ALDS Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

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By the end of this week, it sure would be nice to look back and laugh at the Yankees’ 2-8 record against the Rays during the regular season. These two sides meet yet again in a best-of-five Division Series in San Diego. That means no Tropicana Field (yes!) but also no Yankee Stadium (sigh). It should be an intense series between two teams that have no love lost between one another.

Their Story

Credit where credit is due: the Rays have taken care of business thus far in 2020. In the regular season, Tampa Bay had the best record in the American League and handily won the East division. Then, in the first round of the playoffs, the Rays dispatched the Blue Jays in two games.

Tampa Bay has gotten to this point in spite of a slow start. Through August 5th, the Rays were 5-7 and 4.5 games behind the Yankees for first place in the division. It was starting to look like the Rays would fall short of expectations this year. At the time, the Yankees were riding high into Tropicana Field for a weekend series where the Bombers could have buried the Rays. Instead, Tampa Bay took three of four and effectively turned its season around. That series against the Yankees was a harbinger of things to come in the regular season vs. New York. Tampa Bay was victorious in eight of ten head-to-head matchups, including a three game sweep at Yankee Stadium later in August to take over first place for good.

Tampa Bay got to this point on the back of its pitching staff. Pitching has been the name of the game for the Rays for a while now, and 2020 was no different. Tampa Bay had a 3.56 ERA, third-best in MLB. But don’t let that scare you too much: the Yankees just handled Cleveland, who had an even better team ERA of 3.29. Different regular season competition of course, but let’s not pretend this Yankees’ lineup can’t handle good pitching.

Everyone expected the Rays to pitch well, but there were doubts about how much they’d hit this season. On paper, the offense looked mediocre. They were 16th in runs scored last year and subtracted Tommy Pham from the equation. PECOTA projected them to score 291 runs this season, and what do you know: they scored 289, which was 12th-best in MLB. Additionally, the Rays had a 109 wRC+, 9th in MLB, after recording a 102 wRC+ a year ago. This certainly isn’t a vaunted lineup, but it’s not a total pushover like Cleveland’s.

Of course, there’s more to Tampa Bay’s story than their record, record vs. the Yankees, and brief summaries of how the team pitched and hit in the regular season. I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the animus between the Yankees and Rays. It’s not some big secret that these two sides don’t like each other. This is a rivalry that’s bubbled for years primarily via bean ball wars. This should be an intense series that hopefully ends the Rays’ 2020 story.

Projected Lineup

  1. Yandy Díaz, DH (.307/.428/.386, 138 wRC+)
  2. Brandon Lowe, 2B (.269/.362/.554, 150 wRC+)
  3. Randy Arozarena, LF (.281/.382/.641, 176 wRC+)
  4. Ji-Man Choi, 1B (.230/.331/.410, 103 wRC+)
  5. Manuel Margot, RF (.269/.327/.352, 92 wRC+)
  6. Joey Wendle, 3B (.286/.342/.435, 116 wRC+)
  7. Willy Adames, SS (.259/.332/.481, 124 wRC+)
  8. Kevin Kiermaier, CF (.217/.321/.362, 93 wRC+)
  9. Mike Zunino, C (.147/.238/.360, 65 wRC+)

Bench:

  • Michael Pérez, C (.167/.237/.238, 35 wRC+)
  • Mike Brosseau, INF (.302/.378/.558, 157 wRC+)
  • Brett Phillips, OF (.150/.320/.400, 103 wRC+)
  • Hunter Renfroe, OF (.156/.252/.393, 76 wRC+)
  • Austin Meadows, LF (.205/.296/.371, 86 wRC+)
  • Yoshi Tsutsugo, DH (.197/.314/.395, 98 wRC+)

Pitching Matchups

Game 1, Tonight at 8:07 p.m. EDT:

Gerrit Cole (vs. Rays)

Can we get a repeat of Gerrit Cole’s 2019 ALDS against Tampa Bay? Cole started and won Games 2 and 5 and was absolutely dominant. In 15 2/3 innings, he allowed just 6 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, and struck out 25 batters. This year, the Yankees’ ace hasn’t been particularly effective against Tampa Bay in three starts, but who cares about that now. Cole is on a roll of late and there’s no one else you’d want to hand the ball to in Game 1.

There’s one guy who’s had a ton of success against Cole on Tampa Bay: Ji-Man Choi. Choi has a lifetime .667/.733/1.667 line in 15 plate appearances against Cole. Two of those homers came this season.

Blake Snell (vs. Yankees)

Snell was dominant in 5 2/3 shutout innings in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series vs. Toronto. He struck out 9 and allowed just three baserunners in his outing. This follows a very good regular season in which the young lefty posted a 3.24 ERA in 11 starts.

Snell.

As good as Snell has been, he does have the propensity to surrender homers. He gave up 10 in 50 innings this year, including a couple to the Yankees on August 18th (Luke Voit and Gary Sánchez). Sánchez, by the way, has five career homers against Snell in 20 at-bats, but he’s probably on the bench tonight in favor of Kyle Higashioka.

Game 2, Tomorrow at 8:10 p.m. EDT:

TBD, presumably Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Rays)

We didn’t get to see vintage playoff Tanaka in Game 2 of the Wild Card series, but it’s hard not to wonder how much the rain delay bungling affected him. Aaron Boone probably left him in a little too long as well. In any case, that performance doesn’t change the fact that Tanaka has been money in big games.

Tanaka has also pitched quite well against Tampa Bay and 2020 was mostly no exception. He had one ugly outing against the Rays sandwiched between two really good starts. That bad outing seemed to be the exception to the rule as Rays’ hitters have a .216/.263/.435 batting line against Tanaka entering this one.

Tyler Glasnow (vs. Yankees)

Glasnow got the win in Game 2 against Toronto and his only blemishes were two solo homers by Danny Jasnen. Go figure. Glasnow has ridiculous stuff and is really difficult to square up. Hence his 38.2 percent strikeout rate, third-best among MLB starters (Shane Bieber was first, by the way).

Glasnow.

Glasnow pitched very well against the Yankees twice this season and poorly the other time. The not so good outing back in early August? Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton were healthy. In the two good outings? Neither were healthy, and in one of those two, Jordy Mercer started. The Yankees stand a better chance with a healthy lineup now, obviously.

Game 3, Tomorrow at 7:10 p.m. EDT:

Charlie Morton (vs. Yankees)

Going Tampa Bay first here as they are the road team for this one along with Game 4*. Morton didn’t have a good 2020, which was marred by lower velocity and arm trouble. He finished with a 4.74 ERA in 9 starts and 38 innings.

Morton.

As rough as Morton’s 2020 has been, the veteran has had plenty of postseason success. He was fantastic in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS vs. the Yankees and shut down the Dodgers in the World Series. Morton also delivered a couple of strong starts for the Rays in last year’s playoff run.

TBD, presumably JA Happ (vs. Rays) or Deivi García

Neither Happ nor García have faced the Rays in 2020. I gotta say, I was floored to see Happ’s numbers against Tampa Bay hitters: .072/.196/.072 in 64 at bats. There are a bunch of new faces in the Rays’ lineup this year, of course. If Boone tabs García, it’ll be the 21 year-old’s first career game against the Rays.

Game 4*, Tomorrow at 7:10 p.m. EDT:

TBD vs. TBD

Game 5*, Tomorrow at 7:10 p.m. EDT:

TBD vs. TBD

*If necessary.

Bullpen

RHP: Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Peter Fairbanks, John Curtiss, Oliver Drake, Ryan Thompson, Aaron Slegers

LHP: Aaron Loup, Shane McClanahan, Ryan Yarbrough

This is still a terrific bullpen despite a number of injuries. It may not have the name value of the Yankees’ ‘pen, but everyone in here is quite capable. Tampa Bay relievers had MLB’s highest win probability added, the most shutdowns, and the third-lowest ERA.

Injury Report

  • Yonny Chirinos, RHP (Tommy John surgery)
  • José Alvarado, LHP (Shoulder inflammation)
  • Jalen Beeks, LHP (Tommy John surgery)
  • Andrew Kittredge, RHP (Tommy John surgery)
  • Colin Poche, LHP (Tommy John surgery)
  • Cody Reed, LHP (Finger discomfort)
  • Chaz Roe, RHP (Elbow soreness)

Getting Revenge

Look, the Rays won the division and outplayed the Yankees over a 60 game span. They’re going to raise a division champions banner next season. Fine. But I’d like to think that the Yankees simply ran out of time to catch a team that, on paper, is inferior to the Bombers. Did the Yankees have some awful performances against the Rays in the regular season? Absolutely. But the slate is now clean.

It’s hard not to like the Yankees’ chances at getting revenge. They’re finally healthy and looked locked in against Cleveland. Folks may want to harken back to the 2-8 regular season record, but that’s not going to be predictive of this series whatsoever. The Rays could win, sure, but not because they handled the Yankees in the regular season. Keep this in mind:

And this:

Again, the Yankees aren’t hopeless because of a poor regular season showing against the Rays. It’s a brand new ballgame in the ALDS.

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5 Comments

  1. CentralScrutinizer

    Hicks batting third again. I don’t get it. Torres had a much hotter series against the Indians and is a better all-around hitter. It can’t be about splitting the righties because Snell is a lefty and Hicks will be hitting right-handed (his weaker side – and with Hicks that’s saying something). Could it be that Boone actually thinks that Hicks is a good hitter? If so, he’s truly delusional. Look, I hope Hicks goes 4-for-4 with a dinger but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  2. JG (Ben Francisco)

    Also, Boone just announced Garcia for Game 2 and Tanaka for Game 3. I saw the RAB account speculate that they want to give Tanaka an extra day, which seems plausible I’d still rather have Tanaka for Game 2 but whatever.

    I assume Happ would go for Game 4 and Game 5 would be a toss-up between Cole on short rest or Montgomery.

    • MikeD

      Although it might be the most stressful two series, the most satisfying path to the World Series is dispatching the Rays, and then getting revenge for the Yankees and baseball against the Asterisks.

  3. JG (Ben Francisco)

    The Yankees are the better team on paper but I am worried about this series because it just doesn’t seem like this is their year and not everything is clicking.

    But…

    YANKS IN 5

  4. Gerreddardit Cole

    We won’t win the series, Derek, but I think we could win tonight’s ballgame. I just can’t see us hitting their superior pitching. Any momentum we did have after the WC round is gone after 5 off days. And playing 5 games in a row hurts us because Britton and Chappy can’t be used in every game. Bigger park in San Diego means we won’t have the short porch. That may benefit HR prone Cole and Tanaka but hurt our bats. The main advantage of the Rays is Kevin Cash’s brain vs Aaron Boone’s. Cash has a very good brain while Boone’s is mush. Rays in 4.

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