The Tampa Bay Rays return home for one last four-game series leading up to the All-Star Break, after going 4-4 on their most recent road trip. Enter the AL East leading Boston Red Sox.
One soap box topic before the series preview. I know I posted this already, but it bears mentioning again. Rays fans, it was incredible to witness an average of +40,000 fans turn out the last two days to watch the Rays battle the Cubs at Wrigley Field. It was loud and raucous, and it made me wish our home games were again like that. Guess what? The Tampa Bay Rays are in contention, and they deserve your support.
Personally, I traveled from St. Petersburg to Chicago — almost 2,000 miles, mind you — to attend the series. From there, it took me 45 minutes to travel from Bucktown (where I stayed) to Wrigleyville, by rail, and then back again. I didn’t complain when I was cramped like a sardine on the Blue and Red CTA Lines. Matter of fact, I hate being touched by strangers, although I remembered where I was and why, and I was thankful for the opportunity to watch may favorite baseball team take on the World Series champions some 2,000 miles from home — give or take 30 miles.
I wasn’t alone.
S/O to all the Rays fans who came out to support us in Chicago! Awesome to see! Big series at the Trop gonna need the place packed out!
— Steven Souza Jr. (@SouzaJr) July 5, 2017
Friends, Steven Souza Jr. is right! The upcoming series against Boston is HUGE, and the good guys can make up some ground in the AL East and postseason standings going into the break. They
want need it rockin’ and loud under the big top this weekend.
Not to pat myself on the back, but if I can literally stand on my feet for the better part of seven hours, from Tuesday morning into the late afternoon — including the ingress and egress into and out of the Friendly Confines, as well as the time spent standing in the bleacher section, under the centerfield scoreboard — then you can make the short or longer trek from wherever you live (be that in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, etc) to the Trop, to root on our team.
Boo-hoo, the bridge is long.
Suck it up, and show up late if you have to.
But the traffic is terrible!
No shit! But it’s not Rays fault that the City of Tampa and/or FDOT designed an intentional bottleneck on the east side of the Howard Franklin Bridge, which makes it hard to get into and out of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties during rush hour. Pro tip: show up a little late, or take the Gandy Bridge, which has been made much quicker on the Pinellas side.
In the end, the players shouldn’t have to deal with the embarrassment associated with an apathetic fanbase. Quit making excuses, and get out to the Trop!
The Rays are coming off a brief two-game series with the Cubs, which they split. The Red Sox had won six in a row before dropping the finale against Texas on Wednesday, 8-2.
Offensively speaking, both teams pair well against one another … although the Red Sox shown a bit more production over the last 14 days, and overall. The Rays have scored five fewer runs than Boston (412 vs 417) overall, and are averaging 4.85 runs per game. The Red Sox are averaging about 11/100 more of a run per game than Tampa Bay.
The biggest difference lies in the pitching staffs, as the Red Sox have the lowest cumulative ERA in the American League at 3.80, while Rays hurlers have performed to a 4.19 cumulative ERA. Upon closer inspection, Tampa Bay’s starters have posted a 4.10 ERA/4.24 FIP, while the ‘pen carries a 4.34 ERA/4.08 FIP. Compare that to Boston’s starters which have posted an overall 4.23 ERA/3.90 FIP, while the relievers are performing to a 2.99 ERA/3.48 FIP.
All this is to say that the Rays’ offense must strike early against Boston’s starters, while Tampa Bay’s pitching staff must do something it has had a hard time with all season: hold onto late leads. It won’t be easy.
Over the next four days, Kevin Cash will lean on Jacob Faria (3-0, 2.23 ERA, 2.84 FIP), Jake Odorizzi (5-3, 4.08 ERA, 5.51 FIP), Alex Cobb (6-6, 4.01 ERA, 4.22 FIP), and Chris Archer (7-5, 3.95 ERA, 3.02 FIP). John Farrell will counter with Chris Sale (11-3, 2.61 ERA, 2.02 FIP), Drew Pomeranz (8-4, 3.64 ERA, 3.63 FIP), Rick Porcello (4-10, 5.01 ERA, 4.21 FIP), and old friend David Price (4-2, 4.02 ERA, 4.45 FIP).
Faria gave up just four hits and two earned runs over 6-2/3 innings, while striking out six in his last start. It was his fifth consecutive quality start to begin his big league career. The right-hander became just one of three pitchers since start of 2013 to begin his career with five straight quality starts; Mashiro Tanaka (2016) and Odrisamer Despaigne (2005) are the other two. He also leads MLB rookies with with 35 strikeouts and a 2.23 ERA, while his 7.00 K/BB ratio ranks third in American League behind Corey Kluber and his opponent Thursday night, Chris Sale.
Sale is coming off what could have been his sharpest outing of the season. The southpaw held Toronto scoreless and scattered just four hits over seven innings, while fanning 11. Sale has notched double-digit strikeouts 11 times this year. Boston’s ace continued his dominant first half with another gem Saturday. He’s now second in the AL, behind Jason Vargas, for wins with 11, while his 12.43 K/9 is the best in baseball among starters. Including his two previous wins this season against Tampa Bay, Sale has gone 6-4 with a 3.52 ERA over his career against the Rays, and 2-2 with a 1.44 ERA at the Trop. Key Matchups: Adeiny Hechavarria (2-3), Logan Morrison (3-9, HR, RBI), Trevor Plouffe (14-43, 2 2B. 2 RBI, 4 BB)
Odorizzi has remained competitive in spite of a mechanical hiccup. He picked up his fifth win of the season on Saturday in Baltimore, where he allowed three runs over five innings. Odorizzi was provided 10 runs of support and easily cruised to victory while throwing an inefficient 111 pitches in just five innings (an average of 22.2 pitches per inning). Odorizzi has given up exactly three earned runs in five of his last six outings, although a rather beefy 5.51 FIP belies his overall 4.08 ERA. He is 3-2 with a 3.60 ERA at the Trop this season, where he’s averaged just over six innings of work per start.
Pomeranz held Toronto to one run over six innings in his last start. Pomeranz scattered baserunners throughout his start and never faced any real danger aside from a second inning sac-fly from Steve Pearce. Thanks to that outing, along with his previous start against the Twins, the southpaw has lowered his season ERA to the lowest point it’s been since early April. Pomeranz has gone at least five innings with two earned runs or fewer allowed in seven of his last eight starts. The Rays have had success against Pomeranz this season, tagging him for seven runs over two starts — a total of 7-1/3 innings of work. Key Matchups: Tim Beckham (2-4, HR, RBI, BB), Corey Dickerson (3-12, 3B, HR, RBI), Brad Miller (7-16, 2B, 3B, HR, 5 RBI, BB), Logan Morrison (2-8)
Cobb was done in by early home runs by the Orioles in his last start Sunday at Baltimore, although he managed to give Tampa Bay a bullpen saving 6-1/3 innings of work. Aside from that start, the right-hander has given up more than three runs just three times since the start of May (totaling 78-2/3 innings). Cobb’s usage of his split-changeup continues to evolve, as he leaned on it 16.05% of the time in June (up 8% from May), while it’s depth has improved — dropping an average of 7.37 inches before it reaches the plate. He’s 1-0 with a 5.56 ERA in two starts against Boston in 2017.
Porcello held the Rangers in check for most of his start against the Rangers Monday night before Craig Kimbrel blew the save. Be that as it may, the reigning Cy Young Award winner has given up at least three earned runs in seven consecutive starts, and has been treading water for most of the season. Tampa Bay finally figured the right-hander out, and has pounded him for 13 runs (11 earned) over 10-2/3 innings this season. Key Matchups: Tim Beckham (2-5, 2 RBI), Peter Bourjos (2-7), Corey Dickerson (8-25, 4 2B, HR, 3 RBI), Evan Longoria (13-50, 5 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB), Logan Morrison (10-27, 3 2B, HR, 5 RBI, Shane Peterson (1-2, HR, 2 RBI), Steven Souza Jr. (7-23, HR, RBI, BB)
Archer not only collected his 11th quality start of the season on Tuesday, but also tallied his first career hit and RBI. The Rays have won in four of Archer’s last five starts, while he’s posted at least six innings over his last nine. He did put an uncomfortable number of men on base in this one, but he escaped several jams and limited the damage, which amounted to three runs total. And though he labored through an inefficient 116 pitches over six innings of work, Archer he threw an impressive 69% for strikes, including 24 whiffs.
Price blanked the opposition for the first time this season on Tuesday against the Rangers, while striking out nine. The former Ray scattered six hits, yet he held Texas scoreless as the BoSox raced to an early lead. Price left the game in the seventh inning because of an apparent injury to his pitching hand, although John Farrell said afterward that he was removed because of a high pitch count and long sixth inning. The Rays have had a lot of success against their former ace, tagging him for 23 runs (21 earned) over seven starts and 45 innings of work. They’ll try to keep it rolling in the final game before the All-Star Break on Sunday. Key Matchups: Corey Dickerson (1-3), Adeiny Hechavarria (2-6), Trevor Plouffe (9-25, 2 2B, 3 RBI, BB)
— Brad Miller continued his rehab stint with the Durham Bulls on Wednesday, going 2-for-4 with a leadoff homer, a run, an RBI, and a strikeout. He could return to the Rays before the end of the upcoming series.