|Rays look to finish strong against desperate Phillies|
The Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays returned to Florida on high notes Thursday, but their baseball futures are quite different as the final weekend of the regular season gets ready to open.
The teams meet for the first time in 2020 this weekend to begin the last three games of the 60-game campaign. The series starts Friday night in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Rays' visit to New York in a three-game series with the Mets this week took a very good turn for Tampa Bay on Wednesday night at Citi Field.
With the second-place Yankees putting together a 10-game winning streak in a stretch of 11 days, Tampa Bay's lead in the American League East became more tenuous. But the Rays (37-20) met their magic number Wednesday in an 8-5 win over the slumping Mets.
Fueled by a strong outing from Tyler Glasnow and a tiebreaking, two-run home run by Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay clinched its third division title in franchise history.
The club also strengthened its hold on the top spot in the AL -- a goal it hopes to reach against the Phillies (28-29).
Glasnow (5-1) tossed six innings of two-run ball in the title-clinching victory. In his second multi-homer game this season, Arozarena later slugged a solo jack -- a mammoth blast over the top of the left field foul pole -- and Brandon Lowe clubbed his team-leading 14th shot in the win.
"Pretty special, really special," said manager Kevin Cash of the division title. "We've got to enjoy this moment, but then we'll get back to work (Friday). It's a special group and staff."
The AL East crown was the first for Tampa Bay since its 96-win 2010 campaign. The team also won it in 2008 -- a season in which the Rays advanced to the World Series against the Phillies and lost in five games.
In his fifth start since returning from the injured list, Charlie Morton (2-2, 4.64 ERA) will start against the Phillies for the seventh time in his career. He owns a 2-3 mark with a bloated 6.30 ERA. Morton pitched briefly for Philadelphia, going 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA ion four starts before suffering a season-ending torn hamstring.
Philadelphia will likely look at the most recent series against the last-place Washington Nationals if it fails to make the National League's eight-team postseason field.
Sitting in third in the NL East after dropping a doubleheader to the second-place Miami Marlins on Sept. 13, Philadelphia lost four games in three days beginning Sunday with a 6-3 home loss to Toronto.
The losing skid hit four with three straight defeats in Washington before Bryce Harper's two-homer game lifted the Phillies to a 12-3 win over the defending World Series champions Wednesday.
With pitchers Jake Arrieta and Spencer Howard out of the starting rotation with injuries, Vince Velasquez (1-1, 5.46) will pitch for manager Joe Girardi's Phillies -- and the team could use a repeat performance from the right-hander.
Velasquez allowed just one run over six innings in Saturday's 3-1 win over Toronto. He allowed two hits, walked three and fanned six in the 104-pitch performance, recording his first win in six starts this season.
"A big booster for myself," Velasquez said after the gutsy showing in which he threw 69 pitches in the first three innings. "I definitely needed an outing like this.
"I'm sure people had their doubts, but it's all about how you finish."
Velasquez worked 6 2/3 innings in his lone start against the Rays on April 13, 2018, at Tropicana Field -- a 2-1 Phillies win.
--Field Level Media