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Free-falling Cleveland heads to Tampa looking to snap six-game losing streak

This is not the team you want to face with your back against the wall, but here they are

MLB: JUL 02 Astros at Indians Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All the regression you knew was coming while Cleveland enjoyed winning streaks against bad teams is crashing in like a tidal wave. They are getting healthy with the return of Franmil Reyes and Roberto Pérez, but they now find themselves in a six-game losing streak and dropping eight of their last 10. It’s a dire time for a team that is slowly losing what little ground they had in the division and no realistic shot at a Wild Card.

It’s certainly not over, though, and a couple of wins against a great Rays team would hold up some pieces of the falling sky — for now.

Tampa Bay isn’t exactly surging now either, narrowly avoiding a sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays. They pulled it out with a Fourth of July win but dropped the series, 2-1. The thing is, the Astros weren’t setting the world on fire either before they came in and swept Cleveland. This team has a way of helping others get back on their feet.

The Rays also have an injured list big enough to make even Cleveland blush. The biggest name out for them right now is of course Tyler Glasnow, who found that he had to dramatically switch his pitch grips to account for the lack of sticky stuff. He suffered a partially torn UCL and strained flexor tendon as a result back on June 14, but could be back sometime this season if he avoids Tommy John Surgery. In total, the Rays have four starters and seven relievers on the injured list.

Through a mix of bullpen days and smart usage, the Rays have still made it work to the tune of an 85 ERA-, the second-best in the American League behind the White Sox. They have done it with their “starters” throwing 403.1 innings, one of the lowest in the majors. It’s a list of starters that includes 12 pitchers, seven of which have started fewer than five games.

Offensively, the Rays are just barely below-average by wRC+ standards (99 as a team) but combined with their excellent pitching they are enjoying a +66 win differential on the season. Old friend Joey Wendle has continued to be a success story for them; he is currently slashing .275/.338/.454 with seven home runs and a 119 wRC+. He has been a below-average hitter just one time since his rookie season in 2016 and he definitely was not worth trading for Brandon Moss.

Rookie sensation Wander Franco has been about what you would expect from a top overall prospect making his major-league debut — a little inconsistent but showing flashes of the brilliance that generated all the hype ahead of his call-up on June 22. He’s slashing .233/.313/.419 on the season with a pair of big home runs. He’s currently riding a six-game hitting streak, though he hasn’t drawn a walk since June 27.

Weather will not be an issue as this series takes place in Tampa under the dingy ceiling of beautiful Tropicana Field. Back in The Fun Times, a certain shortstop lost a ball up there one time, and life was enjoyed by all.

Team at a glance

  • Record: 48-36 (4th in AL)
  • Runs Scored: 406 (6th in AL)
  • Run Differential: +66 (4th in AL)
  • Last 10: 5-5
  • Slash: .229/.314/.391
  • wOBA: .309 (9th in AL)
  • wRC+: 99 (8th in AL)
  • ERA: 3.59 (1st in AL)
  • SIERA: 3.67 (2nd in AL)
  • K-BB%: 18.2% (2nd in AL)

Projected starters

Monday, July 5, 7:10 p.m. ET: LHP Rich Hill vs. Logan Allen
No, this isn’t a series preview from 2015 — Rich Hill is really around and still pretty damn good. The 41-year-old continues to squeak by on a high-spin curveball just as he’s done for the last two decades. His fastball has lost a few ticks, as one may expect, but even at 88.5 mph he still makes it work.

Hill has had a couple great stretches of starts this season — including an eight-inning, 13 strikeout domination of the Royals on May 25. But he has struggles as of late, giving up four runs in three of his last four starts. Weirdly enough, he has a thing for giving up exactly four runs. He did it in each of his first four starts, too. He rarely has a total meltdown, though, and is almost always good for five or six innings.

Tuesday, July 6, 7:10 p.m. ET: RHP Michael Wacha vs. J.C. Mejia
Michael Wacha is a long way from his 3.20 ERA campaign in 2018, let alone those three years of excellent pitching early in his career with the Cardinals. He sported a 6.62 ERA with the Mets last year and has only dropped it to 5.26 with the Rays in 2021.

Once a pitch he hardly used, Wacha’s cutter has gotten a lot of use this season. He’s thrown it 32.8% of the time, second only to his four-seamer. It’s mostly out of necessity as his four-seamer has lost velocity and became less effective every season. He has gotten batters to fish for his changeup quite a bit, which spells trouble for Cleveland.

Wedensday, July 7, 12:10 p.m. ET: TBD (Drew Rasmussen*) vs. Sam Hentges
This is going to be a bullpen game, most likely, featuring Rasmussen or some other reliever you’ve never heard of that will dominate the game for an inning or two. That’s just what the Rays do.

*Pitching projections via FanGraphs’ Roster Resource unless stated otherwise

Hot hitters

2B, Brandon Lowe - Don’t look now, but Brandon Lowe is heating up. After an impressive 150 wRC+ last season, he struggled to start his 2021 campaign, but over the last two weeks, he leads the Rays with a 175 wRC+, despite just a .222 batting average. Only one of his six hits has been a single (two doubles, three home runs), and he’s walked a team-high five times in that span.

C, Mike Zunino - Mike Zunino is good — at least when it comes to hitting dingers right now. He’s batting .240 and getting on baseball only 29% of the time over the last two weeks, but he has a ridiculous .720 slugging percentage with his four homers in 27 plate appearances.


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How many games will Cleveland win against the Rays?

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  • 8%
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  • 43%
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  • 30%
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