After a brief two-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Tampa Bay Rays set their sights on the mid-west when they head to Cleveland for a four-game set, starting Thursday. Tampa Bay split its series against Los Angeles while Cleveland is coming off a three-game sweep by the Athletics.
Tampa Bay bounced back from a pair of ugly losses with an 8-1 win against the best team in the National League. Prior to the series finale, the Rays allowed 14 walks and 20 runs across 18 innings, but they cleaned things up and walked a total of batters on Wednesday. Rays pitchers didn’t tap dance around the zone, rather they attacked an aggressive hitting team and coaxed 10 grounders and 10 fly balls.
Even though Cleveland has gone 8-6 over a two-week stretch,
they have been especially tough to strikeout, striking out just 19.4% of the time. Compare that to Tampa Bay which has struck out twice as many times over the same stretch. Still, Cleveland hasn’t been able to consistently string together hits and drive in runs, which became glaringly obvious in the three-game series loss to the Athletics. Be that as it may, they still have outperformed Tampa Bay in almost every offensive category over that stretch. Rays hitters will have to do what they did in the latter portion of the game against Clayton Kershaw, as well as the contest against Rich Hill, and pounce on any mistakes that may come their way.
Meanwhile, if Rays hurlers can perform as they had in four of the last six days, they could make it very difficult on a Cleveland team that is reeling from a string of unsteady play.
The Rays went 4-2 against Cleveland last season, including 2-1 at Progressive Field.
Over the next four days Kevin Cash will lean on an opener/bulk guy combo to be announced before the series opener, Blake Snell (3-4, 3.31 ERA), Charlie Morton (4-0, 2.65 ERA), and probably Jalen Beeks (3-0, 3.19 ERA) who will follow an opener in the series finale. Terry Francona will counter with Adam Plutko (1-0, 1.50 ERA), Shane Bieber (3-2, 3.22 ERA), Carlos Carrasco (4-4, 4.30 ERA), and Trevor Bauer (4-3, 3.95 ERA).
Adam Plutko allowed one run on one hit across six innings. He struck out four and walked two. The right-hander missed the beginning of the season with a right forearm strain but showed no rust Saturday as the only hit he allowed was a solo home run to Trey Mancini. Plutko finished at 83 pitches, although it makes sense the team took it slow in his first big league start of the season. He relies primarily on a 91 mph four-seam fastball and a whiffy 86 mph 12-6 slider, while also mixing in an 83 mph changeup and a 76 mph curveball.
Blake Snell allowed one run on six hits and a walk across six innings in a no-decision against New York on Saturday. He struck out nine. Snell scattered six singles throughout his six-inning stint, pitching very well along the way. His only blemish: a third-inning run on two singles, a walk, and a wild pitch. Snell has a 3.31 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP this season
Shane Bieber was dominant in a complete game shutout against the Orioles, scattering five hits while fanning 15 on 107 pitches (75 strikes, 65% strike rate). The 23-year-old has allowed three-plus runs in four of his 10 starts, but he is still 3-2 with a 3.22 ERA. He has punched out 69 in 58-2/3 innings this season. Bieber relies primarily on a 94 mph four-seam fastball with added backspin and an 85 mph 12-6 slider, while also mixing in a whiffy 82 mph curveball with exceptional bite, and a firm 88 mph changeup with arm-side fade and natural sink. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (3-6, 2 2B), Brandon Lowe (1-4, BB), Tommy Pham (2-8, 2B, RBI, BB)
Chalie Morton gave up five uncharacteristic runs (three earned) on four hits and four walks while striking out six over four innings of work on Sunday. Morton was ineffective and inefficient, throwing 88 pitches (56 strikes, 64% strike rate) in his turn. Walks continue to be a problem: Over the last month, he has an impressive 10.5 K/9, yet a 3.7 BB/9 (2.84 K/BB).
Carlos Carrasco allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out four across five innings on Monday. Carrasco worked in and out of trouble constantly, allowing nine base runners. Beware the long ball: Home runs continue to plague the right-hander, as he carries a 1.7 HR/9 this season and gave up two solo shots in his last start. He has a 4-4 record with a 4.30 ERA in 10 starts this season. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (2-3), Erik Kratz (2-4), Brandon Lowe (2-6, 3B, HR, RBI), Tommy Pham (3-6, HR, RBI, BB), Andrew Velasquez (1-3)
Jalen Beeks put together an uncharacteristically bad outing on Tuesday, although he was BABIP’d to a large extent. In the fifth inning, after retiring seven batters in a row, Beeks allowed a one-out walk to Max Muncy, a stolen base, and a fly out to right — putting a runner at third with two outs. After Cody Bellinger walked, and Kike Hernandez rolled an RBI single to right, Corey Seager singled to right-center, making it 5-0 and chasing the left-hander. Even so, Beeks has a 3.13 ERA, 2.64 FIP, and a 9.08 K/9 on the season.
Trevor Bauer allowed four runs on four hits across six innings on Tuesday. He struck out five and walked four. Bauer struggled with his command for the second consecutive outing as he needed a season-high 123 pitches (73 strikes, 59% strike rate) to work through six frames. The right-hander has given up 11 earned runs — including three homers — and has a 1/1 K/BB in his last two outings. Bauer relies primarily on a whiffy 95 mph four-seam fastball, while also mixing in an 80 mph curveball with exceptional bite, a firm 87 mph changeup with arm-side fade, a whiffy 85 mph cutter with sink, and an 81 mph sweeping slider. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (1-2, HR, 2 RBI, BB), Avisail Garcia (9-28, 3B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 2 BB)