It will become rather problematic in the postseason if you have a difficult time winning games away from the friendly confines of the Trop. (Photo Credit: X-Rays Spex)

After winning just one game in Cleveland, in a hard-fought and winnable series, the Tampa Bay Rays continue their season-ending road trip in Houston, where they start a three-game series against the Astros on Friday. The Astros are coming off a series split against the Diamondbacks.

At 85-71 on the season, the Rays enter play 14 games above .500, and with a magic number of one to clinch their fourth consecutive playoff spot.

On one hand, Tampa Bay lost a series and Houston split one. But on the other hand, both teams won just one of the contests in their respective previous series, so there’s that.

With the exception of a pinch-hit appearance in the series opener against the Guardians, the Rays have been without one of their best hitters, Yandy Díaz (shoulder), since September 19. It is absolutely baffling that they opted not to put him on the 10-day Injured List to give them a bit more roster flexibility while he is on the mend — you know, since as of Thursday he had effectively missed 10 days anyway — but that’s neither here nor now. What is relevant, though, is the gaping hole in the lineup without Díaz, who had been in the midst of a .316 BA/.418 OBP/.386 SLG/.804 OPS/.359 wOBA September 141 wRC+ prior to the injury. In four of the contests without his discerning eye in the batter’s box, Tampa Bay has been one big hit shy of a go-ahead lead, including the second and third games of the previous series. Take Thursday night’s loss for example.

The Rays worked the bases loaded on three one-out walks in the ninth inning. Yet, Ji-Man Choi — who, in all fairness, has been doing much better at the plate of late, and is among the league leaders in Barrel% over the last two weeks, boasting a 108 mph max exit velocity — struck out swinging, while Isaac Paredes popped out to second to end the contest. It’s the way the cookie crumbles I suppose, but it sure would be nice to get that ever crucial big hit when it matters the most … and they haven’t been getting it without Díaz in the lineup. Will we see him during this series? I have my doubts. If Díaz doesn’t end up on the IL today, he will likely ride the bench until the Boston series to get back up to speed.

Meanwhile, the Astros have been surprisingly unproductive the last week, slashing .236 BA/.306 OBP/.384 SLG/.690 OPS with an unlucky .268 BABIP, and a 97 wRC+. The Rays pitching staff, which limited Cleveland to just seven total runs (2.33 RPG), could be facing Houston at the perfect time. We all know what the Astros are capable of, offensively speaking, and if Tampa Bay’s corps of arms can stave them off for the next three days, the Rays could make this series at the other citrus fruit juice named stadium rather competitive.

Tampa Bay was swept by Houston in the previous series on September 19-21. Suffice it to say, they will be out for revenge this weekend.

Pitching Probables

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Drew Rasmussen (10-7, 2.85 ERA), Shane McClanahan (12-7, 2.51 ERA), and Corey Kluber (10-9, 4.36 ERA). Dusty Baker will counter with Framber Valdez (16-5, 2.69 ERA), Cristian Javier (10-9, 2.65 ERA), and Luis Garcia (14-8, 3.81 ERA).

Drew Rasmussen allowed one run on three hits and two walks over 6.1 innings against the Blue Jays on Saturday. He struck out five. Rasmussen surrendered a double to Teoscar Hernandez in the seventh inning prior to exiting the game, so he was charged with one of the three runs from second baseman Whit Merrifield’s seventh-inning blast off left-handed reliever Brooks Raley. Rasmussen has recorded three consecutive losses, allowing nine runs in 16.1 innings over that span, although he was very good against the Jays. Overall he owns a 2.85 ERA and 3.22 FIP, with a 3.94 K/BB, and a 1.06 WHIP across 139.0 innings. Previously, Rasmussen allowed four runs on six hits (including a homer) and a walk to the Astros across six innings.

Framber Valdez allowed seven runs (four earned) on 11 hits and a walk over 5.1 innings against the Orioles on Saturday. He struck out six. Valdez allowed just three hits through the first three frames as the Astros jumped out to a 2-0 lead, yet things went awry for him in the fourth after he gave up back-to-back singles to lead off the inning. Rougned Odor later singled to drive in Adley Rutschman and Ramon Urias before Cedric Mullins topped off the inning with a two-run homer. Though the right-hander was charged with only four of the seven runs that came across while he was on the mound, it was still the first time all season that Valdez allowed more than three runs in an outing. It also snapped his big-league single-season record of 25 consecutive quality starts. Overall he owns a 2.69 ERA and 3.12 FIP, with a 2.89 K/BB, and a 1.14 WHIP across 191.0 innings. Valdez relies primarily on a 94 mph worm killer sinker that has some natural sinking action and a 79 mph curveball that has sweeping glove-side movement, while also mixing in an 83 mph slider that has exceptional depth, and an 89 mph hard changeup that dives down out of the zone. Key Matchups: Isaac Paredes (1-1, RBI), Harold Ramírez (1-1, 2B, RBI, 2 BB)

Shane McClanahan allowed four uncharacteristic runs on six hits and two walks over five innings on Sunday against Toronto. He struck out just striking out two batters. McClanahan was taken deep three times, including twice by George Springer. The southpaw had allowed just two home runs over his previous 38.2 innings of work. After producing two straight scoreless starts, McClanahan has been tagged with nine runs over his last two turns, raising his season ERA to 2.51 through 27 starts. Even so, he maintains a 3.01 FIP (2.53 xFIP), a 5.19 K/BB, and a 1.19 WHIP across 161.1 innings on the season. McClanahan gave up five runs on five hits (including a homer) across four innings in his previous start against Houston.

Cristian Javier allowed one hit over six scoreless innings against Baltimore on Sunday. He struck out eight. Javier retired the first 13 batters he faced and gave up just one single in the dominant outing. Javier has now turned in three consecutive scoreless outings — producing a 5.5 K/BB through 17 innings while lowering his season ERA to 2.65 (3.53 xFIP) during that stretch. He held the Rays scoreless over five innings in his previous start against Tampa Bay, surrendering one lone run. Key Matchups: Christian Bethancourt (1-2), David Peralta (2-7, 2B)

Corey Kluber got the start Tuesday and allowed three runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out five across four innings. All three runs against Kluber came with two outs when José Ramírez tripled in a run in the third inning and Steven Kwan hit a two-run single in the fourth. Kluber needed 91 pitches to get through the four frames and was removed rather than face the heart of Cleveland’s lineup a third time. It’s been feast or famine for the right-hander in September as he’s tossed seven innings while allowing one run or fewer on two occasions and given up 13 runs in 10.1 innings in his other three outings combined. All told, the BABIP bad-luck king (Kluber maintains a .316 BABIP on the season, 15 points higher than his career number) owns a 4.36 ERA but a 3.54 FIP, with a 6.75 K/BB, and a 1.21 WHIP across 159.0 frames. Kluber surrendered one run on six scattered hits and a walk across seven innings in his previous start against the Astros. While he was incredibly efficient, he only struck out two.

Luis Garcia allowed one run on four hits and no walks over six innings against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday. He struck out six. Garcia cruised to victory, as the only damage on the night came via a Geraldo Perdomo solo homer in the third inning. The effort was Garcia’s third quality start and second start without allowing a walk over 11 outings since the All-Star Break. He has a 3.81 ERA and a 4.00 FIP (3.84 xFIP) through 151.1 innings this season — just four innings shy of the innings mark he recorded in 2021. The baby rocker held the Rays scoreless across five innings in his previous start against Tampa Bay, surrendering just two hits while walking four. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (1-2, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Wander Franco (2-6, 2B), Francisco Mejia (1-2, RBI), David Peralta (1-4, 2B), Harold Ramírez (2-4, 2B,)