Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: 6/17-6/19

Austin Meadows (MLB gifs)

The Yankees begin a 10-game homestand while facing one of the AL’s top teams, the division rival Rays.

Their Story Thus Far

At 43-28, the Rays are 0.5 games back of the Yankees while leading the American League Wild Card standings. They’ve allowed the fewest runs in baseball with 239, or an average of 3.36 per game.

Their pitching staff is the only one in baseball that gives up fewer than one home run per nine innings and has a 3.05 ERA with a 3.39 FIP. Their bullpen is one of the few that stacks up with the Yankees while their rotation features Charlie Morton and Cy Young winner Blake Snell. The Yankees miss Morton this series.

Meanwhile, the Rays’ offense has a 109 wRC+, fifth best in baseball. They have middling strikeout and walk rates, but they have tremendous versatility with a roster of players who can play multiple positions.

Injury Report

Big news for Rays is that top reliever Jose Alvarado is on the restricted list while dealing with a personal issue. He is back in the United States now, but will need MiLB time to get back.

On the position player side, INF Christian Arroyo and C Anthony Bemboom are on the 10-day IL while Guillermo Heredia is day-to-day with a hand contusion. INF Matt Duffy is on the 60-day IL.

Pitchers Anthony Banda and Jose De Leon are recovering from Tommy John surgery, though De Leon could be back in the next month. RHP Tyler Glasnow is recovering from a right forearm strain.

Player Spotlight: Brendan McKay and Jake Cronenworth

Shohei Ohtani is a once-in-a-generation star, but the Rays are following his lead with a pair of two-way players who have reached Triple-A. 2017 No. 4 overall pick Brendan McKay is a left-handed starting pitcher and first baseman while Jake Cronenworth is a reliever and shortstop.

On Saturday, the duo helped shut down a Scranton Wilkes-Barre lineup that featured Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. For McKay, it was just his fourth game in Triple-A, but he’s hit the ground running. He has allowed just three runs over 20 innings, allowing just 10 hits while sporting a 21:3 K:BB ratio. That comes after dominating the Southern League for eight games.

McKay’s bat has always been behind his arm, though he has three home runs in 10 games in Triple-A. Still, he’ll make the Majors when his arm has earned it, not due to his bat. I’m highlighting him here because his arm could be a factor down the stretch in a tight division race. McKay is the No. 12 overall prospect on Fangraphs and the No. 25 on Baseball America. If he doesn’t break in this year, it’ll be in 2020.

Meanwhile, Cronenworth is bat-first, having put up a career-best 1.009 OPS through 58 games in Triple-A this year. He’s been a fine hitter since going to the Rays in the seventh round in the 2015 draft, yet the shortstop has hit his stride with the MLB ball. He’s only recently started pitching again and has opened four games, tossing four shutout innings with six strikeouts and walks.

Potential Lineup

  1. Austin Meadows, RF (.314/.388/.575, 155 wRC+)
  2. Tommy Pham, LF (.299/.409/.475, 143 wRC+)
  3. Brandon Lowe, 2B (.293/.350/.560, 143 wRC+)
  4. Ji Man Choi, 1B (.276/.351/.448, 117 wRC+)
  5. Yandy Diaz, 3B (.286/.363/.502, 132 wRC+)
  6. Kevin Kiermaier, CF (.256/.309/.449, 100 wRC+)
  7. Avisail Garcia, DH (.299/.354/.494, 127 wRC+)
  8. Joey Wendle, SS (.121/.194/.152, -1 wRC+ in 11 games)
  9. Mike Zunino, C (.181/.230/.331, 48 wRC+)

Their bench consists of backup catcher Travis D’Arnaud (63 wRC+), shortstop Willy Adames (85 wRC+) and outfielder Guillermo Heredia (105 wRC+). All three get a fair number of starts, especially Adames, who will likely start against LHPs.

Snell (MLB Gifs)

Pitching Matchups

Monday (7:05 PM ET) Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Rays) vs. Yonny Chirinos (vs. Yankees)

Yonny Chirinos has been one of the Rays’ best pitchers in his second year while using an opener for his starts about half the time. On Monday, with the Rays’ bullpen used heavily in an opener game Sunday, Chirinos will start for the fifth straight time through the rotation.

Until his last few starts, he hadn’t gotten many strikeouts, though he has 27 Ks in his last 24 1/3 innings, allowing just six runs in that span. He comes in with a 2.88 ERA and is a control artist, walking just 14 in 75 innings this year. Chirinos has surrendered about one home run per outing.

Chirinos works with a sinker-slider-splitter combination and can punish hitters with the offspeed offerings when he gets ahead in the count. However, when behind in the count, he turns to his low-to-mid 90s sinker 84 percent of the time according to Fangraphs.

Chirinos (Baseball Savant)

Tuesday (7:05 PM ET) J.A. Happ (vs. Rays) vs. Opener/Ryan Yarbrough (vs. Yankees)

Ryan Yarbrough struggled early this season after revolutioning the bulk role of the opener strategy last year. His ERA spiked enough in April that the Rays demoted him to Triple-A.

He’s been better since coming back and has mostly started games rather than using an opener. He comes in with a 5.59 ERA and 4.24 FIP, though he allowed five runs and two homers in his last start. If Chirinos gives the Rays enough length, Tampa may consider using Ryne Stanek to start against the right-handed heavy Yankees lineup.

Yarbrough doesn’t overwhelm hitters, instead aiming for groundballs with his high-80s, low-spin sinker. He works off the sinker with a mid-80s cutter, low-80s changeup and low-70s curveball. The offspeed pitches have been OK this year, but hitters have gotten to the sinker more more than last season.

Yarbrough (Baseball Savant)

Wednesday (1:05 PM ET) CC Sabathia (vs. Rays) vs. Blake Snell (vs. Yankees)

The reigning Cy Young winner comes into this game with a 3.70 ERA after leading the AL with a 1.89 ERA last season. However, his 3.04 FIP is in line with his numbers last year.

In fact, Snell has improved both his strikeout and walk rates, but he’s seeing more hits fall in while giving up a closer-to-average number of home runs. The left-hander has had mixed results in June as walk troubles that plagued his early career have returned. He’s walked 12 batters over his last five starts and 26 1/3 innings.

Snell rides his mid-90s fastball, low-80s curveball and mid-80s changeup. The fastball and curve have been hit harder this season despite getting more swings and misses while his changeup has actually been more effective.

Snell (Baseball Savant)

Bullpen Status

With Alvarado away from the team, Diego Castillo is essentially the closer for the team with his flamethrower fastball. Manager Kevin Cash is willing to use him in non-closing situations, though he closed Sunday’s game while throwing 25 pitches.

Adam Kolarek is the lefty specialist and has pitched consecutive games. Chaz Roe and Emilio Pagan tend to face righties with Pagan getting more leeway against lefties. Rookie left-hander Colin Poche strikes out hitters at a strong rate.

Ryne Stanek could either open or pitch in middle relief this series. He opened Sunday’s game and recorded four outs.

Righties Oliver Drake and Jake Faria are the lower leverage options. Faria tossed two innings on Saturday afternoon.

Keys to watch

Keeping the ball in the park

The Yankees have allowed home runs in 15 consecutive outings, and the three starters this weekend have been major culprits. Can they avoid the obligatory homer?

Meadows

At Yankee Stadium in May, Meadows hit a winning homer and was a menace to Bombers’ pitching. They’ll need to keep him in check.

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4 Comments

  1. Robinson Tilapia

    Can you imagine both these guys up in the majors, as double-threats, and the madness that could go on with positional changes, ON TOP of openers pitching a few times a week. Add some juggling pandas, if they out-Maddon Maddon.

  2. RetroRob

    Time to start putting some distance between the other teams chasing, starting here with the Rays. Send them out of town down 3.5.

    It’s great than Stanton and Judge are returning, but there is the fear (founded) that it may take Stanton and Judge a couple weeks to get their timing down. They can certainly hurt the team in the short run if they don’t hit the ground running.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I honestly pretty much expect that, at this point. We really have to think long-term, especially when they strike out a combined ten times next Friday.

    • Gonzo The Great

      Fair, but there is no “good time” to bring all-star caliber players back to form.

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