With the New York Yankees in their rear-view mirror, the first-place Tampa Bay Rays are set to renew their Citrus Series rivalry with the Miami Marlins this weekend.
In taking two of three games in Yankee Stadium in a heated series between the top two American League East clubs, Tampa Bay (26-12) left the Bronx 4 1/2 games in front of New York.
The Rays won eight of 10 from the Bronx Bombers in the season series. They closed it out Wednesday as Mike Brosseau flexed his muscle with two homers and three RBIs in a 5-2 win — a night after Aroldis Chapman buzzed Brosseau with a 101 mph fastball that led to benches clearing as the game ended.
Lightly regarded and ranked as Tampa Bay’s No. 27 prospect by MLB.com in February, Josh Fleming (2-0, 1.74 ERA) will make his third career start — and second against Miami in a week — as the teams open a three-game series Friday night in St. Petersburg.
On Saturday, the left-hander crafted 5 1/3 scoreless innings of three-hit ball at Miami (16-16), which entered the series swinging hot bats after winning five of eight against the Washington Nationals and New York Mets.
“Impressive but not surprising,” teammate Joey Wendle told reporters of Fleming’s performance. “We had a chance to see (Fleming) work a little bit in Spring Training 1 and 2. He’s really fun to play behind. … He’s an awesome guy that has just really filled in (and) fit in with the guys as well as in the clubhouse.”
The Rays outscored Miami 18-7, silencing the Marlins’ offense in two shutouts and claiming their fifth sweep this year with relative ease.
Dating to 2008 — when Tampa Bay shortened its name from Devil Rays to Rays and made its lone World Series appearance — the club is 43-22 against the two-time World Series-winning Marlins. Tampa Bay leads the Citrus Series 64-56 overall.
The rivalry was much closer until the Rays won 18 of 27 beginning in 2015, but the current Marlins are 14-7 on the road and have displayed a knack for scoring runs in bunches.
They acquired arguably the best position player at the trade deadline Monday afternoon — center fielder Starling Marte, from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
A 2016 All-Star with a pair of Gold Gloves, the fleet 31-year-old Marte will bring a star presence to the Marlins, who are vying for their first playoff appearance since winning the 2003 World Series.
“It’s a great start for him,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said after Marte, in his Miami debut Tuesday, launched a game-winning solo homer in the eighth in a 3-2 win over Toronto.
“A couple of years ago he came in with Pittsburgh, and the whole series we just didn’t get him out. You couldn’t keep him from stealing a bag. Every time up he hit the ball hard,” Mattingly added.
“This guy’s a star talent. If he were in a city like New York or L.A. where they get to the playoffs all the time … this guy’s a star.”
Series-opener Pablo Lopez (3-2, 2.10) was sharp Saturday night but took the loss in the Rays’ 4-0 win. In his sixth start, the right-hander worked seven innings and allowed two runs on six hits.
Lopez, 24, holds a 1-1 record with a 2.08 ERA in two starts against the Rays during his three-year career. He has given up just three runs and eight hits in 13 innings, registering 11 strikeouts and only one walk.
Miami placed right-handed starting pitcher Elieser Hernandez (strained right lat) on the 10-day injured list and recalled infielder Eddy Alvarez from their alternate training site on Wednesday.
–Field Level Media