Preview: Streaking Rays must contend with Max Scherzer in finale vs. Nationals
TV: FOX Sports Sun
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 11:30 a.m.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays might be the surprise hottest team in baseball, and if anything can slow them down, it might be Washington Nationals starter Max Scherzer, who takes the mound against them Tuesday.
The Rays have been dominant of late, with seven wins holding opponents to one or zero runs in the last 13 games, and four wins in a row after a 11-0 drubbing of the Nationals on Monday. Tampa Bay didn’t hold an opponent under two runs once in its first 19 games and just once in its first 38, but their patchwork pitching has been a major impetus to their recent surge.
Then there’s Scherzer, who is 10-3 with a 2.09 ERA, this despite a near-mortal stretch where he has no wins in his last three outings, having allowed all of six earned runs in 20 innings during that stretch. The Rays remember him well from June 5, when he struck out 13 batters — matching his second-highest total of 2018 — while allowing two earned runs in eight innings. He’s had 16 starts this season, and he’s only allowed more than two runs once, and only four in that blemish.
For his career against the Rays, he’s 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA, and even that is notable in that he went 0-2 as a rookie in 2010 and hasn’t lost since. For the season, just slightly less than half his outs have come by strikeout, with 161 strikeouts in 107 2/3 innings.
The Rays will counter with Nathan Eovaldi (1-3, 4.91 ERA), who has made five starts since returning from Tommy John surgery, with one dominant debut and then four starts since where he’s averaged four earned runs in less than six innings. More of a concern is the home runs he’s allowed — eight in 29 1/3 innings, including four in his last start, a 5-1 loss to Houston.
He’s faced the Nationals once this year, giving up four runs on four hits in five innings in the game against Scherzer on June 5. Eovaldi got his start in the National League, so he’s had 10 starts against Washington, going 2-5 with a 5.30 ERA.
An 11-run outburst like Monday’s win shows the Rays might be finding their bats as well, with Kevin Kiermaier, struggling at the plate since returning from the disabled list, getting a key grand slam as part of a six-run second inning.
“Baseball is hard. It’s really hard,” Kiermaier said of his slow start. “Adjusting back to big-league pitching is not an easy thing. Trying to get acclimated up there at the plate again. I felt really good and it was a good momentum swing for our team to put us up early.”
The Nationals will at least be better rested on Tuesday — after a long rain delay that pushed back their Sunday night game against Philadelphia, they didn’t get to their hotel in St. Petersburg until 4:40 a.m. on game day.
“We’re a little tired, but we had all day to rest,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said.