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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It goes down as a 3-3 road trip, but with back-to-back shutouts against the New York Mets, the Tampa Bay Rays have momentum as they return home for a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay (45-44) is 11-4 in its last 15 games, with five shutouts during that span, including a two-hit gem Sunday that saw Nathan Eovaldi take a perfect game into the seventh inning.
The Rays are now fifth in baseball with a 3.56 staff ERA despite dealing with multiple injuries to starting pitchers.
The Rays get a big boost in that regard Monday with the healthy return of Chris Archer, back for the first time since he went on the disabled list June 2 with an abdominal strain.
Archer (3-4) pitched well before the injury, allowing three earned runs in 23 2/3 innings in his final four starts before going on the disabled list. That lowered his season ERA from 5.64 to 4.24.
Archer has faced Detroit once this season and took a hard-luck loss, holding the Tigers to two runs and six hits in six innings during a 2-1 loss on May 1. For his career, he’s 2-3 against Detroit with a 3.48 ERA in nine starts.
Detroit (40-52) is heading in the opposite direction of the Rays, having dropped 15 of 19 to fall out of contention in their division. They split a four-game series with Texas but lost 3-0 on Sunday after their bats were held in check.
The Tigers will start veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano (3-5, 4.03 ERA), who is in his fourth start back from his own stint on the disabled list. He has struggled in his last four starts, allowing 13 earned runs in 21 innings, and continues to have issues with control, with 41 walks against 57 strikeouts this year.
Liriano hasn’t faced the Rays this season but hasn’t fared well against them, with a 3-4 career mark and a 5.40 ERA. He’s just 1-4 since 2009, however, allowing six home runs in his last seven outings against Tampa Bay.
Last year, Liriano carried a 6.61 ERA in four starts against the Rays.
Tampa Bay’s bats got going in Sunday’s win, scoring nine runs with help from home runs by C.J. Cron, rookie Jake Bauers and Joey Wendle. Take away a six-run 16th inning against the Miami Marlins last week, and the Rays had scored 21 runs in 10 games before the nine-run outburst Sunday.
Pitching has sparked the Rays’ resurgence, even while multiple starters have been sidelined with injuries, forcing Tampa Bay to use relievers as starters more often than not.
Getting Archer back healthy — and back to the form he showed before the injury — is a key to Tampa Bay continuing to win and making a push at wild-card contention in the second half of the season.
The success and failure of the next three weeks will determine whether Tampa Bay is a seller or buyer at the trade deadline.