The Tampa Bay Rays salvaged the final game of an otherwise brutal four-game set with the New York Yankees. With one eye toward the postseason, and the other toward getting back on track, the Rays will head to Houston where they’ll face the American League leading Astros over, you guessed it, a four-game series.
With the 5-3 win over the New York Yankees on Sunday, Tampa Bay not only snapped a three-game losing skid, but ended a run of eight losses in 10 games. During the flop, and prior to the deadline, the Rays front office made a series of trades to bolster the roster and underscore its commitment to pursuing a playoff berth. Those moves bore fruit Sunday afternoon, as Lucas Duda went 1-3 with a pair of walks and a run, while the bullpen posted five innings of scoreless baseball — allowing just four base runners on a pair of walks, one hit and a hit by pitch.
Since coming over from the Mets, Duda has collected three runs and three RBI on three hits, including two monster home runs. Meanwhile, Corey Dickerson finally appears to be slipping out of his funk, as he collected four hits across the series against the Yankees. Dickerson also hit a homer — his first since July 21 — and drove in three.
By virtue of their 13-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, Houston dropped just its second road series of the season. The Astros are a pedestrian 8-7 since the All-Star Break, largely due to the fact that they are missing a pair of All-Stars due to injury — shortstop Carlos Correa (thumb) and outfielder George Springer (quad). Like Tampa Bay, the team from the other citrus themed dome are trudging through the dog days of the season short-handed.
Both ball clubs are close to one another in ERA, ranking within .06 of each other in starter’s ERA (3.92 Astros, 3.98 Rays), and .10 of one another in bullpen ERA (4.28 Astros, 4.38 Rays). However, Houston’s relievers have posted the second worst ERA in the American League over the last 14-days — a problem the Astros were expected to address at the trade deadline with the acquisition of an elite reliever. Yet unlike the Rays, the Astros were unable to net Justin Wilson from the Tigers.
It appears the Rays arrived in Houston at the perfect time. At 32 games over .500 and 16 games ahead of the second place Mariners, surely the Astros could spare a few wins.
The Astros took two of three at the Trop in April, however, the -2 run differential shows how close all three games were, and therefore they could have gone either way. In the very least Tampa Bay needs to split this series.
Over the next four days, Kevin Cash will lean on Alex Cobb (9-6, 3.46 ERA, 4.22 FIP), Chris Archer (7-6, 3.80 ERA, 3.08 FIP), Austin Pruitt (5-2, 6.63 ERA, 4.13 FIP), and Blake Snell (0-6, 4.87 ERA, 5.08 FIP). A. J. Hinch will counter with Charlie Morton (8-4, 3.83 ERA, 3.95 FIP), Mike Fiers (7-5, 3.71 ERA, 4.98 FIP), Dallas Keuchel (9-0, 1.94 ERA, 3.31 FIP), and Collin McHugh (0-0, 4.22 ERA, 4.65 FIP).
Cobb tossed seven strong innings against Baltimore on Wednesday, giving him nine consecutive starts of at least six innings. He is 5-1 with a 2.24 ERA in his last nine starts, compared to 4-5 with a 4.52 ERA through his first 12.
Morton is coming off, arguably, his best start this season, throwing seven scoreless innings against the Phillies to go with nine punch outs. He lost at the Trop in April, when the Rays put up five runs (all earned) on eight hits over five innings. Since that start, however, Houston has dropped just three times with Morton on the mound … although he has surrendered four runs or more in half of those 10 starts. Key Matchups: Tim Beckham (2-2, 3B), Corey Dickerson (5-12, HR, RBI), Lucas Duda (3-8, 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB), Adeiny Hechavarria (5-17, 2 2B) Evan Longoria (2-6, 2 2B, 3 RBI), Logan Morrison (4-9, 2 2B, RBI, 2 BB), Trevor Plouffe (2-6), Wilson Ramos (5-11, RBI, BB), Steven Souza Jr. (2-3, 2B)
Archer again boasted electric stuff on Thursday, collecting 10 strikeouts, but he came away with a no-decision after a blown save by Alex Colome … that had more to do with a misplay by Adeiny Hechavarria and Tim Beckham. Archer has made six consecutive quality starts and has pitched at least six innings in 13 straight. The right-hander has allowed just six earned runs over 19 innings through his three post All-Star Break starts, and continues to pile up strikeouts in bunches.
Fiers has a 2.89 ERA in five July starts in spite of a three run/four inning outing against the Phillies in his last appearance. He’s 1-0 with a 3.93 ERA in three career starts against the Rays, although he settled for a no-decision in their April matchup after he allowed three runs on seven hits (including three home runs). Key Matchups (2-7, 2B), Corey Dickerson (3-8, 2 2B, HR, RBI), Lucas Duda (2-5, 2B, RBI), Evan Longoria (3-8, 2 HR, 2 RBI, BB), Brad Miller (2-8, HR, RBI, BB), Logan Morrison (6-12, HR, 2 RBI), Steven Souza Jr. (2-5, 2B), Jesus Sucre (1-2)
Pruitt made his first start of the season on Friday in place of the injured Jake Odorizzi. The right-hander gave up three homers and five runs (all earned) over five innings against Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees.
Keuchel made his first big league start since June 2 on Friday. He needed 63 pitches to get through two innings and ultimately lasted only three, allowing three runs in his only start in which he did not notch a win. Keuchel won’t overpower opposing batters — among 94 of the pitchers who qualify for the ERA title this season, the southpaw is ranked 88th in velocity at 88.7 mph — rather the name of his game is command and control of the zone. He, however, is 1-4 with a 4.70 ERA in seven career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Tim Beckham (4-7, 2B, 3B, RBI, BB), Corey Dickerson (1-3), Adeiny Hechavarria (1-3), Evan Longoria (5-18, 2 RBI), Brad Miller (4-13, RBI, 2 BB), Logan Morrison (3-9, 2B), Steven Souza Jr. (2-5)
Snell has fared better since making an adjustment two games ago, moving from the third-base side of the rubber to the center. The southpaw allowed three runs over 5-1/3 innings in his most recent outing on Saturday. Despite the fact that he is still searching for his first win of the season, there were some positive takeaways for Snell in his last start, as he limited damage and walked only two.
McHugh made his second start of the season (after missing the first half with an elbow injury) on Saturday, tossing six innings of one-run, four hit ball. He struck out seven. The right-hander sailed through the first four frames before he allowed a run in the fifth inning. So far this season he has relied upon a 92 mph four-seam fastball with average velocity, an 80 mph whiffy slider that sweeps across the zone, and a whiffy 76 mph curveball slight glove-side movement. He’s also mixed in a 91 mph sinker from time-to-time when he needs a weak popper. Even though he’s performed to a 2.52 ERA against Tampa Bay, he’s lost all four career starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: Adeiny Hechavarria (1-3), Logan Morrison (4-13, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB)