It’s deja vu all over again for the Tampa Bay Rays. Allow me take you back to the 2011 season — the miracle campaign that gave birth to Game 162, arguably the single greatest day in baseball history. The Rays got off to an 0-6 start that season, having been out scored by the Orioles, Angels and White Sox a combined 27-8.
In the second game of the aforementioned series on the south side of Chicago, Tampa Bay’s offense finally sparked to life, putting nine runs on the board against the tandem of John Danks and Matt Thornton. Even though they dropped the next two games ugly fashion, and subsequently the four-game set against the ChiSox, the Rays followed with a 14-4 tear to finish out the month of April with a 15-12 record, three games over .500. Enter the current squad that has gotten off to an equally bad, if not possibly worse, start to the 2018 campaign.
On the heals of a three-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox — one in which Tampa Bay should have walked away with its first series win of the season — the Rays, ironically enough, will walk into Guaranteed Rate Field on the south side of Chicago for a three-game series against the White Sox, starting Monday.
Far be it from me to say that this is where the Rays next miracle run begins. However, this series does present the slumping team with an opportunity to get off the schneid, after all the ChiSox aren’t nearly the same caliber ball club that Tampa Bay has faced already three times this season.
Two of Tampa Bay’s last three losses have come by one run. The Rays current eight-game losing streak is worse than any stretch of 2017, when the team never lost more than five games in a row. Meanwhile, Chicago was doomed by its own weekend sweep by the Detroit Tigers. The White Sox managed just one run over the last two contests, including a shutout loss on Sunday.
The two teams won three games apiece against each other last season. The White Sox finished with a narrow 22-21 advantage in runs, while both teams won two of three games on their home turf.
Over the next three games, Kevin Cash will lean on Chris Archer (0-0, 6.55 ERA), Blake Snell (0-1, 5.00 ERA) and the bullpen (1-4, 3.86 ERA). Rick Renteria will counter with Miguel Gonzalez (0-1, 9.00 ERA), Carson Fulmer (0-0, 5.40 ERA) and James Shields (1-0, 5.73 ERA).
Chris Archer is looking to shape up after giving up four earned runs apiece against the Red Sox and the York Yankees. He has 14 strikeouts in 11 innings this season, but he has allowed a fair share of baserunners with 12 hits and four walks during that span. In eight career games against the ChiSox, Archer is 3-2 with a 4.29 ERA. He went 0-2 against Chicago last season and is looking for his first victory over the team since Sept. 29, 2016.
Miguel Gonzalez looks to bounce back from a disappointing season debut against the Blue Jays. The 33-year-old gave up five runs on eight hits and two walks over five innings. He struck out four. Gonzalez has been very good against the Rays over his career, culling a 7-4 record with a 2.76 ERA in 16 starts. That includes a pristine 8-1/3 shutout outing with five strikeouts in his most recent appearance last season. Key matchups: CJ Cron (2-6, BB), Carlos Gomez (1-3, HR, 2 RBI), Adeiny Hechavarria (2-5, RBI), Wilson Ramos (1-2, BB)
Blake Snell was tagged with a loss after he allowed five runs on four hits and three walks over 3-1/3 innings Wednesday. He struck out five. Snell allowed a leadoff single to Brett Gardner, then served up a mammoth two-run homer to Giancarlo Stanton two batters later. The southpaw allowed another two-run shot in the third inning — this time to Gary Sanchez — before he was chased after recording just 10 outs on 90 pitches.
Carson Fulmer was impressive in his season debut last Wednesday, giving up three runs in five innings while walking just one. He struck out five. Fulmer has above-average arm speed and relies primarily on a 91 mph fastball with modest arm-side run and late life, a big breaking 11-5 curveball with significant depth, an 87 mph cutter with average movement and average control, and a show me changeup that he throws to lefties. He does have occasional inconsistency at release, and sometimes over-throws. This will be Fulmers first start against Tampa Bay.
The Rays will close out the series with a bullpen day.
James Shields, former friends of the Rays, struggled over his first two starts of his 2018 campaign. He has given up seven runs over 11 innings, while walking two and striking out just one. He, however, has been very good against his former team, coasting to a 3-0 record with a 1.35 ERA over three starts. He has fanned 23 along the way. The Rays have not faced Shields since 2016. Key matchups: Carlos Gomez (4-9), Adeiny Hechavarria (3-10), Kevin Kiermaier (1-2, 2B), Brad Miller (4-10, 2B, HR, RBI, BB), Wilson Ramos (1-3, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB)
— Following the series finale with Boston on Sunday, the Rays placed INF Brad Miller on the 10-day DL with a left groin strain. He has replaced by RHP Ryan Weber (a 10th pitcher tin the ‘pen) at least temporarily. With Miller out, C.J. Cron will play more first base, while lefty OF/DH Denard Span is likely to be in the lineup more against southpaw starters.
Miller said he tweaked something while running the bases on a fifth-inning single.
I tried for a couple innings to shake it off or whatever, but I knew it wasn’t going to be smart to stay in there, he said.
However, as Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) opined, the injury to Miller is more concerning since he had surgery in October after dealing with similar issues last season. He missed time during spring training for what he said were “lower body” issues related to his gait after first breaking a toe.
Meanwhile, Ryan Weber, 27, is a St. Petersburg native who signed as a minor-league free agent last winter. He is only the fourth Burger to play on the Rays, joining Bobby Wilson, Casey Kotchman, and Doug Waechter.
Weber has big-league experience with the Braves and Mariners, and will join the crew of multi-inning relievers working in support of what is currently a three-man rotation.