|Rays begin tough final stretch at NL-best Dodgers|
There will be no breaks ahead for the Tampa Bay Rays, who will try to nail down a wild-card spot in the American League while facing a daunting final 11 games.
There are series ahead against the defending World Series champions (Red Sox), as well as one of the top teams in the American League (Yankees) and a final matchup to close out the season that is not only away from home, it is out of the country (Blue Jays).
But that 11-game run starts Tuesday with a two-game series at Los Angeles against a Dodgers team that has the best record in the National League.
The Dodgers already have clinched their seventh-straight NL West title, but there is still the chase for best record in the league, as well as the best record in the major leagues, and the home-field advantages in the playoffs that come with those honors.
The Dodgers have a magic number of seven to clinch the best record in the NL and they are one game behind the New York Yankees and Houston Astros in the fight for best record overall, which offers home-field advantage in the World Series against any opponent.
The Rays currently own the second wild card in the American League, 1 1/2 games behind wild-card leader Oakland. They are also 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians, who are in third place in the wild-card standings.
"We come to the field each and every day like we have all year to try and win ball games," outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. "It's just now, I don't know if 'the pressure's on' are the right words, but the pressure's on the other teams, as well. All three (contending teams), we're all trying to play the best baseball to end the year to get to where we want to be."
Left-hander Blake Snell (6-7, 4.28 ERA) will start for the Rays on Tuesday, making his return from arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow July 25. The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, who never has faced the Dodgers, is expected to pitch just three innings.
The Dodgers will counter with right-hander Ross Stripling (4-4, 3.40), whose spot on the postseason roster is not yet secure. The Dodgers do have an opening for a No. 4 starter if they can advance to the National League Championship Series and Stripling could get consideration with a strong close to the season.
Stripling, who has not given up a run in four career relief innings against the Rays, is coming off a start at Baltimore on Wednesday when he gave up one run over three innings despite a curveball that was not his best.
"I would say it was OK," Stripling said of the outing, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Not terribly sharp."
Three of Stripling's last four outings have been as a starter and he has given up a combined three earned runs in 11 innings of those appearances.
The Dodgers could be without third baseman Justin Turner, for at least one more game, after he did not the six-game road trip to Baltimore and New York (Mets) because of a sprained left ankle.
Tuesday's game will start the Dodgers' final homestand of the regular-season, a five-game set against the Rays and the Colorado Rockies.
--Field Level Media