Rays look to secure home-field advantage in series vs. Astros

Sports

On the heels of clinching their seventh postseason berth in club history and third in succession, the Tampa Bay Rays have one goal left to accomplish during the final week of the schedule.

With their fourth American League East title secured, including their second in a row, the Rays will conclude the regular season having held sole possession of first place in the AL East for 66 consecutive days, the longest stretch in club history.

All that remains for the Rays (97-59) is to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, and one win over the Houston Astros (91-65) will enable Tampa Bay to reach that benchmark.

The Rays, who have won seven of their last 10, will face the Astros in Houston in a three-game series starting Tuesday.

“You’ve got to feel good about the momentum that was created,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We’re leaving knowing that we performed really well the last time when we get back.”

Right-hander Michael Wacha (3-5, 5.49 ERA) will start the series opener for the Rays. A native Texan who pitched collegiately at Texas A&M, Wacha is coming off his first relief stint following 12 consecutive starts during which he went 2-3 with a 5.82 ERA.

Wacha allowed one run on three hits with four strikeouts over three innings of relief in the Rays’ 4-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 21. He owns a 6.14 ERA in two career relief appearances against the Astros.

Right-hander Jose Urquidy (8-3, 3.56) has the starting assignment for the Astros on Tuesday. He is 2-0 with a 4.34 ERA over four starts since his return from a two-month stint on the injured list with right shoulder discomfort. He earned the victory in his previous start despite allowing four runs on six hits with three strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings in the Astros’ 10-5 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Sept. 21.

Urquidy had one of his best starts of the season against the Rays on May 1, twirling seven shutout innings with four hits, one walk and five strikeouts on his ledger in the Astros’ 3-1 victory. That was his first career appearance against Tampa Bay.

Temperature checks have marked the second half of the season for the Astros, whose inability to sustain momentum over an extended stretch will carry into their final homestand. Since winning 12 of 16 games to move a season-high 30 games over .500 on Sept. 22, the Astros have dropped four consecutive games to stall their bid for a fourth AL West pennant in five seasons.

The Astros were swept by the Athletics in Oakland over the weekend, suffering back-to-back walk-off losses to keep both the Athletics and Seattle Mariners in play for the division crown. With a magic number of two to clinch the division, it is unlikely that the Astros will falter to that extent. Still, the Astros are just 27-24 since Aug. 1 and have scuffled maintaining their stride.

“No, no concerns for us,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said. “We’re going to be fine. I promise. I promise we’re going to look back and be fine. It’s just baseball. It’s a long season.”

–Field Level Media

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