Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

The steep, but reasonable, price of Ubaldo Jimenez
Peña out with emergency appendectomy; Laird up
(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

The Yankees and Rays played each other a little over a week ago, when the Bombers took two of three at home. That was supposed to be a four game series, but Mother Nature got in the way. This one will be a four-gamer, the dome will make sure of it.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

Played a lot of innings, that’s what. The Rays and Red Sox played 16 innings last night, with Tampa coming out on the wrong end of a 1-0 score. Those two teams split the first two games of their series, and the Rays have lost four of their last five series. They’re 3-6 since the end of interleague play, and three of those losses were shutouts. They’re six games back of the Yankees in the loss column for the wildcard.

Rays On Offense

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

Same set of guys we saw last weekend. The meat of the order is Johnny Damon (.275/.322/.420), Ben Zobrist (.266/.359/.474), Evan Longoria (.233/.317/.441), Casey Kotchman (.333/.393/.465), and B.J. Upton (.240/.422/.418), the guys that play every single day. Matt Joyce fouled a ball of his knee on Saturday that forced him from that game and kept him on the bench yesterday (other than a pinch-hitting appearance, when he fouled a ball off his toe), and his availability for this series is unclear. I’m sure we’ll see him at some point, either off the bench or starting. Either way, his excellent season line (.293/.353/.522) masks a .183/.236/.351 slump since the calender flipped to June.

Then you have everyone else. Sean Rodriguez crushes lefties (.306/.405/.556) but can’t touch righties (.169/.234/.297). Reid Brignac (.193/.236/.221) has kinda sorta taken the shortstop job back from Elliot Johnson (.209/.276/.357) with a recent hot streak (two multi-hit games in his last four contests). John Jaso (.255/.347/.371 vs. RHP) and Kelly Shoppach (.239/.363/.388 vs. LHP) typically platoon behind the dish. Tampa recently recalled third catcher Jose Lobaton, but he hurt his knee last night and could end up on the disabled list. Sam Fuld (.238/.296/.351) will make an appearance now and then, as will Justin Ruggiano (.259/.279/.439). The Rays have a pretty drastic home/road split, but not in the traditional way. As a team, they’ve hit .227/.296/.374 at Tropicana Field, but .258/.325/.416 away from home. It’s weird, the Trop has turned into a pretty extreme pitcher’s park over the last few years, suppressing offense to about 80% of the league average since the start of last season according to ESPN’s park factors. Don’t ask me to explain.

Rays On The Mound

Monday, RHP Alex Cobb (vs. A.J. Burnett): Uh oh, a rookie they’ve never seen before. At least this one isn’t a soft-tossing lefty. Cobb has made five spot starts for Tampa this season, all with generally good results. He gave up four runs in four innings in his debut, but he’s allowed no more than three runs in the other four games while failing to complete six innings only once. Cobb has struck out 19 and walked 12 in 29 IP, getting exactly 50% ground balls. He makes his living with a low-90’s two-seamer and a mid-80’s changeup that he’ll throw a pretty much any time. A high-70’s curveball is his third pitch, a mid-80’s slider his seldom used fourth offering. Cobb does have a pretty significant platoon split in both the majors and minors, which is odd given the changeup.

Tuesday, RHP Jeremy Hellickson (vs. Bartolo Colon): The Yankees were supposed to get Hellickson last week, but he was scheduled to start the game that was rained out, so Tampa skipped him. This start will be his first since July 3rd, so 16 days off. Maybe there will be some rust. Hellickson is another fastball-changeup-curveball guy, but his stuff and command is a full grade better than Cobb’s, if not more. His underlying performance this year isn’t great (5.90 K/9, 3.39 BB/9, 33.1% grounders), but he’s coming off a nice run of seven quality starts in his last eight outings. The Yankees haven’t seen him other than a handful of short relief appearances last season.

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

Wednesday, LHP David Price (vs. Freddy Garcia): Finally, someone we’re familiar with. The Yankees put ten men on base and scored four runs against Price last week (5 IP), and also scored five runs in five innings off him earlier this season. He lives off his mid-90’s two and four-seamers, throwing them a combined 70.7% of the time this season. A mid-80’s changeup and a high-70’s curve are his favorite two secondary pitches, and the high-80’s slider he used to dominate the SEC is basically a show-me offering these days. The Yankees have had some success against Price this year, but come on. You know how good he can be.

Thursday, RHP Jamie Shields (vs. CC Sabathia): The Yankees didn’t have any success against Shields last week; he limited them to four hits and one unearned run in eight innings. It took an otherworldly effort from Sabathia for them to win. Shields throws three low-90’s fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter) but doesn’t use them that often. Just 40.1% of his pitches are fastballs. His hellacious low-80’s changeup is his go-to pitch, and he’s using his high-70’s curve more often this year (21.4%) than ever before. A mid-80’s slider will make an appearances every once in a while. Shields has been both very good and very bad against the Yankees in recent years, and they’ve seen enough of him to know what’s up.

Bullpen: The Rays played deep into the night yesterday, so their bullpen is pretty taxed on the moment. Both Juan Cruz (3.70 FIP) and Jake McGee ( 4.84 FIP in limited action) have pitched in each of the last three days. Cesar Ramos (4.66 FIP), Adam Russell (5.08 FIP), and Brandon Gomes (4.01 FIP in limited action) have each pitched in the last two days. The trio of Kyle Farnsworth (2.86 FIP), J.P. Howell (5.97 FIP), and Joel Peralta (3.85 FIP) each pitched yesterday as well as Friday. Tampa has to send someone down to call-up Cobb in time for tonight’s game, and it’ll almost certainly be Gomes after the threw three innings and 48 pitches last night. They’re definitely stretched a little thin at the moment, but most days they’re set in the eighth and ninth innings while being a little hit-or-miss elsewhere.

Recommended Rays Reading: DRays Bay

The steep, but reasonable, price of Ubaldo Jimenez
Peña out with emergency appendectomy; Laird up
  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    That stadium just looks so warm and inviting, doesn’t it? Come enjoy a lovely day at the ballpark, have a hot dog and some beer and relax the afternoon away…

    (throws up in mouth)

    • Brian S.

      But watch out for piping hot shattered glass falling from the ceiling!

      • Thomas

        I love how their spring training facility is nicer than the MLB one.

    • http://RAB Nuke LaDoosh

      Have you been there before? I’m guessing No since you only threw up a little bit and were able to catch it in your mouth. Personal experience might have led to a less containable vomit onslaught.

  • Brian S.

    DRaysBay is hilarious because they also make “Boston is racist” jokes.

  • UncleArgyle

    and he’s using his high-70?s fastball more often this year (21.4%) than ever before.

    I’m assuming you meant James Sheilds is using his high-70’s Curveball more often this year?

  • KenC

    Of course they call up a pitcher to face the Yankees knowing hes a rookie that the yankees never saw before! oh boy -.-

  • Gonzo

    Evan Longoria is hurting, and their bullpen is taxed. Hopefully tonight goes like it should.

  • AaronGuielWithASmile

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t buy the ESPN narrative that the AL East is a 3 team race. Tampa is a solid club, but I don’t think that they are on the Yankees or the Red Sox level this season.

    I could certainly be proven wrong, but right now I just don’t see it.

  • Kramerica Industries

    Mike is the only person I still know on this planet who calls Shields by “Jamie”. Living in the locale, I haven’t heard that since the 2008 regular season.

    In regards to this series, I find it very comparable to a series these two played at the tail end of July 2009 at the Trop. Yankees were 6.5 ahead of the Rays, with the Rays having a chance to get back in the race with them, but needing to have a strong series.

    The Yankees took two of three, and the Rays never got any closer than 5 games the rest of the way.

    The Rays just had a rough series against the Sox, with their ‘pen burned to a crisp and having lost two of three in the process. Their now 5.5 back of the Yankees in the WC race.

    I would gladly take a split here, and hopefully the Yankees can manage such a result, if not better. It’s a bit hard to fathom the Yankees winning this series, but tonight would be a good start.

    Of course, a little over a week ago, the first game looked like the most favorable one for the Yankees too, and they didn’t do shit against Niemann, but managed to win against Price and Shields, so as is often said around these parts – #ycpb

  • CS Yankee

    Cobb’s 4-something BB/9 should be tested tonight and hopefully we keep that pen taxed for when Price & big-game pitches later in the series.

    A split would be good. Let’s hope we get some players back from the DL soon (Ralphie, Chav’, Arod & a LOOGY would be great).

  • Oscar Gamble’s Fro

    Chris Russo saying CC Sabathis is “good,” not “great.” Not a Hall of Famer.

    Talking about Yanks current “bad luck” and his sidekick throws in “and Ramiro Pena went down today.”

    I love me some Mad Dog, but just shoot me in the F’ing head.

    • Xstar7

      More often than not, sports radio show hosts have no idea what they’re talking about. See: Mike Fatcesa

      I mean, CC Sabathia only “good” and not great? Do they even follow baseball? Just because he’s not as good as frickin’ Roy Halladay or Felix Hernandez doesn’t mean he isn’t great. Plus, CC leads the league in wins, which is the only thing those guys look at anyway.

      And Ramiro Pena going down is hardly bad luck. I’d much rather see what Laird can do then run ‘Miro out there to go 0-5 with 5k’s and not love up to his “defensive specialist” reputation.

      • Xstar7

        *live up

        • Oscar Gamble’s Fro

          I absolutely can not listen to Fatcesa. He’s such a pompous know-it-all ass.

          That said, Fatcesa does know his stuff better than Mad Dog, but I still find Mad Dog way more entertaining and listenable.

          Agree Pena going down is great news. Hopefully Mitre joins him.

          Also hope Laird gets a chance to show us what he’s got.