Two things start for the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday:
- The final series of the season against the Boston Red Sox.
- The final stretch of the 2017 campaign.
Despite going 2-4 over the last six games, Tampa Bay is still in the hunt for a playoff berth, although improbably so.
All across the organization the Rays firmly believe they still believe they have a chance, albeit one that requires them to come pretty close to putting together a Cleveland-like winning streak.
It would be Herculean, Stu Sternberg told the Tampa Bay Times. But we’re not there yet.
Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) noted that the main root of their belief — as odd as it sounds 5½ months into the season — is that they have not yet played their best for any extended period, evidenced by the fact that at no point have they won more than four in a row.
As a pitcher who pitches every fifth day and watches the games in between, I don’t feel like we’ve gone on that collective run where we knew we were going to score runs and we knew we were going to prevent runs consistently for a week plus, right-hander Alex Cobb said. Where we showed up a the park and we’re like, ‘Everything is going to click today.’ It’s been kind of just battling to stay afloat.
… It’s never too late for that, until the calendar flips to the next month. But it needs to hurry up.
They are battling to stay afloat, as Cobb suggests, for a couple of reasons. First, the starting rotation has not been effective of late.
Consider that the front five have performed to 5.72 ERA/4.51 FIP over the last two weeks — a time when every poor start makes it that much harder for the Rays to overcome what they lack. That the starters have averaged just over four innings per start over that stretch certainly doesn’t help.
Second, a regressing offense.
Pair those two together, and you have a pretty volatile combination … although volatile as it related to an implosion, not an explosion.
Thinking back to 2011 (Game 162) and 2013 (Game 163), they’ll have to approach things day-by-day and game-by-game over the next 2½ weeks, starting a month ago.
We’ve been in this position before, Sternberg said. Whether we have to leapfrog two teams or 22, it’s about winning baseball games. And that starts with winning a baseball game.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy, especially for a team that hasn’t shown the ability to consistently string together a bunch of wins. But as long as there still is a mathematical chance…
Kevin Cash will throw Matt Andriese (5-3, 4.66 ERA, 5.02 FIP), Alex Cobb (11-9, 3.59 ERA, 4.16 FIP), and Jake Odorizzi (8-8, 4.52 ERA, 5.79 FIP) over the next three days. John Farrell will counter with Chris Sale (16-7, 2.76 ERA, 2.20 FIP), Rick Porcello (9-17, 4.64 ERA, 4.56 FIP), and Eduardo Rodriguez (5-5, 4.23 ERA, 4.02 FIP).
Andriese was knocked out in the second inning after he allowed eight runs (six earned) in his last start against the Red Sox. One had to question his sequence of pitches in the first inning at-bat vs. Dustin Pedroia. He followed a dust-off pitch with a heater that was up and over the inner third of the plate — right in Pedroia’s juice zone. From there, things spiraled out of control for the Rays, who appeared to be no match for the very aggressive Red Sox. Expect Andriese to be on a very short leash Friday night.
Sale will face the Rays for the sixth and final time this season. Boston took a lead in the first inning last weekend against Tampa Bay, which was more run support than Sale would need — allowing him to easily collect his 16th victory of the season. The southpaw has fared well against Tampa Bay thus far, going 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 2017, although he’s pitched even better Tropicana Field over his career, going 3-3 with a 1.75 ERA. Sale is 9-5 with a 2.72 ERA in 17 road starts this season. Key Matchups: Curt Casali (3-7, 2B, HR, RBI), Danny Espinosa (2-5), Kevin Kiermaier (4-11, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Logan Morrison (5-15, HR, RBI, 2 BB), Trevor Plouffe (15-52, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 4 BB), Wilson Ramos (3-8, 2B, HR, 3 RBI)
Cobb has won his last two outings and has delivered quality starts in each of his last three, the most recent of which came against Boston. The right-hander held the Red Sox to just one earned run, although it took him 93 pitches to navigate five-plus innings. Cobb is 6-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 13 career starts against Boston, and 23-18 with a 3.07 ERA in 57 career starts at the Trop.
Porcello kept the Red Sox in the game last time out although he lost, allowing two runs on five over innings against the Rays. Porcello enjoyed a strong outing overall, although it was tarnished in the fifth inning when he allowed a pair of runs on four hits and a walk. He ran up his pitch count and did not return for the sixth, marking the second consecutive outing in which he failed to complete six innings. While it was an improvement on the seven runs he allowed in his previous turn, the sinkerballer has still allowed 14 runs over 21-2/3 innings in his last four outings. In five starts vs. Tampa Bay in 2017, Porcello is 1-4 with a 4.91 ERA. Key Matchups: Peter Bourjos (2-7), Curt Casali (3-10), Danny Espinosa (1-3, HR, 2 RBI), Evan Longoria (15-58, 6 2B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 4 BB), Brad Miller (11-34, 4 2B, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 2 BB), Logan Morrison (10-34, 3 2B, HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB), Steven Souza Jr. (9-30, HR, RBI)
Odorizzi allowed five runs, but only one earned, during his previous start, which came at Citi Field against the Yankees. The start broke a string of two straight wins for him, in which he allowed three earned runs over 11 2/3 innings combined. Odorizzi looked really good the first time through the order. He reverse pitched New York’s batters early in those at-bats, leaning on his curveball (since he didn’t have his splitter), then blew them away with a well located fastball that coaxed a good number of swings and misses. Though he held the the Yankees hitless over the first three innings, they came back to answer big in the fourth. Odorizzi’s night was done fter after 52-pitch fourth inning. For context Odo threw 43 pitches in the first three innings alone. He went to three-ball counts in just two of the first nine at-bats, but that number blossomed to seven three-ball counts to seven of the last 10 batters he faced.
Rodriguez is coming off his best start since his return from the DL, holding Oakland to one hit and one run over six innings while fanning nine. After allowing a first inning RBI double to Jed Lowrie, the southpaw settled down as Boston’s offense took over. Rodriguez has now thrown two straight quality starts after a rough end to August. He’s posted a 76/24 K/BB since the beginning of June (67 IP) despite a lackluster 5.37 ERA. The 94mph four-seam fastball/87mph changeup/84mph slider/88mph cutter throwing hurler is 0-1 with a 7.58 ERA in four career starts against the Rays. Key matchups: Adeiny Hechavarria (1-2), Evan Longoria (5-10, 2B, RBI, BB), Logan Morrison (2-2, 2 RBI), Steven Souza Jr. (1-3, RBI)