The Tampa Bay Rays start the second half of the season believing they can play much better baseball then they did most of the first half of the year. The Rays (48-41, -0.7 units) trail the New York Yankees by four losses in the wild card chase and Boston
The Tampa Bay Rays start the second half of the season believing they can play much better baseball then they did most of the first half of the year. The Rays (48-41, -0.7 units) trail the New York Yankees by four losses in the wild card chase and Boston by seven for the AL East division lead. In some ways, Tampa Bay feels fortunate they are still within reach of the postseason after floundering at or below .500 for the first two months of the season. "We didn't play nearly our best baseball," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We did at times, but a little bit too streaky."
One area that needs immediate shoring up is Tampa's play on the road. They Rays are 18-26 (-7.8) and the skipper thinks his team is capable of turning this around. "We just have to get out there in the second half. We have to take advantage and not make the same kinds of mistakes that put us in a bind in the first half. We're capable of that. We're capable of playing a higher level of baseball on a more consistent basis." Maddon said.
Kansas City (37-51, -13.9 units) starts the second half having lost five of six and in search of winning formula from last September that fueled this season's optimism. The Royals first order of business is finding ways to score more runs. Kansas City ranks 28th in runs scored at 3.9 per game and hopes Alex Gordon can provide offensive punch coming off of hip surgery.
Because ace Zach Greinke (10-5, 2.12 ERA) only pitched one inning in the All-Star game, Royals manager Trey Hillman moved him up to start the series. Greinke hasn't been quite as effective as he was early in the season, when he was un-hittable and has lost his last two starts, though the 3-1 loss the last time out was in part due to shabby K.C. defense. The Royals are -120 money line favorites at Sportsbook.com, with total 07. Greinke and the Royals are 16-6 when the money line is +125 to -125 and 18-6 UNDER in the second half of the season.
Tampa Bay will counter with James Shields (6-6, 3.42), who is 2-4 on the road, with the Rays winners only twice in his eight starts as visitor. The Rays are off a pair of losses, but have enjoyed great success on Friday's with 29-11 mark. Shields' has liked the look of Royals uniform and is 5-0 with a 2.50 ERA in five career starts against Kansas City. He's averaged nearly a strikeout per inning against K.C. (32) in the 36 innings he's worked, while allowing just three free passes. The Rays are 14-3 UNDER July in road games since last year.
Game 1 Edge: Tampa Bay
Because of the shifting of Royals rotation, Brian Bannister (6-7, 3.66) is expected to be the starter for Game 2. Bannister is off arguably the best game of his career, throwing seven shutout innings at Boston before tiring slightly in allowing one run on three hits in over 7 2/3 in 3-1 triumph. Coming into the series, Kansas City had won only three of last dozen contests at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals are 4-1 in Bannister's home starts against winning teams and 6-2 if favored.
Only staunch baseball bettors might know this, Tampa Bay's offense ranks third in baseball at 5.3 runs per game. Besides pounding out 9.3 hits per game on average, the former Devil Rays have newfound patience as the dish, walking 4.1 times per game, which is third best in baseball, just behind the Yankees and Red Sox. The former masthead of the Rays staff, Scott Kazmir (4-5, 7.11) will take the ball for middle encounter. Since being injured, the lefthander has not been effective, but at least pain-free. Having last won on May 9, Kazmir hopes pitching in a Game 2 situation will turn luck around since he and his teammates are 22-5 in that spot.
Game 2 Edge: Kansas City
The series finale will be afternoon affair. The Rays are 16-13 playing in the light of day, with Kansas City unsightly 12-19. Matt Garza (6-7, 3.73) is one of the American League's biggest enigmas. Only a handful of hurlers have his stuff, yet he finds a way to have one bad inning and has losing record. He's 0-4 with 4.02 ERA against K.C. The Royals will send Luke Hochevar (5-3, 5.34) to toe the slap. Since returning in early June for stint in minors, Hochevar has pitched up to his capabilities, with 5-1 record and 3.97 ERA. Besides the quality record, he's been innings-eater with six of last seven starts lasting as least six innings.
Game 3 Edge: Kansas City
Thought this was a good week to change it up and go with a few teams that don't receive much of the acclaim. The matchup is very close, but Tampa Bay has poor road record and two of its starters in this series are fumbling along, not pitching well. Similar to a thin slice of pastrami, I'll support the Royals by the slimmest of margins.
Sportsbook.com series odds: Tampa Bay -125, Kansas City -105
StatFox Edge Pick: Kansas City