ST. LOUIS -- The Tampa Bay Rays appear to have figured out their bullpen situation.The St. Louis Cardinals, on the other hand, are wildly casting around for answers with the seasonentering the home stretch.
The teams' divergent directions from their relief corps intersect Friday night at Busch Stadium, where the clubs start a three-game interleague series in search of wins to help their playoff pushes.
Tampa Bay (63-66) asked its bullpen for 14 outs Thursday after starter Alex Cobb's pitch count hit 94 after 4 1/3 innings. The relievers got all 14 outs without allowing a run to secure a 2-0 win over the Toronto Blue Jays and pull the Rays within three games of the Minnesota Twins for the American League's second wild-card spot.
Veterans Steve Cishek and Sergio Romo have pitched to 0.00 and 2.20 ERAs, respectively, since joining the team. They have added depth to a relief corps that features closer Alex Colome, who leads the majors with 38 saves.
"They've proven to everyone that if we can get them a lead, more times than not, we are going to find a way to be successful with that group down there," Rays manager Kevin Cash said Thursday. "Today we asked a lot of them, but they still came through in a big way."
While Tampa Bay is satisfied with its bullpen, St. Louis (64-63) most certainly is not. Its relievers coughed up 12 runs over seven innings in losing two of three games to San Diego, including two in the ninth inning Thursday night en route to a 4-3 setback.
The latest hiccup cost the Cardinals a chance to gain ground on the first-place Chicago Cubs in the National League Central. Chicago fell 4-2 in Cincinnati but remains 4 1/2 games up on third-place St. Louis.
Dropping two of three to the Padres also constitutes a poor start to a stretch in which St. Louis plays 20 of 22 games against squads with losing records.
"Every game, no matter who it is, you go in with the idea that you have to win," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Thursday. "You have to play good baseball, but we had some mistakes that hurt us today."
St. Louis will turn to Michael Wacha (9-6, 4.08 ERA) in an attempt to start the series with a victory. Wacha has dropped his past two outings, including a 6-4 decision Saturday at Pittsburgh in which he allowed five second-inning runs after a lengthy rain delay.
Wacha has pitched only once in his career against the Rays, falling 6-3 on June 11, 2014, in St. Petersburg. In that outing, he gave up four runs on four hits over five innings.
Opposing Wacha will be Jake Odorizzi (6-7, 4.74 ERA), who will find a haven of Tampa Bay fans in a crowd that will mostly don red. Odorizzi is from nearby Highland, Ill., and he had a large cheering section three years ago when he posted a 7-2 win over the Cardinals.
However, the young right-hander hasn't found consistency this year, illustrated by a 7-6 loss Saturday night to Seattle. Odorizzi, who is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in two career starts against the Cardinals, was pounded for eight hits and seven runs over 3 2/3 innings against the Mariners, walking five and fanning two.