Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: 7/15-7/18

Hungry for action? (MLB Gifs)

Just eight days after a four-game series at the Trop, the Yankees host the Rays in the Bronx for the final time this season.

Since They Last Met

The Rays improved their record to 55-40 this weekend by taking three of four from the lowly Orioles. Tampa is just six games back of the Yankees heading into this series.

The Orioles series nearly featured a historic first in the Sunday finale as the Rays came within three outs of pitching the first ever combined perfect game in a Ryne Stanek-opened, Ryan Yarbrough-bulked game.

This will be the last time the Yankees and Rays meet until a two-game set at Tropicana Field during the final week of the season. That means it’s time to get your licks in while you can.

Injury Report

The Rays have a few short-term injuries and illnesses. OF Austin Meadows contracted food poisoning during the All-Star break and was limited over the weekend. INF Brandon Lowe, who went on the IL last week, should be back soon, though likely not this series. Meanwhile, fellow infielder Matt Duffy is on rehab assignment and should return this series.

Jose Alvarado (oblique strain) and Chaz Roe (flexor strain) both went on the IL recently, shaking up the bullpen. LHP Anthony Banda, INF Christian Arroyo, C Anthony Bemboom and RHP Tyler Glasnow are all on the 60-day IL.

Player Spotlight: Colin Poche

The Rays have two lefties in their bullpen; One is LOOGY Adam Kolarek and the other, Poche, is something else entirely.

Poche is just 17 games into his MLB career, and manager Kevin Cash is already using the southpaw as a fireman in the bullpen. In 17 1/3 innings, Poche has struck out 27 batters and walked just one batter, though he’s had two HBPs. He does it with just one pitch over 90 percent of the time: a low-to-mid-90s fastball.

The left-hander tore up the Minor Leagues last season in a similar way with 110 strikeouts over 66 innings after coming over from the D-backs in the Brandon Drury three-team trade.

The interesting thing about Poche is that he doesn’t have an incredible spin rate. Instead, he excels with deception in his delivery and strong control. His only flaw thus far has been home runs, allowing three, including one to Aaron Hicks.

Potential Lineup

  1. Austin Meadows, RF (.292/.368/.512, 134 wRC+)
  2. Tommy Pham, LF (.282/.381/.474, 131 wRC+)
  3. Yandy Diaz, 3B (.277/.350/.485, 122 wRC+)
  4. Avisail Garcia, RF (.280/.334/.447, 108 wRC+)
  5. Michael Brousseau, 2B (.395/.425/.816, 226 wRC+ in 12 games)
  6. Kevin Kiermaier, CF (.251/.297/.434, 92 wRC+)
  7. Nate Lowe, 1B (.299/.360/.567, 144 wRC+)
  8. Willy Adames, SS (.236/.296/.381, 82 wRC+)
  9. Mike Zunino, C (.182/.234/.335, 50 wRC+)

The Rays’ bench and starting lineup are interchangeable. Travis d’Arnaud (86 wRC+) is the backup catcher and occasional first baseman. Guillermo Heredia (78 wRC+), as a righty-hitting OF, will start some games this series. Meanwhile, INF Joey Wendle (43 wRC+) and 1B Ji-Man Choi (109 wRC+) should also get some starts.

Snell and Wendle (MLB Gifs)

Pitching Matchups

Monday (7:05 PM ET) James Paxton (vs. Rays) vs. Blake Snell (vs. Yankees)

For the fifth time this season, the Yankees will face the reigning Cy Young winner, Blake Snell. His results have run the gamut, but he’s struggled to get deep into games against the Yankees, who tagged him for the worst start of his career in June.

He started the Saturday game before the break and was able to better corral the Bombers’ lineup outside of a solo home run by Brett Gardner. Still, he had to get out of a couple of jams as the Yankees forced him to throw 93 pitches over five frames.

Snell has the stuff of an ace — the Cy Young award is plenty evidence — though his results this year don’t reflect that with a 4.70 ERA. Tampa Bay is certainly counting on him to start this series out on the right foot.

Tuesday (7:05 PM ET) CC Sabathia (vs. Rays) vs. Jalen Beeks/opener (vs. Yankees)

The Rays haven’t announced a starter for Tuesday, though it’ll likely be left-hander Jalen Beeks working with an opener.

Beeks is a fastball-changeup pitcher while mixing in a cutter and a curveball. That FB/change combo could help against a righty-heavy Yankees lineup and Beeks has excelled at keeping the ball in the ballpark this year with a low HR/FB rate. His 3.50 FIP and 4.72 FIP make it seem he may regress from his 2.79 ERA.

Wednesday (7:05 PM ET) Domingo German (vs. Rays) vs. Yonny Chirinos (vs. Yankees)

Like Snell, Chirinos will take on the Yankees for the fifth time in this series. The Yankees have won three of his four appearances this year, but the right-hander has pitched well: He has a 3.32 ERA against the Bombers with a 15:3 K/BB ratio in 21 2/3 innings.

It’ll be his same repertoire: A mid-90s sinker to set up hitters and his splitter and slider to put them away. You have to wonder if seeing him for a fifth time will mean the Yankees’ hitters get an advantage, though the lineup is certainly different from the one in early May.

Thursday (7:05 PM ET) J.A. Happ (vs. Rays) vs. Charlie Morton (vs. Yankees)

This pitching matchup reeks of Happ vs. Verlander from Old Timers’ Day. Happ can better match up with the Rays offense than the Astros, but Morton has the Yankees’ number as evidenced by his 10-strikeout performance before the All-Star break.

Morton is an early Cy Young favorite with a 2.35 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 118.2 IP. He sports a high-spin, mid-to-high 90s fastball and works off of it with one of the league’s best curveballs. It’s a simple approach and works like a charm.

Brett Gardner should be a guarantee to start against Morton. He’s 8-for-18 with two doubles and three home runs off the righty and a .444/.524/1.056 line.

Bullpen Status

High-velocity RHP Diego Castillo has returned from the IL and joins Emilio Pagan at the back-end of the bullpen. As mentioned above, Poche is a fireman option and should see high-leverage work. Stanek is the go-to opener and can pitch in middle relief.

Right-handers Oliver Drake and Andrew Kittredge each saw some medium-leverage time in the last Yankees-Rays series and could be in line to pitch with leads, or get multiple innings. Hunter Wood will probably be in low leverage work while Kolarek is the lefty-specialist.

Only Stanek (2 IP as the opener), Drake (0.1 IP) and Pagan (0.1 IP) while most of the bullpen worked in Saturday’s doubleheader.

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6 Comments

  1. Coolerking101

    Little known fact: Jalen Beeks is the son of security agent, Clarence Beeks, who went missing in 1983 following delivery of an orange crop report.

    • Dana Mahar

      Last I heard, he was spotted traveling the Levantine Sea on a ship filled with mature primates, which is ironic because Beeks was better known for messing with bulls.

  2. Brian M

    This is definitely a bigger series for Tampa than for us. They need to win this series to show management they’re still alive in the East, otherwise they might be selling at the deadline yet again.

    • RetroRob

      I don’t see the Rays selling when they’re the leading WC team at the moment. It’s not just winning the AL East. It’s getting to the postseason, and they’re in good shape.

    • Raymond Zayas

      I don’t think they’d be sellers at all. They match up against anyone in a one game WC game and can surprise in the post season.

    • Re2pect

      No deal

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