After splitting a four-game series with the Oakland Athletics, the Tampa Bay Rays will flip from one American League West power to another when they begin a three-game home series Friday night against their opponent in last year’s American League Championship Series, the Houston Astros.
Rays left-hander Ryan Yarbrough (1-2, 4.28 ERA) is scheduled to throw the game’s first pitch, opposed by Astros righty Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1, 4.58) in a duel of pitchers who combined to make three starts in last year’s ALCS. The Rays won 4-3 to earn the World Series berth.
Yarbrough was the winning pitcher in Game 3, limiting the Astros to two runs on three hits in five innings in a 5-2 win.
The victory, powered by two-RBI hits from Hunter Renfroe and Joey Wendle in a five-run sixth inning, put Tampa Bay up 3-0 in the series.
It was Yarbrough’s only appearance in the seven-game set. He owns an 0-1 record and 2.92 ERA in two regular-season games, including one start, against the Astros in his career.
McCullers started both Games 2 and 7 in the series, losing each 4-2 despite giving up a total of just four earned runs and eight hits in 10 2/3 innings. He struck out 18 in the series.
He allowed home runs to Randy Arozarena and Mike Zunino in the Game 7 loss, which he left in the fourth inning, trailing 3-0.
McCullers has made three career regular-season starts against the Rays, going 1-2 with a 3.79 ERA.
In their first meeting since that October series, the teams will take the field still stinging from one-run defeats on Thursday.
The Rays are 3-4 on a low-scoring homestand, dropping two of three to Toronto while scoring just eight runs before splitting the four games with Oakland while totaling just nine runs. They had a chance to take three of four from the A’s, but watched Oakland score in the ninth on Thursday afternoon to win 3-2.
The Rays have just two hits in their last 44 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, a stat that’s updated daily, much to the dismay of manager Kevin Cash.
“Hopefully, we’re going to stop talking about this soon,” he said Thursday after his team added an 0-for-6 to the ledger. “I think we will. The offense is just having a rough go right now. We’ve been pitched well, pitched tough.
“But, saying that, we’ve got a good offense. We’re just in a little bit of a rut that we’ve got to find a way to get out. I don’t know how we’re going to do it. But trust that as a group we can.”
Meanwhile, the Astros are coming off a four-game home series against Seattle in which they recorded three wins, one by a 2-0 shutout. The lone loss came Thursday afternoon, 1-0, in a game in which Houston didn’t have a hit until the seventh inning.
If there was a positive to Thursday’s loss, it was that closer Ryan Pressly was able to get a second consecutive day off. He pitched four times on the eight-game homestand Houston just completed, earning a win and two saves.
“He takes the ball and he’s almost expressionless,” Baker said of his standout’s available-every-day attitude. “He’s in a good space. You wish everybody was like him. You don’t even know he’s in the room half the time.”
–Field Level Media