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Tampa Bay Rays' Josh Lowe, right, celebrates his three-run home run off Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Freddy Peralta during the fourth inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 21, 2023, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Rays Kick Off Series Against Cardinals, Look to Close Gap in AL East

With less than two months left in the MLB regular season, the Tampa Bay Rays have ground to make up. They sit three games back from first place in the AL East. The team has a chance to make noise in the postseason regardless, but jumping the Baltimore Orioles for the top spot would be favorable for the team.

The next step on the road to first place and October? A three-game midweek stint against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Behind Enemy Lines

The Cardinals are the exact kind of team you want to play when looking to make up ground and win a chunk of games. St. Louis sits in last place in its division and just dropped a series to fellow divisional back marker, the Colorado Rockies.  The Cardinals have been lowly all season and are even worse off after losing stars Paul DeJong and Jack Flaherty as well as a handful of arms to the trade deadline. This may seem backwards for a team struggling with pitching, but it looks like St. Louis has accepted the idea of blowing it up and starting over.

St. Louis still features quality bats like Lars Nootbaar, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, but in no way are the Cards looking to be competitive in the final stretch of 2023.

Series Preview

With that in mind, the Rays will be looking for a series win or even a sweep this week.

Zach Eflin and Zack Littell are expected to make starts for Tampa Bay in the series. Game two’s starter is TBD. It’s certainly not the top of the rotation, but Eflin and Littell have proved themselves workable, especially against a team that isn’t exactly “getting up” for this series. The Rays outrank the Cardinals in nearly every statistical category for pitching.

On the offensive end, the Cardinals actually outrank Tampa Bay in batting average, hits and walks. But the Rays’ power and scoring ability will likely be too much to handle. The Cardinals rank bottom-eight in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and opponent batting average. All signs point to a batting practice-like series for Tampa Bay.

The Bigger Picture

The Rays have an opportunity to gain ground on the Orioles this week. Baltimore faces a test against the Houston Astros, a team much more primed than St. Louis to make a competitive series. A sweep plus some missteps from the Orioles could put the Rays in a good position with just a handful of series left to be played in the regular season.

Catch coverage of Tuesday night’s action at 6 p.m. on WRUF 98.1 FM/850 AM.

About Jackson Castellano

Jackson Castellano is a third-year Sports Media Journalism student at the University of Florida.

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