While it has been a rarity in the early goings of the season, the Tampa Bay Rays waltzed out of Boston on a high note Sunday afternoon, having won a road series against the Red Sox. Next stop Cleveland, where the Rays will take on that ball-club with a rather unsavory caricature for a mascot.
The Rays’ bats exploded for 11 runs in their win over Boston on Sunday (19 runs over the life of the series). Steven Souza Jr. again found his joie de vivre, blasting a three-run homer, while Jesus Sucre drove in three runs for the Rays, who now have won three of their last five games, and four of its last five road games. The Rays matched their season-high with 16 hits on Sunday. Those bats are in for a test on Monday, when they face Carlos Carrasco — Cleveland’s hurler that’s worked to a 1.38 ERA/1.38 FIP over the last 14 days (1.86 ERA/3.00 FIP overall).
As for Cleveland, even though the team won the getaway game against the Twins on Sunday, it has been stymied offensively since the start of May — averaging just 2.83 runs per game over a 12 game span. Boding in Cleveland’s favor is the team’s ability to end losing skids, due in part to the excellent pitching staff. Cleveland still has not lost four (or more) in a row since July 2015. Over the same stretch of games, the other 29 MLB teams have combined for 253 such losing streaks.
Asthe saying goes, “hit them while their down,” and, well…the Rays have an opportunity to do just that over the next three days. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. Tampa Bay has gone 12-19 against Cleveland, extending back to 2012, and always seems to have a hard time against Terry Francona’s crew.
Kevin Cash will call on Chris Archer (3-1, 3.04 ERA, 2.77 FIP), Jake Odorizzi (2-2, 2.61 ERA, 4.64 FIP), and Alex Cobb (3-3, 3.65 ERA, 4.23 FIP) over the next three days. Francona will counter with Carlos Carrasco (4-2, 1.86 ERA, 3.00 FIP), Danny Salazar (2-3, 5.20 ERA, 3.52 FIP), and Josh Tomlin (2-4, 5.87 ERA, 3.34 FIP).
Archer was dominant against the Royals on Wednesday, recording double-digit strikeouts (11) — which many have attributed to his recent tendency to pitch inside more often — and blanking KC over eight innings. Kansas City couldn’t even get a runner into scoring position until the seventh inning, and even then Archer worked out of the jam five pitches later. He’s now racked up 11 strikeouts in back-to-back starts, however, a cursory tale: he’s 0-5 with a 5.14 ERA vs. Cleveland.
Carrasco continued his hot start to the season in his last start, tossing seven scoreless innings and allowing only three hits against Toronto. He is now 4-0 with a 1.35 ERA and 27 strikeouts in four road starts this season. Carrasco was able to lower his ERA to 1.86, although his .211 BABIP suggests he has been the beneficiary of good luck. The right-hander has been tough on the Rays over his career, collecting a 3-3 record and a 2.47 ERA. Key matchups: Brad Miller (1-3), Logan Morrison (1-3), Derek Norris (1-2), Colby Rasmus (3-10, 2B, HR, 2 RBI)
Odorizzi has been on fire since his mid-April return from the disabled list, going 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA in three starts, while allowing just nine hits and three walks over 18 innings. The 27 year-old right-hander has now allowed two runs or fewer in each of his past five appearances — and just six over 25 innings — giving him the ability to lower his ERA to 2.61. He isn’t racking up the strikeouts (a 7.0 K/9 and 21.3 strikeout percentage speak to that), although Odorizzi is in a nice groove.
Salazar lasted just 2-2/3 innings in his last start, allowing five runs on five hits and two walks. He’s allowed 11 earned runs and a opponent’s average of .429 in the first inning — the inning in which the Rays have done their most damage this season. Salazar’s velocity also has lagged during the opening frame, on average hitting 94.9 mph. Compare that to 95.5 mph in the second. Per ESPN, Salazar’s slow start to games might have something to do with his pregame routine:
The 27-year-old has posted a 6.35 ERA since adding that part of his workout sometime around last year’s All-Star break, when he was dealing with arm issues. Before installing this technique, Salazar would register 20-25 throws before calling himself game-ready. With the weighted balls, he would only need a few. Regaining his previous rhythm could help him on his way to pitching more like his FIP (3.55) than his ERA (5.20).
Key matchup: Peter Bourjos (1-4)
Cobb looked strong again in his last start (vs. Boston), working his fastball/curveball combo, while allowing three earned runs over 6-1/3 innings. He walked three and struck out five. The right-hander has now allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last four starts, and improved to 2-1 in the month of May.
Tomlin had a rough start to the season, allowing 13 runs in two starts, but he has gone 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA in his last last five outings. This season, Tomlin has relied primarily on an 86 mph cutter, and an 87 mph sinker which he uses to coax grounders. He’s also mixed in a whiffy 75 mph curveball, an 88 mph four-seam fastball, and an 83 mph fly ball inducing changeup for good measure. In his career against the Rays, the right-hander has gone 2-2 with a 4.06 ERA in six starts. Key matchups: Peter Bourjos (2-8, HR, 2 RBI), Evan Longoria (3-12, 2B, HR 2 RBI), Derek Norris (1-3, 2B)