The boys are back in town! (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

The Tampa Bay Rays return home from a successful 4-2, post All-Star Break road trip, ready to start off a six game home stand against a pair of sub .500 teams. The Texas Rangers will be the first to enter the Trop on Friday night.

(Stats: ESPN)

Tampa Bay missed an opportunity to sweep the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday, as they dropped the series finale, 7-2. Still, the Rays entered their most recent road trip 3-1/2 games back of the Red Sox in the AL East, and returned down by just 2-1/2. As long as they win 37 of their next 66 games (a .560 clip) — allowing the team to collect a total of 88 wins — they should find themselves playing relevant baseball past October 1. The sheer fact that they start the series six games over .500, and have played .611 baseball since June 7, certainly doesn’t hurt their cause.

Texas closed out a four game series on the road against the Orioles on Thursday with their fifth consecutive loss. For a team that now finds itself five games under .500 — and one that considers itself as a fringe contender in the Wildcard race — the Rangers cannot afford to lose any more ground. Dare I say it’s telling that they are listening in on Yu Darvish going into the trade deadline.

The Rays took two of three in the last series between the teams May 29-31 in Arlington.

(Stats: FanGraphs)

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will start Alex Cobb (8-6, 3.59 ERA, 4.16 FIP), Chris Archer (7-5, 3.91 ERA, 3.12 FIP), and Jake Odorizzi (6-4, 4.37 ERA, 5.58 FIP). Jeff Bannister will counter with Yu Darvish (6-8, 3.45 ERA, 3.73 FIP), Andrew Cashner (4-8, 3.58 ERA, 4.56 FIP), and Tyson Ross (2-2, 7.22 ERA, 5.86 FIP).

(Stats: FanGraphs)

Pitching Matchups

Cobb held the Angels to one run on six hits over 7-2/3 innings in his last start. The right-hander didn’t have his best stuff, although he didn’t allow a runner past second base until the seventh inning — when Luis Valbuena tagged him for a solo-shot to put Los Angeles on the board. Cobb coaxed a lot of long, loud outs, especially early on, and he didn’t miss many bats. He, however, was efficient. In spite of lapsed command — 59 of his 105 pitches went for strikes; 56% strike ratio — Cobb’s pitch count was only in the 50’s through the front five, and it didn’t start to climb until late in his outing. He struck out four and walked three. He is 4-3 with a 2.64 ERA at the Trop this , and 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in four career starts against the Rangers.

Darvish is winless over his last six outings extending back to June 12. Moreover, he is 1-6 with a 4.09 ERA in his last 10 starts. Be that as it may, Darvish is 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA in five career starts against the Rays. We all should know what to expect from Darvish by now: a 95 mph four-seam fastball and an 83 mph slider, while also mixing in a 94 mph sinker and an 89 mph cutter. Key Matchups: Corey Dickerson (1-3), Adeiny Hechavarria (1-3), Trevor Plouffe (1-4, 2B, BB), Wilson Ramos (1-3)

Archer struggled Sunday, yet he limited the Angels to just two runs over six innings — picking up his fourth consecutive quality start. Even though the right-hander issued no more than three free passes in any of his previous 10 starts, he walked five Angels … although to his credit he was able to pitch around his control problems for the most part. Archer looks to snap a streak of 12 consecutive outings with at least two runs allowed Saturday. He notched a win against the Rangers on May 31, the only time he faced them this season.

Cashner is 1-3 with a 4.76 ERA in his last four starts and 4-5 with a 4.28 ERA in his last nine. The right-hander relies primarily on a 92 mph two-seam sinker and a 94 mph four-seam fastball, while also mixing in an 85 mph changeup, an 88 mph cutter and an 82 mph curveball; and is 2-6 with a 4.33 ERA in nine starts on the road. This will be his first career start against the Rays. Key Matchups: Peter Bourjos (2-4, 2 2B, 1 RBI), Corey Dickerson (2-3, 2B, 3 B, RBI), Brad Miller (2-2, RBI, BB), Logan Morrison (3-7, 2B, BB), Shane Peterson (3-5, 2B, 3B, BB)

Odorizzi pitched his best start of the season on the 17th, allowing one run on one hit over seven innings against the Atletics. Odorizzi pitched out of the stretch during that start and said he plans to only throw out of the stretch going forward. Was he dominant? Not really. He relinquished a fair amount of medium-to-hard contact that, luckily, was right at the outfielders. However, he was able to generate a fair amount of weak contact that allowed him to keep his pitch count in order, while also keeping himself out of the dangerous hitters’ counts that he’d been plagued by of late. And much like those who pitched before him — namely Jacob Faria, Chris Archer and Alex Cobb, none of which featured their best stuff in their most recent outings — he threw quality strikes throughout to keep Oakland’s bats at bay.

Ross gave up nine runs in 3-2/3 innings in his last start against the Orioles. Before that, he was 1-0 with a 3.24 ERA over his previous three starts. The 30 year-old right-hander relies primarily on a 92 mph four-seam fastball with average velocity and an 84 mph fly-ball inducing slider. He will also mix in a whiffy 91 mph sinker and an 89 mph swing-and-miss cutter. He is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in four career games against the Rays, but he hasn’t faced them since 2013. Key Matchups: Corey Dickerson (5-14, 2B, 2 HR, 2 RBI, BB), Adeiny Hechavarria (2-5), Evan Longoria (2-5, RBI), Brad Miller (1-2, HR, RBI, BB), Logan Morrison (2-5, 2 BB), Shane Peterson (1-2, BB), Trevor Plouffe (1-3), Wilson Ramos (4-9, 2B, 2 RBI)

Noteworthiness

— Fun with numbers, courtesy of Dave Haller (Tampa Bay Rays Communication’s Department): Friday will be first time the Rays have hosted a game after the All-Star break while positioned to reach the postseason since September 23, 2013. In that game, James Loney hit a pinch-hit, walk-off homer run (off Tommy Hunter) for 5-4 win. The Rays then embarked on epic road trip taking them through New York, Toronto, Texas, Cleveland, and Boston.

— As we mentioned Thursday, Steven Souza Jr. had an MRI on his injured left hip. The MRI showed no damage, and he’s listed as day to day heading into the series.

— Rickie Weeks Jr. homered and walked twice in a rehab start for the Durham Bulls on Thursday.

— The Rays announced that RHP Jumbo Diaz has cleared waivers and has elected free agency. Awe, shucks.

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