The Tampa Bay Rays play host to Minnesota Twins in a three-game series at the Trop, kicking off Friday night. Even though the Rays sit at 5-13 on the season, they are playing better baseball of late and just took two of three from Texas. Meanwhile, despite an 8-5 record, the Twins just split a two-game set with Cleveland, and have under-performed (offensively speaking) over the last 14 days.
The Rays appear to have the luck dragons on their side, as the team’s BABIP is finally north of average, at .313 (over the last 14 days) — up from .234, .261, .267, .292 then .294.
C.J. Cron has extended his hitting streak to eight games (12-31 during this stretch), while Wilson Ramos is starting to get toasty at the plate, going 8-24 with a homer and four RBI over his last six games. Infielder Brad Miller (groin strain), out since April 8, could return from the disabled list by the start of the series; more on that i Noteworthiness (below).
We have to own the fact that we’re whatever our record is right now, but we also can be somewhat satisfied that we are playing hard, manager Kevin Cash said. It just hasn’t gone our way. I don’t think it would be smart of me or anybody to critique the effort when it has been good.
Yet in spite of the superlatives, Tampa Bay’s vaunted pitching staff hasn’t done the team any favors, namely Chris Archer — who gets the nod Friday — and the bullpen, which has performed to an 0-4 record, and a 5.07 ERA/4.54 FIP over the last 14-days.
And while the Twins haven’t lit up the leader boards on either side of the field, there clearly is a reason they have a winning record on the season. Despite a ridiculous spate of weather postponements (four-games), between April 8 and this past Sunday, the Twins have managed to win four in a span of five outings.
Still, the Rays have out-performed the Twins at the plate over the last 14-days, and if the pitching staff can hold it together over the next three days, Tampa Bay should walk out of the Trop on Sunday with another series win, if not a sweep.
Kevin Cash will throw Chris Archer (1-1, 7.84 ERA) and Blake Snell (2-1, 2.95 ERA) on Friday and Saturday (respectively), and lean upon the bullpen (1-7, 4.72 ERA) on Sunday. Paul Molitor will counter with Lance Lynn (0-1, 5.00 ERA), Kyle Gibson (1-0, 3.68), and a pitcher to be named later.
Chris Archer, while dominant against Minnesota over his career, posting a 6-1 record and 1.84 ERA, has yet to post a quality start or complete more than six innings over first four starts this season. He also is coming off his worst performance, giving up six runs in the second inning alone last Saturday, while allowing seven runs over four innings with just two strikeouts overall. If Archer is the ace of the staff, he has got to start pitching like it. Archer told the media he’s already “flushed” the outing, saying also that he felt much better over his last pair of frames and felt he was actually “getting into a groove” following the second inning. Cash brushed off the notion that Archer should rely upon his changeup in place of his fastball or slider:
I don’t agree with that, Cash said. He’s a fastball-slider pitcher. He can use it as he wants. But I certainly don’t agree with the fact that the changeup needs to be in place of his fastball or slider. And he doesn’t either.
Lance Lynn was scheduled to make his third start of the season last Saturday, but weather postponements forced a reshuffling of the rotation. He finally gets a chance to match his most recent stellar effort on Friday. Lynn was pounded in his debut with the Twins before limiting Houston to three hits and four walks over five scoreless innings, with nine strikeouts, on April 9. The 30 year-old is 0-1 with a 3.77 ERA in three appearances (two starts) against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Adeiny Hechavarria (4-11, 2 RBI), Brad Miller (1-2, HR, RBI, BB)
Blake Snell got the win over Texas on Monday, allowing up just one earned run on five hits over 6-1/3 innings. He fanned nine and walked. It was the second consecutive strong outing for the southpaw, who has given up just two earned runs to go along with 19 punchouts over his past 12-1/3 frames. He also has improved his control — not issuing a single walk against Texas after surrendering five to the White Sox in his previous start. Aside from one bad outing against the Yankees, Snell now sports a solid 2.95 ERA to go along with 26 punch-outs over 21-1/3 combined innings.
Kyle Gibson allowed five runs on seven hits and four walks over 4-1/3 innings on Wednesday. He struck out four. Gibson struggled early and often, allowing multiple base runners to reach in all but one inning, although the real damage came in the fifth inning when he allowed four of the first five batters to reach base before being chased. All four came around to score, with two coming in after he handed the ball to Trevor Hildenberger. The right-hander has now failed to make it out of the fifth inning in consecutive starts after tossing six scoreless frames in his 2018 debut. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (3-9, RBI, BB), Carlos Gomez (4-12, 2B, RBI), Brad Miller (6-12, 2 2B, RBI, 4 BB)
Sunday’s starters for both teams are TBD.
— To make room for Brad Miller, who is expected to return Friday, it appears that the Rays would likely to part ways with either RHP Hunter Wood or INF/OF Brandon Snyder. Another option is to option OF Johnny Field.