The Tampa Bay Rays finished off their penultimate homestand of the 2018 season in dramatic fashion, winning two out of three against the Oakland Athletics, who lead them in the AL Wildcard race with 14 left to play. Following the 5-4 win against Oakland on Sunday, the Rays hit the road for their final road trip of the season, kicking off with a three-game series against the Texas Rangers, in Arlington. The Rangers are coming off a two-game series win against the Padres, although they dropped their series finale in San Diego.
While improbable (yet not impossible), the Rays are still in the fight for a postseason berth. They start the series with the Rangers seven games behind the Athletics — although they did pick up a couple of games this weekend — and surprisingly 8-1/2 games behind the Yankees, whom they’ll face at home from September 24 – 27. Tampa Bay does have a tragic number of seven, so it will be incumbent on the kids to keep up their tepid spate of play in the hope that either the Athletics or the Yankees — who have lost five of their last 10 — will fall off the pace.
For what it’s worth, the A’s will face the Angels six more times this season, and the Mariners three more times. Thus far the Athletics are 6-7 vs. Anaheim and 7-9 vs. Seattle. Meanwhile, the Yankees open up a series against Red Sox on Monday, and they are 5-8 against Boston this season.
Even though Texas has gone 6-9 over the last 15 games, there really isn’t an opportunity for the Rays to take the Rangers for granted. Tampa Bay beat Texas two games to one back in April, although with just a +1 run differential. If the previous two series against Cleveland and Oakland were must wins in order to gain ground in the postseason chase, this set is equally as important as Tampa Bay attempts to keep pace with the Athletics and now the Yankees.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will lean on Tyler Glasnow (1-6, 4.48 ERA), AL Cy Young Award candidate Blake Snell (19-5, 2.03 ERA), and a pitcher to be named before Thursday’s ballgame. Jeff Banister will counter with Adrian Sampson (0-1, 1.80 ERA), Yovani Gallardo (8-5. 5.94 ERA), and Yohander Méndez (1-1, 5.54 ERA).
Tyler Glasnow tossed a solid bounce-back performance last Tuesday, after giving up seven runs in his previous outing against Toronto. With the game tied at zero in the fifth inning, Yan Gomes launched a 0-1 breaking ball over the centerfield wall, his 14th home run of the season. An inning later, Edwin Encarnacion crushed a first-pitch fastball into the left-field seats, his 30th. Those were the only runs Glasnow would allow across seven innings as he limited Cleveland to six hits while striking out three. Glasnow has given up just three runs in 14 innings against Cleveland, yet he has not received any run support.
Adrian Sampson allowed one run on two hits and a walk while striking out two across five innings on Tuesday. Sampson was a hard-luck loser as Texas was shut down by a parade of Angels relievers. The right-hander doesn’t have overpowering stuff and threw mostly sinkers, mixing in a changeup or a slider from time to time in what became his second career big league start. The right-hander made his first start back in 2016, but suffered a flexor tendon injury in his right arm while warming up for his second and has spent two years trying to get back to the bigs.
Blake Snell picked up his 19th win of the season on Wednesday, allowing one run on just one hit and two walks while striking out nine across seven innings. Snell was dominant, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning before serving up a leadoff solo homer to Jose Ramirez on a hanging curveball. The southpaw has now won seven consecutive games, while his 19 wins are the most in the majors. Snell also owns an impressive 2.03 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP, and a 10.7 K/9 across 28 starts this season, putting him firmly in the AL Cy Young discussion.
Yovani Gallardo allowed six runs on six hits and one walk while fanning four over three innings of a loss to the Angels on Wednesday. Four of the six hits allowed went for extra bases, including a two-run homer by Jose Fernandez, which essentially knocked Gallardo out of the game. Gallardo’s results have gone in the opposite direction since he started the season 7-1 thanks to unsustainable run support. He has lost four of his last five decisions and resembles a pitcher with a 6.67 ERA/5.91 FIP. Key Matchups: Carlos Gomez (3-8, 2B, HR, 4 RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (6-15, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 4 BB)
Yohander Méndez pitched well on Friday, tossing five scoreless innings of relief while allowing three hits and three walks with five strikeouts. He was called upon after “opener” Connor Sadzeck tossed one scoreless inning. Mendez has managed to drop his ERA from 14.73 to 3.86 over his last 15 innings, giving up just two runs and seven hits over that span. This season, he has relied primarily on a 93 mph four-seam fastball with natural sinking action but little natural movement, while also mixing in a firm 84 mph changeup with slight cutting action, a 91 mph sinker, and 85 mph slider, and an 80 mph curveball. Key Matchups: Jesus Sucre (1-1)