The Tampa Bay Rays, in an offensive slump since the All-Star break, will look to break out when they face the Cleveland Guardians on Friday in the opener of a three-game series in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Cleveland right-hander Shane Bieber (4-6, 3.55 ERA) and Tampa Bay left-hander Jeffrey Springs (3-2, 2.50) are the scheduled starters for Friday.

After making the American League All-Star team in 2019 and ’21 sandwiching a Cy Young Award-winning season in 2020, Bieber has been subpar by his standards this year. There also are other things that could be on Bieber’s mind, too.

Reports in recent days indicated that Bieber could be available before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Cleveland’s asking price allegedly is very steep, but it should be for a pitcher who led the majors with a 1.63 ERA in 2020.

In four career starts against the Rays, Bieber is 1-2 with a 3.09 ERA.

Tampa Bay is heading home after completing a 2-5 road trip with a 3-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday. The Rays open their five-game homestand desperate for offense, as they averaged just 3.1 runs on the trip.

“We’re just not getting it done offensively,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “The guys know that. They’re fully aware. There’s a lot of pride in that room to do better. It’s just not coming easy right now. We’ve kind of hit a little bit of a rut.”

Baltimore’s pitching deserves credit for holding the Rays to four hits (all singles) in the finale and 10 runs total in the four-game series. But Cash could take some of the blame.

His lineup in the finale against the Orioles was a head-scratcher, as Randy Arozarena and Yandy Diaz, two of Tampa Bay’s best offensive weapons, were not in the lineup.

Cash said he wanted to give the two right-handed batters a day off and also pointed out the fact that Baltimore right-hander Jordan Lyles was getting the start.

The Rays had Isaac Paredes batting third, Luke Raley in the cleanup spot and Josh Lowe batting fifth. Raley has all of three home runs and eight RBIs in his career. He is hitting .205 after going 1-for-3 on Thursday. Lowe also went 1-for-3 to boost his batting average to .206.

Paredes, who went 0-for-4, has some power with 14 home runs and 29 RBIs, but he usually fares better when he is batting lower in the order. He has four home runs and five RBI when he has batted fifth, five home runs and 12 RBIs when he’s in the No. 6 slot and two home runs and five RBIs at No. 7.

Cleveland, which lost to the Boston Red Sox 4-2 on Thursday to split a four-game series, is 4-4 on its 11-game road trip. Steven Kwan has collected at least one hit in every game on the trip so far, pushing his hitting streak to 11 games.

Another Guardians outfielder, Myles Straw, also is on a hot streak. He is batting .345 (20-for-58) in his past 17 games, a big jump from the .194 average he carried through July 6.

“He’s a phenomenal player,” Cleveland first baseman Josh Naylor said. “I’m glad he’s on our side, I’m glad we have an athlete like him on our team and a leader and just a great player in general. “

–Field Level Media