The two top teams in the American League East will kick off one last series before the All-Star break on the Fourth of July at Tropicana Field. The Tampa Bay Rays will welcome the New York Yankees into town for a four-game set. Tampa Bay had a chance at a sweep against the Orioles after picking up a pair of 6-3 wins the previous two nights, yet Jose Alvarado had other ideas in mind, as he allowed six one-out runs in the ninth inning Thursday night. In spite of a three-run rally, the Rays fell, 9-6. Meanwhile, New York split a two-game Interleague series against the Mets.
In spite of the loss, the Rays looked good at the plate against the Orioles, scoring 18 total runs and hitting .361 with runners in scoring position (13-for-36 wRISP). As BA noted during Wednesday’s broadcast, the test will be whether Tampa Bay can slow things down against New York. Over the previous three series, the Rays have looked jumpy and over-amped, and they’re a far better team than the 2-7 season series record would indicate.
At the end of the day, the Rays have survived a brutal gauntlet over the last seven weeks and has hung in the playoff picture and division in spite of it all. They enter the series 6-1/2 games back in the AL East and looking to gain ground on the Yankees.
Over the next four days, Kevin Cash will throw Yonny Chirinos (7-4, 3.10 ERA), Brendan McKay (1-0, 0.00 ERA), Blake Snell (5-7, 4.87 ERA), and Charlie Morton (9-2, 2.36 ERA). Aaron Boone will counter with J.A. Happ (7-4, 5.23 ERA), Masahiro Tanaka (5-5, 3.74 ERA), the ever swarthy C.C. Sabathia (5-4, 4.04 ERA), and James Paxton (5-3, 4.09 ERA).
Yonny Chirinos allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits and four walks over six innings while striking out five on Friday. It was far from a sharp outing by Chirinos even though he, technically, tossed a quality start. The error that led to the unearned run was his own, while Chirinos threw only 59 of 105 pitches for strikes (56% strike rate) en route to a season-high four walks — for context, he hadn’t walked more than two batters in any previous outing. The right-hander still maintains a 3.10 ERA and 3.62 K/BB across 93 innings on the season. Chirinos is 2-2 with a 2.84 ERA in five career outings (two starts) against the Yankees.
J.A. Happ threw four innings in his last starts and allowed eight runs on 11 hits with no walks with just two strikeouts. Happ is 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA, a 1.93 WHIP, four walks, and seven strikeouts over his last 14 innings of work in his last three starts. He also is 5-4 with a 4.30 ERA, a 1.356 WHIP, 30 walks and 75 strikeouts across 90 innings in 18 career appearances (17 starts) against Tampa Bay (1-2 with a 5.36 ERA, a 1.557 WHIP, 17 walks and 34 strikeouts over 43.2 innings at Tropicana Field). Happ is 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA in one start (5 IP) against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Travis d’Arnaud (1-3), Avisail Garcia (4-12, 2 HR, 3 RBI), Guillermo Heredia (3-9, BB), Tommy Pham (2-3, 2B), Mike Zunino (3-11, RBI, BB)
Brendan McKay pitched six scoreless innings in his big league debut, allowing just one hit (tracked at 66.5 mph off the bat) and one walk with three punch outs. The left-hander took a perfect game into the sixth inning when he gave up two baserunners. McKay’s curveball was especially sharp, as he held Texas to 1-for-18 on his breaking pitch and generated 11 swings and misses.
Masahiro Tanaka allowed six runs on four hits and two walks across 2/3 of an inning on Saturday. He did not record a strikeout. The first game in London saw neither team’s starter make it out of the opening frame, with Tanaka delivering his worst start of the season by a significant margin. The 30-year-old now has a 3.74 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and a 3.70 K/BB over 98-2/3 innings this season. Tanaka has been very tough against the Rays this season, going 2-0 with a 0.41 ERA in three starts (22 IP). Key Matchups: Willy Adames (3-12, 2B, RBI), Guillermo Heredia (1-4), Kevin Kiermaier (8-31, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, BB), Tommy Pham (4-15, 2B, HR, 2 RBI), Joey Wendle (3-8, 2B 2 RBI), Mike Zunino (5-19, 2 2B, HR, RBI)
Blake Snell struck out 12 and allowed two runs on three hits over six innings in a win over Texas on Sunday. Snell was desperate for a good outing after lasting just seven innings in his previous three starts combined. He got exactly what he needed Sunday. The 26-year-old lefty flattened the Rangers’ lineup with Joey Gallo’s two-run blast being the only significant damage he allowed. It was his first start with double-digit strikeouts since May 12 and he lowered his season ERA to 4.87 in the process.
C.C. Sabathia gave up two runs on six hits and two walks over six innings while striking out nine on Monday. The Grimmace like southpaw did give allow some hard contact although his control was decent, throwing 64 of 104 pitches for strikes (62% strike rate) en route to his fourth quality start of the season. Sabathia will take a 4.04 ERA and 2.54 K/BB through 69 innings into his start on Saturday. Sabathia is 1-0 with a 2.12 ERA in three starts (17 innings) against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (4-14, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Travis d’Arnaud (3-12), Kevin Kiermaier (5-16, 2 HR, 2 RBI), Tommy Pham (3-10, 2 2B, RBI), Joey Wendle (1-2), Mike Zunino (5-11, HR, RBI, BB)
Charlie Morton was dominant in his outing against Baltimore, allowing one earned run on four hits and a walk while striking out 12 across seven innings. Morton’s sole blemish of the contest came on a third-inning solo homer by Chris Davis, otherwise, he held the Orioles without an extra-base hit and didn’t allow a baserunner into scoring position until his final inning of work. It was his second double-digit strikeout performance of the season, and he’s now racked up 132 strikeouts across 107 innings of work. Morton has also supplied All-Star ratios, managing a 2.36 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.
James Paxton allowed one earned run on eight hits and two walks while striking out three across six innings on Tuesday. Paxton surrendered just a solo home run to J.D. Davis in his outing — only his second quality start in seven chances since coming off the IL in late May. Paxton was unable to generate much deception with his pitches, recording just 12 swinging strikes on 103 total pitches (12% SwStr). The left-hander is 3-0 with a 3.32 ERA in three career starts against the Rays, and 2-0 with a 4.15 ERA in two starts at the Trop. Key Matchup: Avisail Garcia (3-5, RBI)
— An average of 20,970 fans showed up to the old ballpark the last three nights (62,911 overall), with large crowds also expected this weekend.
I know, what you’re thinking, “…but that’s only because the Rays sold out of the 30-thousand $2.00 tickets that were made available prior to the start of this series.” That is undoubtedly true. And it should not be forgotten that a good number of fans came through the turnstiles when the Rays had a $5.00 flash sale a few weeks back, which led into a successful day/night doubleheader with the Rowdies. To the naysayers, I posit this: 10-thousand fans per night, at $2.00 a pop, is far better than 30-thousand (overall) empty seats. The team made a moderate revenue on the ticket sales and even more money when you factor in concessions and team merchandise — cash they wouldn’t have generated otherwise.
To Stu Sternberg and the Rays front office, fans have shown that they will attend games when family-friendly and affordable ticket options are offered. Instead of bashing the market and the fan-base, saying things like an 81-game season is untenable in Tampa Bay (and yes, most of us know that’s a rhetorical leverage ploy), how about continuing to roll out ticket specials throughout the balance of the season? The Rays have hit the 20-thousand mark 12 times in 2019, and we aren’t at the halfway point yet. For context, 20-thousand fans (or more) attended just nine ballgames last season. We love the love Rays in Tampa Bay. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
— Brandon Lowe was a late addition to the 2019 All-Star Game roster, joining Austin Meadows and Charlie Morton for the Rays’ contention.
It’s the icing on the cake, I’d say. The dream is always to be a big leaguer, so I got here. And to keep performing and be able to go out there and take the field with some of the guys that will be out there will be very special.— Brandon Lowe
Lowe said having a chance to talk to players like Mike Trout will be a highlight of the trip.
What he’s done throughout the game has been nothing short of incredible. I would love to pick his brain and see just what goes on in his head.— Brandon Lowe
— Never forget: