Playoff appearances by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays a year ago may seem like distant memories now, but both clubs are hoping solid efforts in their previous series will help them turn around their fortunes.
The Rays host the Pirates for the first time in 11 seasons in the opener of a three-game set Monday night.Expectations were high for both teams going into this year after Tampa Bay (31-46) went to the postseason for the fourth time in six seasons and Pittsburgh ended a 21-year playoff drought.However, the Rays are languishing with baseball's worst record while the Pirates are trying to get back to .500 for the second time since April 17.Pittsburgh (37-38) took the final two games of a weekend road series against the Chicago Cubs, winning 2-1 on Sunday. Brandon Cumpton pitched seven scoreless innings for the victory.Tampa Bay took three of four from Houston, capping the series with a 5-2 win Sunday. Evan Longoria had three hits and Yunel Escobar and Sean Rodriguez each drove in two runs."We've got a lot of work to do," Longoria said. "We put ourselves in a pretty good hole, but I think that the belief on a daily basis is still we can come to the ballpark and win."There are young, exciting outfielders on both teams that figure to play a prominent role in this series.Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, 24, is hitting .301 with four homers in 27 games this year.Pirates right fielder Gregory Polanco, 22, will have to start a new streak after going 0 for 3 with a walk Sunday, ending his career-opening hitting streak at 11 games.Pittsburgh's Edinson Volquez (4-6, 4.67 ERA) is coming off his worst outing of 2014, allowing a season-high eight runs over 2 1/3 innings of an 11-4 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday.The right-hander has gone 1-0 with a 3.65 ERA in two career starts against the Rays. Longoria is 3 for 6 against him, but Volquez has limited James Loney to a double in 12 at-bats.Loney got Sunday off after going 5 for 13 in the first three games against the Astros.The Rays will also start a right-hander in Alex Cobb (2-5, 3.49), who has never faced the Pirates. Cobb has gone 5-2 with a 3.16 ERA in eight career interleague starts.He went 7-0 with a 2.81 ERA in 13 regular-season home starts in 2013 but is 0-3 with a 3.30 ERA in five outings at Tropicana Field this year, with Tampa Bay failing to provide any support for him four times.Josh Harrison or Clint Barmes figure to get one final start at second base Monday. Regular second baseman Neil Walker, out since June 8 due to an appendectomy, is expected to be activated by the Pirates on Tuesday.Pittsburgh has won five of nine all-time meetings, taking two of three in its lone visit to Tampa in 2003.
Since the start of 2013, players who pull groundballs at least as often (nearly 64 percent) as Andrew McCutchen have hit a combined 27 points worse against the Rays than against all other teams. The Rays rank sixth in the league in infield shifts put on over that time.