After being swept in Cincinnati, the Tampa Bay Rays return to the friendly confines of the Trop where, on Monday, they will begin their last home stand before the All-Star Break. First up is the Boston Red Sox, who are coming off a series split against the Yankees.
At 45-40 on the season, the Rays enter play five games over .500 and 1.5 games behind the second-place Red Sox.
…It was the best of times (and then) it was the worst of times. Tampa Bay followed up a pair of series wins against the Blue Jays and Red Sox with a rather ugly sweep at the hands of the Reds, punctuated by a 10-5 loss in the series finale. Adding insult to injury, the Rays lost three key players — Wander Franco, Kevin Kiermaier, and Jeffrey Springs — to the injury bug, with Franco and Kiermaier slated to miss significant time.
The additional injuries, paired with a pitching staff that found it difficult to contain a Reds’ offense which had performed to an ice-cold .189 BA/.270 OBP/.285 SLG/.555 OPS slash line while averaging just three runs per game in the week prior to the Rays series, with a 54 wRC+. Ouch.
The Rays do expect to add reinforcements on Monday, as Christian Bethancourt — who was acquired from Oakland over the weekend — will be activated. As I wrote yesterday, Bethancourt has not fully realized his power potential so far this season, due in part to a below-average contact rate. But, when he makes contact the ball goes far. In fact, his barrel rate, maxium exit velocity, and average exit velocity are all within the 90th percentile or above. What’s more, he fares very well in every Statcast-expected statistic, meaning that while he also has been largely unlucky, the utility player is fully capable of crushing the ball.
Kevin Cash and Co. hope that the addition of Bethancourt will bolster a team that has been decimated by injuries. Credit where it’s due, Josh Lowe — whom the Rays will be depending upon heavily because of the loss of Kiermaier — has reached base safely in four of his last five games on the backs of five hits (inlcuding a home run) and a walk, while driving in two and crossing the plate five times. Now, if Lowe can reduce that gaudy 31.1% strikeout rate.
The Rays maintain a 4-2 record against the Red Sox on the season (2-1 at home), with a +9 run differential. Suffice it to say, this will be a test your mettle opportunity for a team that was embarrased in Cincinnati. It also is an opportunity to make up some of the ground they lost over the weekend.
Over the next four days, Kevin Cash is expected to lean on the tandem of Matt Wisler (2-3, 2.58 ERA) and Josh Fleming (2-4, 6.17 ERA), Corey Kluber (4-5, 3.62 ERA), Shane McClanahan (9-3, 1.73 ERA), and Drew Rasmussen (5-3, 3.11 ERA). Alex Cora will counter with Brayan Bello (0-1, 9.00 ERA), Chris Sale (last season 5-1, 3.16 ERA), Connor Seabold (0-2, 11.91 ERA) who will pitch in front of Josh Winckowski (3-3, 4.35 ERA), and a pitcher to be named before the series finale.
I will update this piece given the fluid nature of the series pitching probables.
Josh Fleming allowed four runs (three earned) on eight hits over five innings against Boston on Monday. He struck out four. Fleming took the mound after two shutout frames from Jalen Beeks. Trevor Story broke the scoreless tie with a solo shot in the fourth inning. Fleming then gave up another run in the fifth and two more in the eighth. Despite posting a 2.36 ERA through 45.2 frames at Triple-A Durham, the 26-year-old owns a 6.17 ERA and a 4.26 FIP, with a 2.33 K/BB, and a 1.89 WHIP over 23.1 MLB innings. Fleming is 1-2 with a 9.68 ERA in three career outings (two starts) against Boston.
Brayan Bello allowed four runs on six hits while striking out two and walking three across four innings against the Rayson Tuesday. Bello allowed four earned runs in his big league debut and began his MLB career with a loss. He threw 45 of 79 pitches for strikes (57% strike rate) across his outing and allowed four runs thanks to a single and two doubles. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-2, 2B, 2 RBI), Ji-Man Choi (1-2), Yandy Diaz (1-2, 2B, BB), Josh Lowe (1-2, 2B)
Corey Kluber allowed no runs on three hits while striking out five and walking none over six innings against Boston on Wednesday. Kluber was dominant in Wednesday’s win, throwing 57 of 80 pitches for strikes (71% strike rate) across six frames for his fifth quality start in his last eight games. He bounced back well after allowing five runs in three innings in his last appearance. The right-hander threw his fourth scoreless outing of the season and lowered his ERA to 3.62. Overall, he maintains a 3.43 FIP, with a 1.11 WHIP, and a 5.54 K/BB across 82.0 innings on the season. Kluber is 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA in two starts against Boston this season.
Chris Sale (rib) has been officially announced as the starter for Tuesday’s contest. Sale is finally ready to go after missing the first half of the season with a stress fracture in his rib cage. He was shaky in his final rehab outing, walking five batters across 3.2 innings of work, although the Red Sox decided he’s ready for his season debut. Expect some workload limitations early on in his return given that he topped out at four innings across his four rehab appearances. Last season, Sale performed to a 3.16 ERA and 3.69 FIP (career high), with a 1.34 WHIP (career high), and a 4.33 K/BB across 42.2 innings. The Rays had some success against Sale last season, tagging the left-hander for seven runs (three earned) on 16 hits across 9.2 innings. Over his career, Sale is 10-6 with a 2.93 ERA in 22 outings (20 starts) against Tampa Bay.
Shane McClanahan allowed a run on three hits and two walks while striking out eight in six innings on Friday against the Reds. McClanahan was incredibly sharp once again, as the lone run he gave up came via a solo homer in the bottom of the third. However, he didn’t get much run support from the Rays and was unable to pick up a third consecutive win. The southpaw has delivered 11 consecutive quality starts dating back to May 11, and he’s posted a 1.13 ERA and 9.4 K/BB in 72 innings during that time. Overall, McClanahan maintains a 1.73 ERA and 2.47 FIP, with a 0.81 WHIP, and a 7.42 K/BB across 104.1 innings. He is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA against the Red Sox in 2022.
Josh Winckowski allowed six earned runs on six hits and five walks while striking out two across five innings on Thursday against the Yankees. Winckowski gave up five runs in the third inning, surrendering a grand slam to Josh Donaldson and a solo home run to Aaron Hicks. He pitched effectively for the most part otherwise and still managed to work at least five innings for his fifth consecutive start. Previous to Thursday’s outing, Winckowski had allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his five appearances. Overall, he has a 4.35 ERA and 4.17 FIP, with a 1.75 K/BB, and a 1.52 across 31.0 innings. Winckowski relies primarily on a 94 mph sinker and an 85 mph slider that has exceptional depth, while also mixing in a 94 mph four-seam fastball that has some natural sinking action, a 90 mph worm-killer changeup that has some arm-side fade, and a whiffy 88 mph cutter that has some natural sink and strong cutting action.
Drew Rasmussen tossed four scoreless frames against Cincinnati on Saturday, allowing four hits and two walks while punching out six. Rasmussen was effective in his second start following a recent stint on the Injured List due to a hamstring injury, but Cincinnati fouled off 24 pitches against him to help drive his pitch count up to 84 over four innings. Consequently, he was unable to go five innings for the second consecutive start since his return. Nevertheless, it was a promising outing for the right-hander, and he has now given up just one earned run over 8.2 innings since his activation. Overall, Rasmussen maintains a 3.11 ERA and 3.70 FIP, with a 1.19 WHIP, and a 2.85 K/BB across 66.2 innings on the season.