The Rays (53-41) look to get back on track offensively while trying to prevent the visiting Astros (33-59) from winning two straight for the first time in almost a month Saturday. Tampa Bay (53-41) averaged 5.0 runs during an eight-game winning streak that ended with Friday's 2-1 loss. The Rays scored 28 runs while taking three of four against the Astros (33-59) to open July, but they didn't have a hit against starter Jarred Cosart until Ben Zobrist's single in the seventh inning. Houston, meanwhile, ended a three-game slide by winning for the fourth time in 16 games. On the heels of Cosart's two-hit, eight-inning gem, the Astros look to win back-to-back contests for the first time since a four-game run June 12-16.
Tampa Bay looks to regroup and put forth another strong offensive effort like it did against scheduled Houston starter Dallas Keuchel (4-5, 4.59 ERA) on July 1. The left-hander yielded five runs, eight hits and walked a season-high five in 4 2-3 innings of a 12-0 loss. Keuchel is 0-2 with a 5.89 ERA in his last four appearances, which included 2 2-3 innings of relief last month. He gave up two runs over five innings in a 9-5 win at Texas last Saturday. Keuchel faces a Rays lineup hitting collectively around .260 while averaging 4.7 runs per game. James Loney (.316 9 43) leads Tampa Bay in hitting and doubles (22) while placing 5th in the AL in batting. Despite a slow start due to a foot injury, Even Longoria (.281 18 51) has been mired in a recent hitting slump hitting just .188 over his last 20 games, but has the entire second half in front of him to snap it as it hasn't affected his overall numbers too much. Desmond Jennings (.264 10 35) has done a good job as the every day center fielder, while both Matt Joyce (.242 14 33) and Kelly Johnson (.236 13 44) have provided necessary sources of power for the Rays despite overall inconsistency at times evident by their subpar OBP's.
The Rays counter with Roberto Hernandez (4-10 4.93) who has lost his last 4 starts. His most recent outing was a no-decision allowing 3 runs on 8 hits over 6 innings in a 7-4 Rays win over the Minnesota Twins. This afternoon he will be looking for his first win since June 11th facing an Astros lineup that was averaging 5.5 runs per contest over their last 6 games before last night despite losing 5 of them. Their average has since jumped from .228 to .236 over the last 2 weeks and despite their overall anemic output are capable of putting up some runs. Jose Altuve (.280 3 29) leads the club in hitting and with 21 stolen bases while caught just 6 times (78%). Chris Carter (.229 18 47) just returned to the lineup missing the last 4 games with a hand injury. While leading the club in HR and RBI he also leads the majors with 123 K's in just 288 plate appearances. Jason Castro (.266 12 31) has done a fine job behind the plate and is in good position to eclipse the all time record for Astos HR by a catcher when John Bateman clubbed 17 in 1966. One player that has surely underachieved is former Rays star Carlos Pena (.213 8 25) who makes it a habit these days of struggling to hit for his weight.
Another bargain of a price this afternoon in the Tropicana dump of a dome that sports one of the uglier venues due to an aging outfield and overhead catwalk which denotes the ball being in play whenever it hits in fair territory. Both pitchers have struggled over their last few starts to scrap up victories, and we expect the offenses to take advantage in high gear this afternoon. While pitching has kept Tampa right in the middle of the race in the AL, they will look to even the series against Houston who cannot be overlooked in playing the role of spoiler as we head towards the ASB. Best of luck however you play!