(Photo credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports)
The Tampa Bay Rays' chances of an American League East championship are fading as their injury list grows ahead of Tuesday's visit to Boston, the first of a two-game series against the division rival Red Sox.
With a wild-card spot already in hand, Tampa Bay (95-62) sits 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the East with a week of the regular season to play, but three more players were sidelined for at least part of this past weekend's series at Toronto.
The Rays lost 9-5 in Sunday's deciding game of the series - and lost All-Star first baseman Yandy Diaz due to right hamstring tightness in the second inning.
"It's going to be very difficult (down the stretch)," infielder Isaac Paredes said through a translator. "We've lost a lot of key players and position players as well. I think we need to just make sure these young guys are going to do a good job of making up for it."
Paredes hit his 30th home run of the season during the Sunday loss.
Outfielder Randy Arozarena (right quad tightness) and setup man Robert Stephenson (neck soreness) missed the entire weekend. And that was after center fielder Jose Siri and second baseman Brandon Lowe were among four additions to the injured list in a 12-day span.
"The expectation this year was to win at a high clip and put ourselves in position to get to the postseason," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "(But) if you would have told me in spring training that all of this stuff would have happened - the injuries and everything else - I probably would have been scratching my head a little bit."
With Aaron Civale "under the weather," according to Cash, the Tuesday pitching nod goes to fellow right-hander Zach Eflin (15-8, 3.44).
The 29-year-old Eflin struck out double-digit batters in two of his past six starts, including his Thursday outing against the Los Angeles Angels when he fanned 10 across five innings of two-run ball but did not factor into the decision. His two starts prior were victories.
Eflin has made three starts against Boston in his career, logging a 6.43 ERA and 21 strikeouts over 14 innings.
After consecutive one-run losses and not scoring more than three runs in all three weekend games against the Chicago White Sox, Boston (76-80) will counter with Tanner Houck (5-9, 4.92) in its penultimate home game of the season.
The 27-year-old righty allowed two runs in four innings Tuesday at Texas, breaking up a streak of three straight five-inning starts that included six shutout frames against the New York Yankees five days earlier.
Houck, Kutter Crawford and Garrett Whitlock are all essentially auditioning for a spot in the starting rotation to begin next season. Crawford struck out seven over 5 1/3 innings in Sunday's rain-shortened loss.
"I think it applies to all (three)," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. "I mean, you can always adjust to the other role. Right now, we don't know (who will be starters in 2024). ... And then at one point, somebody's going to take over, and if we have to make adjustments, we will."
Houck is 0-2 with a 6.30 ERA in two career starts against Tampa Bay.
The Red Sox have also seen contributions from youngsters in the lineup in September, including the talented, versatile Ceddanne Rafaela and fellow rookie Wilyer Abreu, who hit his second career homer Sunday.
--Field Level Media