With the first-half of the season behind them, the Tampa Bay Rays will begin a three-game weekend series against the Los Angeles Angels Friday night, at Angel Stadium. The Rays find themselves four games over .500, tied for second place in the AL East, and firmly in contention for a postseason berth. The Angels, on the other hand, are just two games under .500 and in second place in the AL West, but are 16-1/2 games behind the division leading Astros.
Coming off a huge series victory against the Red Sox, Tampa Bay has an excellent opportunity to add some separation between the win and loss columns on the ledger, as the team will play their next 12 games against current sub-.500 teams Boding in their favor, the Rays are currently averaging 4.76 runs per game (ranking 13th in the Majors) and are hitting .257 as a team. Moreover, Tampa Bay’s pitching staff boasts a solid 4.10 team ERA, good for 10th in the Majors.
The low-scoring Angels are only averaging 4.10 runs per game (ranking 10th in the Majors), and own a .241 team batting average. The pitching staff isn’t terrible, carrying a decent 4.20 team ERA — good for 13th in the Majors.
Mike Trout, who was on track for arguably his best season before a thumb injury put him on the DL for seven weeks, will be activated prior to the first game of the series. Even so, the Rays are 21-8 in their last 29 games in Anaheim, and 2-2 against the Angels this season — both scenarios feature Trout in some capacity.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will lean on Jacob Faria (4-0, 2.11 ERA, 3.17 FIP), Alex Cobb (7-6, 3.75 ERA, 4.12 FIP), and Chris Archer (7-5, 3.95 ERA, 3.16 FIP). Mike Scioscia will likely counter with Ricky Nolasco (4-10, 5.06 ERA, 5.62 FIP), Jesse Chavez (5-10, 4.99 ERA, 5.25 FIP), and a hurler to be named later.
Faria will take the mound for the seventh time of the season, looking to continue his dominant performance. Faria limited Boston to just one run over six strong innings, and recorded the fourth win of his rookie campaign. The right-hander boasts a stifling 2.11 ERA and a minuscule 0.97 WHIP over 38-1/3 innings of work. He also has tallied 37 strikeouts and has allowed six hits or fewer in each of his six starts.
Nolasco surrendered eight runs and lasted just 1-2/3 innings against Texas in his last start, and was tagged with the loss. The veteran right-hander is having a tough season, posting a bloated 5.06 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP to go along with a 4-10 record over 101-1/3 innings of work. He was hit-hard in his last start against the Rays, allowing five runs in six innings, and now sits with a 3-7 record and an obscene 6.67 ERA in 10 career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Evan Longoria (6-21, 2 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB), Logan Morrison (2-5, 2 2B, BB), Trevor Plouffe (2-7, 2B, HR, RBI, BB), Steven Souza Jr. (3-6, 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI)
Cobb was brilliant over 7-2/3 innings, relinquishing just two singles, while not allowing a runner beyond first. He struck out three. The right-hander didn’t have his whiffy stuff, although the split-change (the Thing) was more prevalent this time than last — throwing it for strikes 11 of 19 times, with four swings-and-misses. The Thing had a decent 6.68 inches of break, which is a positive, although he relied heavily on his fastball and knuckle-curve to great effect. Cobb used his repertoire to pitch to contact and miss barrels. His two best outings of the season have come over his last three starts.
Chavez allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks over five innings in his last start, absorbing the loss Saturday against Texas. He struck out six. This season, he has relied primarily upon a kitchen sink repertoire of pitches — a 92 mph four-seam fastball and an explosive 91 mph cutter, while also mixing in a firm 86 mph changeup with arm side fade, a 92 mph two-seam fastball/sinker that results in a fair number of fly balls, an 84 mph worm-burner of a slider, and a 77 mph curveball with slight glove-side movement. The 33 year-old right-hander is 0-1 with a 3.52 ERA in eight appearances (one start) against the Rays. Key Matchups: Taylor Featherston (2-2), Logan Morrison (6-19, 3 HR, 3 HR, 7 RBI), Jesus Sucre (2-7)
Archer allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks over 6-2/3 innings on Sunday. He struck out eight. The ace was solid for most of the afternoon, with the exceptions of a leadoff homer by Mookie Betts, and a two-run shot by Dustin Pedroia in the seventh inning, costing him a shot at his eighth win of the season. Despite the home run issues, Archer has coaxed whiffs at a high rate, and carried a career-high 10.8 K/9 into the All-Star Break. While he has failed to produce as many shutdown performances as we’ve grown accustomed to this season, Archer has already posted 12 quality starts and will look to be a bit more consistent over the second half.