On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Rays will start a two-game set against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, in Chicago — a series that many Rays fans have been waiting for with baited breath. After all, the Cubs are the reigning World Series champs, and a certain someone, that we are all too familiar with, finds himself at the helm of a ball club that has struggled to stay around the .500 mark all season.
I will neither wax nostalgic about how my two favorite teams that are set to face one another, nor will I discuss my feelings about the Rays’ former skipper — both topics have been discussed at length on this site and others.
The Rays missed a chance to sweep the Orioles on Sunday, as they were flat in 7-1 in the series finale in Baltimore. Tampa Bay finished Sunday’s ball game with just five hits, and no player had more than one. Jesus Sucre hit a solo homer to put the Rays on the board, while Steven Souza Jr. collected their other extra base, a double. They enter this series tied with the Twins and Royals for the second AL wild card slot.
The Cubs finished an 11 game road trip with a 5-6 record, and they avoided a sweep by the Reds, taking a 6-2 win Sunday afternoon. They aren’t quite the juggernaut they were a year ago. As compared to the rest of the National League, the North-Siders start the series ninth in the in runs scored per game (4.54), 14th in team batting average (.237), sixth in homers (107), seventh in starter’s ERA (4.54), and third in reliever’s ERA (3.31). Be that as it may, they had a solid showing in the finale against Cincinnati. Ian Happ scored two runs and plated four RBI on a pair of homers, while Javier Baez drove in a run; each had three hits for Chicago. Both Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo hit homers as well. Much like the Rays, Chicago hope to rev things up before the All-Star Break.
This will be the third time the Rays travel to the Friendly Confines, having gone 1-2 in 2003 (including the game when Sammy Sosa broke a bat filled with cork) and 2-1 in 2014. They’ll face one another again this season, in September, at the Trop.
Over the next two days Kevin Cash will throw Chris Archer (6-5, 3.92 ERA, 3.07 FIP) and Blake Snell (0-5, 5.36 ERA, 5.29 FIP). Joe Maddon will counter with Jon Lester (5-4, 3.69 ERA, 3.63 FIP) and John Lackey (5-9, 5.24 ERA, 5.88 FIP).
Archer posted a quality start on Thursday, yet came away with the loss. The right-hander allowed three runs on eight hits over six innings of work. Yet in spite of his overall record and peripherals, Archer entered that outing with a 3-3 record and 4.76 ERA over his previous eight outings. The right-hander continues to accrue strikeouts, sporting an elite 10.7 K/9 for the season, however, his game-to-game inconsistency belies that, as he’s now allowed four runs or more in five of his past nine outings. The right-hander has worked exactly six innings in his last four starts, and has gone seven innings or more in six of his 17 starts this season.
Lester, the first of two “old friends” the Rays will face this series, posted his fourth consecutive quality start in his last start, holding Washington to one run over six innings. He is 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP, five walks and 18 strikeouts over 19 innings in his last three starts, and 13-9 with a 4.08 ERA and a 1.288 WHIP over 170 innings overall against the Rays. Key Matchups: Peter Bourjos (6-16, 2B), Adeiny Hechavarria (2-7, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB)
Snell entered last Wednesday’s start against the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 4:1 K:BB in seven starts with the Durham Bulls, then exited with a less than stellar 1.20 K:BB after an abysmal return to the bigs. The southpaw allowed six runs while walking five on 98 pitches (42 balls). The skinny: after getting a handle on his control issues at Durham, Snell returned to the majors and once again couldn’t find the strike zone, issuing a season tying number of walks.
Lackey, who loses five mph on his fastball when he pitches with his mouth open, had trouble executing his pitches in his last outing against the Nationals, giving up eight runs over 5-1/3 innings. He also hasn’t had much success at home this season, going 1-4 record with a 5.13 ERA. Teams are batting .281 against him at Wrigley. Over 24 career starts against Tampa Bay, Lackey is 13-8, but with a 4.00 ERA. Key Matchups: Peter Bourjos (3-6, BB), Corey Dickerson (1-3, HR, RBI), Adeiny Hechavarria (2-8), Evan Longoria (14-40, 3 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 4 BB), Logan Morrison (2-2, HR, RBI), Trevor Plouffe (2-2, 2 2B), Mallex Smith (2-3, 2B)
— Some good news for backup catcher Jesus Sucre, who had a ball glance off his wrist area on Sunday. The injury has been diagnosed as a bruised wrist, and no roster moves have been planned or will be needed.
— Brad Miller had Monday off for the Charlotte Stone Crabs, as he works his way back from a groin injury. Miller, who has gone 3-11 with three doubles and a run in his rehab stint with the Stone Crabs, could return this weekend for the Boston series.
— Corey Dickerson was named a starter for the AL All-Star Team on Sunday as the DH. Logan Morrison is up against four others for the final vote, which concludes Thursday afternoon. Neither Dickerson nor Morrison is part of the Home Run Derby on Monday in Miami.