ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Florida's two baseball teams open the second half against each other, with three games at Tropicana Field to set the trajectory for the rest of their season.
The Tampa Bay Rays (49-47) went 14-4 in 18 games to put themselves back in wild-card contention, though their dominating pitching gave way just before the All-Star break, giving up 33 runs in four games and dropping three of four games to the Minnesota Twins.
The Miami Marlins (41-57) won three of four games before the break and five of seven, but they're barely ahead of the New York Mets to avoid last place in the National League East. Miami took two of three games from Tampa Bay on July 2-4, with strong pitching in 3-2 and 3-0 wins.
Tampa Bay will be without one of its top bats. Catcher Wilson Ramos is an All-Star who's on the disabled list with a hamstring injury that will make it difficult to trade him by this month's deadline. The Marlins have already traded off their biggest names before the season started.
The Rays will start former Marlins pitcher Nathan Eovaldi (4-3, 4.59 ERA), who has had a wildly up and down season as he returns from Tommy John surgery. Consider his last two starts -- seven innings of one-hit, shutout baseball against the Mets, then not making it through the third against the Twins, giving up eight runs and nine hits.
Eovaldi pitched for the Marlins from 2012 to 2014 and is 1-3 against his former team with a 4.01 ERA. With the Yankees, he had perhaps his worst career outing against the Marlins, getting only two outs and giving up eight runs and nine hits in a 2015 game.
Miami answers with another 3-4 pitcher in Dan Straily, who carries a 4.29 ERA but has no wins in his last three starts, despite allowing only six earned runs in 19 innings. Straily has faced the Rays only once, in May 2017, but gave up two home runs to Tim Beckham and lost 5-1, giving up four runs and just three hits in five innings.
If Eovaldi can come up with another dominating start -- he didn't allow a hit in his first game back from a two-year absence -- he'll improve his status as one of the best available starting arms at the trade deadline, something the Rays are likely to take advantage of.
Another former Marlin, shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, is also likely to be traded and will get ample playing time as the Rays seek to maximize their return on a plus defender who can help at the plate as well.
Tampa Bay is unlikely to play so well in the next 10 days to avoid being sellers at the trade deadline, knowing they must shed salary and gain prospects to continue a budget model for longterm success. They'll start the second half against another team that is already farther along on the same model as the Marlins make their own rebuilding model.