Jesus Aguilar (MLB Gifs)

It’s spoiler season. With a playoff spot wrapped up, the Yankees can put the kibosh on the Rays’ postseason hopes with a two-game series at Tropicana Field.

Their Story So Far

At 93-64, the Rays have exceeded last year’s win total and are in the thick of the wild card race. They’re currently in the second wild card spot, half a game ahead of the Indians with five games left. They close out their season with three games in Toronto after hosting the Yankees.

Tampa Bay leads baseball in pitching fWAR and is third in ERA, behind only the Dodgers and Indians. Their offense is middle of the pack and received boosts since the Yankees last faced them as Brandon Lowe came off the IL and Jesus Aguilar was acquired at the trade deadline.

Going from mid-2018 to June 10 this year, the Rays had the best 162-game stretch in their franchise history. When the Rays tweeted this, they had a half-game lead in the division. The Yankees promptly swept them and took control of the division. Wouldn’t it be funny if the Rays bookended the best season-length stretch of their history by missing the postseason twice?

Injury Report

Left-handed relievers Jose Alvarado and Hoby Milner are out for the season while infielders Yandy Diaz and Eric Sogard are out indefinitely with foot injuries.

Spotlight: State of the Rays’ staff

The Rays’ rotation has been in a state of flux for several months as the non-Charlie Morton starting pitchers went on the IL. The team lost Blake Snel (elbow), Tyler Glasnow (elbow) and Yonny Chirinos (finger) for extended stretches.

Morton still fronts the rotation (more on him in the Wednesday game capsule) and the other three have returned from the IL. Just in the nick of time? Well, not fully. None of the three are fully stretched out are limited to multi-inning bursts rather than full-length starts. Chirinos just returned last weekend and didn’t have Minor League rehab games to get ready.

Meanwhile, left-hander Ryan Yarbrough has stepped up in their absences. After a poor start to the season that earned him a demotion to Triple-A, he’s been excellent since coming back to the Majors in late May. That is, outside of back-to-back six-run outings in his most recent starts. But overall, he’s shed the opener and turned into a successful starter on his own.

How would the Rays handle this in October? That’s an open question. The team can’t rely on its depth and the 40-man roster in the postseason, so they would be limited in the number of pitchers they can field. Would Glasnow and Snell piggyback starts? Would Morton and Yarbrough front the rotation?

First, the Rays have get to the postseason and an ALDS. Then they can worry about those questions in earnest.

Spoiler Opportunity

I wrote about this yesterday, but this is a prime opportunity for the Yankees to stick it to their division rivals. The Bombers have dispatched with the Rays consistently this season, going 12-5 in their first 17 matchups.

In fact, the Rays have yet to win a series against the Yankees this season, holding a 0-4-1 mark in previous duels. For the most part, every starter and reliever on the Rays’ roster has been touched up by the Yankees’ offense at some point.

With Oakland facing an easy schedule, it’s mostly between the Rays and Indians for the final wild card spot. Cleveland has a series remaining with the Nationals, so the strength of schedule is about even. These two games loom large in the Rays’ postseason hopes.

Potential Lineup

Joey Wendle, 3B (.230/.292/.332, 69 wRC+)
Tommy Pham, DH (.274/.369/.448, 121 wRC+)
Austin Meadows, LF (.291/.363/.561, 142 wRC+)
Travis d’Arnaud, C (.253/.316/.440, 101 wRC+)
Ji-Man Choi, 1B (.258/.361/.443, 116 wRC+)
Avisail García, RF (.280/.331/.457, 109 wRC+)
Brandon Lowe, 2B (.277/.341/.530, 130 wRC+)
Kevin Kiermaier, CF (.227/.276/.392, 75 wRC+)
Willy Adames, SS (.254/.316/.421, 97 wRC+)

On the bench, the Rays have catchers Michael Perez (66 wRC+) and Mike Zunino (47 wRC+), 1B Jesús Aguilar (93 wRC+, 120 wRC+ with Rays), 1B Nate Lowe (109 wRC+), INF Michael Brousseau (112 wRC+), INF Matt Duffy (80 wRC+), INF Daniel Robertson (72 wRC+) and OF Guillermo Heredia (83 wRC+).

OF Johnny Davis is the designated pinch runner.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7:10 PM ET) TBD vs. Yonny Chirinos (vs. Yankees)

Chirinos was activated form the 10-day IL over the weekend after suffering inflammation in his middle finger that kept him out for 1.5 months. He pitched an inning Saturday, giving up a solo homer and striking out two on 16 total pitches.

Presumably, this will be a bullpen game on both sides with Chirinos perhaps extending to 2-3 innings. We could easily see 7-9 pitchers a side. As for Chirinos, he’s faced the Yankees five times already this season with the Rays going 1-4 in those starts. However, over 26 2/3 innings, he’s put up a respectable 4.05 ERA and held his own with the Yankees.

Chirinos is still primarily a sinker-baller with a splitter and slider as his primary offspeed offerings.

Chirinos (Baseball Savant)

Wednesday (7:10 PM ET) TBD vs. Charlie Morton (vs. Yankees)

Morton has had an excellent debut season with the Rays, but his overall numbers haven’t held up as well in the second half

1st Half: 2.32 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 1.74 GB/FB, 19.5 LD%, 31.6 K%, 8.0 BB%
2nd Half: 4.38 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 1.39 GB/FB, 25.0 LD%, 27.9 K%, 5.6 BB%

Morton’s peripherals are pretty similar, albeit with more balls in play. It seems he’s allowing more flyballs and line drives, but some of this might be pure luck. The right-hander’s exit velocity allowed hasn’t noticeably changed. His fastball velocity is down from 2018 but has stayed steady this season.

Regardless, he’s throwing his curveball more than ever, over a third of the time. He’s been highly successful against the Yankees over the years, but he has a 5.28 ERA in three starts against them in 2019. Brett Gardner owns him.

With his start Wednesday, Morton could start on short rest in Game 162 (unlikely), be on turn for a Game 163 or get two extra days of rest for the Wild Card Game if the Rays make it.

Morton (Baseball Savant)

Bullpen Status

Snell lasted just five outs in his abbreviated start Monday, so the Rays needed 22 outs from their bullpen to beat the Red Sox on Monday. Oliver Drake tossed two innings while Chaz Roe, Peter Fairbanks, Austin Pruitt, Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Emilio Pagan and Colin Poche also worked. Yup, a nine-pitcher night.

Since it’s September, they, of course, have five relievers who didn’t work and had a day off going into Tuesday.

Here’s the full staff:

RHPs: Emilio Pagan, Chaz Roe, Diego Castillo, Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake, Andrew Kittredge, Trevor Richards, Austin Pruitt, Peter Fairbanks, Cole Sulser

LHPs: Colin Poche, Jalen Beeks, Anthony Banda

Pagan has been the team’s closer, racking up 20 saves. Castillo is the same 100-mph fireballer Yankee fans should remember while Roe fires off his wicked slider as a right-specialist of sorts. Poche gets OK results from his fastball-heavy approach when he isn’t facing the Bombers.

Among the new faces is Nick Anderson, who has been a high-leverage savant for Kevin Cash. In 21 innings with the Rays, he has a 2.14 ERA with 40 strikeouts and just two walks. He was acquired from the Marlins at the deadline and will certainly factor into this series in big spots with his 99th percentile strikeout rate.