The Tampa Bay Rays will continue the push toward a postseason run on Friday when they open a four-game series against the Boston Red Sox. After taking two-of-three from the Los Angeles Angels, the Rays split an Interleague meeting with the Los Angeles Dodgers. They’ll try to avoid a setback against the slumping Red Sox, who are coming off a series loss to the San Francisco Giants.
With Oakland leading the pack in the AL Wildcard race, the second spot could come down to Tampa Bay and Cleveland, who enter play neck-and-neck for the final playoff spot. The Rays next six games will be against the Red Sox and Yankees, putting them in a situation where they’ll have to play their best ball of the season to ensure they’re still playing in October.
Tampa Bay recently dropped a couple of road games to the Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels which could come back to haunt them. Yet, there is hope as Cleveland is set to start a pair of tough Interleague series against the Philadelphia Phillies and Washington Nationals. Whatever the case, the Rays still control their own destiny. They need to win as many games as possible, starting Friday.
The Rays enter the series with a “magic number” to clinch a Wildcard spot (by eliminating Cleveland) of 10 — the needed combination of Tampa Bay wins and Cleveland losses. As Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) wrote, don’t expect a playoff berth in this homestand. Even in a best-case, or worst case, scenario, it would take six more days, so until Wednesday, for that race to be decided. And that would be with one team winning all its games and the other losing all its game. Barring that extreme, and with the Indians off Monday and the Rays off Thursday, the more realistic scenario is this being settled — bottles popped or dreams shattered — in Toronto.
After their impressive 8-7 11-inning win over Los Angeles, Tampa Bay has a 54.5% chance to make the playoffs per FanGraphs (65.2% chance per Baseball Prospectus).
That’s marginally better than Cleveland, who averages out at 50.5% per FanGraphs (39.9% per Baseball Prospectus).
The Rays are 6-4 in their last 10 games, and 9-6 in the season series against Boston. The Red Sox, who have been stunningly bad of late, are just 3-7 in their last 10 games, although they have won five of six games against Tampa Bay at the Trop.
Over the next four days, Kevin Cash will throw Charlie Morton (15-6, 3.16 ERA), Tyler Glasnow (6-1, 2.03 ERA), Ryan Yarbrough (11-4, 3.78 ERA), and Blake Snell (6-7, 4.19 ERA). Alex Cora is expected to counter with Rick Porcello (13-12, 5.77 ERA), a pitcher to be named before Saturday’s ballgame, Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 6.19 ERA), and Jhoulys Chacín (0-0, 0.00 ERA).
Charlie Morton limited the Angels to three runs on six hits and a walk while striking out four across six innings on Friday. Aside from a third-inning, two-run home run to Kole Calhoun, Morton turned in yet another quality start en route to his second consecutive 15-win season. This time around, the right-hander has 18 more strikeouts with a similar ERA compared to his previous campaign. Morton will take a 3.16 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and a 4.21 K/BB. This season Morton is 2-0 with a 4.18 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox.
Rick Porcello allowed two runs on five hits with one walk across five innings against the Phillies on Sunday. He struck out and six. Porcello gave up yet another homer, but he broke his two-game streak of yielding at least six runs. Porcello has had a disappointing season, posting a 1.7 HR/9, which is tied for the highest in his career, and a 2.5 BB/9, his highest mark since his rookie season. He also maintains a 5.77 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP, and 129 strikeouts across 162-1/3 innings this year. Porcello is 0-2 with a 6.23 ERA in three 2019 starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (3-11, HR, RBI), Jesus Aguilar (2-3, RBI), Ji-Man Choi (6-15, 2 2B, 3B, HR, 2 RBI, BB), Travis d’Arnaud (3-6, HR, 3 RBI), Matt Duffy (9-24, RBI), Avisail Garcia (12-30, 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, BB), Kevin Kiermaier (14-55, 2 2B, 3B, HR, 5 RBI, BB), Michael Perez (1-3, BB), Daniel Robertson (2-7), Joey Wendle (5-12, 2B, BB)
Tyler Glasnow didn’t factor into the decision on Saturday, giving up two hits and a walk across three scoreless frames. He struck out five. Glasnow got stretched out to 51 pitches (29 strikes, 57% strike rate) in his second outing since returning from the IL, and looked much sharper in this one than he did last weekend against Toronto. Glasnow has a 3.33 K/BB across five innings in September, and the team will continue gradually ramp-up his workload as it tries to lock down a postseason spot. This season he is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts against the Red Sox.
Ryan Yarbrough allowed six runs on 10 hits and two walks across five innings on Sunday, striking out just three batters. After allowing three runs in the first two innings, Yarbrough settled down before Albert Pujols crushed him with a three-run shot in the fifth. It was the southpaw’s first loss since June 13, which was also the last time he faced the Angels. He carries a 3.78 ERA into his start on Sunday. Yarbrough is 2-0 with a 4.80 ERA in three outings (one start) against Boston this season.
Nathan Eovaldi allowed five earned runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out six across four innings against the Giants on Tuesday. Eovaldi surrendered two solo homers and was sunk by a general lack of command. Most notably, the former Ray walked two of the first three batters he faced to begin the third inning, resulting in a three-run frame. He had pitched fairly well entering Tuesday’s ballgame, allowing only seven earned runs across his prior 16-1/3 innings of work, yet Eovaldi still owns an ugly 5.81 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP across 52-2/3 innings on the season. The Rays have faced Eovaldi twice in a relief role (1-2/3 innings), tagging the right-hander for three runs on six hits and a walk. Key Matchups: Micahel Brosseau (1-1), Ji-Man Choi (2-3, RBI), Travis d’Arnaud (3-9, 2 2B, RBI, 2 BB), Guillermo Heredia (1-1), Kevin Kiermaier (2-8, 3B, 3 RBI, 2 BB), Austin Meadows (1-1, 2B, RBI, BB), Tommy Pham (1-3, BB), Eric Sogard (3-8), Joey Wendle (2-3, 2B)
Blake Snell was impressive on Tuesday, pitching two perfect innings while striking out four. Snell showed no rust from his nearly two-month absence after undergoing the knife, tossing 17 of 26 pitches for strikes (65% strike rate) and whiffing four of the six batters he faced. The outing was a great step for the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner as Snell looks to build stamina in anticipation of a playoff run. The left-hander maintains a 4.19 ERA and 1.22 WHIP across 21 starts this season. He’ll likely square off against the Red Sox on Monday, although he will likely be on a short leash.
Jhoulys Chacín allowed two hits and walked two while fanning three over 2-2/3 scoreless frames as an opener on Thursday against the Blue Jays. Chacin, who had not allowed a baserunner in his first two outings with the Red Sox, faced his first bit of adversity since yet avoided any damage. The veteran has thrown 5-2/3 scoreless innings for Boston. Over his career, Chacín is 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA in three outings (one Start). Key Matchups: Avisail Garcia (2-3, 2B), Guillermo Heredia (1-3, RBI), Mike Zunino (2-4, 2B, RBI)
— As Marc Topkin also noted, the right players are hot at the right time:
Playoff-chasing and postseason games can produce the occasional unheralded star. But for the most part, teams at this time of year need their best players to be their best players. And the Rays are getting a lot of that, starting with Austin Meadows, who is hitting .407 with eight homers and 19 RBIs on a career-best 16-game hitting streak. Tommy Pham, who had five hits Wednesday, is hitting .351 since Sept. 1. Ji-Man Choi has become an on-base machine. Travis d’Arnaud continues to deliver clutch hits and runs. Willy Adames is hitting .300 over the past two-plus weeks and playing strong defense at short. Closer Emilio Pagan is pitching with confidence.— Marc Topkin