The Tampa Bay Rays passed the first portion of their season-long 10-game homestand over the weekend, but now the test gets tougher.
Fighting for wild-card positioning in the American League, the Rays will host the Houston Astros for three games starting Monday night in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Over the weekend, manager Kevin Cash’s club won two of three games against the Texas Rangers, moving its home record to 16-3 in the past 19 games.
Tampa Bay (82-64) will be meeting the 2017 World Series champs for the first time in 2022.
The Astros (96-51) have been victorious in four of the past six matchups against the hosts, all from last season.
In 2020, the clubs met in the AL Championship Series with the Rays capturing the pennant in a 4-2 win in Game 7.
For the remaining seven contests at home, the Rays will host the Astros before welcoming in the Toronto Blue Jays.
“There’s no doubt it’s challenging,” Cash said. “We haven’t seen the Astros at all this year other than the highlights. They’re a very talented team. Offensively, they do really special things with the bat, and they can do a lot of things from the mound.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to get through the rest of this homestand.”
Fresh off a recent six-game winning streak and victorious in seven of their past eight games, the Astros cut a clear path to the top of the AL West and have left the second-place Seattle Mariners — 15 games back — far behind.
They also appear to be the favorite to claim their fourth junior circuit pennant in the past six seasons.
Houston owns the AL’s best winning percentage (.653) and has stepped up its play in September with a 12-4 mark (.750).
In Sunday’s 11-2 win over Oakland, Astros pitcher Framber Valdez set a major league record by crafting his 25th consecutive quality start, breaking the high mark previously held by the New York Mets’ Jacob deGrom.
“I knew of the record, but I wasn’t nervous. I was very focused,” said Valdez, who is 16-5 with a 2.57 ERA and won’t face the Rays.
Tampa Bay’s pitching is looking potentially better on the front end down the stretch.
Tyler Glasnow, who emerged as the rotation ace in his first 2 1/2 seasons with the AL East club, is rehabbing from last summer’s Tommy John surgery and could arrive later this month.
Across his past three seasons, the 6-foot-8 right-hander is 16-4 with a 2.80 ERA in 37 starts.
Glasnow, 29, made his third rehab start Sunday for Triple-A Durham and fired two perfect innings. He struck out four and topped out at 99 mph on his fastball in the 25-pitch outing.
For Houston, Luis Garcia (12-8, 4.04 ERA) will start the series opener. In his past five starts, the Venezuelan is 4-0, but holds a 4.50 ERA.
The right-hander is 0-1 with a 10.80 ERA in his lone start against the Rays, a 7-0 home loss last September in which he allowed homers to Brandon Lowe and Ji-Man Choi.
Drew Rasmussen (10-5, 2.77) draws the start for the home side and will face Garcia and Houston for the second time in his career.
He earned the win in the 7-0 game last fall against Garcia with five innings of one-hit ball.