Sanchez, Tigers look to bounce back against Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays and Detroit Tigers have been two of baseball's more consistent franchises over the last seven years.
But a postseason trip for either this year is far from a guarantee, which could prompt some tough decisions before the trade deadline.
These two struggling clubs open a three-game series Monday night at Tropicana Field (6 p.m. pregame, 7:10 first pitch on FOX Sports Detroit).
Both teams rank among baseball's top six in winning percentage since 2008, but are four games out of the AL's second wild-card spot. Tampa Bay (49-51) is in danger of missing the postseason for a second straight year for the first time since 2007, while Detroit (48-50) has reached the playoffs in a major league best-tying four straight seasons.
The clock is ticking for both clubs to decide if they'll be buyers or sellers ahead of Friday's trade deadline, though if their recent play is any indication the latter appears likely.
The Rays have dropped six of nine since the All-Star break while averaging 2.1 runs and are a big league-worst 7-17 since June 28. John Jaso is the only player hitting better than .244 with at least 45 at-bats in that span, going 16 for 48, while six others are batting below .235.
Tampa Bay's 3.5 runs per game would be its fewest ever for a season. Even the 100-plus loss teams of 2001, '02 and '06 all averaged 4.2 or better.
"All we needed to do is get back to playing crisp, fundamental baseball, limiting the mistakes that we make," said outfielder Steven Souza Jr., whose 15 homers lead the team but is 4 for his last 50 with 27 strikeouts. "The reason we were so good the first two months is, we didn't give teams extra outs. We scored when we needed to. There's no one thing you can blame right now, we just needed to play good baseball."
The Tigers (48-50) have lost nine of 13, though unlike Tampa Bay, it's difficult to fault their bats, as they've averaged 4.2 runs and scored five-plus in three of those defeats.
However, they had just three hits and were pummeled for 20 in Sunday's 11-1 setback to a Boston team that had dropped nine of 10.
"I mean there's really not much to say," manager Brad Ausmus said.
Scheduled starter Nathan Karns (5-5, 3.47 ERA) has felt the brunt of Tampa Bay's futile offense, posting a 2.83 ERA in his last seven starts but left with a 2-2 record due to receiving six runs of support in 41 1-3 innings.
He allowed three hits over five scoreless innings and homered in a 1-0 win at Philadelphia on Tuesday, bouncing back after surrendering a career-high seven runs in an 8-3 loss at Kansas City before the All-Star break.
The right-hander has never faced Detroit.
The Tigers counter with Anibal Sanchez, who is 7-0 with a 3.16 ERA in his last eight starts. Sanchez (10-7, 4.59) also won seven straight decisions in 2013 but has never taken eight in a row.
The righty was bombarded the last time he saw Tampa Bay, giving up seven runs and walking four over 5 2-3 innings of a 7-2 home loss July 5, 2014. That defeat moved him to 2-2 with a 5.08 ERA in six career meetings.
Jaso is 1 for 14 off Sanchez.
The Rays won last season's series, 4-3.