A pair of American League teams battling for position in the playoff picture take the diamond on the shores of Lake Erie. The Tampa Bay Rays are on the road for the second game of a four-game series with the Cleveland Indians Friday night. Tampa Bay won the rubber game of a three-game set at home with Baltimore as they won 5-4 in walk-off fashion Wednesday night. Cleveland salvaged the finale of their three-game set on the road against the Astros as they won 5-4 on Wednesday night. This article was written before Thursday’s series opener had come to a conclusion.
Tampa Bay Rays Battling in AL East RaceTampa Bay took the final two games of their series with the Orioles as they earned a walk-off victory in the series finale Wednesday night. The Rays entered Thursday second in the AL East, one game behind the Red Sox for the top spot in the division. In the AL wild card race, the team owned the top wild card slot by 2.5 games over the A’s and were six games clear of Seattle, the first team outside the playoff picture. Randy Arozarena (two runs, two RBI) had three hits in the game for Tampa Bay while Francisco Mejia (two runs) and Austin Meadows (two RBI) each added two. Arozarena hit his 12th and 13th homers of the year while Meadows had a walk-off two-run single in the bottom of the ninth. Michael Wacha didn’t factor in the decision as he threw five innings, allowing three runs on six hits with no walks and two strikeouts. Collin McHugh (3-1) earned the win with two scoreless frames, allowing one hit with one walk and three strikeouts.
WEDNESDAY WALKOFF WINNER pic.twitter.com/Ifb2RBTVBg— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) July 21, 2021
Josh Fleming is expected to get the call for his 16th appearance and eighth start of the season for Tampa Bay in this contest. He comes in 7-5 with a 3.93 ERA, a 1.091 WHIP, 18 walks and 43 strikeouts over 73.1 innings of work on the year. Fleming took the loss in his last start, which came Saturday on the road against the Braves. He threw 4.1 innings, allowing seven runs on eight hits with one walk and one strikeout in a 9-0 Rays defeat. Pitching on the road this season, Fleming is 3-2 with a 6.35 ERA, a 1.353 WHIP, five walks and 16 strikeouts over 34 innings in six appearances, four starts. Fleming earned the win in his lone career appearance against the Indians, which came in the second game of a doubleheader at home on July 7. In relief, he threw 2.2 innings, allowing no runs on no hits with a walk and two strikeouts in a 4-0 Rays victory. Fleming, in his 23rd career major league appearance and 13th start, pitches at Progressive Field for the first time here.
Cleveland Indians Trying to Stay in AL Wild Card PictureCleveland managed to salvage the finale of their road set with Houston and beat the Astros for the first time in seven meetings this season Wednesday night. The Indians entered Friday second in the AL Central, 8.5 games behind the White Sox for the top spot. In the AL wild card picture, the team stood five games behind the A’s for the second wild card spot. On Wednesday, Cesar Hernandez (run, two RBI) and Ernie Clement (three RBI) each had two hits in the victory. Hernandez hit his 16th homer of the season in the victory for the Indians. Eli Morgan didn’t factor in the decision as he threw five innings, allowing three runs on three hits with no walks and five strikeouts. Bryan Shaw (3-3) earned the win despite giving up one run on two hits with no walks and one strikeout in one inning of work. James Karinchak worked a perfect ninth for his fifth save of the year.
Zach Plesac toes the slab for his 13th start of the year for the Indians in this contest. He comes in 5-3 with a 4.19 ERA, a 1.019 WHIP, 13 walks and 45 strikeouts over 68.2 innings of work this season. Plesac earned the win in his last start, which came Sunday on the road against the A’s. He threw six innings, allowing two runs on four hits with one walk and three strikeouts in a game the Indians went on to win 4-2. At home this season, Plesac is 1-1 with a 3.82 ERA, a 0.849 WHIP, two walks and 26 strikeouts over 35.1 innings in six starts. Plesac took the loss in his only career start against the Rays, which came on the road on August 31, 2019. He threw five innings, allowing four runs on six hits with one walk and four strikeouts in a 9-6 Indians loss. Plesac is 7-3 with a 3.64 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, 24 walks and 92 strikeouts over 116.1 innings in 20 career starts at Progressive Field.
The top trends for this contest are:
- Rays are 1-6 in their last 7 road games vs. a team with a winning record
- Indians are 5-1 in Plesac's last 6 home starts vs. a team with a winning record
- Indians are 5-1 in Plesac's last 6 starts following a Quality Start in his last appearance
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Both teams are in the hunt for a postseason berth at this point of the season but there are things that could be better. Tampa Bay is right on the heels of Boston in the AL East and they own the top wild card spot though their pitching depth could be better at this stage of things. Fleming has struggled on the road this season as he’s been roughed up in his outings despite having three wins on the ledger. Plesac has been decent at home and the Indians are still trying to get things together with their lineup. Still, the Indians saw Plesac turn in a solid outing in his last start and that works in their favor. Cleveland takes advantage of Fleming’s road issues to get the win here.
Full-Game Total Pick
Fleming has been hit hard in games that are played in open air venues as he has a 6.18 ERA in five appearances, three starts, spanning 27.2 innings this season. He’s surrendered six homers in those outings compared to giving up only two in 39.1 innings in nine outings, three starts, in a dome. That could work to Cleveland’s favor as far as generating runs goes. The Indians average 4.63 runs at home but with Fleming’s issues outdoors, you have to think the Tribe can get five or six runs here. Tampa Bay has been better offensively on the road (5.29 runs per game) than at home (4.48 rpg) and Plesac’s night ERA is nearly two runs per game higher (4.75 vs. 2.95) in night games compared to day contests. This one seems ticketed for the over as double-digit runs should be on the board when all is said and done.