A meeting of two teams with presumed postseason implications set in the Sunshine City. The Tampa Bay Rays will welcome the Minnesota Twins into Tropicana Field for a four-game series, starting Thursday night. Tampa Bay swept their three-game set against Toronto, while Minnesota split a two-game Interleague series with the Brewers.
After a spate of uneven play, and in spite of a laundry list of injuries, the Rays appear to be turning on the booster rockets once again. Tampa Bay is 10-5 over their last 15 games, while the offense has averaged 4.33 runs per game over that stretch. That RPG average increases to 5.7 over the last 10 games, of which Tampa Bay has won seven.
Yet while the Rays have done a lot of things well of late, they continue to struggle with hitting with runners in scoring position — especially against “good” teams. Tampa Bay enters the series batting .241 with RISP, which is 25th in the league. More concerning though, as of Wednesday they were hitting .139 (5-for-36) with the bases loaded — the third lowest in Major League Baseball.
Meanwhile, Minnesota’s starting rotation has been good all season long — ranking fourth in baseball in team ERA at 3.71, while the starters have had just two starts of less than five innings since mid-April. However, if there is a weakness, it’s a largely inexperienced bullpen that has not put up big strikeout numbers.
Milwaukee took advantage of the Twins relief corps by hitting three big home runs against Blake Parker and Taylor Rogers in the past series. The Rays will need to keep the score close (if they are not in the lead) and try to get a few mistake pitches to hit late in the game.
The Twins own the best record in baseball at 36-17 and enter the series with a 10-game lead in the American League Central. They have been able to win games in a variety of ways thanks in part to a friend of the Rays, Rocco Baldelli, who has pushed the right buttons in his first year as Minnesota’s skipper. The lineup leads MLB in scoring including a league-leading 105 home runs.
Yet the Twins will face a Rays team that has the best pitching staff in baseball…one that has allowed the fewest home runs in the league (47). It is incumbent upon Tampa Bay’s hurlers to keep the best slugging team in baseball in the park. They’ve managed to limit the number of homers allowed to the Red Sox, Yankees, and Astros, and they’ll need to come up big again.
Tampa Bay won the season series 4-3 last season, sweeping three games at home from April 20-22.
Over the next four days, Kevin Cash will throw Charlie Morton (5-0, 2.54 ERA), and bulk guys Jalen Beeks (4-0, 2.83 ERA), Yonny Chirinos (6-1, 2.91 ERA), and Ryan Yarbrough (4-1, 5.53 ERA) in some capacity. Rocco Baldelli will respond with Martin Pérez (7-1, 2.95 ERA), Jose Berríos (7-2, 3.20 ERA), Kyle Gibson (5-2, 4.08 ERA), and Jake Odorizzi (7-2, 2.16 ERA).
Charlie Morton punched out a season-high 10 batters and allowed just an earned run on three hits, two walks, and a hit batsman over six innings on Saturday. The right-hander was excellent throughout his outing, firing 73 of his 106 pitches for strikes (69% strike rate). Morton has now put together quality starts in four of his last six trips to the mound and has not lost a game in 18 turns. He also continues to excel at keeping the ball in the yard, with Saturday’s start serving as his fifth over the last six without allowing a home run. Morton is 1-0 with a 5.91 ERA in two starts against the Twins.
Martin Pérez allowed two runs on six hits and four walks while striking out three across five innings on Thursday. It was hardly a flawless start for Pérez — he walked four batters for the second straight outing — but he was able to limit the damage and hold the Angels to just two runs. His 7-1 record and 2.95 ERA are impressive, however, one cannot help but wonder if they are sustainable based on his shaky 1.33 WHIP and 4.0 BB/9. He relies primarily on an 89 mph cutter with extreme cutting action and natural sink and a blazing 95 mph sinker, while also mixing in a whiffy 86 mph circle changeup with fade, a 95 mph four-seam fastball, and a hard 79 mph curveball. Pérez is 0-3 with a 6.57 ERA in six career starts against the Rays, and 1-2 with a 6.95 ERA in three starts at the Trop. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (1-1), Yandy Diaz (2-6, RBI), Avisail Garcia (3-5, RBI), Guillermo Heredia (10-22, 3 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Tommy Pham (1-3), Daniel Robertson (2-4, HR, RBI, BB), Mike Zunino (6-15, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 2 BB)
Jalen Beeks pitched to contact on Sunday, allowing no runs on two hits and three walks while striking out three over 4-2/3 innings of a win over Cleveland. Beeks had great results in his outing even though he only fired off 54% of strikes (49 of 91 pitches total). Be it as it may, the southpaw continues to keep the ball in the yard, allowing just one home run on the season (41-1/3 innings). It was a nice bounce-back performance from Beeks who has given up more than three runs in any outing just twice in 2019.
Jose Berríos gave up four runs (one earned) on nine hits over 6-2/3 innings while striking out four in his last turn. The shaky defense allowed Chicago to take a four-run lead in the second inning, but Berríos bounced back and put up zeroes the rest of the way. The right-hander attacked the strike zone all night, throwing 74 of 98 pitches for strikes (75% strike rate), and he carries a 3.20 ERA and 5.82 K/BB through 70-1/3 innings on the season. He relies primarily on a whiffy 93 mph four-seam fastball, an 82 mph curveball with sweeping glove-side movement, and a 92 mph sinker, while also mixing in an 84 mph changeup with fade and sink. Berríos is 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA in three career starts against the Rays, and 0-2 with an 8.10 ERA in two starts at Tropicana Field. Key Matchups: Avisail Garcia (3-12, RBI, BB), Guillermo Heredia (1-4)
Yonny Chirinos tossed five hitless innings, and had a nice Monday afternoon, albeit one where he got a little help from his friends. In the second inning, Avisail Garcia caught a sinking line drive off the bat of Luke Maile. Then in the fourth, Kevin Kiermaier made an outstanding leaping catch in left-center, robbing Rowdy Tellez of a leadoff extra-base hit.
Chirinos, who was on a pitch limit, walked two batters and struck out seven on just 69 pitches (45 strikes, 65% strike rate). Both free passes came with two outs in the second inning, although he recovered to fan Jonathan Davis, to end the threat.
At the end of the day, however, Chirinos was on a 70-75 pitch count — so it was a given that he wasn’t going to pitch all nine innings — but even so, it was a little upsetting to see the hurler get such a quick hook…especially when he was cruising.
Kyle Gibson allowed one run on five hits across seven innings on Saturday. He struck out nine and walked one. Gibson’s only blemish on the day came in the fourth inning when Jose Abreu connected for a solo homer. Gibson has now won five of his last seven starts and has walked just six batters over 42-2/3 innings over that span. Still, he has a 4.08 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 4.29 K/BB on the season. Gibson relies primarily on 94 mph two-seam sinker and a whiffy 85 mph slider with two-plane movement, while also mixing in a 94 mph four-seam fastball with little movement, a firm 86 mph changeup, and an 81 mph 12-6 curveball. He is 2-5 with a 5.80 ERA in eight career starts against the Rays, and 1-3 with a 7.52 ERA in four starts at the Trop. Key Matchups: Yandy Diaz (1-3), Guillermo Heredia (2-3), Kevin Kiermaier (5-11, 3 2B, RBI, BB)
Ryan Yarbrough followed Stanek and fired 3-2/3 scoreless innings, issuing one walk and recording a strikeout. The lefty got out of a second and third none-out jam in the fourth inning by coaxing a pop-up out of Grichuk, a ground ball out to third from Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and whiffing Brandon Drury to put the kibosh on Toronto’s best early scoring opportunity.
Yarbrough had allowed a combined 12 earned runs across his previous three appearances, yet he needed just 53 pitches to finish with his second scoreless effort of the season.
Jake Odorizzi will return to his old stomping grounds after he fired 5-1/3 scoreless innings Sunday, allowing one hit and a walk while striking out nine. The right-hander was dominant once again although a high pitch count prevented him from going very deep. Odorizzi allowed a walk and a single in a 25-pitch third inning but escaped undamaged. He has lowered his ERA to a terrific 2.16 in 58-1/3 frames this season. He relies primarily on a whiffy 93 mph four-seam fastball which he runs at the top of the zone and a 93 mph sinker with little sinking action and run, while also mixing in a firm 86 mph split-change with arm-side fade, a 76 mph curveball with sharp downward bite, an 85 mph slider with glove-side cut, and an 87 mph worm-killer cutter. Odorizzi is 0-0 with a 10.38 ERA against his former team but is 21-19 with a 3.38 ERA in 64 starts at Tropicana Field. Key Matchups: Guillermo Heredia (2-7), Kevin Kiermaier (1-3)
— C Mike Zunino (quad) felt good coming out of his first rehab game could be activated by this weekend. Cash said he will play at least one more game for the Stone Crabs on Thursday.
— Matt Duffy got “fairly good news” from the hamstring specialist: He does not need to be shut down. Duffy can continue strengthening his hamstring, though no date has to been set to resume his rehab.
— Brent Honeywell was cleared to begin playing catch again and is doing so at 60-75 feet after being shut down most of May because of nerve irritation during his rehab from Tommy John surgery. He will be re-evaluated again next Monday.U