After earning their fourth consecutive win against the Orioles on Saturday, 3-1, the Tampa Bay Rays look to do something rare and unusual this afternoon: sweep a five-game set.
At 35-18 on the season, the Rays enter play with the best record in the American League, while their magic number to clinch the division over the Yankees, who have won 10 straight, is down to four with seven games left to play. According to FanGraphs, the Rays have a 96% chance of winning the division.
Charlie Morton got off to an inauspicious start Saturday — getting into a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first inning — yet he limited the damage and battled his way to a win over Baltimore, allowing one run on five hits and two walks and two hit batters while striking out six across five innings of work on 94 pitches (61% strike rate, 26% SwStr%). For only the second time since returning from the Injured List on September 2, Morton was able to make it through five innings, surrendering a lone tally to pick up his first win since August 4. Morton’s final pitch count of 94 bodes well for his ability to throw without limitations in the postseason. Between a shoulder injury that cost him nearly three weeks and an uncharacteristic 4.64 ERA (albeit reduced from 5.13), the 2020 campaign has been somewhat disappointing for the right-hander, he could provide a significant boost to the Rays’ rotation if he’s able to peak heading into the postseason. He’ll get one last tuneup on Friday against Philadelphia.
He settled in and did a really nice job of competing, making pitches, and getting a feel for everything that he had. But most of all encouraged that we got him to that 95-pitch mark and throughout that the velocity stayed consistent.— Kevin Cash
Meanwhile, Yoshi Tsutsugo and Randy Arozarena provided some thunder, both of which hit right-field blasts, accounting for all three of the Rays runs.
Ryan Thompson helped the Rays tie a big-league record yesterday. The right-hander earned his first major league save and became the 12th different Tampa Bay player to collect a save this season. That’s something only the Texas Rangers have accomplished, and that was in 1973. In that particular season, the Rangers went 59-103 and saw three different managers (Whitey Herzon, Del Wilber, and Billy Martin) in all.
Tampa Bay has leaned heavily on the ‘pen over the last four days. As Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) noted, the pen worked 6-2/3 innings around Josh Fleming working as a bulk pitcher Wednesday, then 5-1/3 innings on Thursday in a doubleheader, and four more on Friday and Saturday.
Because of it, Ryan Yarbrough will get the start in the series finale against the Orioles, rather than pitch behind an opener as he did in his last outing.
The Rays are expected to get a roster boost, as Mike Zunino (oblique strain) is expected to be activated this afternoon. Zunino has been out since August 26th, a span of nearly four weeks.
He’s taken (batting practice), he’s faced some live pitching. It’s not the most ideal buildup, but that’s what’s at stake right now. With no (minor-league) games for him to go play in, but we feel he’s in a good spot and should be 100 percent good to go.— Kevin Cash
With Zunino’s return, the Rays seem likely to drop a reliever (presumably Sean Gilmartin) and keep three catchers since Kevan Smith is out of options.
The New What Next
The season finale between the two ball clubs will pit Ryan Yarbrough (0-3, 4.31 ERA) against fellow southpaw John Means (1-3, 5.63 ERA).
Ryan Yarbrough took over with one out in the second and quickly went to work against the Nationals, working around a Carter Kieboom single and striking out two to get out of the frame unscathed. Even though Yarbrough went just 2-2/3 innings against the Nationals in his last start, the lefty posted 5-2/3 frames of one-run ball on this night, allowing five hits, and hitting a batter while striking out five. He threw 52 of 86 pitches for strikes (60% strike rate, 17% SwStr%). Yarbrough allowed just four hard-hit balls and kept the Nationals off-balance throughout the night.
Yarbrough’s biggest frame came in the fifth inning. After he allowed back-to-back hits with just a 2-0 lead, Victor Robles laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving the runners up to second and third. But Adam Eaton grounded to third with the infield in, and Trea Turner popped to first to end the threat.
Washington was able to get run off Yarbrough in the sixth inning when Juan Soto doubled then came around to score on a pair of groundouts. Even so, Yarbrough held the Nationals to 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Yarbrough is 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA in seven games (two starts) against Baltimore.
John Means allowed one run on five hits and one walk while striking out four across six innings on Sunday against the Yankees. After posting shaky results to start the season, Means has settled into a groove over his past two outings, allowing one run over six innings in each appearance. While he was rewarded with the win his last time around, he had to settle for a no-decision Sunday as Baltimore mustered only one run. Means has had a rough time at home (9.00 ERA), allowing six of his homers at Camden Yards while giving up 16 runs in 16 innings. The right-hander relies primarily on a whiffy 94 mph four-seam fastball that has some added backspin, and an 85 mph changeup, while also mixing in a hard 87 mph slider and an 80 mph curveball with sweeping glove-side movement. Means is 2-1 with a 3.68 ERA in four games against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Michael Brosseau (4-9, 3 HR), Nate Lowe (1-3, HR), Kevan Smith (1-3, 2B)
You can read about the series in our preview, while the starting lineup and Noteworthiness are below.
Rays 9/20/20 Starting Lineup
- Margot CF
- Arozarena LF
- Tsutsugo 3B
- Smith DH
- Adames SS
- N. Lowe 1B
- Renfroe RF
- Zunino C
- Wendle 2B
— The possibility of a return for the playoffs for infielders Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi, both sidelined with hamstring strains, is uncertain. Diaz has been out since September 1, while Choi was hurt on September 12. Both have taken swings off a tee and tossed balls in Port Charlotte, and on Sunday and Monday, they will take live batting practice on the field.
Yet both have to make a lot more progress to be ready for the postseason opener.
Taking BP is still a fairly long way away from actually being in a game. We’ll see where they’re at on Tuesday.— Kevin Cash
— Jose Alvarado, who started throwing off the mound in Port Charlotte, is another option. The left-hander has been out since mid-August with a shoulder issue.
— As Marc Topkin writes, the Rays have some decisions to make by today. “By noon Sunday, the Rays and other teams must submit a list of the 40 players — 28 active, 12 from the injured list/alternate site camps — who will be eligible during the postseason. Because that group will enter a quarantine starting Tuesday in St. Petersburg for those local and the rest of the team after returning from New York after Wednesday’s game, changes can only be made due to “exceptional circumstances,” requiring league and player union approval. The Rays figure to go heavy with pitchers, including Edgar Garcia and Trevor Richards, who are on the 40-man roster. An interesting possibility is Brent Honeywell, who continues to progress in working back from his latest arm issues.”