Jul
07

Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

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(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

It’s July 7th, but somehow the Yankees and Rays have only played two games so far. That was back in mid-May, when the Yankees were in the middle of that ugly six-game losing streak. They dropped the first game but rebounded behind Ivan Nova to win the second, and that’s it. These two teams are going to see a lot of each other in the second half, I guess.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

Tampa has won just four of their last nine games, and they needed an Alex Burnett (who?) meltdown to avoid being swept by the Twins yesterday. They’ve been playing just a touch better than .500 ball for about a month now, but they do have the third best record (48-39) and fourth best run differential (+35) in the American League.

Rays On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Luckily for the Yankees, two of the Rays’ most important offensive players are battling injuries. Johnny Damon is expected to miss a few days with a left hand contusion after Francisco Liriano hit him with not one, but two pitches yesterday, and his .279/.327/.426 batting line will likely be replaced by Sam Fuld (.243/.304/.357) and/or Justin Ruggiano (.284/.308/.486 in limited action). Evan Longoria is playing with a nerve issue in his left foot, which is part of the reason why his season line sits at a pedestrian .243/.329/.471. No one likes to see anyone get hurt, but the fact of the matter is that those injuries have a tangible impact on the game.

Tampa’s offense has generally been reliant on two guys this season. Ben Zobrist is hitting .265/.349/.461 with the fourth most extra base hits (41) in the American League. We could see him play second or right or both in this series. Matt Joyce has a nifty .291/.352/.510 batting line, but that’s propped up by an early season hot streak and he’s hit just .160/.219/.298 since June 1st. A nagging shoulder issue has contributed to that somewhat. Casey Kotchman has been the mother of all surprises, sporting a .343/.401/.464 batting line while playing against both righties and lefties. B.J. Upton is the only other constant in the lineup, and he’s at .231/.318/.405.

The other lineup spots are one big revolving door. Sean Rodriguez (.323/.413/.585 vs. LHP) will platoon against southpaws, usually at second base with Zobrist shifting to the outfield. Elliot Johnson (.250/.388/.300 vs. LHP) will get some time at short as the offensively incompetent Reid Brignac (.187/.233/.217 overall) sees more and more time on the bench. John Jaso (.234/.288/.361 vs. RHP) and Kelly Shoppach (.222/.329/.333 vs. LHP) platoon behind the plate. As usual, Tampa will augment their offense with stolen bases, and the main culprits are Upton (20), Fuld (16), and Zobrist (eight). Damon (seven) will also run if he’s healthy enough to play.

Rays On The Mound

Thursday, RHP Jeff Niemann (vs. Bartolo Colon): The big (6-foot-9) right-hander just returned from the disabled list, missing just about all of May and most of June with a back issue. He’s been good (six shutout innings), bad (five runs in three innings), and good again (one run in six innings) in his three starts back, though all those games came against National League teams. Niemann’s fastballs (two and four-seamer) both sit in the low-90’s, mostly 91, and he backs them up with a curveball, a slider, and a little splitter-changeup hybrid thing that he’ll break out from time to time. The Yankees are familiar enough with Niemann and he’s a good matchup for them because he’s a big-time fly ball guy (39.9% grounders) and doesn’t miss many bats (5.63 K/9).

Friday, RHP Jeremy Hellickson (vs. Freddy Garcia): The rookie sensation has been more rookie than sensation so far. His shiny 3.21 ERA is backed up by underwhelming peripherals: 5.90 K/9, 3.39 BB/9, 33.1% grounders, a 4.29 FIP, and a 4.45 xFIP. Hellboy will sit right around 90 mph with a two and four-seamer, and his go-to secondary pitch is a low-80’s changeup that fades down and away from left-handers. He’ll also mix in a curveball. Hellickson has given up seven homers total in his last five starts, during which he’s pitching to a 4.50 ERA. The Yankees have seen him before but not really: just 3.2 IP across a pair of relief appearances last season. That might be a problem.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Saturday, LHP David Price (vs. A.J. Burnett): Because he wasn’t good enough last year, Price has gone ahead and knocked close to two full walks off his walk rate while increasing his strikeout rate this year. He’s the opposite of Hellickson in that his ERA (3.56) doesn’t do his underlying performance justice: 8.85 K/9, 1.67 BB/9, 42.7% grounders, a 2.73 FIP, and a 2.86 xFIP. Price lives of his fastball, legitimately sitting in the mid-90’s, and he’ll throw it straight, with some sink, or with some cut in on righties. A low-80’s changeup has become his top secondary weapon, but he’ll also show a curveball and a wipe-out slider. The Yankees have faced him once already this year (five runs in five innings) and have seen him several times over the last few years, but Price is one of those guys where it might not matter. It’s frontline stuff and if he’s on, he can beat anyone.

Sunday, RHP Jamie Shields (vs. CC Sabathia): Shields is in the middle of his best season ever, backing up his 2.47 ERA with a 3.07 FIP and 2.87 xFIP. He leads the league with six complete games, and he’s managed to get a handle on last year’s homerun trouble by upping his ground ball rate (45.3%). The improvement has to do with his curveball, which he’s throwing more than ever (21.1%) and in any count. Shields’ four and two-seamer still sits in the low-90’s, and of course he has that great changeup. The Yankees have seen plenty of Shields over the years and have already beaten him once this year (four runs in seven innings), but he’s certainly a tough assignment.

Bullpen: As unit, the Rays are middle of the pack in bullpen ERA (3.65) but bottom ten in FIP (4.10) and next-to-last in xFIP (4.30). Kyle Farnsworth has been very good in the ninth inning (2.08 ERA and 2.81 FIP) but he doesn’t strike out nearly as many batters as he once did (5.97 K/9). Joel Peralta has been solid as the setup man (3.63 ERA, 3.51 FIP) and J.P. Howell (8.56 ERA and 5.59 FIP in limited action) is working his way back into things after missing more than a year with shoulder surgery. Juan Cruz has been surprisingly solid in the middle innings (3.13 ERA and 3.40 FIP).

The rest of the bullpen isn’t anything to write home about. Lefty Cesar Ramos has a 4.05 ERA (4.94 FIP) and a reverse split, and big Adam Russell (6-foot-8, 255 lbs.) has just 12 strikeouts against 18 walks in 31 IP. He lives off his 53.8% ground ball rate. Long man Andy Sonnanstine (3.31 ERA, 4.42 FIP) never really pitches. He’s thrown just 16.1 IP this year and has appeared in only four games (one spot start) since June 1st. Tampa is okay in the late innings, but the middle innings could get interesting if the Yankees knock their starters out early enough.

Recommended Rays Reading: The Process Report and DRays Bay

Categories : Series Preview
  • MannyGeee

    Price vs Burnett, huh.

    that should be interesting.

    • 28 this year

      YCPB

      • Nigel Bangs

        “28 this year”

        YCPB?

        • 28 this year

          you can’t predict baseball.

          • CS Yankee

            However, your handle does predict the best possible outcome.

            • 28 this year

              i am a savant who can predict the future. So far, I am 1 for 2. I was 27 this year for the first time in 2009. A BA of .500 is good, hehe.

              • CS Yankee

                Your 1-1 with a walk (but picked off first).

                Last year we had the best team but were bad with the breaks (rotation, luck, etc).

                Just don’t get picked off first this year.

            • Nigel Bangs

              That’s what I was saying. Thank you.

              • 28 this year

                oh wow. i misread what you wrote, i thought you asked what that means. haha, fail on my part. perhaps not that great a savant and things non-Yankee related, lolz.

  • Bronx Byte

    A lot of shine will be taken from hit No. 3,000 unless the box score shows a Yankee win.

    • CS Yankee

      Five years from now, after some 800-plus games have been played and we have won three more titles, I for one will not have remembered if we won when Jete got to 3K.

    • Fohorn Leghorn

      damn…I remember a time when a guy getting 3000 hits was a pretty big deal that most fans were excited about. Its one hell of an acomplisment regardless if the yanks win or lose.

      • CS Yankee

        Did Boggs or Gywnn win theirs? I just recall they were extremely close together.

        Things to me that don’t matter when getting 3K…
        1) The type of hit (dribbler or liner)
        2) The announcer (it will be over-the-top…who cares?)
        3) The score
        4) The game delay
        5) The win

        • jsbrendog

          OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH HANG ONTO THE ROOF!!!

          • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

            One of my favorite calls ever.

          • Pasqua

            The best. For Thorne to have the presence of mind to recognize the significance of the homerun while the ball was in mid-flight will always make that a great call.

            • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

              Yeah, that’s what made it so cool. It was just an unscripted real reaction.. knowing the park was about to go nuts.

        • Delaware – Ralph

          Boggs lost 15 – 10

          But he also went 3 for 4 with 2 runs and 4 RBIs – not too bad.
          Maybe the biggest surprise Attendance: 39,512 in Tampa.

          http://www.baseball-almanac.co.....1999.shtml

          Gywnn won 12 – 10. He went 4 -4 on his mothers birthday to get to 3,000. With an excited crowd of 13,540 in attendance up in Montreal.

          I’m happy I looked this up now, those were two fun stats. I can only hope Jeter gets two hits tonight and has a boxscore like either Gwynn or Boggs while I am in the stands Friday Night.

          • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

            I could be wrong, but I think Boggs’ was a HR too.

            • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

              It was, only guy to get his 3,000th hit on a homer.

              • MannyGeee

                but how many of those guys got to 3000 on a full swing bunt?

                Jus sayin

    • gc

      Not really. They can be losing by ten runs when it happens, people will still stay in the park to see if he gets it and he’ll still get an enormous standing ovation when it does. Of course we’d all like to see them win the game that he gets the hit in, but these kinds of things just don’t happen very often. Enjoy it. And for the record, when he broke Lou Gherig’s Yankees hit record back in 2009, they lost that game 10-4.

      • Fohorn Leghorn

        I have a funny feeling that a lot of people that call themselves Yankee fans are not going to enjoy this moment at all.

        • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

          Dumbasses.

          • Jim S

            For real. Acknowledging that he shouldn’t be batting leadoff and is past his prime should in no way stop people from celebrating a fantastic career accomplishment.

            • whozat

              I think very, very few people will feel that way. I think you’re assigning thoughts to other people and then lambasting them for having the thoughts you just projected onto them.

              • Jim S

                And I completely disagree based on the sentiment of both the mainstream media and plenty of comments here and at other NY Yankee blogs.

              • Jim S

                Also the damn root comment in this thread. I’m lambasting that train of thought.

            • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

              Right on. I wouldn’t care if he was hitting .150, it’s going to be a really cool moment when he gets to 3k. People can bitch and say what they want, 3,000 is 3,000 anyway you cut it.

              • gc

                Truth.

                Some great perspective from a somewhat unexpected source:

                http://espn.go.com/mlb/blog/_/.....-3000-hits

                • http://washingtonplantation.com Tom in Georgia

                  gc, Thanks for the link. Amazing career!

                • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

                  Very cool article.

  • Hester Prynne

    Should be able to win 3/4. Gotta win the series vs division rivals at home.

  • Greg

    I expect at least a split with a win tonight and Sunday. The othe two are up in the air.

  • first time lawng time

    I predict the Yankees will win tonight, Saturday, and Sunday.

  • first time lawng time

    It seems like the Yankees always let a scrub or two in the Rays lineup beat them.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/Clay_Bellinger Clay Bellinger

      Seriously. It’s always some scrub like Sam Fuld, Dan Johnson, Reid Brignac, etc.

  • MannyGeee

    Split… David Price is an absolute Monster, and insert the obligitory “pitcher we’ve never faced before” dialogue here for Hellickson.

  • A-Rod’s Hip

    Quick Question.

    Is there anyway on bbref or any other site where you can check a guy’s hit total in his career after a certain # of plate-appearances? For instance. I was in a debate about Jeter, and remembered the stat that was brought here at the start of last season about Cano being well ahead of Jeter in the hit department.

    Cano’s got 4089 PA’s (1172 hits). Is there a way I can find out how many hits Jeter had after his first 4089 PA’s??

  • gc

    Using the seasonal splits and game logs on baseball-reference, if my math is correct, Jeter had 1148 hits in his first 4089 plate appearances. So yeah, that would put Cano slightly ahead of that pace.

    • gc

      sorry, meant to hit “reply” to the post above from A-Rod’s Hip…

      • A-Rod’s Hip

        thanks alot! i figure the actual math way was the easiest (but longest) way to go..