The Los Angeles Dodgers, the best team in the National League, will visit one of the top teams in the American League on Tuesday, and they just might be able to sneak into town under the radar.
The Tampa Bay Rays return home to open a brief two-game series against the Dodgers fresh off consecutive showdown weekend series with the New York Yankees. What the Rays learned is that as good as they have become, more progress needs to be made.
The Yankees not only won two of three games on the Gulf Coast from May 10-12, but they also won two of three at New York last weekend. The Rays' 13-5 defeat on Sunday was particularly disheartening.
"It's another eye-opener for us, or call it whatever you want to call it," the Rays' Kevin Kiermaier said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "It's just like, 'Hey, don't be satisfied because we're in these games, we've got to win these games.' We've got to find better ways to do that."
It might not matter who arrived into town this week. The opponent was going to get a salty group of Rays after what happened against the Yankees. That the team is the two-time defending National League champions, who have opened this season 31-17, only adds to the intrigue.
One area of improvement the Rays need to make, outside of their play against the Yankees, is to start winning more at home. They are 12-10 in their own park this season, making them one of two first- or second-place teams in baseball with fewer than 13 home victories.
The Dodgers are just 12-11 away from Los Angles, but they will enter their first interleague series of the season having just won two of three at Cincinnati.
And not only has Dodgers' starting pitching been dominating of late, but Clayton Kershaw will start Tuesday's opener, his first time on the mound at Tropicana Field. His lone start against the Rays came in 2013 when he gave up two runs (one earned) over eight innings in a victory.
Since April 25, Dodgers starters are 12-2 with a 2.05 ERA, mostly led by the dominance of Hyun-Jin Ryu in that stretch. Ryu won't pitch against the Rays this week, but Kershaw (3-0, 3.40 ERA) still provides a formidable challenge even though he has not reached peak form after a late start to the season because of shoulder inflammation.
In three May starts, though, Kershaw does have a 4.58 ERA and has been vulnerable to the long ball with five home runs allowed in that stretch. But the Dodgers have won 14 consecutive Kershaw starts going back to last season.
"You're not always going to have your best stuff, you're going to give up home runs at times, but that's the beauty of being on such a good team," Kershaw said after serving up a pair of homers to the San Diego Padres last Tuesday in a 6-3 victory. "The way we're going, we're going to score runs."
Powering that offense has been Cody Bellinger, who will carry 17 home runs and an NL-leading .405 batting average into the game. He also leads the NL in runs (42), hits (66), on-base percentage (.485), slugging percentage (.791) and total bases (129).
The Rays, who lead the major leagues with a 2.98 ERA, are expected to use right-hander Hunter Wood (1-0, 0.00 ERA) as their "opener" on Tuesday against a Dodgers team that led the NL with 249 runs scored through the weekend.
Wood has given up six hits with one walk in 7 1/3 innings this year. He made one previous opener start this season, when he pitched two scoreless innings against the Baltimore Orioles on April 18. He has not faced the Dodgers in his three-year major league career.
--Field Level Media
Kershaw set for first start at Tampa Bay
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