The Rays clinched their third consecutive postseason berth on Wednesday. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

After clinching their third consecutive postseason berth on Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Rays open one last regular-season home series of the 2021 campaign, a three-game set against the Marlins of Miami. The Rays took two of three from the Blue Jays, while the Marlins dropped two of three against the Nationals.

At 94-59 on the season, the Rays enter play 35-games above .500 and in sole possession of first place in the AL East by 6.0 games with nine left to play. They already clinched a playoff spot and have a magic number of four to clinch the division.

Tampa Bay bounced back from a quiet offensive output in the middle game of the series against Toronto, plating seven runs on 11 hits, three walks, and a pretty bush-league eighth inning hit by pitch of Kevin Kiermaier. Nelson Cruz, who did not start Tuesday or Wednesday due to illness, should be back in the lineup on Friday. Meanwhile, in a rehab game with Triple-A Durham on Thursday, Wander Franco grounded out and walked twice. After his second walk, Franco moved up to second then third on wild pitches and came around to score on a sacrifice fly. Assuming all is good with his previously strained right hamstring, the shortstop is expected to be activated from the 10-Day Injured List on Friday or Saturday.

While Miami has been a pretty good team at home, the Marlins enter the friendly confines of the Trop having gone 4-15 in their last 19 road games, and 24-50 overall away from loanDepot park. They are among the lowest-scoring teams in the league, ranking 27th with just 601 total runs this season. Of their run output, less than half (285) have come on the road. Even so, the Marlins have a handful of young players that are making some noise and could pose problems for the Rays this weekend.

The Rays are 2-1 against the Marlins this season, yet they maintain a -2 run differential across those three contests.

PITCHING PROBABLES

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Ryan Yarbrough (8-6, 5.30 ERA) behind opener David Robertson (0-0, 5.63 ERA), Shane McClanahan (9-6, 3.51 ERA), and Shane Baz (-0, 3.60 ERA). Don Mattingly will counter with Edward Cabrera (0-2, 5.31 ERA), Sandy Alcantara (9-13, 3.05 ERA), and Jesus Luzard0 (5-8, 7.01 ERA).

Ryan Yarbrough got the start Saturday and turned a corner, tossing six innings of four-run baseball on five hits with no walks. He struck out four and threw 86 pitches (58 strikes, 67% strike rate). Yarbrough gave up four early runs in the first two frames on a pair of homers, then was stingy from that point on, retiring 15 of the next 16 hitters, including the final 13 he faced. The movement on the left-hander’s cutter was much better this time around, and he improved the use of his changeup; he threw it to get ahead in counts and to force early contact. He also worked quickly and efficiently, — a night-and-day change from his two previous outings. On the season, Yarbrough maintains a 5.30 ERA and a 4.50 FIP, with a 1.27 WHIP, and a 4.23 K/BB across 144.1 innings.

Edward Cabrera allowed two runs on three hits and three walks while striking out four across 3.2 innings on Sunday against Atlanta. Cabrera was already at 75 pitches into the outing at the time of his removal and was struggling with both his command and control. On the season, Cabrera maintains a 5.31 ERA and a 7.29 FIP, with a 1.23 K/BB, and a 1.62 WHIP across 20.1 innings. He relies primarily on a 97 mph four-seam fastball with natural sinking action and slight arm-side run and a hard 92 mph changeup with arm-side fade, while also mixing in an 88 mph slider that has two-plane movement, and an 83 mph 12-6 curveball.

Shane McClanahan allowed one run on two hits and two walks while striking out seven over five innings on Sunday against the Tigers. McClanahan returned to the mound for the first time in 11 days after hitting the IL due to back stiffness. He touched triple digits with his fastball and punched out seven hitters after throwing just 64 pitches (44 strikes, 69% strike rate). The lone tally against him was allowing a solo home run to Eric Haase in the fourth inning. The 24-year-old hasn’t reached six innings in five of his last six starts despite only giving up more than two runs just once in those outings. He maintains a 3.51 ERA and a 3.28 FIP, with a 1.27 WHIP, and a 3.75 K/BB across 115.1 innings.

Sandy Alcantara allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits and a walk over six innings on Sunday against Pittsburgh. He struck out four. Alcantara committed a pair of errors in the first inning, leading to an unearned run. He later gave up an RBI triple to Anthony Alford before recording an out in the seventh. It was his shortest outing and lowest strikeout total since his August 6 start in Colorado. Even so, he lowered his season ERA to 3.05 and his FIP to 3.37, with a 3.86 K/BB through 194.2 frames. Alcantara is 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-3), Ji-Man Choi (3-5, 2 2B, BB), Brandon Lowe (1-4, 2 BB)

Shane Baz looked like he belonged in the big leagues on Monday, holding Toronto to two solo home runs over five innings, but relinquishing nothing else. The right-hander struck out two of the first three batters he faced in a perfect first inning and ended up with five punchouts on the night.

Leaning primarily on a mid-to-upper 90’s four-seam fastball and slider combination, while sprinkling 15 curveballs, Baz was both whiffy and efficient against one of the best hitting teams in baseball, throwing 65 pitches overall (51 strikes, 78% strike rate, 15 whiffs, 23% SwStr%). All told, Baz retired 15 of the 17 batters he faced.

Jesus Luzardo surrendered five runs on six hits and four walks while striking out two across four innings on Monday against the Nationals. The 23-year-old was pulled after two batters reached base against him to open the fifth inning, one of whom would score. It was his second consecutive sub-par turn, both of which were against Washington. In those two outings, he has allowed nine runs, 13 hits, and six walks across 8.1 frames. Luzardo maintains a 7.02 ERA and a 6.02 FIP, with a 1.78 K/BB, and a 1.67 WHIP over 86.0 innings on the season. He relies primarily on a 96 mph four-seam fastball that has slight arm-side run, a whiffy 84 mph slider with 12-6 movement, and a hard 87 mph changeup with natural sink, while also mixing in a 95 mph sinker.

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