Big RAAAAAAAANDY came up big once again on Friday. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

After blanking the Miami Marlins on Friday, 8-0, the Tampa Bay Rays can clinch the division on Saturday with a win at the Trop, and a Red Sox loss for the second consecutive day at Fenway.

At 95-59 on the season, Tampa Bay enters play 36-games above .500 and with an insurmountable 7.0 game lead over Boston in the American League East. The Rays also have a four-game advantage over Houston for the best record in the American League with eight games left to play.

We know what’s at stake, and we know if we come to the field and handle our business, then we’ll be able to celebrate sooner than later. And we want to do that as soon as possible. “Hopefully once we do, we just keep going and do not get content. We have to keep that motivation because we just need to keep this competitive fire that we’ve had and just ride that out as long as possible.

We know it’s close, but there’s still a lot left that we need to accomplish.

— Kevin Kiermaier

Ryan Yarbrough pitched out of the bulk role on Friday, scattering just two hits across six scoreless frames on 80 pitches (54 strikes, 68% strike rate, 6 whiffs, 8% SwStr%) — striking out four while walking none for the second time in as many games.

Yarbrough was terrific, allowing just one batter into position in his scoreless outing. He had a rather interesting, yet effective, pitch mix, throwing his curveball 29 times while coaxing 33% swings and whiffs. He rounded things out by leaning on the rest of his repertoire — his sinker, changeup which boasted a lot of sweeping movement, and cutter — essentially equally. In two of his previous three outings, Yarbrough was hammered for 14 runs over 4.1 innings, yet he’s allowed just four runs over 12 innings since. He now owns a 5.09 ERA and a 4.42 FIP, with a 1.23 WHIP, and a 4.28 K/BB across 150.1 innings.

Tampa Bay scored eight runs on 11 hits and six walks last night. Nelson Cruz and Wander Franco returned to the lineup and combined for two hits, a walk, and a run. Franco extended his on-base streak to 40 games after he earned a sixth-inning free pass, then an eighth-inning double in his next at-bat. He is hitting .323 during his on-base streak and now owns a .812 OPS on the season. In the 36 games when both Franco and Cruz have played, Tampa Bay has averaged 6.44 runs per game. All told, Tampa Bay has scored seven runs or more 59 times — the most in MLB.

THE NEW WHAT NEXT

Shane McClanahan (9-6, 3.51 ERA) will get the start Saturday, pitching opposite of Sandy Alcantara (9-13, 3.05 ERA).

Shane McClanahan allowed one run on two hits and two walks while striking out seven over five innings on Sunday against the Tigers. McClanahan returned to the mound for the first time in 11 days after hitting the IL due to back stiffness. He touched triple digits with his fastball and punched out seven hitters after throwing just 64 pitches (44 strikes, 69% strike rate). The lone tally against him was allowing a solo home run to Eric Haase in the fourth inning. The 24-year-old hasn’t reached six innings in five of his last six starts despite only giving up more than two runs just once in those outings. He maintains a 3.51 ERA and a 3.28 FIP, with a 1.27 WHIP, and a 3.75 K/BB across 115.1 innings.

Sandy Alcantara allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits and a walk over six innings on Sunday against Pittsburgh. He struck out four. Alcantara committed a pair of errors in the first inning, leading to an unearned run. He later gave up an RBI triple to Anthony Alford before recording an out in the seventh. It was his shortest outing and lowest strikeout total since his August 6 start in Colorado. Even so, he lowered his season ERA to 3.05 and his FIP to 3.37, with a 3.86 K/BB through 194.2 frames. Alcantara is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-3), Ji-Man Choi (3-5, 2 2B, BB), Brandon Lowe (1-4, 2 BB)

You can read the series in our preview, while the starting lineup and Noteworthiness are below.

RAYS 9/25/21 STARTING LINEUP

  1. B. Lowe 2B
  2. Choi 1B
  3. Arozarena LF
  4. Meadows DH
  5. Wendle SS
  6. Díaz 3B
  7. Kiermaier CF
  8. Phillips RF
  9. Zunino C
  10. McClanahan

NOTEWORTHINESS

— RHP Matt Wisler is slated to throw a bullpen session on Sunday. If that goes well, the right-hander could join rejoin the roster on the upcoming road trip.

— Cody Reed continues to rehab in Durham although, due to the fact that he underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in early June, he has longer odds to rejoin the team before the end of the regular season.

The southpaw should continue to pitch throughout the offseason, and he’s expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training 2022.

— The Rays have made a roster move, optioning LHP Dietrich Enns and recalling fellow southpaw Josh Fleming.

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