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Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: April 9 to April 11

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The Yankees now take a three game trip to the turf of the Tropicana Field (UGH!), where they will visit Tampa Bay for the Rays first homestand. Fresh from getting swept by the Red Sox (LOL), let’s see how the current bottom dweller of the AL East is doing.

Their story so far

The Rays have lost four straight games after starting 2-0 in the season. In their previous series, the Red Sox outscored them 26-9 sending them straight to the last place of the ALE.

So far in the season the Rays have used four starters. Tyler Glasnow has been amazing in his two starts with just one earned run in 12 innings. The other guys? Not so much: Ryan Yarbrough has allowed six runs in 10.2 (although all of them against the Red Sox on Wednesday), and Michael Wacha and Rich Hill have combined for eight earned runs in nine innings. It seems that replacing two of the club’s three best starters is not looking good already huh? Who would have thunk it? (Not us, definitely not)

Chris Archer, the third addition to the Frankenstein triumvirate to try and replace Snell and Morton, has only appeared one time out of the bullpen, allowing four runs (three earned) in 2 innings pitched. He is expected to make his first start of the season this series.

Offensively, the story is not much better. The Rays hold a 88 OPS+ value as a team. Most of their damage in the early going has been from Brandon Lowe, Manuel Margot, Joey Wendle, and Francisco Mejía; they have values of 164, 171, 135 and 123 of OPS+ respectively. The other starters have been either around average hitters or straight up black holes in the offense like Yoshi Tsutsugo (-18) and Kevin Kiermaier (-45).

The Rays are in a early season bad streak and the Yankees also catch a break in not having to face their best pitcher in Tyler Glasnow. This would be a good opportunity to drop them a bit deeper in the standings in the early going. How about the Yanks do just that?

Injury report

PlayerInjuryRoster StatusEstimated Return
Ji-Man ChoiArthroscopic knee surgery
10-day ILLate May
Kevin KiermaierStrained quad10-day ILLate April
Brett PhillipsStrained harmstrign10-day ILMid April
Yonny ChirinosTommy John surgery60-day ILNext season
Nick AndersonPartial torn elbow ligament60-day ILLate July
Jalen BeeksTommy John surgery60-day ILNext Season
Oliver DrakeStrained Flexor60-day ILJune
Colin PocheTommy John Surgery60-day ILNext Season
Chaz RoeStrained shoulder60-day ILLate July
Peter FairbanksRotator cuff strain10-day ILTBD

Spotlight: Brandon Lowe

The lefty hitting second baseman has been an OBP machine in the early going of the season, currently getting on base on half of his plate appearances. He obviously wont keep up that pace, but the power hasn’t been there yet (.333 SLG) and that will surely go up.

The projection systems weren’t too kind to him, projecting wRC+ values of maximum 117 wRC+ at FanGraphs. As I said in the Tampa Bay season preview, I would comfortably take the over on this value. Lowe is becoming the leader of this offense really quickly, and his underlying measures support that success.

Lowe’s 2020 Statcast Percentile Rankings

Yup, I’m pretty certain than this guy is for real. Lowe combined an above average Exit Velo, a solid Hard Hit %, an unreal ability to consistently put the barrels on the ball, all of that while taking walks and not chasing pitches. He might not be the best fielder out there, and he might strike out a little bit more that you’d like (who doesn’t nowadays?) but the positives certainly outweigh the negatives.

As for how the Yankees should face him? It’s not too hard to figure out. He’s one of the few threats in the Rays lineup so they shouldn’t risk too much against him. A steady diet of breaking balls or offspeed offerings also seem to be the best bet against him, as he whiffed on those pitches above 40% in 2020 (Although he did kill breaking balls if he hit them, to the tune of an .371 wOBA).

Projected Lineup

Here’s Roster Resource’s projected lineup for the Rays (That will surely be incorrect most of the time because of Kevin Cash’s platoons), plus their stats so far in parentheses:

  1. Yoshi Tsutsugo, 1B (.118/.211/.118 9 wRC+ ) (Yikes!)
  2. Austin Meadows, LF (.182/.280/.500 117 wRC+)
  3. Randy Arozarena, RF (.300/.364/.350 111 wRC+)
  4. Brandon Lowe, 2B (.267/.500/.333 162 wRC+)
  5. Yandy Díaz, DH (.158/.273/.211 53 wRC+)
  6. Joey Wendle, 3B (.250/.250/.500 107 wRC+)
  7. Manuel Margot, CF (.300/.333/.550 145 wRC+)
  8. Willy Adames, SS (.211/.250/.316 63 wRC+)
  9. Mike Zunino, C (.154/.267/.385 88 wRC+)

Bench:

  • Francisco Mejía, C (.333/.417/.444 141 wRC+)
  • Brett Phillips, OF (ZiPS proj. .188/.286/.358 73 wRC+)
  • Kevin Padio, 3B/1B (ZiPS proj. .210/.301/.390 86 wRC+)
  • Mike Brousseau, UTIL (ZiPS proj. .257/.318/.432 101 wRC+)

I would expect Cash to start Mejía either at DH or 1B because of his good start, other than that, not much else to do to improve. Maybe playing Brousseau against lefties of Tsutsugo.

Pitching Matchups

Today, 3:10pm:

RHP Corey Kluber

The Klubot made his Yankees debut last Saturday. He threw 74 pitches, going for 4 innings where he allowed 1 ER (off a HR), struck out 5 batters and walked 3. Generally speaking, his stuff was looking NASTY and his command was good except for the third inning. (Stats vs. Rays)

LHP Rich Hill

The 41 year old veteran lefty has been an effective for the better part of 5 years, although injuries have limited the amount of innings he has thrown. He does his thing with basically two evenly thrown pitches, an 88 mph fastball and a rainbow 73 mph curve. In his first start he went 4 innings allowing 4 ER, while striking out 4 batters and walking 2. (Stats vs. Yankees)

Hill.

Saturday, 1:10pm:

RHP Domingo Germán

The righty will hope to right the ship after a first appearance where he only went 3 innings. In those 3 innings, he allowed the same amount of ER, while striking out 2 and walking one. He didn’t look too good: even the outs were hard that day against the Jays. (Stats vs. Rays)

RHP Chris Archer

Returning to Tampa Bay after being traded to the Pirates for Glasnow and Meadows (Yikes!), the righty will make his first start of the season. He’s also returning from a lost season after undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. He did appear in a game out of the bullpen, going two innings allowing 3 ER, striking out 2 and walking 1 against Miami. (Stats vs. Yankees)

Archer.

Sunday, 1:10pm:

LHP Jordan Montgomery

Monty was awfully impressive in his first start of the season against the O’s. He was absolutely dotting his changeup and curveball on the low corners in his way to 6 shutdown innings, striking out 7 while not walking a single guy. Let’s keep that up Monty! (Stats vs. Rays)

RHP Michael Wacha

The former young budding ace of the Cardinals — he was supposed to follow the Carpenter/Wainwright legacy of dominant RHP from that organization — right until the wheels came off in 2016. He will try to revive his career in Tampa, although the underlying measures don’t look promising at all the last few years. In his first start of the season he went 5 innings, allowing 4 ER on 8 hits and 2 walks, while striking out 6. (Stats vs. Yankees)

Wacha.

Bullpen Status

PitcherWednesdayTuesdayMonday
Diego Castillo17
Ryan Thompson16
Hunter Strickland
Andrew Kittredge10
Cody Reed8
Collin McHugh45
Jeffrey Springs77
Chris Mazza61

The off day gives the Rays relievers another day of rest. Wednesday Colin McHugh bit the bullet and went 45 pitches so expect him to be unavailable at least for the first game and probably for the second as well. Other than that, everyone else should be good to go for the series.

The once vaulted bullpen of the Rays now doesn’t look as menacing. Injuries to six different relievers (including one of the best in MLB in Nick Anderson) and the trade of another solid piece (John Curtiss) will do that to you. They will still be funky and all but there is not that much arm talent there, at least not as much as last postseason definitely.

Their best healthy reliever is Diego Castillo. Castillo throws a 96 mph sinker that he uses to pound the bottom of the strike zone to get tons of groundballs, his other pitch is a slider that gets tons of whiffs. You combine those two things and you get a pretty nasty reliever, a reliever that gets strikeouts and limits the long ball with groundballs.

The rest are an assortment of mostly long relievers that aren’t that great. Maybe the lefty Cody Reed could be something, but he has suffered from injuries and control issues.

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5 Comments

  1. Yankees out there making the Rays look like an offensive juggernaut!

  2. Brian M

    Based on Ryan Thompson’s usage on Tuesday I think he won’t be able to pitch until May.

  3. MBN

    I doubt that Thompson threw 156 pitches this past Tuesday. 🙂 Kevin Cash is not that type of Manager.

  4. Dani

    Over/under 3.5 “unintentional” hit batters this series? I take the over.

  5. MikeD

    Never like when the Yankees play Tampa, particularly in Tampa. Let’s hope the arrival of the Yankees doesn’t wake the Rays up.

    I wonder if the heavy use of their bullpen over the compressed season, coupled with high-stress post-season innings, has contributed to a number of their relievers going down in the early going?

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