After a dominating 5-2 road trip that swung through Detroit and Boston, the Tampa Bay Rays return home where, on Monday, they will start a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics. The Rays just took three-of-four from the Red Sox, while the A’s split their four-game series with the Rangers.
The Tampa Bay has had a solid season overall and are currently tied with the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East. The Rays took two of three in Detroit after giving up nine runs to the Tigers in the first game of their road trip. And while Fenway Park may not a hospitable place for out of towners, the Rays held the Red Sox to just nine runs in four games, outscoring them by 12 runs overall. The pitching for Tampa Bay has been the best in the American League, and the Rays have allowed just 10 runs in their last six games.
Meanwhile, the Athletics split a three-day four-game series against their division rivals. Oakland took the first game on Friday by a score of 5-3 but then they lost both ends of a doubleheader on Saturday. They bounced back with a 9-8 win on Sunday. They jumped out to an eight-run lead and held a 9-6 lead in the bottom of the ninth before Texas made it interesting by scoring twice in their final frame. Still, the A’s eked out a win and the split set.
The Rays may have the 18th best offense in the big leagues in scoring, averaging 4.72 runs per game (and ranking sixth in the AL hitting .260), however, they have been 16% better than Oakland over the last 14 days as it relates to wRC+ (117 wRC+ vs 101 wRC+). Even so, the A’s have been good at the plate, averaging 5.22 RPG, while hitting at .258 and hitting 34 homers on the season (second in the league).
Because Oakland is so dependent on the long ball, it will be up to the Rays pitching staff to keep the ball in the yard over the next three days — something the Rays, who have given up the fewest homers in all of baseball at 52, are capable of doing.
The Rays went 5-2 against the Athletics a season ago, and 2-1 at the Trop.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will lean on Charlie Morton (7-0, 2.30 ERA), and bulk guys Jalen Beeks (5-0, 2.76 ERA) and Yonny Chirinos (7-2, 2.87 ERA) in some capacity. Bob Melvin will respond with Tanner Anderson (4-4, 6.26 ERA at AAA), Mike Fiers (5-3, 4.76 ERA), and Brett Anderson (6-4, 3.98 ERA).
Charlie Morton scattered five hits while striking out eight and walking none, and only allowed one runner to get as far as third base, which came in the fourth inning.
Brandon Dixon singled to right with two outs, then went to third on a base hit to right-center by Harold Castro. Castro swiped second but Morton struck out John Hicks looking to end the threat. Interestingly enough, 16 of the 21 runs allowed by Morton came with two outs, so there was a strong possibility that this particular threat could have ended miserably, yet Morton — staked to just a one-run lead — came up big when he was needed to.
The right-hander now has delivered three consecutive quality starts, seven on the season, while working to a 2.30 ERA and a 3.37 K/BB across 74-1/3 innings.
Tanner Anderson will be promoted Triple-A Las Vegas to start Monday’s game against the Rays. Anderson doesn’t inspire much confidence in the Athletics manager, posting a 6.26 ERA, 1.68 WHIP and 1.42 K/BB across 54-2/3 innings at Triple-A. The former Pirate relies primarily on a 94 mph four-seam fastball with heavy sink and arm-side run, and an 86 mph worm-killer slider with 12-6 movement, while also mixing in a 94 mph sinker with natural sinking action.
Jalen Beeks scattered four hits and no walks while striking out two across 4-1/3 scoreless innings on Thursday against the Tigers. The left-hander entered the game in the third inning after opener Ryne Stanek, and pitched effectively into the seventh, limiting the Tigers’ bats and allowing just one extra-base hit and three singles. Beeks has been effective in a bulk-relief role this season, punching out 45 with a 2.76 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP across 49 innings.
Mike Fiers held the Angels to three runs on seven hits and no walks with five strikeouts through six innings. Fiers bested the Halos for the second time this season, improving to a career 5-4 over 11 starts. Fiers did get himself into some trouble in the fourth inning by allowing three consecutive singles to load the bases. Brian Goodwin hit a sacrifice fly to get the Angels on the board. Fiers also surrendered a two-run shot to Mike Trout in the fifth inning, although the Angels could not inflict any other damage on the night. The 33-year-old had been reliable of late, allowing three runs or fewer over eight consecutive starts. He’ll carry a 4.78 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 2.58 K/BB into his start on Tuesday. Fiers relies primarily on a 91 mph four-seam fastball with added backspin, while also mixing in a 74 mph curveball with “slurve” movement, an 87 mph cutter, an 85 mph changeup with fade and sink, and a whiffy 90 mph sinker. He is 1-2 with a 5.34 ERA in five career starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (1-1, HR, RBI, BB), Avaisail Garcia (4-8, 2B), Guillermo Heredia (1-1, 3B), Kevin Kiermaier (2-8), Mike Zunino (2-8, 2B)
Yonny Chirinos limited the Red Sox to just two hits and two walks over eight scoreless frames. He struck out six. The right-hander was perfect through the front five innings (15 batters) before walking Brock Holt to lead off the sixth. After loading the bases, Chirinos struck out Andrew Benintendi looking on a 96 mph sinker and got Rafael Devers to swing through an 87 mph splitter to end the threat.
Chirinos was difficult to square up, as he coaxed 12 weakly hit ground balls from Boston’s aggressive lineup. The right-hander was denied a shot at his first career big-league shutout and complete game due to an elevated pitch count and was pulled in favor of Emilio Pagan after throwing 101 pitches (62 strikes, 61% strike rate). He now carries a 2.87 ERA and a 4.23 K/BB across 69 innings of work.
Brett Anderson allowed three runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out five across 6-1/3 innings on Friday. Anderson was staked to an early 2-0 advantage, but he surrendered three runs in the sixth inning and gave up the lead prior to exiting. He fired off 67 of 92 pitches for strikes (73% strike rate) and threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the 28 batters he faced (64%), so it’s safe to say he pounded the strike zone. The 31-year-old left-hander continues to look serviceable, owning a 3.98 ERA with 39 punch-outs across 72-1/3 innings. He relies primarily on a 91 mph sinker with some natural sinking action, and an 82 mph slider that has exceptional depth, while also mixing in an 83 mph worm-killer changeup with natural sinking action, a 91 mph four-seam fastball with natural sinking action, an 89 mph cutter, and a 77 mph worm-killer knuckle curveball that has exceptional bite. He is 1-1 with a 4.00 ERA in four career starts against the Rays. Key Matchup: Guillermo Heredia (1-4)
— The Rays are expected to get two players back this week: Jose Alvarado, who was moved to the restricted list from the family medical emergency list on Sunday, and Joey Wendle (fractured wrist). Wendle went 3-for-4 with two runs scored in a rehab game with Triple-A Durham.
— As expected, Michael Perez has been activated from the injured list and optioned to Durham. With Nick Cuiffo out 8-10 weeks with a thumb injury, the emergence of Travis d’Arnaud, and the fact the Rays have no depth behind the plate, it makes sense to have Perez go down to Durham then reevaluate things when Cuiffo is healthy.
— With the Rays 5-2 road trip, they have upped their chances for a postseason berth to 90.7%.
— Don’t forget about the Rays/Rowdies doubleheader this Saturday. $30 for a pair of games (and some great promotional items) is a pretty darn good deal!