 56 of 76 pitches for strikes (13 whiffs overall).
Odorizzi has been fire since the All-Star Break. In his six starts since, the righty is 4-0 with a 1.66 ERA. He is 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in three career starts against the Rangers.
Smyly dominated the Padres on Monday, allowing just one run over seven innings. He gave up only one hit, walked a pair, and struck out four. Smyly allowed a one out, first-inning homer to Alexei Ramirez and then held San Diego hitless for the next six. Even though Smyly’s had his share of misfortune this season, he has allowed just eight total runs in his last five starts.
Rangers Series Starters
Hamels allowed two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out six over six innings on Monday against the Rockies. The tough lefty did enough to keep Texas in the game, and the Rangers eventually won late. Hamels coaxed 20 swinging strikes on 115 pitches, although he wasn’t the most efficient hurler, throwing just 12-of-24 first-pitch strikes. Still, Hamels hasn’t allowed more than three runs since July 8 against the Twins — a five start stretch, allowing him to drop his ERA from 3.21 to 2.89. Key matchups: Matt Duffy (3-6, 3 RBI), Logan Forsythe (2-3, 2 2B, RBI), Logan Morrison (11-28, 4 2B, 2 RBI, 5 BB)
Griffin posted at least six innings for the first time in his last 11 starts against Detroit on Sunday, although he was tagged for six runs and a season-high 11 hits. He now has a 6.69 ERA in his last seven starts, allowing a homer in 10 straight outings. Griffin has relied upon an 89 mph four seam fastball with good “rising action,” and an 84 mph cutter this season, while also mixing in a 67 mph curveball with excellent bite, and an 82 mph changeup with a ton of backspin. Key matchups: Nick Franklin (1-3, 2B), Brad Miller (1-3, HR, RBI)
Pérez held Oakland to two runs (one earned) on five hits on Monday, with one walk and six strikeouts over seven innings. The southpaw settled in after allowing a run in each of the first two innings, and was rewarded with his first win in nine starts. Be that as it may, he still has just one road win in 2016; something that may bode well for the Rays. This season he has relied primarily on a 94 mph worm killer of a sinker, while also mixing in a 94 mph four seam fastball, a hard 85 mph circle change grip, an 86 mph slider, and an 81 mph 12-6 curveball. Key matchups: Tim Beckham (1-2, BB), Kevin Kiermaier (1-3), Evan Longoria (4-7, 2B, HR, 4 RBI), Brad Miller (4-10, 2B, RBI, 2 BB)
— Brad Miller is 8-20 with five homers and nine RBI in his last five games.
— Carlos Beltran is hitting .315 with two home runs and eight RBI in 15 games since being traded from the New York Yankees; he went 6-13 in the series with Oakland.
— The teams have not played one another in 2016, and will finish the season with a three-game set in Texas. They’ve split 40 meetings since 2011.