Rays-Astros preview

BY foxsports • August 28, 2016

HOUSTON -- Astros right-hander Mike Fiers delivered a performance Friday night emblematic of the inconsistencies plagued Houston starters of late.

Undone by three wild pitches -- two of which led directly to runs, Fiers blew a 3-0 lead and did not factor in the decision in the Astros' 5-4 victory over the Rays.

Fiers hasn't recorded wins in consecutive starts since mid-June, but with Collin McHugh and Doug Fister and rookie Joe Musgrove alternating strong starts with poor ones, Fiers isn't alone riding the roller coaster of varying results for the Astros (67-61).

"I think it's just about making pitches in this league," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of the variance in the performances of his starters. "It's a tough league, it's a smaller margin for error. I think it's just rigors of the schedule and rigors of the season and the difficulty of putting five starters out there every day. We've had some inconsistencies."

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel (8-12, 4.64 ERA) makes his seventh career start against the Rays on Saturday. He is 0-4 with a 5.11 ERA against Tampa Bay.

Keuchel allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks with nine strikeouts over five innings in a 5-0 loss to the Rays on June 12 at Tropicana Field. In his last start, Keuchel tossed eight innings and allowed two runs on five hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in a 5-3 victory over Baltimore on Sunday.

The entire second half of the season has represented a turnaround for the Rays (54-73). After posting a minus-74 run differential prior to the All-Star break -- the worst mark in the American League, the Rays entered the series with Houston with the second-best run differential in the majors since the break and it stands at plus-56 after Friday's game.

"We're very happy with the performance from our pitching staff (and) the way we've gone out and defended," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We had stretches last year where we were a really good club but we fell short. This year it went the other way where we struggled early but we seem to be playing better baseball now. Somehow I've got to find a way where we play that type of style of baseball throughout the course of a full season."

Left-hander Blake Snell (4-6, 3.17 ERA) makes his first career appearance against the Astros on Saturday. Snell has allowed two earned runs or fewer in eight consecutive starts, the longest such streak by a rookie in franchise history. Snell is 3-3 during that stretch, lowering his season ERA by 0.69.

Snell issued a career-high five walks in his last start against the Red Sox on Monday, failing to work five innings for the second time in three appearances. While Snell was lifted after 3 2/3 innings, he also failed to get any run support for the fifth time in 13 career starts.

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