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Rays 2, Astros 9: The Struggle is Real

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Yarbrough struggles and Rays offense is still missing in action

Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros and the start of seventeen straight games without an off day. Ryan Yarbrough (1-2, 4.28 ERA) is the starter for the Rays against Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1, 4.58 ERA) for the Astros. This is the first meeting between the teams since the 2020 ALCS with the Rays winning in seven games.

Jose Altuve tried to get things going for the Astros to leadoff the game with a couple bunt attempts resulting in a groundout. Over the course of Yarbrough’s next eight pitches the Astros connected more singles than your favorite dating site. Michael Brantley, Yordan Alvarez, and Carlos Correa all reached safely on line drives. Correa’s single scored Brantley from third to give the Astros a one-run lead. Thankfully Aldemys Diaz grounded out to end the half-inning without adding more damage to the scoreboard.

In the bottom of the first, Austin Meadows led off with a fly ball that landed in Michael Brantley’s glove for the first out of the inning. Manuel Margot hit a single to right field to give the Rays the first baserunner of the game only to be caught stealing after a late jump to get started. I cannot blame him for the attempt with Brandon Lowe at the plate since Lowe came into the game with the second lowest slugging percentage in MLB (.037, 1 total bases in 27 ABs) against lefties this season. Of course, all of that means Lowe connects on a line drive to center for a two-out single. A Yandy Diaz strike out closed out the first inning with the Rays trailing by one run. For now.

Yarbrough only needed 11 pitches to get through the second inning. He was getting better results from his cutter than in the first inning. Kyle Tucker was the only Astros hitter to put a ball in play with a pop out to second. Myles Straw and Martin Moldonado both struck with the difference being Straw completing a foul ball with two called strikes and Maldonado following his foul with two swinging strikes. Even in striking out it’s possible to work smarter not harder.

McCullers Jr. also had a better second inning only allowing Joey Wendle to put a ball in play with a lead off line drive for an out. Mike Zunino and Kevin Kiermaier both struck out for a 1-2-3 inning only requiring 14 pitches from McCullers.

Altuve was greeted by a chorus of boos as he stepped to the plate at the top of the third from the socially distant Tropicana Field crowd. Not sure if it had any impact but he did ground out to lead off the top of the third. Defensively it was a great effort by Willy Adames to prevent the ball from making it out the infield but that defensive play would be overshadowed by the next four at-bats.

Brantley hits a Yarbrough curveball to right field for a single to give the Astros a baserunner. Bregman then extended the lead by crushing a 77mph changeup over the left field wall for a two-run home run.

If Astros hitters could swipe right on Yarbrough’s pitches they would have as Alvarez followed the homer with a single and Correa got a favorable bounce for a ground-rule double. Alvarez would score on a Diaz ground out that also advanced Correa to third. After walking Kyle Tucker, a Straw strikeout would close the top of the third. The Rays worked some good at-bats in the bottom of the third but only had two walks and as has become a trend this year, they left those runners stranded. Astros lead by four after three inning but it could have been worse.

Let’s talk about Carlos’ corner for a moment. That’s what I affectionately call the lower section of wall in left field that was lowered back in the day so left-handed Carl Crawford could potentially rob some home runs. It never worked out that way but was very beneficial in Evan Longoria’s Game 162 home run. In the top of the fourth inning the little notch that could made an appearance, though, this time it allowed a Maldonado line drive to ricochet off for a triple. A Brantley line drive would score Maldonado to give the Astros a five-run lead.

Yarbrough was able to retire Correa, Diaz, and Tucker in order in the top of the fifth. Unfortunately for the Rays, a Yoshi Tsutsugo walk was the extent of offense in the bottom half of the fifth. Yarbrough struggled with his pitches being off just enough in this game for Astros hitters to have a field day. He finished his night with 6IP, 9H, 5R, and 1 BB on 103 pitches. At least the bullpen was able to get rest as he ate some innings for the team.

Brandon Lowe was the rare bright spot for the Rays in this game. In the bottom of the sixth he made solid contact on a McCullers cutter for a double and his second hit of the game, both coming with two strikes. He would ultimately get left stranded at second after a Diaz fly out and a Joey Wendle strikeout but if Lowe can get his groove back that can prove beneficial beyond tonight.

Trevor Richards took the mound for the top of the seventh in relief of Yarbrough but the results did not change much. Michael Brantley continued to be a single hitting machine and lived up to all the praise the Bally Sports broadcast team gave him in the pregame show where they dubbed him the “emotionless assassin.” Correa would move Brantley to third on a single and a Diaz single would bring him home and extend the Astros lead to six in the seventh.

McCullers had great results in this game as he finished his outing with three up and three down for the Rays. Tsutsugo was the final hitter he faced and resulted in being his ninth strikeout of the night with his knuckle curve which was very effective in the game. McCullers finished with 7.0 IP, 3 hits, 0 runs, and 9 strikeouts.

Richards strikes out the side in the eighth inning for the Rays and would be replaced by Louis Head in the ninth. The Astros bats showed no mercy in the top of the ninth and the Astros added three more runs on to their bludgeoning of the Rays.

To their credit the Rays made a valiant effort at getting a rally started down by nine runs in the bottom of the ninth. The Rays loaded the bases with a Joey Wendle single and walks to Mike Zunino and Kevin Kiermaier. Willy Adames prevents the game from being a shutout with a 2-RBI single to make it a 9-2 game which would end up being the final score.

The Rays will attempt to return to .500 and even the series tomorrow at 4:10pm ET.