…About that ill fated series with Kansas City, the 52 hits allowed by Tampa Bay was the fourth most ever allowed by the team in a series, and the most since June 2007 against the Yankees (63). Then there’s the ugly fact that 20 of the Royals 32 total runs came with two outs. That is, Kansas City scored more runs with two outs than the Rays scored over the course of four games (16). It would be a little too convenient to blame on Derek Shelton and the offense — and let’s be honest, a .182 batting average wRISP certainly isn’t pretty — though the pitching was the main culprit of the Rays failure over the previous four games against the reining American League champions.
Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) offered some perspective on the pitching woes:
After posting a 3.30 ERA through the first 70 games, the Rays staff has been at 4.93 during the 18-game skid. Those 1½ runs per game might not be much to some teams, but given how the Rays were offensively challenged anyway, that can be a monumental difference. (For context, five of the losses in that stretch came in games when they got 10 or more hits, which happened only four times before.)
The bullpen decline has been more acute, revisiting the idea — which the Rays refute — that the relievers are burned out by the heavy, and high-stress, use. The numbers suggest yes, as the bullpen ERA during the 18-game stretch is 6.75, including four game-losing homers from ninth innings on.
It’s not going to get any easier, as the Rays welcome the AL West leading Houston Astros into the Trop for a three-game series.
There is a bright side, however, Houston (49-39) finds itself in an offensive funk as the team has lost three in a row. The Astros have scored just three runs, while batting .170 during their skid. Though Houston is the American League’s third-worst hitting team at .242, their success is built on the team’s ability to mash — the Astros lead the league with 122 home runs. Houston also boasts a solid pitching staff that’s led by Dallas Keuchel, who the Rays will face on Saturday. The ‘Stros have the American League’s third best ERA (3.58) and FIP (3.62).
Erasmo Ramirez, Jake Odorizzi, and Matt Moore will be tasked with keeping the ball inside of the park for Tampa Bay. Ramirez has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last seven starts — the third longest streak in Rays history behind Alex Cobb (12), Drew Smyly (9). Make no mistake about it, the smiley guy has been very good, allowing just three home runs total in his last nine starts. Ramirez is 1-1 with a 4.60 ERA against Houston in three appearances (two starts). Odorizzi will return from the 15-day DL to face off with Keuchel on Saturday. The righty hasn’t taken the mound for the Rays since June 6, but he fanned five batters over 5-2/3 scoreless innings in a rehab start on Monday, and looks to pickup where he left off before the injury. Moore allowed four runs on nine hits over 4-1/3 innings on Tuesday.
Tampa Bay took five of seven from the Astros last season. Everybody’s working for the All-Star break.Collin McHugh: McHugh (9-4, 4.54), who went 0-2 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts against the Rays last season. The 28 year-old righty gave up four runs over 5-1/3 innings in Saturday’s 6-1 defeat at Boston after posting a 2.45 ERA in a three-start win streak. What can be expected out of McHugh? For one thing, there’s a hope for Tampa Bay. McHugh isn’t throwing his fastball as often as he once had. When he does, he throws is with less velocity and higher in the zone. Right-handed hitters have tattooed the pitch. McHugh is still racking up the whiffs on his breaking pitches, so John Jaso and company will need to be ready to hammer any mistakes. Key matchups: David DeJesus (1-3, 2 RBI), Grady Sizemore (1-3).
Dallas Keuchel: In a nutshell Keuchel (11-3, 2.14 ERA) is a pitcher who is better than average at controlling the running game, limits good contact (according to Statcast, the lefty has allowed an average exit velocity of 85 miles per hour), and plays good defense. He also gets a good number of strikeouts, doesn’t walk many hitters, and doesn’t give up many homers. Keuchel has allowed four runs or more only four times in his 18 starts. Key matchups: Asdrubal Cabrera (2-8, HR, RBI), Logan Forsythe (2-7), Brandon Guyer (2-3), John Jaso (1-1), James Loney (1-4, RBI), Evan Longoria (3-6, RBI).
Lance McCullers: McCullers (4-2, 2.16 ERA) boasts a 95 mph four-seam fastball with natural sinking action and an 85 mph curve that is thrown hard and generates a very high amount of ground balls. The 21 year-old righty also mixes in a 90 mph change-up that generates an extreme number of ground balls, and a rare 96 mph sinker.
— Evan Longoria is batting .343 during an eight-game hitting streak.
— Rays’ DH/OF John Jaso is hitting .583 BA/.600 OBP/.917 SLG/1.517 OPS/.333 wOBA since returning from the DL, with three runs and two RBI.
— Expect a roster move ahead of the activation of Jake Odorizzi from the DL. Either Andrew Bellatti or Joey Butler will likely be optioned to Triple-A Durham, although I’d argue it might be wise to designate Alex Colome for assignment. Whatever the case, I’ll update this piece to reflect any roster move.
— Steven Souza got his stitches out on Friday, and will resume baseball activities Saturday. Souza, who Kevin Cash is said to be “hearing good things,” is shooting to return to the lineup in Philadelphia on July 21.
— Per Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports), the Rays lost RHP Preston Guilmet on waivers to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Guilmet was designated for assignment in order to make room on the 40-man roster for Jaso.