After an ugly 0-2 series in Washington, followed by the off-day on Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Rays return home to the friendly confines of Tropicana Field, where they will start a four-game series against the Red Sox on Thursday. Boston is coming off of a doubleheader/series split against the Phillies.
The Rays enter play 13 games above .500 and with a 100% chance of a playoff berth according to FanGraphs. They have a magic number of 12 to make playoffs, and 15 to win AL East.
Tampa Bay is looking to bounce back from a small rough patch, having lost three of their last four games, while Boston has had a frustrating season, although they have won three of the last five contests. The Rays still lead the AL East, but they only have a four-game cushion over Toronto. The offense has really dipped over the last five games, as the team has batted just .195 and stranded 34 runners on base.
The Rays have been effectively pitched to over the last few series resulting in a lot of weak contact and a jump in strikeouts from the likes of Willy Adames, Brandon Lowe, and Austin Meadows (among others). There, however, has been some bad luck at play too; over the last 14 days, Tampa Bay has posted a .274 BABIP — 16 points lower than their season average of .290.
Contrast that with Boston, which has outperformed the Rays over the last 14 days (122 wRC+ vs 102 wRC+). Yet, the Red Sox have gone just 5-9 over that stretch largely because a pitching staff that is, frankly, total crap. Boston’s corps of arms maintain a 6.73 ERA and 6.03 FIP since August 29.
The Rays are 5-1 in the season series with the Red Sox and boast a +19 run differential. Put another way, Tampa Bay has scored 7.83 runs per game (RPG) this season against Boston, while relinquishing an average of 4.67 RPG. In an ideal world, the Red Sox could be the cure for the Rays offensive malaise with 17 games left to play.
Over the next four days, Kevin Cash will lean on Josh Fleming (3-0, 3.52 ERA), Blake Snell (3-1, 3.74 ERA), Tyler Glasnow (2-1, 4.35 ERA), and Charlie Morton (1-2, 4.94 ERA). Ron Roenicke is expected to counter with Mike Kickham (1-0, 5.40 ERA), pitchers to be named before Friday and Saturday’s contests, and Martín Pérez (2-4, 4.40 ERA) in the series finale.
Josh Fleming got the start in Friday’s contest against the Marlins and allowed four runs on seven hits over five innings and 73 pitches (45 strikes, 62% strike rate, 5 swinging strikes, 9% SwStr%). He struck out two and did not issue a walk. It wasn’t Fleming’s best performance — he gave up a pair of homers to a pair of former Rays, Corey Dickerson and Jesus Aguilar — yet the offense and the relief corps picked him up and carried Fleming to his third win of the season. He is a contact pitcher, which leaves the door open for some flareups, but Fleming maintains good control, so he, ideally, will make some adjustments before his next start.
Mike Kickham pitched two scoreless innings Saturday against Toronto, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out four. Kickham entered the game with Boston down a run, and they responded by scoring twice in the bottom of the ninth inning and giving him his first big league win. It was an improvement over his first appearance of the season when he allowed three runs in three innings versus the Braves. Kickham relies primarily on an 86 mph cutter and a 79 mph curveball, while also mixing in a 90 mph four-seam fastball.
Blake Snell got the start against the Marlins on Saturday and looked to continue his success against the Marlins. And in the early goings, it looked like that would be the case as the southpaw fanned six, and allowed just one hit and a walk over the first three innings. However, things changed in the fourth when Jesus Aguilar walked for the second time in the game, and Brian Anderson — who had been 0-for-14 against Tampa Bay this season — doubled to right-center. Lewis Brinson struck out on a fastball, but the ball went off Michael Perez’s glove for a passed ball, allowing Aguilar to score and Anderson to move into third.
The Marlins extended their lead in the fifth when Aguilar hit a one-out flare to right, then went to second on Anderson’s grounder to first. Snell was able to force the next batter, Brinson, to ground into the shift, yet Brandon Lowe sailed his throw to first, which went into the Rays dugout, scoring Aguilar. The infield hit and the throwing error, which came with Anderson at third, plated a run. Miami wasn’t done. Two pitches later, former Ray Corey Dickerson homered to left-center, capping the rally. Dickerson is now 3-for-16 this season against his former team, and all three hits have been long balls.
Snell finished the frame, which ultimately ended his night. All told, he allowed six hits and two walks while striking out eight. He was charged with five runs (four earned) in his first loss of the season.
As dominant as Snell has been to start games, he has struggled in the middle innings, with Snell entering Saturday’s contest with an ugly 11.25 ERA in the fourth inning — a trend that continued Saturday.
I need to be better, that’s just the bottom line. I’m happy with how I feel, I’m happy with how my pitches are working, I’m happy with how I’m learning, I’m happy with how I’m watching video and seeing what I should do and then doing it for the most part. There’s a lot of good takeaways, but I have to put this team in a spot to win and I gotta give them more innings, because I know I can do that, and I know that’s very attainable.
I just have to be more ready to throw that first pitch with intent. It’s me. It’s not physical. I can throw strikes any time I want. It’s 100 percent me, and I have to do a better job of that. I’m going to. I feel really good, man. I really do feel good. It’s going to start going my way, I know it is, just with all the work I’ve been putting in.
I just have to be in the zone and compete in the zone, because my stuff plays, and I know it does. I just have to do it. That’s what I’m looking forward to in my next start on Friday. I’m going to learn a lot, I’m going to get better, and on Friday we’ll see what I learned and what I didn’t learn. I’m looking forward to that.— Blake Snell
In 11 starts against the Red Sox, Snell is 6-3 with a 2.83 ERA. He blanked Boston across five innings on August 12 while striking out six.
Tyler Glasnow battled a migraine in Sunday’s game against the Marlins. Glasnow allowed three runs on four hits and three walks across 5-1/3 innings. He struck out nine on 105 pitches. He has now struck out at least eight in each of his last five starts and will take a 4.35 ERA into his start against Boston on Friday. The Red Sox beat up on Glasnow on August 13, tagging him five runs on eight hits and two walks, although they struck out eight times.
Charlie Morton got the start for Tampa Bay, and even though he allowed three runs on four hits and a walk over five innings of work, he took a big step forward in his second start off the Injured List. Morton — who went two-plus innings and threw 36 pitches in his last turn on the mound — worked five efficient innings on Monday. Morton threw 45 of 57 pitches for strikes (79% strike rate) and retired his final seven batters. The right-hander stymied Boston back on August 4, allowing just one run on five hits (including a solo home run) across 5-2/3 strong innings. Morton struck out five.
Martín Pérez coughed up four runs on five hits and six walks over five innings against the Phillies. He struck out two. The southpaw’s command was almost nonexistent in this one, as Pérez also uncorked a wild pitch and threw only 47 of his 86 pitches for strikes (55% strike rate). The southpaw maintains a 4.40 ERA and a 1.29 K/BB through 47 innings on the season. In his last start against the Rays, Pérez allowed two runs on three hits (including a home run) and two walks across 5-2/3 innings. Key Matchups: Mike Brosseau (3-7, 2 2B, HR), Brandon Lowe (2-5), Kevan Smith (1-3, 2B)