After a day off, the Tampa Bay Rays will begin their final regular-season series at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. Tampa Bay is coming off a series win against the Blue Jays in Toronto, while the Red Sox took three-of-four against the Yankees in Boston.
Thus far, Tampa Bay is 6-6 against Boston, although they have played far better at Fenway — where the Rays are winners of five of six — than at home. Expect another tight series. Over the previous 12 games, the Rays have scored 51 runs and relinquished 44 for a differential of seven runs or 58/100 (.58) of a run per game. And in the previous six games at Fenway, the Rays have outscored the Sox by just five runs, or 83/100 (.83) of a run per game.
Tampa Bay enters play a half-game behind Oakland in the Wildcard race and a half-game ahead of Boston. The ultimate goal is to extend the lead over the Red Sox while also staying relevant in the chase for the Rays’ first postseason berth since 2013. Yet, there is something else to keep in mind. Taking into consideration the series win in Toronto, paired with a good showing in Boston in the series opener, the front office could be further compelled to bolster the roster at the trade deadline, including arms for the beleaguered relief corps.
In the series against the Blue Jays and Yankees (respectively), both teams proved they can put big numbers on the board. However, it’s time for the Rays pitching staff to prove that there is a reason pitching coach Kyle Snyder thinks so highly of them.
I’d rather go to war with these guys. If it (an acquisition of a hurler or hurlers) happens, it happens. But for me, and this is something I’ve shared with these guys over the last 10 days with the deadline looming, they can handle this.
Despite how green they may be, I’ll take talent over experience. And these guys are gaining a lot. … We have a lot of confidence in these guys, me more than anyone.— Kyle Snyder
While a belief in the pitching staff is well and good, Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) was quick to remind us all that there are reasons for concern:
Though many of the team stats — such as a 3.80 bullpen ERA that’s third-best in the majors — are skewed because the Rays have relievers opening games and starters pitching in relief, there are some bottom-line numbers that better illustrate the glaring need:
• 15 times Rays relievers have allowed a tying or go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later, and three times with two outs in the ninth.
• 17 times in 48 losses they’ve allowed the go-ahead run in the eighth inning or later.
• 53 runs scored against them in the ninth inning are third-most in the AL, and 68 from the ninth are second-most.— Marc Topkin
Whatever the case, there is no time like the present for the Rays hurlers, which have held Boston to four runs or fewer six times this season (four times at Fenway), to come up big once more.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will likely throw Charlie Morton (12-3, 2.60 ERA), Ryan Yarbrough (9-3, 3.78 ERA) in some capacity — be that as a starter or a bulk guy — and a pitcher to be announced before the series finale on Wednesday (likely Brendan McKay). Alex Cora will counter with David Price (7-4, 3.66 ERA), Rick Porcello (9-7, 5.55 ERA), and Andrew Cashner (10-5, 4.18 ERA).
Charlie Morton gave up two runs on five hits across seven innings while striking out 11 against the Red Sox on Wednesday. It’s the fourth time this season Morton has fanned double-digit batters, with three of those performances coming in his last five starts. The right-hander maintains a sparkling 2.60 ERA and a 3.98 K/BB through 131-1/3 innings on the season.
David Price allowed three runs on four hits and two walks over six innings while striking out eight at Tropicana Field on Wednesday. Not only was the southpaw’s fastball velocity down, sitting in the 89-90 mph range, he only managed six swinging strikes among his 98 pitches (63 strikes, 64% strike rate, 12% SwStr). His lack of dominance was made up for by a generous strike zone by home plate umpire Angel Hernandez (shocker, I know).
Still, Price has nine quality starts on the season, and he carries a 3.66 ERA and 4.22 K/BB across 98-1/3 innings on the season. Key Matchup: Mike Brosseau (1-2)
Ryan Yarbrough allowed one run on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts across 5-1/3 innings. Diego Castillo opened the game, but Yarbrough carried the load starting in the second inning, posting his seventh straight outing with either zero or one run allowed. He has allowed just four total runs in his last 32-2/3 innings of work. Yarbrough owns a 1.10 ERA over that stretch and has won his last four decisions. Overall, Yarbrough maintains a 3.78 ERA (down from 8.10 in April), a 0.93 WHIP, and 62 punchouts in 81 innings this season.
Rick Porcello held the Yankees to three runs on six hits and a walk while striking out five over six innings. After failing to make it through the first inning during his last start against New York in London, Porcello bounced back with a solid outing reinforced by tremendous run support from his offense. In spite a tough 47-pitch second inning, the former Cy Young Award winner settled in to keep the Yankees at bay, tossing 112 pitches in the process. Even so, Porcello carries a 5.55 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and a 2.79 K/BB on the season. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (5-13, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, 2 BB), Matt Duffy (9-21, RBI), Avisail Garcia (11-27, 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, BB), Kevin Kiermaier (13-52, 2 2B, 3B, 4 RBI, BB), Daniel Robertson (2-7), Joey Wendle (5-12, 2B, BB)
Andrew Cashner allowed three runs on 10 hits and a walk across 6-2/3 innings on Friday. He struck out six. While he wasn’t quite dominant, this was his first victory for Boston since joining the club right after the All-Star break. Cashner owns a 4.18 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 81 punchouts over 114 innings this season. He is 2-1 with a 4.03 ERA in five career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Guillermo Heredia (2-8, 2B, 2 BB), Kevin Kiermaier (2-8), Austin Meadows (2-3, 2B), Tommy Pham (3-11, HR, 2 RBI), Joey Wendle (3-8, 3B, 2 RBI, BB)
— Eric Sogard will be active for the first time since the trade Sunday with Toronto.
— Kevin Kiermaier (thumb) played two rehab games over the weekend with the Class-A Charlotte Stone Crabs on rehab and will be activated from the IL on Wednesday, the first day that he’s eligible.
— Blake Snell’s arthroscopic elbow surgery went smoothly on Monday, and he is in line to return to the roster in September.
— Ryne Stanek (hip) tossed a successful bullpen session Sunday and is expected to start a rehab assignment soon.
— Tommy Pham was removed from Sunday’s game in Toronto with a right-hand sprain. He is listed as day-to-day.