Derek Grant Jersey , Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays continue to win games they
perhaps shouldn’t, and they’ll have an opportunity for more of that Saturday
against Houston’s Justin Verlander.
The Rays (40-41) hit the midway point of their 2018 season with a 3-2 win
over Houston, giving them six wins in their last seven games. Their pitching has
led the way — three times in the last four games, they have held their opponent
to three hits or less, this after doing so only three times in the first 77
games of this season.
“If we are going to win a lot of game and we are going to string a bunch
together, we have to have good pitching,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “The
timely hitting is great, but we have to stay in the ballgame. For us to have
allowed three runs in 18 innings against arguably the best team in baseball, we
should find a way to win one.”
Houston will send Verlander, who has been dominant (9-3, 1.82 ERA) but has
gotten surprisingly little run support from a potent Astros lineup.
Houston is just 11-7 in games he starts, and the Astros have scored a total
of two runs in five of those losses.
So Saturday could look like Thursday’s 1-0 Astros win, or could look like
Friday’s 3-2 loss, which saw two errors factor in Tampa Bay’s scoring.
Verlander faced the Rays just 11 days ago in Houston, again pitching
Stephen Johns Jersey , allowing one run on six hits in 6 2/3 innings, but
ultimately taking a no-decision in a 2-1 loss. He has 136 strikeouts in 113
innings this season and a ridiculous 0.81 WHIP.
Against the Rays for his career, Verlander is 8-3 with a 3.18 ERA, but since
2010, he’s just 4-3, despite a 1.72 ERA in his last five starts against the
Rays. At Tropicana Field, he’s 5-2 all-time with a 2.53 ERA, including a 1.20
ERA in his last two outings.
The Rays counter with reliever-turned-starter Ryne Stanek, who has thrived in
the “opener” role that Tampa Bay has essentially created in the past six weeks.
He’s starting for the second time in three days against the Astros having thrown
1 2/3 innings of scoreless, hitless baseball Thursday night. For the month of
June, he’s pitched in 11 games and 14 2/3 innings without allowing a run.
He’s held opponents to just four hits, lowering his season ERA to 1.85, just
barely above Verlander’s.
The Astros know they have to be careful with the white ceiling of Tropicana
Field — the Rays’ three-run fourth inning got a spark Friday when center fielder
Jake Marisnick couldn’t hold onto a pop at the warning track, allowing a run to
“When you play here, you try to not take your eye off the
Tyler Pitlick Jersey ,” Marisnick said. “With the ceiling, I kind of
glanced quickly at the ball, then looked back up and lost track. I wasn’t able
to come up with it. That’s a play I need to make 10 out of 10
Quarterback Matt Ryan is in the playoffs for the sixth time in 10
seasons and still searching for the ultimate prize.
Last year’s meltdown in the Super Bowl has been well documented with the
Atlanta Falcons blowing a 28-3 lead and losing to New England, but Ryan has his
team back in the postseason despite a big drop-off in points and yards.
At 10-6, they’ve gone from the No. 2 seed to the sixth, but they’re the only
NFC team to return to the playoffs. Ryan hasn’t enjoyed the kind of seamless
production that made him the league MVP last season, yet he likes the team’s
chances even though the offense has scored just two touchdowns over the last two
”We do a very good job throughout the week of getting ourselves prepared and
ready to play,” Ryan said Tuesday. ”That provides confidence, so I think guys
just need to focus on doing the best that they can with where their feet are at
that time of the day.
”If we do that and we’re locked in for practice and walkthroughs, that’s
going to give us the best chance to be successful.”
Atlanta has won three of four and six of its last eight heading into
Saturday’s wild-card game at the Los Angeles Rams (11-5). The defense is better
than a year ago, moving into the top 10 in scoring and total yards for the first
time at the end of the regular season the 1998 Falcons advanced to the Super
But the offense has been unable to match last year’s productivity, dropping
from first to 15th in scoring as opponents have held five-time Pro Bowl receiver
Julio Jones to just three touchdowns. Running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin
Coleman are still a tough tandem to defend, but both have missed time with
concussions. The offensive line hasn’t been as stout despite another Pro Bowl
season from center Alex Mack.
Regardless of what’s happening around him, Ryan said his best course of
action during the week is to stay focused on the game plan. He doesn’t want to
get caught up in discussions about his legacy and whether he has what it takes
to win a Super Bowl.
”That’s not something I worry about or think about too much,” he said. ”I try
to focus or worry or lend my brain space to trying to win games. I’m lucky to
have a lot of good friends around this league. I certainly have a lot of respect
for the guys I play against week in and week out and I imagine they feel the
Ryan has won 95 of 158 career starts in the regular
Seguin Jersey , but he’s 3-5 in the playoffs and 0-2 on the road. That
kind of discrepancy is why he said he puts little stock in whether last season’s
easy victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum could help the Falcons this week.
The Rams’ defense has flourished in a new scheme devised by 70-year-old
coordinator Wade Phillips and it has found success with a trio of dual-threat
linebackers in Alec Ogletree, the former Georgia star, Robert Quinn and Mark
Atlanta also must keep tabs throughout the game on defensive tackle Aaron
Donald, who has 11 sacks.
”He’s one of the better players against the run at the position they play him
at, but he’s also one of the better interior pass rushers in the league,” Ryan
said. ”That creates some problems, but we’ll have a plan to account for where
he’s at, and we certainly trust our guys up front to play well.”
Notes: WR Julio Jones was held out of practice with ankle and rib injuries.
Jones was hit hard on the opening drive last week by Carolina safety Mike Adams,
but he missed only a couple of snaps. He was limited in practice last week with
ankle and thumb injuries. Jones has yet to miss a game despite being on the
injury report this season with a hip flexor, back and knee injuries, too. …
Freeman was held out of practice with a knee injury. … Listed as limited Tuesday
were Mack (calf), receiver Taylor Gabriel (hamstring), tight end Levine Toilolo
(knee) and defensive end Adrian Clayborn (calf). … LG Andy Levitre (triceps) was
placed on season-ending injured reserve. Ben Garland will start in his