Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Baseball Prospectus on the 1996 Yankees
Bichette, Santana top Baseball America's list of top 20 GCL prospects
(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

How important is this series? It’s obviously huge for the Rays, but it’s not life or death for the Yankees. They have seven games left against Tampa and a seven-game lead for the wildcard, but just two wins in those seven games punches their ticket to October. These are far from must wins, but it would be nice to have a playoff spot wrapped up before the Red Sox come to town on Friday.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

I think you’re all well aware of what the Rays have done lately. They took three of four from the Red Sox in Fenway before having yesterday off, and they now sit just two games back of Boston for the wildcard (one in the loss column). Tampa has won ten of their last 14 games.

Rays On Offense

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Overall, it’s an exactly league average offense with a .317 wOBA, a 100 wRC+, and a 104 OPS+. That said, they have several players coming into the series very got. Evan Longoria (.360 wOBA overall) has hit .310/.461/.603 this month, and B.J. Upton (.325 wOBA overall) is right behind him at .311/.408/.557 for September. Matt Joyce (.360 wOBA overall) has rebounded from prolonged slump to hit .270/.404/.459 in the season’s final month. He doesn’t play much against left-handers, though.

Those three have been really, really good during Tampa’s recent surge, but three others have been really, really bad. Ben Zobrist (.355 wOBA overall) has hit .196/.274/.286 this month, and the amazingly awesome Desmond Jennings (.395 wOBA overall) has crashed back to Earth with a .212/.297/.303 batting line over his last 16 games. Casey Kotchman (.351 wOBA overall) has been a touch better than Jennings in September (.217/.304/.317), but his struggles go back a little further (.215/.311/.292 in his last 38 games). The rest of the lineup is a bit of a mix-and-match.

Sean Rodriguez may or may not be limited in this series after getting hit by a pitch in the Sox series, but he’s lethal against left-handed pitchers (.271/.391/.465). Reid Brignac (.203 wOBA) and Elliot Johnson (.244 wOBA) are the two shortstop options, so yuck. Kelly Shoppach (.260 wOBA) is rumored to see more time behind the plate down the stretch, ahead of John Jaso (.291 wOBA) and Jose Lobaton (.122 wOBA in a small sample). Brandon Guyer (.272 wOBA in limited action) will likely see some outfield time against lefties, and then there’s spare parts like Dan Johnson (.162 wOBA mostly due to April), Justin Ruggiano (.287 wOBA in limited time), Sam Fuld (.302 wOBA), and Russ Canzler (one plate appearance, one walk). The Rays will absolutely steal bases, with Upton (30), Fuld (20), Jennings (18), Damon (18), and Zobrist (18) being the main threats.

Rays On The Mound

Tuesday, RHP Wade  Davis (vs. Ivan Nova): One of many great pitching prospects to come out of Tampa’s system in recent years, Davis has yet to have the kind of success some of his peers have enjoyed. His 4.41 ERA is right in line with his 4.66 FIP, a 119 FIP- that essentially matches last year’s 118 FIP-. A fly ball guy (36.3% grounders) without much strikeout ability (5.10K/9), Davis works with a pair of low-90’s fastballs (two and four-seamer), a high-70’s curveball, a mid-80’s slider, and a mid-80’s changeup. The Yankees have not faced him yet this year, but they saw him four times last year (3.43 ERA).

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

Wednesday, RHP Jeremy Hellickson (vs. CC Sabathia/Phil Hughes): One of many great pitching prospects to come out of Tampa’s system in recent years, Hellickson is coming off that grueling 117-pitch outing in Fenway. His peripherals (4.28 FIP) are not nearly as good as his ERA (2.91), and he’s another fly ball guy (34.0% grounders) that struggles to miss bats (5.78 K/9). Two fastballs (low-90’s two and four-seamers) and a knockout changeup are his primary weapons, but we’ll also see a mid-70’s curve on occasion. Hellickson can be sneaky good, he is just a kid in his first full year as a starter in the AL East, after all. The Yankees have seen him twice this year, once good (2 R in 7 IP) and once bad (4 R in 4.1 IP).

Wednesday, RHP Jamie Shields (vs. Sabathia/Hughes): One of many great pitching prospects to come out of Tampa’s system in recent years, Big Complete Game James has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. His peripherals (3.35 FIP) match the ERA (2.78), with lots of strikeouts (8.25 K/9), lots of grounders (46.2%), and few walks (2.31 BB/9). Shields is the master at pitching backwards, setting up his low-90’s two and four-seamers with that world class changeup and a high-70’s curveball. He’ll also throw a mid-80’s slider and a high-80’s cutter. In three starts against the Yankees this year, Shields has held them to six runs (four earned) in 22.2 IP, and four of those runs came in one start.

Thursday, RHP Jeff Niemann (vs. Bartolo Colon): One of many great pitching prospects to come out of Tampa’s system in recent years (notice a pattern here?), Niemann has pitched very well since returning from the disabled list in late-June. He’s posted a 3.41 ERA (~3.80 FIP) with 7.69 K/9 and 2.45 BB/9 in 103 IP. His pitching approach is pretty straight forward, featuring two fastballs in the low-90’s (two and four-seamer) and a high-80’s curve, but he’ll occasionally mix in three other pitches: mid-80’s slider, mid-80’s changeup, and a low-80’s split. The Yankees have seen Niemann just once this year, when he held them to one run in 7.1 IP in his fourth start off the DL.

Mr. Moore. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Bullpen: The Rays have a bunch of call-ups on their roster, but they’re still a man short in the bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth is having a very good year (3.27 FIP), but he’s battling an elbow issue and might not be available for part or all of the series. Joel Peralta (3.43 FIP) has stepped in at closer in the meantime. J.P. Howell (holding lefties to a .217/.277/.283 batting line), Juan Cruz (3.95 FIP), and Jake McGee (5.14 FIP) handle the majority of the middle innings.

For the most part, the rest of the bullpen is made up of low-leverage call-up types, guys like Brandon Gomes (4.09 FIP), Dane De La Rosa (2 IP so far), Cesar Ramos (4.70 FIP), Andy Sonnanstine (4.48 FIP), and Alex Torres (2 IP so far). The secret weapon is Matt Moore, the best pitching prospect in baseball. The hard-throwing lefty has made two appearances totaling 4.1 IP so far, and they aren’t shy about throwing him into big spots against both lefties and righties. We’ll see him at some point this series, and there’s even been some rumblings that he could get a start in the doubleheader.

Recommended Rays Reading: DRays Bay.

Ticket Info: Courtesy of RAB Tickets and TiqIQ

Baseball Prospectus on the 1996 Yankees
Bichette, Santana top Baseball America's list of top 20 GCL prospects
  • Foghorn Leghorn

    let’s go your asses off to first make the playoffs and then the division. set the rotation, get the kids work and give the regulars a rest except for Arod so he can get his swings!

    Go O’s!!

  • Tiny Tim

    Win 1 and get that magic # down to 2 on the Rays. This will keep the Rays neck and neck with Boston. Then we go all out to sweep Boston. Beat Boston.

  • Bronx Byte

    Let’s start off with the fact that Burnett is a P.O.S. loser jerk.

    • JimIsBored (Jim S)

      Yeah, those stupid Rays keep running him out every 5 days. That must be right, because the article is about the Rays, not AJ Burnett, right?

  • Yank The Frank

    Blow them away! Wipe the smirk off of Maddon’s face. Fuck Boston.

    • pat

      That would actually be helping Boston.

      • Yank The Frank

        I don’t care. Maddon gets on my nerves. I’m really not worried about running into Boston in the post season.

  • Johnny O

    Win the first 2 against Tampa, then send the AAA lineup out and let Tampa win the last two, then sweep the Sawx with our big boy lineup.

  • J

    Shields was never a great prospect, seen more as a back of the rotation type guy during his rise to the bigs. .

  • Chad Gaudin the Friendly Ghost

    ‘Sean Rodriguez may or may not be limited in this series after getting hit by a pitch in the Sox series’

    Hitting batters is just a part of baseball. I don’t see what the big deal is.

    /Boston’s MLB Leading 87 HBP Which is 16 more than the next team on the list’d

  • Monteroisdinero

    4 righties against us=lots of Jorge and not so much Jesus. 3/4 games probably.

    Wonder if Joe would/will pinch hit Jesus for Jorge when a lefty comes in.

    I predict a 2-2 series split.

    • JimIsBored (Jim S)

      I’d be very OK with a 2-2 series split, if we can win the first 2, and lose the next 2 because we’re resting regulars.

      • Cris Pengiuci


  • Greg

    With the Sox playing the hapless O’s we need to whittle that divisional number down from 5 as much as we can before we face them because as expected they will throw both Beckett and Lester at us again.

    • CP

      Beckett is scheduled to pitch tomorrow for Boston, which would rule him out of pitching against the Yankees.

      • Foghorn Leghorn

        Josh Beckett can kiss my white irish ass

    • Cris Pengiuci

      I’d rather see the Sux in the ALCS (if the Sux make it past the first round) than the Rays. The Rays’ pitching can be dominating. Not so much with the Sux right now.

      • Ted Nelson

        Not that either is a bad team, but healthy Beckett, Lester, and Bedard (maybe with healthy Buchholz in the pen) could dominate too and theoretically have better bats behind them. It’s interesting to look at who has been hot recently and can often be informative, but it can also change at any moment.

        • Cris Pengiuci

          I’ve seen analysis that the “hot” team coming into the playoffs has no significant advantage once the playoffs begin. The stronger team over the course of 162 games typically does better in the playoffs, whether coming in hot or cold. However, the games still need to be played. You can’t predict baseball.

          • Ted Nelson

            That’s pretty much what I’m saying… The Sox pitching hasn’t been hot lately, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be hot in the playoffs.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      You need to get over your paranoia.

      Boston’s playing like shit right now. In case you missed it, the hapless O’s beat the feared Sux yesterday.

      I think the Yanks will lay a smackdown on those chowderheads this weekend and clinch the division title on Friday night.

      But then, instead of enjoying it, you will obsess over HFA.

  • chaz

    If my math is correct, if Boston loses one of their remaining 5 games with Baltimore, then the Yankees would need to win just one game in each of their three remaining series to clinch everything.

    • Mike Axisa

      You are correct. If the Yankees go 2-5 vs. Tampa, they’re in the postseason no matter what.

      • Dave B

        I guess that’s right, but that would not be the best way to go into the playoffs. In fact, I would be terrified.

      • Cris Pengiuci

        Nice! And one win against Boston, combined with one Boston loss elswahere clinches the division. Makes a Yankee fan feel confident!

    • well you know

      “everything” includes HFA in the AL. The magic number for that is 7 and the Tigers finish with the Royals, Orioles and Indians.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    Screw Boston and Screw Tampa.. Yanks need to worry about the Yanks. If the Yanks win, it doesn’t matter what any other team does.

    Win baby, win!!!

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      We play today, we win today. Das it.

      • Foghorn Leghorn

        that’s right..anything can happen in the playoffs. Even though the Sox are struggling now, the Beckett/Lester 1-2 combo can be very tough and as tough as any other team.

        Get to the dance…and then dance your fat ass off.

  • Comrade Al

    All of New England rooting for the Yankees … priceless.

    • Cris Pengiuci

      There should be a commercial on this …

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    listening to the boston media…holy mackeral…Massaroti is going to have a coronary any minute now…

  • Kris

    Typical Yankee fans!!! THUGS!

  • Kris

    Again I love how Yank fans and Sox fans talk down to Rays fans.
    Makes us happy to see that our 42 Million payroll guys giving 160-200 million payroll a run for your money!!! Not always about the $$$$

  • Montero’s Agent

    Who is talking down to Rays fans? I think it is pretty clear that a lot of Yankee fans would be a tad concerned about facing the Rays staff in the ALCS. Why the inferiority complex. The Rays have been competitive for some time now..

    • Yank The Frank

      Since 2008 they have been respectable, big whoop. It must really impress the 250 fans that go to their games.