Rays on the brink of another wild-card exit vs. Rangers

The Tampa Bay Rays will need to locate their offense — and their defense, for that matter — if they wish to avert a second sweep in as many years in the American League wild-card series.

Tampa Bay mustered just one run in 24 innings during last year’s wild-card series against the Cleveland Guardians.

After being shut out in the series opener on Tuesday, the fourth-seeded Rays will host the fifth-seeded Texas Rangers on Wednesday afternoon for Game 2 of their best-of-three series in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Tampa Bay produced just six hits and committed a franchise playoff-record four errors in a 4-0 setback to Texas in the series opener on Tuesday.

“We didn’t play a very good, clean baseball game by any stretch. We didn’t hit, pitch or defend,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “When you’re going up against a good team, they’re going to capitalize … and eventually they did.”

Cash didn’t mince words when asked if there was a message for his team going into Wednesday’s elimination game.

“Win,” he said.

Well, the Rangers were able to accomplish that goal in the series opener despite going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and leaving 13 men on base.

Corey Seager had a two-run single and joined Leody Taveras and Evan Carter with two hits apiece. Carter reached base four times.

Tampa Bay will turn to Zach Eflin (16-8, 3.50 ERA) to start Wednesday’s game against fellow right-hander Nate Eovaldi (12-5, 3.63).

Eflin, 29, grew up in the Orlando area and told reporters Tuesday that he fondly remembers the Rays’ run to the 2008 World Series, even detailing several pivotal moments in that stretch.

Eflin admitted that his potential to pitch in the postseason was one of the primary factors as to why he signed a three-year, $40 million contract with Tampa Bay in December.

“That was probably my biggest goal this offseason was to sign with a team that wins consistently in the playoffs. It just helped that I grew up a really big Rays fan, and I live two hours away,” Eflin said.

“This is exactly the scenario that I wanted to be in. I’m really happy with everybody on the team and all the perseverance that we’ve had this year to get to this point. Like I said, we’re really excited, really stoked to get going.”

Eflin, however, had a horrific showing in his lone career appearance against Texas. He allowed seven runs on 11 hits in four innings of a 9-3 loss on May 17, 2017 while pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Eovaldi, 33, hopes his performance in October is much better than the one he turned in last month. He posted a 1-2 record with a bloated 9.30 ERA over six starts in September.

Rangers manager Bruce Bochy, however, said he saw positives on Eovaldi’s last start despite the less-than-desirable results.

“No, (his) stuff was there. It wasn’t where we were hoping it would be, I’m sure where he was hoping it would be,” Bochy said. “I’m talking about the delivery, the stuff, everything. And they just found a way to get some hits there.

“… But no, he showed the stuff and really the command. I think you look at the early go in that game, he was the (pitcher) that we know.”

Eovaldi faced the Rays twice this season and went 2-0 against them with a 2.92 ERA. All told, Eovaldi is 7-6 with a 3.89 ERA in 17 career appearances (15 starts) versus the Rays.