ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Houston has had the best bullpen in the American League since May 1, and while Saturday's win was a wobbly one, their endgame is looking better than Tampa Bay's entering Sunday's series finale.
The Astros got a third save from reliever Will Harris, who wasn't his dominating self -- he walked two batters after having just four walks all season, and gave up a run after going 26 appearances without doing so. But he got a game-ending double play to walk away with a win, and that's encouraging to manager A.J. Hinch.
"It was a good win for us -- we needed every run we could get," Hinch said. "The ability to keep the big inning on both sides out of the way really kept it sharp."
Sunday's finale pits two starters who have been much better than their records would suggest -- Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel (3-8, 5.44 ERA) and Rays lefty Matt Moore (2-4, 5.56). The Rays' bullpen has been overworked in the first half of the season -- relievers allowed as many runs in getting four outs Saturday as starter Chris Archer did in getting 23.
"He has been great for us 95 percent of the time he takes the hill," Archer said of reliever Erasmo Ramirez, whose bases-loaded wild pitch brought in the go-ahead run in the eighth. "When he comes into the game, you feel confident, and when he comes into the game Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, we are going to feel the same amount of confidence."
There are concerns that Rays manager Kevin Cash only trusts part of his bullpen -- he brought in Dana Eveland in a one-run game in the ninth, and the only batter he faced hit a solo home run, which ended up being the deciding run. Eveland's ERA is 6.75, and the Rays already have two relievers who have made their MLB debuts in the last month, so the alternatives are very unproven.
"He has been used heavily," Archer said of Ramirez. "Baseball is a sport where there are a lot of ups and downs, and this is one that wasn't necessarily positive for him, but obviously we fully believe and know what he's capable of."
Houston is in a different place -- its relievers have an ERA under 2.00 over the last 23 games, with Harris making a strong case to take over as closer. Luke Gregerson has 13 saves and pitched a perfect eighth Saturday, but Harris is the one with a 0.63 ERA, with 30 strikeouts against just six walks. A formal anointing as closer hasn't come yet, but might not be far off either.
"It's looking more and more likely that he's going to get more opportunities," Hinch said. "But I'm not going to name a closer just yet. I'll let it marinate a little bit more."