Tag: Tampa Bay Rays Page 1 of 3

Mailbag: Didi reunion, GM heir, pitching development, Salvador Pérez

We have four mailbag questions to answer this week. As always, send what’s on your mind to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com for a chance to have your question answered in a future edition. Let’s jump right into today’s selected questions.

A couple of folks ask: How about a Didi Gregorius reunion?

Didi just turned 30 and is a free agent for the second consecutive season. He was quite good for Joe Girardi’s Phillies this season. Gregorius played in all 60 games and hit .284/.339/.488 (116 wRC+/112 DRC+/119 OPS+). He displayed good power (10 homers, .205 ISO), walked 6.3 percent of the time, had a career low (read: best) 11.8 percent strikeout rate. Defensive metrics on his performance, though his reputation at shortstop is sterling. Depending on your WAR metric of preference, Didi was worth +1 WAR in 2020.

Who wouldn’t want to bring him back? He checks a ton of boxes performance-wise, but we also have the benefit of already knowing that he can succeed in the Bronx. I probably should have mentioned him in my piece earlier this week, in fact.

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.

Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: 8/31 to 9/2

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Last call. The Yankees and Rays square off for the final time in the 2020 regular season this week. With a little less than half the season remaining, this is a pivotal series. The Yankees are 1-6 against the Rays this year and trail Tampa Bay by 3.5 games in the division race. Needless to say, the Bombers can’t afford getting swept by the Rays at home again.

Their story so far

The 24-11 Rays are on fire. Not only are they riding a five game winning streak into the Bronx, but they’ve also won 18 of their last 21 ballgames. Tampa Bay currently sits atop of the American League playoff picture, and only the Dodgers have a better record in all of MLB. They’re now the heavy favorites in the AL East:

Yesterday’s 12 run outburst against the Marlins aside, Tampa Bay’s bats have cooled down a bit since we last saw them. Entering yesterday’s game vs. Miami, the Rays were hitting .236/.329/.380 (97 wRC+) from August 21st to August 29th, basically the week after that series at Yankee Stadium. That’s a bit closer to the expectations for Tampa Bay’s offense on paper, though to be fair, they’re probably a little better than that.

The Rays’ pitching has remained on fire over that same stretch too. They’ve allowed just 29 runs over their last 9 games (7 of those came yesterday). Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s pitchers have dropped like flies as I’ll note in the next section. All the pitching injuries haven’t thrown the Rays off track, though. At least, not yet.

Injury Report

  • RHP Oliver Drake (biceps tendinitis)
  • RHP Charlie Morton (shoulder inflammation, expected to start this series)
  • LHP José Alvarado (shoulder inflammation)
  • RHP Nick Anderson (forearm inflammation)
  • C Mike Zunino (strained oblique)
  • LHP Ryan Yarbrough (strained groin)
  • OF Brett Phillips (COVID-19 protocol)
  • LHP Colin Poche (Tommy John surgery)
  • RHP Yonny Chirinos (Tommy John surgery)
  • LHP Jalen Beeks (Tommy John surgery)
  • RHP Andrew Kittredge (elbow sprain)
  • RHP Chaz Roe (elbow soreness)

Spotlight: Manuel Margot

Tampa Bay picked up Margot in the offseason in exchange for reliever Emilio Pagán, one of the many outfield transactions the Rays made over the offseason. There didn’t seem to be an immediate starting role fit for Margot, who once was a top-100 prospect while with the Red Sox and Padres a few years back. Margot simply has never really hit enough to be a regular, but the Rays have somehow gotten the best out of him this season.

Margot joined the Rays with a .248/.301/.394 (84 wRC+) lifetime batting line in 1,526 plate appearances. He basically was an all-glove, no-bat guy for the Padres. But now, Margot is hitting .300/.364/.412 (118 wRC+) in 88 trips to the plate. We’re still in small sample size territory, but there are some differences in Margot’s underlying numbers thus far.

For a guy who doesn’t hit for power, Margot sure did lift the ball a bit too much in San Diego. He had a 1.07 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio last season, but that also included a sky-high 18.7 pop-up rate. That’s not good for a guy who’s in the upper-echelon of sprint speed. It appears that Tampa Bay has made some tweaks to fix this.

This year, Margot’s hitting 1.35 grounders for every fly ball, easily a career high. His pop-ups are down to 10 percent as well. This is driven by a lower launch angle (8.0 degrees) compared to last year (14.2). He’d been at or above 10.4 degrees annually since 2017, by the way. This adjustment now has his xBA and xwOBA per Statcast are .282 and .340, respectively. Both are career highs. Last year, Margot’s xBA and xwOBA were near the bottom of MLB.

Margot’s not quite an everyday player for the Rays yet, though Kevin Cash has gotten him in the lineup frequently of late. Tampa Bay has so many outfielders that it’s hard to get everyone a fair shake. But as long as Margot keeps hitting, he’s going to put pressure on Cash to play him.

Projected Lineup

  1. Austin Meadows, LF (.244/.326/.451, 111 wRC+)
  2. Brandon Lowe, RF (.282/.378/.632, 171 wRC+)
  3. Yandy Díaz, 3B (.297/.422/.378, 132 wRC+)
  4. Ji-Man Choi, 1B (.211/.304/.368, 81 wRC+)
  5. Yoshi Tsutsugo, DH (.188/.320/.400, 101 wRC+)
  6. Joey Wendle, 2B (.292/.344/.472, 124 wRC+)
  7. Willy Adames, SS (.283/.367/.519, 142 wRC+)
  8. Kevin Kiermaier, CF (.233/.333/.349, 94 wRC+)
  9. Michael Pérez, C (.186/.217/.256, 28 wRC+)

Bench:

  • C Kevan Smith (296 wRC+ in 7 PA)
  • UTIL Michael Brosseau (167 wRC+)
  • OF Randy Arozarena (124 wRC+ in 2 PA)
  • OF Manuel Margot (118 wRC+)
  • OF/1B Brian O’Grady (174 wRC+ in 5 PA)
  • OF Hunter Renfroe (69 wRC+)

Pitching Matchups

Tonight, 7:05 p.m. EDT: RHP Tyler Glasnow (vs. Yankees) vs. Gerrit Cole (vs. Rays)

After a good start against the Yankees a couple weeks ago, Glasnow followed it up with another gem against Baltimore. In seven innings, the righty fanned 13 batters and allowed just 2 runs. Two rough starts earlier in the year (one against the Yankees, the other vs. Boston), skew his ERA above 5, but he’s obviously way better than that. Glasnow is ace-caliber and is a tough matchup for the Yankees tonight.

Glasnow.

On the other side, Cole is coming off his worst start of the season in which he surrendered three homers to Atlanta. That came after a very good start against Tampa Bay (6 2/3 innings, 2 runs, 10 strikeouts), so hopefully we get something closer to that instead. Cole’s been struggling to keep the ball in the yard this season, having allowed a homer in each and every start, so it’d be nice to stop that streak tonight.

Tomorrow, 7:05 p.m. EDT: RHP Trevor Richards (vs. Yankees) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Rays)

The Yankees have seen Richards twice this year, but never as a starter. He’s pitched as a “bulk” guy twice vs. the Bombers, throwing 7 total innings (4 runs, 2 earned). This will be his third start of the season. The righty, who came along in the Nick Anderson trade with Miami, doesn’t have great stuff and appears eminently hittable. If only the Yankees’ lineup was healthy.

Richards.

Tanaka was brilliant against Atlanta last time out. Against the Rays this year, he’s had one excellent start (5 shutout frames on 8/7) and one bad outing (6 runs in 4 innings).

Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. EDT: RHP Charlie Morton (vs. Yankees) vs. LHP Jordan Montgomery (vs. Rays)

Morton is expected off the injured list to make this start. He’s been dealing with shoulder inflammation this season. The righty hasn’t pitched since August 9th, when he lasted just two innings against the Yankees. Fastball velocity will be the thing to watch: he averaged just 92.7 MPH on it in four starts this year compared to 94.7 last year and 96.1 in 2018.

Morton.

Aside from one poor start in Philadelphia, Monty has been really good for the Yankees this season. He’s looked sharp in all three starts since that game in Philly, in fact. Montgomery has a 3.68 ERA and 2.52 FIP in 14 2/3 innings since then. The Rays have yet to see Montgomery this season.

Bullpen Status

RHP: Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, John Curtiss, Ryan Thompson, Édgar García, Aaron Slegers

LHP: Aaron Loup, Ryan Sherriff, Cody Reed

Had I heard of many of these relievers before this year? No. But as usual, almost any reliever the Rays touch turns to gold. So even without Anderson, Roe, Beeks, Alvarado, Poche, and Kittredge, this isn’t a group to sleep on. It’s certainly not as good of a bullpen without those guys, but it’s not necessarily a bad crew of pitchers. Plus, they come into this series with the Yankees well rested. Only Sherriff (6 pitches) and Slegers (19) threw yesterday. Curtiss (10), Thompson (11), Loup (15), and García (15) threw Saturday. The rest have had at least two days off.


The Yankees have to redeem themselves this series. Winning two of three is the minimum. It’ll be tough without the big bats in the lineup, but Tampa Bay is banged up too. Remember, this is the last chance for the Yankees to directly gain ground on the Rays this season.

Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: 8/18 to 8/20

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It’s time to give the Rays a taste of their own medicine. After dropping three of four to Tampa Bay at the trop a little over a week ago, the Yankees welcome the Rays to the Bronx for three games. The Yanks won 8 of 10 at Yankee Stadium against the Rays in 2019 and have yet to lose a game at home this season. Now’s not the time to change that.

Their story so far

After a successful series against the Yankees at home, the Rays set off for a ten game road trip which finishes this week at Yankee Stadium. The first seven games came against the Red Sox and Blue Jays. Kevin Cash’s team took care of business by winning six of seven to keep the pressure on the Yankees.

First, the Rays slaughtered the Red Sox at Fenway Park in a four game set. Red Sox pitching is so bad that it made the Rays look like the ’27 Yankees. Tampa Bay outscored Boston 42-22. Keep in mind that per wRC+, the Rays ranked 21st in offense entering that series. Look, the Red Sox stink, but credit where credit is due: beating the bad teams is often a thankless job.

Tampa Bay then headed north to Toronto Buffalo. The Blue Jays blew out the Rays in game one, 12-4, but Tampa Bay recovered to win the final two of the series. That capped off a strong 6-1 week into Monday’s off day. Entering this series, the Rays are 14-9 and 2.5 games behind the Yanks for first place in the division.

Injury Report

  • OF Randy Arozarena is still on the injured list for undisclosed reasons.
  • LHP Brendan McKay has been shut down with shoulder tightness.
  • LHP José Alvarado and RHP Charlie Morton are out with shoulder inflammation.
  • RHP Oliver Drake has biceps tendinitis.
  • RHP Andrew Kittredge has a UCL sprain.
  • LHP Colin Poche underwent Tommy John surgery and will not pitch this year.

Spotlight: Brandon Lowe

Hopefully yesterday’s day off cools down Lowe, who won the American League Player of the Week award for his absurd performance against Boston and Toronto. He hit .448/.500/1.000 (297 wRC+) with four doubles, four homers, and 10 RBIs in that span. Those four dingers came in consecutive games, by the way. One in each of the last two Boston games and another in each of the first two Toronto affairs.

Aside from his hot hitting, it’ll be interesting to see if the tension from the end of the last time these two teams met carries forward. Lowe was right in the middle of it and had a bit to say about the Yankees’ bench:

“It’s pretty frustrating to have them think that you’re not able to chirp and say anything back to them. They’ve been doing it the whole time and for us to not be able to do it back, it’s a little childish…You’ve got to wear it. If it’s going to happen, just wear it.”

Lowe

This apparently was spurred from a stare he gave after he homered against Paxton in the series finale. It looks like third base coach Phil Nevin was jawing at Lowe once he crossed home plate. Take a look:

If the Yankees are actually perturbed by something the Lowe and/or the Rays did or said, the best response is to win. A big key to winning this series? Slowing down Lowe, of course.

Lowe’s hot week was a big reason that the Rays’ offense went from an 89 wRC+ (21st in MLB) to 116 (3rd) in the matter of a week. Of course, it came against the horrid Red Sox pitching for most of the week, so it’ll be curious to see how Lowe responds to some better pitching.

Lowe hasn’t had much success against Yankees pitchers save for that Paxton homer. It was his only hit vs. the Bombers in that series. Against current Bronx pitchers, Lowe has a .173/.192/.376 triple-slash in 40 at-bats. Of course, batter vs. pitcher stats are not necessarily predictive.

Projected Lineup

  1. LF Austin Meadows (.250/.333/.500, 125 wRC+)
  2. 2B Brandon Lowe (.338/.404/.738, 205 wRC+)
  3. 3B Yandy Díaz (.301/.433/.329, 126 wRC+)
  4. 1B Ji-Man Choi (.180/.282/.328, 72 wRC+)
  5. DH Yoshi Tsutsugo (.207/.319/.397, 101 wRC+)
  6. SS Willy Adames (.284/.377/.522, 147 wRC+)
  7. CF Kevin Kiermaier (.233/.333/.500, 85 wRC+)
  8. RF Hunter Renfroe (.194/.282/.452, 99 wRC+)
  9. C Mike Zunino (.091/.200/.250, 29 wRC+)

C Michael Perez, IF/OF Michael Brosseau, IF Joey Wendle, 1B/OF/DH José Martínez, and OF Manuel Margot round out the bench.

Pitching Matchups

Tonight, 7:05 p.m. EDT: Blake Snell (vs. Yankees) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Rays)

Snell walked the talk last time he faced the Yankees. For just three innings though as he was on a pitch count. He held the Yankees hitless, walked two, and struck out five. He followed that with five shutout frames against the lifeless Red Sox and presumably has no constraints on his start tonight.

Snell.

Tanaka pitched against Snell in Tampa Bay, so we have a rematch on hand. Tanaka matched Snell’s zeroes over three innings but didn’t go any further. Masa pitched five bank frames against the Red Sox this week, so he should also be a full go this evening.

Tomorrow, 7:05 p.m. EDT: Tyler Glasnow (vs. Yankees) vs. Gerrit Cole (vs. Rays)

We have another rematch between probable starters tomorrow. Glasnow has struggled in the early goings of 2020, including a rough outing against the Yankees at the Trop during which he failed to complete three innings. It didn’t get better his next time around: Glasnow allowed eight hits and five runs to the lowly Red Sox last Thursday. Struggles aside, we know that Glasnow is capable of dominance with his high octane fastball and sharp breaker.

Glasnow.

Cole had his strikeout game going against the Rays ten days ago (10 punchouts), but struggled with efficiency and was pulled with one out to go in the fifth inning. He had a number of long at-bats and struggled to finish guys off even with that many strikeouts. Cole pitched much better in his last start against Boston, at least. Hopefully he builds on that seven inning, one run performance.

Thursday, 1:05 p.m. EDT: Ryan Yarbrough (vs. Yankees) vs. James Paxton (vs. Rays)

Although not officially announced for Thursday’s game, Yarbrough is in line to make the start for the Rays. Yarbrough is a crafty lefty who doesn’t throw hard or have nasty secondary pitches, but he’s still difficult to hit. He’s been elite at inducing soft contact since he came into the league.

Yarbrough.

What will we see from Paxton this time around? He had his best start of the season in St. Pete, but is still searching for his top notch fastball. In that game vs. the Rays, Paxton had excellent command and struck out eleven in spite of a slower fastball. His location wasn’t quite as good against the Red Sox this past series and his results showed for it (five innings, three runs, two strikeouts).

Bullpen Status

RHP: Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Peter Fairbanks, Chaz Roe, Ryan Thompson, John Curtiss

LHP: Aaron Loup, Jalen Beeks, Anthony Banda

Tampa Bay will have a fresh bullpen for this series thanks to Monday’s day off. The only arm that Cash may want to avoid for the first game of this series is Beeks, who threw 42 pitches on Saturday. He did that after throwing 29 pitches two days before.

Even without Alvarado, Drake, Kittredge, and Poche, this Rays bullpen is terrific. It’s as deep as it gets and as you saw last time these two teams faced off, the Yankees had a tough time against a myriad of Rays’ relievers. I expect things to be tough again this series.


The season won’t be over if the Yankees lose two of three or even get swept, but now’s the time to get some revenge. Win at least two of three at home against the Rays to remind them that the Yankees are the team to beat in the division. Nothing less.

Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: 8/7 to 8/9

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With absolutely no apologies to the Orioles and Red Sox, this is the Yankees first big intra-divisional series of the season. The Yanks will play four games in three days against the Rays with an opportunity to create even more distance from the team that’s supposed to be the Bombers toughest competition in 2020. Right now, Tampa Bay (5-7) is four games behind the Yankees (9-3) in the American League East.

Their story so far

It’s been a bizarre start for the Rays thus far. After starting 4-1 against Toronto and Atlanta at home, Tampa Bay lost five straight. All of those were on the road. Two of those were in Atlanta, which in the scheme of things isn’t terrible considering the talent of that club. However, things turned for the worse from there. The Orioles swept the Rays in three games at Camden Yards, during which Tampa Bay mustered just eight runs. This came right after the Yankees won two in Baltimore and scored 17 runs while doing so.

As usual, Tampa Bay’s pitching staff has been just fine (3.63 ERA), but it’s offense has really held them back. You could probably glean that after I told you how many runs they scored in Baltimore. Granted, Austin Meadows just returned and has only played two games thus far, but the return of one player isn’t going to make or break an offense. They have a .211/.303/.365 batting line in 442 plate appearances to date and have swatted just 10 home runs. The only team with fewer home runs that hasn’t had postponements due to COVID-19 are the Diamondbacks, who have just 6.

As a result of this slow start, the Rays have seen their division title chances drop precipitously. It stood at 34.3 percent at Opening Day, but is now down to 15.5 percent. Tampa Bay’s playoff hopes are certainly still in tact though, especially with an expanded postseason.

Injury Report

  • OF Randy Arozarena and LHP Brendan McKay are unavailable for undisclosed reasons.
  • RHP Yonny Chirinos was just placed on the injured list with triceps inflammation retroactive to August 3rd.
  • LHP Colin Poche is out for the season. He had Tommy John surgery on July 29th.
  • Not an injury, but LHP José Alvarado was placed on the paternity list today and could miss this series.

Spotlight: Nick Anderson

Who? Nick Anderson, perhaps the league’s best reliever, that’s who. The 30 year-old righty is basically unknown, and understandably so. Anderson’s been around the block, but finally got his chance to shine last season in time with the Marlins and Rays. It took a while for him to get here, though.

The Brewers drafted Anderson in the 32nd round back in 2012, but the righty did not sign and instead pitch in Indy-ball through 2015. The Twins were the first to bring him into affiliated ball, where he eventually reached Triple-A in 2018. There, he recorded a stellar 36.2 percent strikeout rate in the Rochester bullpen, but there was still no room for him in the big leagues. Minnesota traded him to Miami that offseason.

The Marlins gave Anderson his first shot, and he succeeded right away. In 43 2/3 innings, Anderson delivered a 3.92 ERA/2.71 FIP and struck out 69 opponents. Maybe the entire league hadn’t taken notice yet, but the Rays certainly did. Tampa Bay sent Ryne Stanek and prospect Jesús Sánchez to the Marlins to pick up Anderson. After that, Anderson really burst onto the scene.

In 21 1/3 post trade deadline innings, Anderson recorded a 2.11 ERA/1.62 FIP. He struck out a whopping 51 batters (52.6 percent!) and walked only two (2.6 percent). He’s off to a similarly fast start this season: in four games, Anderson has yet to allow a run or walk in 3 1/3 innings. He’s given up just two hits and fanned four batters. I think it’s safe to say that not only is he the best reliever you’ve never heard of, but he also might be the best reliever in baseball, period.

What makes Anderson so dominant? It’s the way he effectively pairs his fastball and curveball. He basically has Chad Green’s fastball paired with the curveball that Green’s trying to incorporate now. Take a look at the fastball:

Metric (2019)GreenAndersonLeague Avg.
FB velo 969693
FB spin246323262287
FB drop (in.)121016
FB Whiff %29%30%22%

Pretty similar! And even though Green has more spin on his fastball, Anderson’s doesn’t drop as much (i.e. it appears to rise more than Green’s). This is because Anderson’s release point is a bit more efficient to maximize that spin rate (not that Green’s is bad, or anything).

That’s not where the similarities end, by the way. Even though it’s really tough to square up Anderson and Green, hitters do make loud contact when they’re fortunate enough to do so. Last year, both were near the bottom of the league in exit velocity and hard hit percentage against. Green was in the 1st (!) percentile for both, while Anderson was in the 12th and 10th, respectively. Of course, making contact against these two is easier said than done.

Now, what differentiates Anderson is the curveball. On the face of things, it doesn’t look terribly impressive. It’s spin and movement are way below league average, in fact. The spin is in the 7th percentile and it drops about seven inches below average as well. Yet, it’s an incredibly effective offering for Anderson. He garnered an absurd 54.2 percent whiff rate against the pitch last year, for reference. How does this happen in spite of low spin and little movement? Deception.

Anderson is incredibly consistent with his release point between his curveball and fastball. Take a look:

Red = Fastball, Blue = Curveball. (via Statcast)

On top of that, his curve is a true 12-6 offering. With almost no horizontal movement, batters are either getting a (seemingly) rising fastball or a hard curveball with a quick downward drop coming out of the same arm slot. That’s not easy to decipher. See below:

Lighter graphics with dotted lines represent league average. (via Statcast)

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Anderson is pretty fresh coming into this series. He hasn’t pitched since Tuesday when he recorded an 11 pitch save against the Red Sox. Let’s hope we don’t have to see much of him this series.

Projected lineup

I’d look that frustrated if I was Kevin Cash, too. Tampa Bay has the league’s 20th-ranked wRC+, and even though Austin Meadows is back, this lineup wasn’t supposed to be particularly great anyway. Here’s the Roster Resource projected lineup:

  1. Austin Meadows, LF (.250/.250/.500, 104 wRC+)
  2. Brandon Lowe, 2B (.302/.375/.605, 175 wRC+)
  3. Yandy Díaz, 3B (.211/.362/.263, 97 wRC+)
  4. Ji-Man Choi, 1B (.148/.273/.333, 77 wRC+)
  5. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, DH (.182/.289/.303, 78 wRC+)
  6. Willy Adames, SS (.290/.389/.419, 138 wRC+)
  7. Hunter Renfroe, RF (.184/.279/.395, 95 wRC+)
  8. Kevin Kiermaier, CF (.171/.237/.229, 38 wRC+)
  9. Mike Zunino, C (.077/.200/.192, 23 wRC+)

Off the bench, Tampa Bay has two catchers (Michael Perez and Kevan Smith) along with infielders Mike Brosseau and Joey Wendle. José Martínez (136 wRC+) is the team’s platoon bat vs. southpaws, so we’ll likely see him against James Paxton this weekend.

Pitching Matchups

Tonight, 6:40 p.m. EDT: Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Rays) vs. Blake Snell (vs. Yankees)

As sweet as it would be for the Rays to beat the Yankees, it’d be just as sweet to put a sock in Snell’s mouth tonight. He’s made two starts so far, but has only thrown five innings as he’s still getting stretched out following some elbow soreness back in spring training. That same elbow has been in rough shape since last year: he had arthroscopic surgery to remove some loose bodies last July and had a cortisone shot in it this spring.

He hasn’t been the same since his excellent Cy Young campaign in 2018 when he posted a 1.89 ERA. Given his health, I guess that’s not a surprise. He had a 4.29 ERA (3.32 FIP) in 107 innings last season and has been so-so in an extremely limited sample this year. On the bright side, his fastball velocity (95 MPH) hasn’t gone away. It sounds like he could pitch four or five innings tonight.

Snell.

Masahiro Tanaka will probably go a similar distance as Snell tonight. Tanaka tossed 2 2/3 innings in his first start of the season last week against Boston. His fastball velocity and usage were unexpectedly up from past years, so that’ll be something to keep an eye on tonight.

Saturday (Game 1 of 2), 2:10 p.m. EDT: Gerrit Cole (vs. Rays) vs. Bullpen/Tyler Glasnow (vs. Yankees)

Glasnow is likely to pitch one of the two games in Saturday’s doubleheader. He’ll be a handful for the Yankees’ lineup whenever he does go. He’s got incredible stuff. Glasnow looked like a Cy Young contender last year before he got hurt. The young righty had a 1.86 ERA in 48 1/3 innings through early May before suffering a forearm strain.

Glasnow.

Glasnow’s one downside: he doesn’t provide much length. He’s averaged roughly five innings per start in his Rays career and hasn’t thrown more than 4 2/3 innings in either of his two starts this season. That said, he did average six innings per start last year before he got hurt. It also helps that this will be a seven inning game.

Cole is slated for the first game of the doubleheader for the Yankees. It’ll already be his fourth start in pinstripes even though it’ll be just the 14th team game for the Bombers. Oddly enough, those postponements against the Phillies a couple of weeks ago really benefited the Yanks’ starting staff by essentially giving Cole an extra turn. Though it’s a little bit of a different Tampa Bay lineup, Cole absolutely eviscerated the Rays in the ALDS last year. He won both Game 2 and Game 5 thanks to 15 2/3 innings, one run allowed, and 25 strikeouts. More of the same here, please.

Saturday (Game 2 of 2): TBD vs. Bullpen/Tyler Glasnow

Surprisingly, the Rays haven’t done an official opener/bullpen game yet this year (though Snell’s short starts effectively were bullpen games). A couple of candidates to get the starting nod: Trevor Richards and Andrew Kittredge.

Similar to the Rays, the Yankees will have a bullpen game during this doubleheader. Jonathan Loaisiga seems like a plausible candidate after he served as an opener on Thursday. Luis Cessa, David Hale, Michael King, and Nick Tropeano are candidates as well.

Sunday, 1:10 p.m. EDT: James Paxton (vs. Rays) vs. Charlie Morton (vs. Yankees)

This is going to be a battle of two pitchers still working out the kinks. Morton didn’t look very sharp in his first couple of outings, particularly with diminished fastball velocity. He sat 92 in his first two starts, but average 93 in his most recent game against Boston. This is still well down from 96 in 2018 and 95 in 2019. Overall, Morton has a 5.52 ERA in 14 2/3 innings.

Morton

Paxton’s yet to go more than three innings in his two starts this season, and that wasn’t by design. His fastball velocity is way down and his mechanics are all over the place. The Yankees need to see some progress for him really soon. The Big Maple was really good against Tampa last year (12 innings, 18 strikeouts, 3.00 ERA), but it’ll be hard to repeat that without his usual velocity.

Bullpen Status

RHP: Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake, Diego Castillo, Chaz Roe, Peter Fairbanks, Andrew Kittredge, Trevor Richards

LHP: Aaron Loup, Jalen Beeks, Sean Gilmartin

Per Fangraphs, this is the league’s top bullpen. I’d argue the Yankees have a better crew, but that’s neither here nor there. There’s no set closer in this bullpen, though Drake is the only one with saves (2) on the roster. Anderson or Castillo can do the job as well. Alvarado has closer experience with Tampa Bay, but as noted earlier, is inactive to start the series. The other big absence is Poche, who’s out for the year as mentioned before as well.


Considering that this series is at the (hated) Trop and the Rays are going to trot out three of their best starters, I think a split would be satisfactory. Especially with a double header in line for Saturday, as those are generally tough to sweep. Taking three of four or sweeping Tampa Bay would virtually put the Rays’ hope for a divisional title out of reach, however.

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