There’s no replacing David Price, but the Tampa Bay Rays are hoping they can stay in postseason contention behind a young rotation that features no one older than 27.
For going on two months, the least experienced member of that group has been the best.
Jake Odorizzi looks to win his fourth straight start and lead the Rays to their ninth series victory in their last 10 in Sunday’s finale against the visiting Los Angeles Angels.
Price shook off a relatively poor first few months to go 7-2 with a 1.90 ERA over his final nine starts before being traded to Detroit on Thursday.
Almost as integral in a stretch that’s seen Tampa Bay (54-56) go 30-14 since June 11 – baseball’s best record – has been Odorizzi (7-8, 3.80 ERA). Including a start the day before the Rays’ turnaround began, the 24-year-old right-hander is 5-2 with a 2.25 ERA in nine outings, holding opponents to a .198 average – tops on a young Tampa staff that now has Drew Smyly along with Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson.
Odorizzi held Milwaukee to a run and three hits over seven innings in his latest win, 2-1 on Monday.
"All we needed was two (runs) because the pitching was outstanding," manager Joe Maddon said. "Odorizzi was outstanding."
He’s been especially excellent at home, where his strikeouts per nine innings (10.46) rank third in the AL and his opponent OPS (.553) is fourth. Odorizzi held the Angels (65-44) to a run over five innings at St. Petersburg the only other time he faced them, but lost 2-0 on Aug. 29.
Odorizzi’s road ERA is more than three runs higher than his 2.58 home mark, a disparity with which Jered Weaver (11-6, 3.62) can relate. The three-time All-Star has a 2.66 ERA in Anaheim and 4.98 elsewhere, a number that climbed again after he allowed six runs, seven hits and four walks over five innings of Tuesday’s 7-6, 12-inning loss in Baltimore.
Weaver surrendered a pair of homers, equaling the total he’d allowed while posting a 2.68 ERA as Los Angeles won his previous seven starts.
"Fastball was up for most of the time and I couldn’t really figure out how to get it down," said Weaver, who has given up 12 of his 18 homers on the road in 25 fewer innings than he’s logged at home.
The right-hander has given up seven homers in his last five starts against the Rays, but this will be his first at Tropicana Field since 2011. He’s 3-0 with a 2.92 ERA there in four career outings.
Weaver won’t have to approach those numbers to outdo Los Angeles’ latest starter. C.J. Wilson lasted only 1 1-3 innings in his return from the disabled list Saturday, allowing six runs in Tampa Bay’s 10-3 rout.
That put the Rays in position to extend their streak of series wins to six.
"Our objective is to win series," Maddon said. "The Angels, you can see, are really, really good. But I think the Rays are really, really good. It’s going to be a fun afternoon, but it’s going to be tough."
It’ll be easier if Ben Zobrist can continue his recent hot stretch. Zobrist, the subject of a false report at Thursday’s deadline that had him shipped to Pittsburgh, is 6 for 10 in this series and 16 for 30 with two homers and three doubles since July 25.
He’s hitting .429 during a 17-game hitting streak against the Angels that’s featured five homers and nine doubles.