The Rays start a three-game series against the Astros on Friday.

After splitting a brief two-game series with the Marlins, the Tampa Bay Rays departed for that other citrus-named dome, in Houston, where they’ll start a three-game series on Friday. The Astros most recently took two of three from Texas.

At 62-43 on the season, the Rays enter play 19 games over .500, and 1.5 games behind the first-place Orioles in the division. Meanwhile, the Astros enter play 58-45 on the season, and 2.0 games back of the first-place Rangers.

Just when the Rays looked like they were about to turn a corner after a 4-1 win against the Marlins, on Tuesday, they dropped an ugly 7-1 contest in the finale the following day. For Tampa Bay — who finished with only five hits on the day and left four runners on base — it was part and parcel with their July malaise. Over the life of their six-game home stand (vs. Baltimore and Miami), the Rays put up an ice-cold.203 BA/.278 OBP/.327 SLG/.605 OPS line with an unlucky .262 BABIP, and a 74 wRC+. It was also the same-old-same story: sure, a few players (José Siri 192 wRC+, Yandy Díaz 183 wRC+, Brandon Lowe 160 wRC+) got toasty over the last week, but the majority of the lineup (Harold Ramírez 88 wRC+, Manuel Margot 76 wRC+, Josh Lowe 65 wRC+, Randy Arozarena -28 wRC+, Christian Bethancourt -33 wRC+, Wander Franco -61 wRC+) couldn’t hit their way out of a wet bag.

Meanwhile, Houston had won three straight and six of their previous seven games before getting walloped by Texas in the finale of their three-game set Wednesday. The Astros got two hits each from Jeremy Pena (run) and Alex Bregman (run, three RBI) in the loss while Bregman (17) and Yanier Diaz (12) each homered in a losing effort. Even though base hits have eluded Houston over the last seven days, the team has taken its fair share of walks (10.7 BB%, .311 OBP) which set up its power game (.441 SLG, .221 ISO).

It will be up to Rays hurlers not to walk a ton of batters and keep the ball in the park if they have any hope of walking away with a series win. Until the offense wakes up, the team will continue playing in the margins and forcing the pitching staff to be perfect.

The Rays enter play with an overall (and improved) 3.70 ERA and 3.91 FIP (3.67 ERA and 3.55 FIP for the starters, 3.74 ERA, and 4.32 FIP for the relievers). Over the last seven days, Tampa Bay maintains a 3.60 ERA and 2.53 FIP (4.67 ERA and 2.43 FIP for the starters, 2.00 ERA and 2.67 FIP for the relievers).

Meanwhile, it won’t be easy for the Rays’ offense which will face an Astros club that maintains an overall 3.82 ERA and 4.18 FIP (3.81 ERA and 4.26 FIP for the starters, 3.84 ERA, and 4.04 FIP for the relievers). A caveat: Houston’s hurlers have been trash the last week, putting up a combined 5.26 ERA and a 6.13 FIP (4.78 ERA and a 5.91 FIP for the starters, and a 6.00 ERA and a 6.47 FIP for the relievers).

Tampa Bay is 1-2 against Houston this season. The three contests between the two have been low-scoring affairs, with the Astros edging out the Rays with a +1 run differential across the season series.

Pitching Probables

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Shane McClanahan (11-1, 2.89 ERA, 3.80 FIP), Taj Bradley (5-6, 5.30 ERA, 3.96 FIP), and Tyler Glasnow (4-3, 3.36 ERA, 3.14 FIP). Dusty Baker will counter with Cristian Javier (7-2, 4.32 ERA, 4.28 FIP), Hunter Brown (6-7, 4.19 ERA, 3.82 FIP), and Brandon Bielak (5-5, 3.62 ERA, 5.41 FIP).

Shane McClanahan allowed five runs on five hits and three walks over four innings against Baltimore on Saturday. He struck out five on 86 pitches (56 strikes, 65% strike rate). All of the damage against McClanahan came in the fourth when he surrendered five hits — including back-to-back-to-back doubles — as part of a five-run frame. The rough inning was enough for Kevin Cash to pull the southpaw, marking the third time in his last four turns not reaching the fifth inning. Saturday’s outing also set a season-high in runs allowed. After a dominant start to 2023, McClanahan has struggled mightily in July, posting a 6.30 ERA (which is belied by a far better 3.28 FIP so take it with a grain of salt), a 3.67 K/BB, and a 1.10 WHIP across 10 innings.

Cristian Javier allowed two runs on one hit and six walks while striking out five over 5.2 innings on Saturday versus the Athletics. Javier didn’t give up a hit until the sixth inning when he put two on with two outs, ending his day. However, Phil Maton let three straight batters reach base and allowed two inherited runners to score. It’s been a rough stretch for Javier, who has given up 23 runs while walking 14 over his last 21.1 innings (five starts). The poor pitching has him up to a 4.32 ERA and a 4.28 FIP, with a 1.22 WHIP, and 2.82 K/BB through 102 innings. Key Matchups: Christian Bethancourt (1-2), Brandon Lowe (1-2, BB), Manuel Margot (1-4, HR, 2 RBI)

Taj Bradley allowed three runs on five hits and a walk while striking out six across five innings Sunday against the Orioles. Bradley gave up a run in the first and then a two-run blast to Gunnar Henderson in the second to put the Rays in a quick three-run hole. However, he allowed just one more baserunner after that frame, although he failed to make it past five innings, which is something he’s done just once in 15 starts. Bradley did register an impressive 34% whiff rate but he also surrendered a home run for a sixth consecutive turn. He sits at a 5.30 ERA — which is belied by a far healthier 3.96 FIP — with a 1.37 WHIP, and 4.32 K/BB over 71.1 innings.

Hunter Brown allowed two runs on six hits and two walks while striking out four over six innings versus the Athletics on Sunday. Brown enjoyed his best start of July, although the quality of his opponent likely played a role. He’d allowed a total of 12 runs and 24 hits over his three previous outings (12.1 innings) before getting back on track Sunday. The right-hander is now at a 4.19 ERA and a 3.82 FIP, with a 1.32 WHIP, and a 3.49 K/BB through 105.1 innings (19 starts) this season. Brown previously tossed seven innings of two-hit ball against Tampa Bay on April 26. Key Matchups: Manuel Margot (2-2), Harold Ramírez (2-5, 2B)

Tyler Glasnow allowed a run on two hits and two walks over seven innings against Miami. He struck out eight and threw 97 pitches (68 strikes, 70% strike rate, 18% SwStr%). Glasnow’s now held opponents to just one run in three of his last four outings while racking up 55 strikeouts over his last six turns (36.1 innings). He lowered his ERA to 3.36 (3.14 FIP), with a 1.12 WHIP, and a 4.40 K/BB across 11 starts (61.2 innings).

Brandon Bielak pitched 4.2 innings against Texas on Monday, allowing six runs (three earned) on six hits and four walks while striking out five batters. Bielak’s final line was softened a bit by the fact that three of the runs against him were unearned, even so, it was a poor outing by the right-hander. He threw just 59 of 102 pitches for a strike (58% strike rate) and tied a season-high with four walks while surrendering a pair of homers. Bielak had been pitching well in July coming into Monday, posting a 1.02 ERA and 0.85 WHIP over three starts. Overall, he maintains a 3.61 ERA, but an ugly 5.41 FIP, with a 1.45 WHIP, and a 1.83 K/BB. Bielak relies primarily on a firm 87 mph changeup that has slight arm-side fade and some natural sink and a 92 mph sinker that has some natural sinking action, while also mixing in a 92 mph cutter, an 82 mph slider that sweeps across the zone, a 93 mph fourseam fastball that has some natural sinking action, and an 80 mph 12-6 curveball.


— Yandy Díaz (left groin tightness), who left Tuesday’s contest, received a clean MRI. After sitting out Wednesday, and Thursday’s day off, he could be back in the lineup this weekend.

— Zach Eflin (left knee discomfort) also received a clean MRI and could start Tuesday’s contest against the Yankees.