After sweeping the Angels in four games, the Tampa Bay Rays make their way to Boston, where they will start a three-game series against Boston on Friday. The Red Sox dropped three consecutive games against the Blue Jays in their most recent series failure.
At 69-55 on the season, the Rays completed an eight-game home stand at 7-1, and with six consecutive wins. Overall, Tampa Bay is currently leading the AL Wildcard race by 0.5 games over Toronto, and 1.5 games over Seattle. They have won 11 of 13 and are 14 games above .500 for the first time this season.
The Rays really handed it to Los Angeles, plating a total of 25 runs, and averaging 6.25 runs per game over the life of the four-game set. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s pitching staff held the Angels to just eight total runs. They’ve gone 8-2 over the last ten games and have averaged 5.2 runs per game over that stretch. They’ve really kicked things up a notch over the last week, slashing .272 BA/.337 OBP/.427 SLG/.764 OPS as of Thursday, and performing to a 123 wRC+, with a 4.6 wRAA.
The Rays, led by the king of patience himself, Randy Arozarena really cut down their overall strikeout rate over the last week, posting a 17.4% K/BB. Meanwhile, they’ve walked 9.3% of the time across the last two series. Put differently, they haven’t been striking out, they’ve been walking at a decent clip, and they’ve been putting the ball in play to great effect.
After going 20-6 in June, the Red Sox went 8-19 in July and are now 9-12 in August, dropping them to the fringes of playoff contention; Fangraphs gave them a 2.4% chance of playing relevant baseball past September (as of Thursday), while the Rays are at 86% with a bullet.
They haven’t been terrible, offensively speaking, over the last couple of series, however, the pitching staff has been flat-out awful, performing to a combined 7.10 ERA and 4.07 FIP, which breaks down to an 8.13 ERA and a 4.35 FIP from the starters, and a 5.92 ERA and a 3.74 FIP from the ‘pen.
The Rays are 8-2 against Boston this season, including 6-1 at Fenway.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Ryan Yarbrough (1-7, 4.43 ERA) behind JT Chargois, Jeffrey Springs (6-3, 2.46 ERA), and Corey Kluber (8-7, 4.20 ERA). Alex Cora will counter with former Rays Michael Wacha (8-1, 2.28 ERA) and Rich Hill (5-5, 4.68 ERA), as well as Nick Pivetta (9-9, 4.24 ERA).
Ryan Yarbrough allowed two unearned runs on three hits, a walk and a hit batsman while striking out five in 4.1 innings in against Kansas City on Sunday. Yarbrough held the Royals scoreless through the first four frames, scattering two doubles and a hit batsman. After retiring the first batter in the fifth, a walk, an error, and a single led to an unearned run and the end of his outing. While Yarbrough had been treading on thin ice for most of the season, he has been much better of late, posting a 2.08 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, and 8.33 K/BB over 21.2 innings of his last five outings. His 28.7% strikeout rate in that span far exceeds his career rate of 19.4%.
Micahel Wacha allowed no runs on four hits while striking out four and walking one over 5.2 innings on Saturday against Baltimore. Wacha was lights-out across 5.2 innings, limiting the damage to just five baserunners and not allowing anyone to score. He threw 52 of 79 pitches for strikes (66% strike rate). The right-hander has not allowed an earned run in two games since returning from the Injured List, lowering his ERA to 2.28 and his FIP to 3.60 in the process, with a 2.63 K/BB, and a 1.04 FIP across 83.0 innings. Rays touched Wacha for two runs on three hits (including two homers) across five innings in his last start against his former team. Key Matchups: Yandy Díaz (1-2), Manuel Margot (4-13, 2B), Harold Ramírez (2-4)
Jeffrey Springs allowed one run on five hits and three walks over 5.2 innings against the Angels on Monday. He struck out seven. Springs was effective again, and now has four consecutive starts of five or more innings and two or fewer runs allowed. He also struck out more than a batter per inning for the second time in his last three starts. Monday’s three walks was the first time that he walked more than two batters since May 21, so it is reasonable to assume the lag in command was an outlier. All told, Springs maintains a 2.46 ERA and a 3.18 FIP, with a 5.64 K/BB, and a 1.08 WHIP over 95.0 innings. Springs is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in two outings (one start) against the Red Sox this season.
Rich Hill allowed two runs on three hits and zero walks over five innings against Pittsburgh on August 17. He struck out four. Hill surrendered a two-run home run to outfielder Bryan Reynolds with nobody out in the first inning, but otherwise kept Pittsburgh off the board. He, however, has been far better on the road with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP over 52.1 innings compared to a 6.82 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP in 30.1 innings at Fenway. Dick Mountain has not been built for longevity this season, as he has pitched five innings or more just eight times in 18 starts. Overall, he maintains a 4.68 ERA and a 4.31 FIP, with a 2.63 K/BB, and a 1.31 WHIP over 82.2 innings. Hill kept the Rays off the board across four innings in his previous start against his one time team. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-2), Ji-Man Choi (2-3), Brandon Lowe (1-2), David Peralta (5-17, 3B, HR, 4 RBI, BB), Harold Ramírez (1-3), Taylor Walls (1-1, BB)
Corey Kluber got the start on Tuesday and scattered just five hits and did not walk a batter while striking out three. He surrendered just one run and threw 54 of 78 pitches for strikes (69% strike rate). Kluber allowed just three singles over the first five frames — one of them an infield knock. Mike Trout crushed a one-out homer to left in the sixth inning, cutting the Rays lead to a run, however, the Rays gave their hurlers (and catcher cosplaying as a pitcher) more than enough run support. After allowing a two-out hit, Kluber got Taylor Ward to line out to José Siri in center, ending his night. All told, Kluber owns a 4.20 ERA and a 3.50 FIP, with a 6.33 K/BB, and a 1.16 WHIP across 128.2 innings. He is 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA in three starts against Boston this season.
Nick Pivetta allowed two runs on six hits, a walk and a hit batsman while striking out nine over 5.2 innings against the Orioles on Sunday. Both runs against Pivetta came in the first inning. He fell one out short of his third consecutive quality start. Pivetta has pitched to a 4.24 ERA and a 3.99, with a 1.29 WHIP, and a 2.73 K/BB through 142.1 innings (25 starts) this season. Superlatives aside, Pivetta allowed seven runs on eight hits and two walks across 5.2 innings against the Rays in his previous turn against them. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (2-6, 2B, BB), Yandy Díaz (3-9, 3 2B, 2 BB), Brandon Lowe (3-6, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 BB), Isaac Paredes (1-3), David Peralta (2-5), Harold Ramírez (3-5, 3B)