On Friday night, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays will welcome the Cleveland Indians to town for a three-game series at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
The Devil Rays, who ended a three-game losing streak with a win against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Wednesday, return home after finishing their 10-game road trip – against the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, and Boston – with a 4-6 record.
Edwin Jackson, fresh off his best start of the season – a complete game, eight strikeout shutout against the Texas on Sunday, will take the mound for the Devil Rays. After a dismal start to the season, Jackson, who has a 2.45 career ERA against Cleveland in three career appearances (two starts), is currently on a hot streak. After going 8.00 ERA before the All-Star break, the 23-year-old is 2-2 with a 2.38 ERA in the second half. Prior to his dominant outing against the Rangers, he also turned in a masterpiece on July 20 against the New York Yankees – when he held the Bronx Bombers, arguably the best-hitting team in baseball, scoreless for six innings at Yankee Stadium.
Until his last outing – where he allowed seven hits and seven runs in two innings against New York – Paul Byrd, who will start for the Indians tonight, like Jackson, was off to a great start to the second half. The veteran righty – a product of St. Xavier High School in Louisville, Kentucky – is 10-5 with a 4.53 ERA for Cleveland, but opponents are batting .302 against him headed into Friday’s start. However, he is considerably better on the road, owning a 4-2 record and 2.88 ERA in 10 starts away from Jacobs Field.
Carl Crawford – hitting .438 in his last 27 games with 15 stolen bases – has been on a tear of late and will look to lead a struggling Tampa Bay offense to a victory. Crawford, who went 2-for-5 on Wednesday in the final game of the series at Boston, has been one of the only offensive bright spots for the Devil Rays over the past 10 games. He is batting .315 with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs so far this season.
Cleveland, winners of 12 of its past 13 meetings with Tampa Bay, is entrenched in a competitive battle for the American League Central title. After being swept by the Yankees at the beginning of last week, the Indians salvaged a split in a series with Detroit, their archrival, with a crucial victory against the Tigers on Wednesday. The Indians are now ½ games behind their nemesis, the division leaders.
The Devil Rays trounced Red Sox starter Dausuike Matsusaka – a leading candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year – for six runs on Wednesday. But the Tampa Bay offense has only scored two runs in their previous three games. They will look to play spoilers in the first series of a 10-game home stand.
Tampa Bay – 46-74 – is coming off a great couple of days for the organization. On Wednesday, in what could prove to be on of the most important transactions in franchise history, the Devil Rays signed Vanderbilt left-hander David Price, the first overall pick of June’s draft. Jackson, once considered one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball when he was in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system, could join Scott Kazmir, Price, and Jamie Shields to form a top-notch starting rotation. But the young right- hander, who has flashed signs of brilliance in doses – such as being clocked at 99 mph as late as the ninth inning in his win on Sunday – has to improve upon his recent success and continue to live up to his tremendous potential for that to happen. He will look to do so in the tonight’s opener against Cleveland.