Through 122 games, the Tampa Bay Rays have done their part in fortifying their position as the team with the best record in the American League.
But holding that spot should get harder starting Friday on their home turf.
Occupying first place in the AL East and 28 games over .500, Tampa Bay will host three games against the Chicago White — the AL Central’s top club — in the South Siders’ only visit to Florida.
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash’s squad will have to be prepared for what lies ahead over the weekend after having an easy time of it against the woeful Baltimore Orioles — sweeping all four games by a combined 34-8 margin.
However, Cash said winning has become a consistent mindset for the Rays — and not just against the worst team in the majors.
“We’ve shown the ability over a couple of seasons now,” Cash said. “We just want to be as consistent as possible and keep (winning).
“The faces change sometimes and personnel changes, but there’s a core group of guys here who set a tone day in and day out. And they’re going to do everything to beat the opposition on that given night.”
In the series opener, Cash will start Michael Wacha (2-4, 5.91 ERA), who has experienced an August that has been as brutal as the sweltering Florida heat.
The right-hander is 0-2 with an 11.57 ERA — his worst numbers for a month — over his last three starts. Opposition hitters have battered the 30-year-old Wacha with a .435 average and a 1.176 OPS.
Against the White Sox during his nine-year career, Wacha is 1-0 with a 6.30 ERA in two starts.
Chicago took two of three at home from Tampa Bay in mid-June and has had a hot week as well, hosting its own four-game series against the Oakland Athletics. The Sox won three of four but lost Thursday’s series finale, 5-4.
White Sox manager Tony La Russa has welcomed the return of center fielder Luis Robert, who has been solid with the glove and sizzled at the plate in August.
The 24-year-old Cuban standout missed over a month due to a right hip flexor tear, but his play evidently shows he’s 100 percent.
In his first seven games since returning from the injured list Aug. 9 and through Chicago’s 3-2 win Wednesday, the righty-hitting Robert batted .429 (12-for-28) with two homers, two doubles, six RBIs and a stout 1.163 OPS.
“Honestly, you never know how you’re going to produce when you come back,” Robert said through an interpreter. “You’re hoping to do your best, but you don’t know. You don’t have that certainty.
“Honestly, I’m feeling kind of the same way I was feeling right before the injury happened.”
Lucas Giolito (9-9, 3.83) will make his 25th start and face the Rays for the fifth time in his career. The right-hander has had strong performances in the previous four, going 1-0 with a 2.03 ERA, striking out 32 and walking seven in 26 2/3 innings.
Giolito, 27, earned a no-decision in his lone start against the AL East leaders this season. On June 16, he hurled six innings and allowed four hits and three runs in Chicago’s 8-7 victory.
–Field Level Media