Sunday’s MVP: Nuke Raley. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

After taking two of three from the LA Dodgers, punctuated by an 11-10 slugfest in the series finale, the Tampa Bay Rays departed the friendly confines of the Trop for the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, where they’ll start a three-game series against the Cubs on Monday. The Cubs were swept by the Reds over the weekend.

At 39-16 on the season, the Rays enter play a season-high tying 23 games over .500, and four games up on the second-place Orioles in the division.

The Rays’ offense continues to chug along, and they currently boast a .848 team OPS (.850 over the last week). Tampa Bay leads the league in home runs with 101; four players — Yandy Díaz, Randy Arozarena, Josh Lowe, and Luke Raley — have collected double-digit homers, while 11 players have hit at least seven. Wander Franco is heating up, having gone 12-27 over the last week with eight runs, six RBI, with a 208 wRC+. Meanwhile, Luke Raley destroyed the ball last week, going 5-16 with a pair of homers, four runs batted in, and a 249 wRC+. They received contributions up and down the order against the Blue Jays and Dodgers and slashed a combined .285 BA/.352 OBP/.498 SLG/.850 OPS, with a .213 ISO, and a 151 wRC+ in the last two series.

Meanwhile, Chicago dropped their fourth consecutive contest, and the 11th in the last 14 games, after being swept by the Reds. The Cubs fell to 22-30 on the season and are last in the NL Central, 5.5 games behind the Pirates for the division lead. Over the last week, the Cubs have put up an underperforming .210 BA/.311 OBP/.354 SLG/.665 OPS line, with an 85 wRC+. A caveat, don’t let those numbers deceive you, the north-siders are fifth in the league in slugging.

The Rays pitching peripherals took a hit over the last week thanks in part to Tuesday’s 20-1 blowout and Sunday’s slugfest. They now have surrendered an average of 3.91 runs per game and maintain a combined 3.79 ERA and a 4.16 FIP (3.17 ERA and 3.62 FIP for the starters, 4.46 ERA and 4.80 FIP for the relievers), with a 1.22 WHIP and a 2.65 K/BB. Clearly, the relief corps has not been as strong as the starters.

Chicago’s pitching has been okay, but not great. The Cubs have surrendered 4.31 runs per game, which Tampa Bay will clearly try to take advantage of. They maintain a combined 4.38 ERA and a 3.99 FIP (4.19 ERA and 3.99 FIP for the starters, 4.65 ERA and 3.97 FIP for the relievers), with a 1.29 WHIP and a 2.75 K/BB.

Pitching Probables

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Taj Bradley (3-1, 4.44 ERA, 3.33 FIP), Shane McClanahan (8-0, 1.97 ERA, 3.33 FIP), and Zach Eflin (7-1, 3.17 ERA, 3.73 FIP). David Ross will counter with Marcus Stroman (4-4, 2.95 ERA, 3.74 FIP), Kyle Hendricks (0-1, 6.23 ERA, 3.06 FIP), and Justin Steele (6-2, 2.77 ERA, 2.86 FIP).

Taj Bradley allowed four runs on nine hits over 4.0 innings against the Blue Jays. He struck out seven. It certainly could’ve been worse for Bradley given that he allowed nine hits, yet he managed to hold Toronto to four runs thanks to his seven punchouts. Bradley had a mechanical flaw, which BA noted on the broadcast Tuesday, and he had difficulty locating his cutter. It will be interesting to see what adjustments he may have made in his between-start bullpen session. Bradley’s 4.44 ERA is underwhelming, although his 3.24 FIP, 1.15 WHIP, and impressive 8.5 K/BB give reasons for optimism.

Marcus Stroman allowed two runs on four hits across eight innings on Wednesday against the Mets. He walked two and struck out three. Stroman threw only 88 pitches in eight efficient innings, and he kept New York hitters off balance all night. The right-hander struggled two starts ago against Minnesota, allowing six runs over 2.2 innings, however, he’s allowed just three total runs over 14 innings in his two subsequent outings. That’s allowed Stroman to lower his season ERA to a strong 2.95, with a 3.74 FIP, a 1.05 WHIP, and a 2.35 K/BB. He relies primarily on a 92 mph sinker that has heavy sinking action and an 85 mph slider that has some two-plane movement, while also mixing in a 90 mph cutter that has heavy sink, a whiffy 92 mph fourseam fastball, and an 86 mph changeup that dives down out of the zone. Key Matchups: Wander Franco (1-3, 2B, RBI), Josh Lowe (2-3, 2B, 3B, RBI), Manuel Margot (2-5, HR, 2 RBI), Francisco Mejía (2-5, 2B, HR, 3 RBI), Taylor Walls (2-2)

Shane McClanahan allowed one run on four hits across seven innings against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. He struck out seven and did not issue a walk. McClanahan tied his season high with seven innings — a mark he set in his previous start against Milwaukee — and allowed one run or fewer for the seventh time this season. The left-hander cruised to his eighth victory thanks to plenty of early run support and remains firmly in the AL Cy Young conversation, maintaining a 1.97 ERA and a 3.33 FIP, with a 1.12 WHIP, and a 3.00 K/BB across 11 outings (64 innings).

Kyle Hendricks allowed five runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks while striking out five over 4.1 innings on Thursday. Hendricks had been out since last July due to a shoulder strain. He was built up, throwing 86 pitches (56 strikes, 65% strike rate), however, a combination of rust and some poor defense from his teammates made for a lackluster 2023 debut. Hendricks has slipped from a high-end starter to a pedestrian one over the last couple of years. He currently sports a 6.02 ERA and a 3.06 FIP, with a 1.85 WHIP, and a 2.50 K/BB, although take that with a grain of salt since that’s over an incredibly small sample size. He relies primarily on an 88 mph sinker that has some natural sinking action, an 81 mph changeup, and an 88 mph fourseam fastball has some natural sinking action, while also mixing in a 73 mph curveball that has sweeping glove-side movement. Key Matchups: Yandy Díaz (1-2), Josh Lowe (2-3, RBI), Francisco Mejía (1-2, HR, RBI)

Zach Eflin allowed one run on six hits and two walks over seven innings against the Blue Jays on Thursday. Eflin didn’t record a strikeout, but he was able to induce 13 groundouts and helf Toronto to just one run in the victory. Eflin has now won three consecutive turns while recording seven innings in each of his last two starts. He lowered his ERA and FIP to 3.17 and 3.73 (respectively) with a 1.02 WHIP, and an excellent 7.43 K/BB through nine starts (54 innings).

Justin Steele allowed six runs (five earned) on 10 hits across 3.2 innings against the Reds. He struck out four and did not issue a walk. Steele allowed a season-high 10 hits and at least five earned runs for the second time in his past three starts. Despite his recent struggles, he still sports above-average numbers with a 2.77 ERA and a 2.86 FIP, with a 1.11 WHIP, and 3.56 K/BB over 11 appearances (65 innings). Steele relies primarily on a 92 mph cutter that has strong cutting action and a 83 mph slider with strong sweeping action and two-plane movement. Key Matchups:Yandy Díaz (1-1, 2B), Wander Franco (1-2, HR, 2 RBI), Brandon Lowe (1-2, RBI)

The Music That Influenced This Preview

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