After leaving Baltimore with a series split in a four-game set against the Orioles, the Tampa Bay Rays make their way to Houston, where they will start an important three-game series against the Astros on Tuesday. The Astros are coming off a three-game sweep against the Angels.
Tampa Bay ended its highly-winnable 21-game stretch against sub .500 ballclubs with a respectable, albeit disappointing, 13-8 record.
However, all is not lost. The Rays playoff odds remain decent: FanGraphs gives them a 59.6% chance of reaching the postseason, while Baseball Prospectus gives them a more favorable 69.4% chance.
Unfortunately, Tampa Bay is done with the fluffy part of the schedule, and on to the final 30 games of the season — of which, the Rays will play 11 games against contenders or +.500 teams. Over the next week, they will face Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zach Greinke, Mike Clevinger, and Shane Bieber — all of whom rank in the top ten of baseball this season.
The two upcoming series against Houston and Cleveland will be incredibly important as it relates to the Wildcard crunch, especially the weekend series against a team the Rays need to beat.
The Rays took three of four from the Astros in the Opening Series of the season, but are 9-8 at Minute Maid Park since 2014.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will lean on Charlie Morton (13-5, 2.85 ERA), Ryan Yarbrough (11-3, 3.29 ERA), and likely Trevor Richards (4-12, 4.30 ERA). A. J. Hinch will counter with Justin Verlander (15-5, 2.77 ERA), Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.75 ERA), and Zack Greinke (14-4, 2.83 ERA).
Charlie Morton allowed three runs on four hits and two walks with three strikeouts across five innings against the Mariners on Wednesday. The right-hander probably pitched better than that line indicates, although three hits, a walk, and hit batsman in the fourth inning led to three runs. The Rays reclaimed the lead before Morton left, yet the bullpen coughed it up in the ninth inning, costing him the win. Morton remains 13-5 with a 2.85 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, and 197 strikeouts across 161 innings this season.
Justin Verlander tossed a complete game against the Tigers on Wednesday, allowing just two hits while striking out 11. It was the definition of a hard-luck loss, as Verlander went the distance with two solo shots representing the only hits against him. He wound up taking his fifth loss of the season as his teammates only managed one run of support. It still doesn’t take away from the spectacular season the 36-year-old right-hander is putting together, as Verlander now sports a 2.77 ERA, an 0.81 WHIP, and a 7.03 K/BB across 178-2/3 innings this season. Verlander is 9-4 with a 3.30 ERA in 19 career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Matt Duffy (4-6), Avisail Garcia (8-32, 2 2B, 2 RBI, BB), Austin Meadows (1-3, HR, RBI), Tommy Pham (1-3), Joey Wendle (3-6, 2 2B, RBI)
Ryan Yarbrough allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits with five strikeouts across 4-1/3 rain-shortened innings against the Orioles on Thursday. The southpaw gave up a pair of runs in the first inning, but that was it, as he shut the door over the next 3-1/3 frames. Yarbrough owns a 0.75 ERA with 28 strikeouts in his last 24 innings. Overall, he is 11-3 with a 3.29 ERA (down from 8.10 in April), an 0.87 WHIP, and 93 strikeouts across 109-1/3 innings this season. Yarbs is 0-1 with a 1.42 ERA in one career start (6-1/3 innings of work) against the Astros.
Gerrit Cole held the Tigers scoreless on Thursday while striking out 12 over seven innings. He allowed two hits and one walk. Despite being shelved more than two weeks with hamstring soreness, the right-hander hit 99 mph in the first inning and his velo stayed high all night. Cole’s sixth-inning strikeout of Jake Rogers — his 10th of the game — matched a franchise record of 14 games in one season with 10 punchouts or more. Cole now owns a ridiculous 2.75 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and a 5.95 K/BB on the season. He is 0-2 with a 2.84 ERA in three career starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: Jesus Aguilar (2-5, RBI, BB), Ji-Man Choi (1-3, 2 RBI, BB), Travis d’Arnaud (4-4, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, BB), Tommy Pham (8-15, 2 2B, HR, 4 RBI), Joey Wendle (2-5, 2 RBI)
Trevor Richards tossed six shutout innings while allowing just two hits and one walk with five strikeouts on 83 pitches (55 strikes, 66% strike rate). All of the Orioles “damage” against Richards came in a 25-pitch first inning before the right-hander settled in. From the second inning on, he threw 58 total pitches and kept Baltimore’s hitters off-balance thanks to his mix of fastballs and changeups, with a few sliders and curveballs thrown in for good measure. Richards is off to a strong start with Tampa Bay. In two starts since being acquired from Miami, Richards has allowed two runs over 9-1/3 innings. Overall, he is 4-12 with a 4.30 ERA, a 1.38 WHIP, with 114 strikeouts across 121-1/3 innings.
Zack Greinke allowed three runs (two earned) on 10 hits over 6-2/3 innings on Friday. He struck out only one. The right-hander was far from dominant, coaxing just six swinging strikes on 96 pitches (63 total strikes, 66% strike rate, 6% SwStr) on the night, yet he was able to avoid serious damage despite all the balls in play. Greinke has yet to lose in a Houston uniform, going 4-0 in four starts, and carries an overall 2.83 ERA and 5.35 K/BB through 171-2/3 innings. The right-hander is 4-6 with a 3.08 ERA in 13 career starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: Jesus Aguilar (2-8, 2B, HR, RBI, BB), Matt Duffy (3-12, 2B, RBI, BB), Charlie Morton (1-2), Eric Sogard (1-4, 2B, BB)
— Our condolences go out to the family of Vince Namoli, the former owner and CEO of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Namoli, without whom there wouldn’t be big league baseball in Tampa Bay, passed away at age 81 on Sunday night.
The St. Petersburg businessman had been part of unsuccessful bids to purchase and relocate the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants, yet he landed an American League expansion franchise in 1995 that began to play in 1998 — ending region’s two-decade-long pursuit to join Major League Baseball
Namoli sold the club to a group led by current Rays principal Stuart Sternberg in 2004 and relinquished control after the 2005 season.
— Tyler Glasnow is set to throw live batting practice on Tuesday, and could rejoin the team out of the bullpen in early September.
— Brendan McKay has been placed on the seven-day Minor League Injured List at Durham with shoulder fatigue, retroactive to August 23rd. It is expected to be a minimal stay, and McKay played catch at 90 feet on Monday; he is expected to miss one start.