A shoddy bullpen has been the Tampa Bay Rays' biggest shortcoming all season, particularly during the club's recent dismal stretch.
After doing their jobs in Friday's victory against the Los Angeles Angels, the relievers may be called upon in a big way again on Saturday night given the lack of innings from Tampa Bay's starters recently.
Tampa Bay's bullpen ranked among baseball's best over the past two seasons with a 3.25 ERA. However, the Rays' (19-24) relievers have been far from reliable in 2014, posting a 4.44 ERA. They've been even worse lately, with a 6.50 ERA and 0-5 record during the team's 3-8 stretch prior to Friday, including a blown save in Thursday's 6-5 loss in Anaheim.
But the bullpen yielded just two hits and a walk over 3 1-3 scoreless innings in Friday's 4-0 win, preserving the victory for starter Chris Archer. Grant Balfour tossed a perfect ninth for his eighth save, one night after allowing three runs without recording a single out.
Surely manager Joe Maddon would like to see his starters go deeper into games to take some pressure off the bullpen. Only two Tampa Bay starters have completed at least seven innings in the club's last 23 games.
Saturday's starter Cesar Ramos (1-2, 3.71 ERA) is coming off a career-high 6 2-3 innings, though the left-hander surrendered a career-worst 11 hits and nine runs in a 12-5 loss at Seattle on Monday. However, only five of those runs were earned as his teammates committed four errors behind him, and he didn't allow a hit in the final 3 2-3 innings.
"I appreciate him even more for what he did after the bad start,'' Maddon said of Ramos, who had compiled a 1.77 ERA over his previous four starts.
Ramos has never started against the Angels but has struggled in five relief appearances with a 10.13 ERA.
The Angels (22-19) would like to see Albert Pujols snap out of his slump. Though he singled Friday, he's just 4 for 38 over his last nine games after collecting 10 hits during a seven-game hitting streak. Pujols, who has played in all 41 games, started at first base after DHing three times in the club's previous six contests.
"I'm struggling right now," Pujols said. "I'm putting good swings on the ball, but there's nothing going my way. But I've been here before, so it's nothing I'm going to panic about."
Los Angeles is also looking for C.J. Wilson (4-3, 3.69) to bounce back from a shaky outing. He allowed five runs and six hits over six innings of a 7-3 loss in Toronto on Monday with all five runs coming on homers by Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista. Homers have accounted for nine of the 15 runs he's surrendered in three losses.
The southpaw also struggled with his command against the Blue Jays, throwing only 65 of his 116 pitches for strikes.
Wilson is 3-2 with a 3.96 ERA in eight career starts versus Tampa Bay, including an 0-2 mark with a 5.40 ERA in the last four.
Yunel Escobar owns an OPS of 1.076 over his past 16 matchups with the Angels after going 3 for 3 on Friday with a solo homer. He's 4 for 8 against Wilson.