It was a foregone conclusion that the Tampa Bay Rays would not only earn home-field advantage throughout the American League playoffs but also set a club record for wins.
That didn’t negate the significance of the moment on Wednesday when the Rays beat the host Houston Astros 7-0 to clinch the best record in the AL and notch their 98th victory. The Rays had already claimed the AL East title. There was one bit of business left this regular season.
“You want to get in, you want to win the East and if you have a chance, you want to do what these guys did,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “To know that everything’s going to go through Tampa … (is big). We’ve got to do our job, but it will have to go through Tampa.”
Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough (9-6, 5.09 ERA) will be the bulk pitcher for the Rays in the series finale on Thursday. He is expected to follow starter Collin McHugh (6-1, 1.60).
After making seven consecutive starts between June 27 and Aug. 6, Yarbrough has gone 3-2 with a 6.32 ERA over his past seven appearances (four starts). He is 5-5 with a 5.46 ERA over 21 starts and 4-1 with a 3.78 ERA in eight relief appearances.
Yarbrough is 0-2 with a 4.42 ERA in three career appearances (two starts) against the Astros. He allowed five runs on nine hits and one walk with five strikeouts over six innings in a 9-2 home loss to Houston on April 30.
Right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. (12-5, 3.17 ERA) will start the rubber match for the Astros. McCullers allowed three runs on two hits and four walks with five strikeouts over six innings in a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Sept. 23, his first defeat after three consecutive winning decisions.
McCullers was 3-0 with a 2.78 ERA and 40 strikeouts over 35 2/3 innings in the six starts prior to his loss against the Angels. He is 2-2 with a 2.77 ERA over four career starts against the Rays, including seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts while matched with Yarbrough on April 30.
Presented with an opportunity to secure the AL West title with a victory in front of their home fans Wednesday, the Astros continued to sputter while losing for the fifth time in six games.
It would require a catastrophic collapse for the Astros to miss the postseason — their magic number is one for the division title — but their play over the past week hasn’t inspired confidence that they will flip the switch in October. Houston, armed with one of the most prolific offenses in baseball, has scored 12 runs in six games.
“You go through streaks and periods like that,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You can’t always pick when they’re going to happen. Sometimes they happen at the wrong time down the stretch. We’ve got four games to go, but these things can turn around with no explanation.
“During this period, it’s been tough, but these guys are tough. I’m not worried about them.”
–Field Level Media