The Rays and Astros concluded their seven-game season series on Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field.
It’s no secret at this point that Blake Snell enjoys pitching at Tropicana Field. In his last home outing, against the Washington Nationals, he struck out 10 hitters without allowing a run over seven innings. But he’s finding success against some of the best teams in the league.
Snell puzzles Astros
Nobody can argue that the former first-round pick has had to face some of the best teams in the MLB already this year. His last six starts, including Sunday’s 3-2 win over Houston, have come against the Nationals, Astros (x2), Yankees, and Mariners (x2). Those teams are a combined 76 games over .500 this year.
Over that time period, the 25-year old has posted a 1.62 ERA in 39 innings pitched. He’s allowed only seven earned runs, four of which came in the game against New York on June 14. This current stretch has been highlighted by Sunday’s pitchers duel with Charlie Morton as well as a victorious 2-1 battle with Astros ace Justin Verlander on June 19.
After another solid outing Sunday — 7.1 innings, four hits, one run, and 10 strikeouts, Snell has shutdown some of the leagues’ best hitters this year. The Astros have totaled just seven hits off Snell over the last 14.1 innings.
Manager Kevin Cash has had a front-row seat to what he feels is an all-star caliber season from his left-hander.
“We talk about our candidate for All-Stars,” Cash said after going 8-1 on the home-stand. “Obviously Wilson [Ramos] is there, Matt Duffy deserves some recognition, but Blake Snell has pitched like an All-Star all half.
One key component to Snell’s success is the effectiveness of his breaking ball. According to Brooks Baseball, in April, his breaking stuff mounted a 54.05% Swinging Strike Rate — opponents hit .190 against him while striking out 39 times in 30 innings. In May, the youngster reached the 41.46% mark and held the opposition to a .188 batting average. Team’s are hitting .170 in the month of June and Snell has his Swinging Strike Rate back over the 50% mark (53.95%). He’s throwing his curveball 6% more frequently than he did in 2017.
The secondary stuff is not lost on Snell.
“I liked my changeup, but then the curveball came into play later on,” he said after the game. “I liked how I mixed it up, stayed away a lot because I felt like a lot of them were sitting on fastballs.”
Success against World Series champs
As a team, the Rays hold a 25-15 (.625) record against the Astros since they joined the American League in 2013. The last time Tampa Bay lost a season series to Houston was 2008 when the Astros won 2-of-3 on the year. Since then, the Rays have gone 6-0-1 in the season series (they did not meet in 2009 or 2012).
The two clubs have met 41 times over the last six years. Houston has been shutout in nine of those contests. No team has blanked the Astros more than the Rays over that stretch. In fact, the Texas Rangers have shut them out seven times in 109 games. That’s two fewer shutouts in 68 more games.
Mallex Smith ended the top of the fourth inning by chasing down a deep fly ball off the bat of Jake Marisnick. And as is often the case, he followed suit by leading off the bottom half with a base hit. He later picked up his first home run of the season, finishing 2-for-4 on the day. In addition to Smith, outfielder Joey Wendle and designated hitter Carlos Gomez added two hits of their own.
On Monday, the Rays kick off a three-game set in Miami against the Marlins. Nathan Eovaldi (2-3; 4.08) gets the ball against his former team, opposite Wei-Yin Chen (2-5; 6.14). Eovaldi pitched for the Marlins from 2012-2014 before being traded to the New York Yankees in the deal that brought Martin Prado to Miami.
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