After taking two of three from the Cardinals — and notching their second consecutive series win — the Tampa Bay Rays will continue their nine-game road trip to Kansas City, where they’ll face the Royals over the next three days. The Royals are coming off a three-game sweep against Cleveland, where they were outscored 20-0 over the span of the series.
Tampa Bay starts the series three games back of the final Wildcard spot — and 1/2 game behind Kansas City — with 30 games left to play.
Tampa Bay came up with a one-run victory over St. Louis Cardinals in extra innings on Sunday. And while the Rays’ lineup didn’t have a particularly great day at the plate, Logan Morrison had a phenomenal (30th birthday weekend capping) game. LoMo hit two home runs in the contest, including the deciding homer in the top of the 10th.
The dirty 30. pic.twitter.com/MCAYuobIs6
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) August 27, 2017
It took LoMo’s second homer of the day to push us over the top. pic.twitter.com/akgAiATpL9
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) August 27, 2017
Over the last week of play — since breaking free of the bondage of their historic offensive slump — the Rays have become a power hitting club once again, posting a combined .515 SLG and .243 ISO since last Sunday. Because of it, Tampa Bay has won five of its last seven games.
Meanwhile, Kansas City failed to score a single run in three games against Cleveland, and has lost four consecutive ball games — averaging just 0.5 runs per game over that stretch. Simply put, the Royals have had one of the worst offenses in Major League Baseball this season … although they’ve given the Rays fits over the last few years, this season included. Either Kansas City will come into the series with a chip on its shoulders and perform well, or Tampa Bay will face a lethargic ball club in the throes of a free-fall.
With the win Sunday, the Rays now are 14-3 in series wins when they take the first game of a series — an 82.4% win percentage. That said, it’s absolutely critical for them to win Monday night’s contest, which would increase the probabilities of a series win.
Over the next three days Kevin Cash will lean on Austin Pruitt (1-3, 4.86 ERA, 5.40 FIP), Alex Cobb (9-8, 3.69 ERA, 4.21 FIP), and Jake Odorizzi (6-7, 4.82 ERA, 5.95 FIP). Ned Yost will counter with Ian Kennedy (4-9, 5.09 ERA, 5.36 FIP), Jake Junis (3-2, 4.47 ERA, 4.85 FIP), and Jason Vargas (14-8, 3.72 ERA, 4.29 FIP).
Pruitt, after a triplet of quality starts, has struggled of late, allowing 10 earned runs over his last 10-2/3 innings of work. In his last turn, the right-hander allowed five runs in just 3-2/3 innings against Toronto. Walks have not been a problem for Pruitt, rather his pitches have caught too much plate, and he’s gotten punished because of it. In two innings of relief against Kansas City this season, Pruitt allowed three runs (one earned).
Kennedy gave up seven hits and three runs over 4-2/3 innings last Wednesday in a game Kansas City came back and won, 6-4. His line could have been much uglier, but reliever Ryan Buchter limited the damage and got the final out in the fifth inning (after replacing Kennedy) with the bases loaded. The 32 year-old right-hander has failed to complete the fifth inning in four of his past seven starts, while giving up at least three earned runs six times over that stretch. In eight starts against the Rays, Kennedy is 1-4 with a 4.64 ERA. Key Matchups: Brad Miller (3-5, 2 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB), Logan Morrison (6-16, 2 3B, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB)
Cobb will make his second start off the 10-day DL, and he looks to build on what he established against Toronto on Thursday. Despite pitching only into the fifth inning, thanks to a fair number of deep counts, the right-hander fanned five and allowed no runs, four hits and just one walk.
Junis was solid on Thursday against Colorado, allowing one run on seven hits, but worked only 5-1/3 innings. The 24 year-old right-hander faced the Rays over one inning of relief work in May, allowing no runs and two walks, while striking out two. This season Junis has relied upon a 92mph four-seam fastball with depth, and a whiffy 82mph slider. He’s also mixed in a 78mph curveball little depth and slight glove-side movement, a 91 mph sinker, and an 83mph changeup with surprising cut action. Key Matchup: Danny Espinosa (2-5, 2B, 3 RBI)
Odorizzi allowed three runs through 3-2/3 innings his last time out, but has been unable to complete four frames in consecutive starts; he has pitched into the fifth in one of his past five starts. Odo is now 0-3 over that stretch with a 6.75 ERA and a 1/1 K/BB. Suffice it to say, until he can find a way to fix his massive control problems, Jake will remain in this funk. In six games against Kansas City, he is 1-4 with a 4.65 ERA.
Vargas struggled through five innings against Cleveland last Friday, allowing four runs on six hits in a 4-0 loss. In August Vargas has allowed four earned runs or more in three of his five starts (and six times overall). Each one of those ill fated starts resulted in a tally in the loss column for Kansas City. Be that as it may, the right-hander shutdown the Rays back in May, tossing six innings of scoreless baseball, and allowing just three hits and a walk. Overall he is 5-5 against the Rays with a 2.80 ERA in 11 starts. Key Matchups: Corey Dickerson (1-3), Danny Espinosa (1-3), Evan Longoria (7-26, 2B, HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB), Brad Miller (4-8)
— The Rays have activated Matt Andriese from the DL rather that having him make one last rehab start. Chih-Wei Hu has been optioned back to Triple-A Durham to make room for Andriese on the active roster, while INF Taylor Featherston has been designated for assignment to clear 40-man roster space.
Andriese will be available out of the bullpen Monday night, although Pruitt will still get the start.