A pair of AL East rivals, with their sights set on playing postseason ‘ball, will open up a weekend series on Friday in Boston, when the Tampa Bay Rays start a three-game set against the Red Sox. Tampa Bay missed a chance to sweep the Twins on Wednesday, falling 10-6, while Boston won the rubber match of their series with Toronto, 6-1.
Most recently, the Red Sox swept a two-game road series against the Rays on August 8-9.
Tampa Bay is still in the thick of the Wildcard race, although they need to get something going in order to gain ground on Minnesota, who starts Friday 3-1/2 games ahead of the Rays for the last Wildcard spot. Boston leads the pack in the AL East, although the team hasn’t played the best baseball of late — having dropped four of their last seven, while scoring 42 runs over the last 14 days; an average of three runs per game over that stretch. Compare that to the Rays, who’ve plated 61 runs over the same span (4.4 runs per game) thanks in part to a beefy .232 ISO.
The key for Tampa Bay will be for the offense to get things started early against Boston, as it’s had a pretty lock down bullpen over the last two weeks. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s pitching staff must step up and hold any leads, no matter how big or small. Ahem, that’s not going to be an easy task against a team who uses technology to steal signs. I digress.
Over the next three days Kevin Cash will lean on Chris Archer (9-8, 3.76 ERA, 3.32 FIP), Matt Andriese (5-2, 3.78 ERA, 4.79 FIP), and presumably* Alex Cobb (10-9, 3.64 ERA, 4.18 FIP). John Farrell will counter with Drew Pomeranz (14-5, 3.36 ERA, 3.79 FIP), Chris Sale (15-7, 2.85 ERA, 2.20 FIP), and Rick Porcello (9-16, 4.67 ERA, 4.57 FIP).
*The starter in the series finale has not been officially announced.
Archer exited two batters into his last start against the ChiSox because of right lateral forearm tightness. Although he received a clean bill of health from team doctor Koco Eaton and will aim for his third career win against Boston, against whom he is 2-11 with a 5.06 ERA. In his last normal start, Archer limited the Cardinals to one run on five hits over seven innings on Sunday. The only blemish on the right-hander’s ledger was a seventh-inning home run by Kolten Wong. Part of his recent spate of dominance has to do with the fact that Archer is walking fewer batters and striking more of them out, posting a 69/9 K/BB in his last 50-1/3 innings of work over his past seven starts. He is 2-0, but with a 5.40 ERA in four games (three starts) on the south side of Chicago, and 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA in six starts against the White Sox.
Pomeranz had his first mishap in nine weeks in his last turn, allowing four runs on eight hits over 5-1/3 innings against the Yankees — his first loss since June 11. The southpaw allowed a pair of homers, representing the only runs the Yankees could score. It was the first time he allowed multiple homers in a start since early May, so it might be best to view the underwhelming outing as a blip on the radar. After all, Pomeranz sports a 3.36 ERA/1.38 WHIP/9.4 K:9 in 2017, and is 7-2 with a 3.26 ERA in 13 starts at home this season. Be that as it may, he is 1-1 with a 6.08 ERA in three starts (13-1/3 IP) against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Brad Miller (9-18, 2 2B, 3B, HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB), Wilson Ramos (1-2, 2B, RBI, BB)
Andriese made his first start since returning from a hip injury on Sunday … although he posted a dud, allowing five earned runs on six hits over five innings against the Whit Sox. Nevertheless he earned a win in Boston on May 14th in a 5.0 IP/4 H/2 ER/4 BB/5 K outing.
Sale is in the throes of his first slump of the season, having lost three of his last four starts. The southpaw was tagged for three solo homers, including the first back-to-back job he’s allowed in his big league career. The Yankees did as they are wont to do, fouling off a ton of balls, working over Boston’s ace, and subsequently getting his pitch count up to 109 before he was pulled from the game. The left-hander’s experienced a drop-off since the calendar flipped to August, performing to a 4.57 ERA, while allowing seven homers in as many starts. As it was written elsewhere, his performance in 2017 mimics a career pattern of tailing off in the final two months of seasons past; Sale’s ERA is under 3.00 from April to July in his career, but it’s over 3.00 in August and closes in on 4.00 in September/October. Still, Sale is 3-1 with a 2.48 ERA in four starts against Tampa Bay this season. Key Matchups: Curt Casali (2-6, 2B, HR, RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (3-8, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Logan Morrison (5-14, HR, RBI, BB), Trevor Plouffe (14-49, 2 2B, 2 RBI, BB), Wilson Ramos (3-6, 2B, HR, 3 RBI)
Cobb held the Twins to one run on three hits and two walks while striking out seven over 5-2/3 innings on Monday night. After giving up his only run in the first inning Cobb went to work, putting down 12 of the next 13 batters on six strikeouts, a double play, and five ground ball outs — keeping the Rays in the ball game until they could break things open in the sixth inning.
Porcello continues to be victimized by the long ball, as he was taken deep three times by Toronto in his last turn; he has given up 35 homers on the season. He has now given up at least three home runs three times this season, and has given up multiple homers a whopping 10 times. Porcello has eclipsed his career high in homer runs by 10, the main reason he’s performed to a 4.67 ERA this season. After dominating the league in 2016, Porcello is 6-10 with a bloated 5.38 ERA at Fenway, and 1-3 with a 5.18 ERA in four starts (24-1/3 IP) against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Peter Bourjos (2-7), Curt Casali (3-10), Corey Dickerson (8-32, 4 2B, HR, 3 RBI), Danny Espinosa (1-3, HR, 3 RBI), Evan Longoria (14-55, 6 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 4 BB), Brad Miller (10-32, 3 2B, 7 RBI, 4 BB), Brad Miller (10-32, 3 2B, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 2 BB), Logan Morrison (10-34, 3 2B, HR, 5 RBI), Mallex Smith (2-8, 3B), Steven Souza Jr. (9-30, HR, RBI, BB)
— Did you hear about the newest bobblehead giveaway by the Red Sox, expected at some point this weekend?
— Per Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times), The Rays likely won’t know until Saturday where they are headed after Sunday’s game, as Hurricane Irma might force rescheduling or relocation of a series with the Yankees slated to start Monday night at Tropicana Field.
Discussions between the Rays and Major League Baseball officials have been ongoing based around the forecast path of the storm, potential impact on the bay area and travel logistics. Both sides agreed, given the uncertainty, to wait until Saturday to make a decision.
Most likely options are pushing the series opener back to Tuesday, then playing a doubleheader Wednesday at the Trop, playing the games at a neutral site (Baltimore seems the choice), or playing in New York.
“We are monitoring the storm carefully and are in regular communication with MLB regarding our options,” team president Brian Auld said Thursday. “Right now, our focus is on safety first and foremost.”
The Rays left Thursday afternoon for Boston, with players and traveling staff allowed to bring their families on the flight. Team offices were closed starting Thursday.