5/8-5/10 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

"Complications" delay setting of Rivera's surgery date
Ivan Nova and the high fastball
(J. Meric/Getty Images)

It’s been a month since the last time these two clubs met, when the Rays swept the Yankees in the season-opening three-game series at Tropicana Field. Now they’re back at Yankee Stadium, and the last time they played here was when the Yankees clinched the AL East title last September. That’s a better memory, let’s hang onto that one this week.

What Have They Done Lately?

Tampa has lost their last two games to the Athletics, but before that they’d won six in a row and 12 of 13. They sit atop the division with a 19-10 record but are tied with the Yankees in run differential at +12 apiece. The Rays may be 13-3 at home, but they’re just 6-7 on the road this year.

Offense

Day-to-day with a knee strain. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

After finishing last season with a nearly perfectly average 103 wRC+, the Rays are up to a 116 wRC+ this year and aren’t too far behind the Yankees in the offensive department (122 wRC+). At 4.59 runs per game, Tampa is one of the better hitting teams in the league, capable of both stealing bases (20) and hitting homers (37). The Rays always play the Yankees tough, either offensively or defensively.

Evan Longoria (171 wRC+) is currently on the shelf with a torn hamstring, but Matt Joyce (175 wRC+) is off to his customary hot start while Carlos Pena (146 wRC+), Luke Scott (127 wRC+), and Desmond Jennings (122 wRC+) provide plenty of support. B.J. Upton has produced a 156 wRC+ after starting the season on the DL and Ben Zobrist (108 wRC+) has yet to really get going. Sean Rodriguez (70 wRC+) is pretty much the only everyday player in Tampa’s lineup that is a below average.

The rest of the group is a hodgepodge of platoon players. Jeff Keppinger does his best work against lefties (224 wRC+) while Brandon Allen and Will Rhymes do their best work against righties even though they only have a handful of plate appearances this year. Catchers Jose Molina (68 wRC+) and Chris Gimenez (42 wRC+) don’t hit anyone and are there for defense. Same deal with Elliot Johnson (69 wRC+), who frankly has no business getting as much playing time as he has for a contender.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jamie Shields
The Yankees pushed six runs across in five innings against Shields on Opening Day, but he’s since gone on to allow just eight earned runs in five starts and 36.1 IP. The changeup master pitches backwards with low-80s curveball and three low-90s fastballs: four-seamer, two-seamer, and a cutter/slider. We’ve seen more than enough of Shields over the last few years, so know what he’s all about. He’s a tough assignment but can be hit when he doesn’t have a feel for the change.

Wednesday: RHP David Phelps vs. RHP Jeff Niemann
We didn’t see Niemann during that first series in Tampa, though the big right-hander has pitched pretty well in his first five starts (4.05 ERA and a 3.40 FIP). He’s a true five-pitch guy with a low-90s four-seamer, a low-90s two-seamer, a mid-80s slider, a low-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball. The slider and changeup do take a back seat to the other pitches. Niemann is missing more bats (8.44 K/9 and 22.1 K%) than ever before, but he has yet to complete even six innings in a start this season. Apparently they have a real quick hook with him because his performance heads south after 75 pitches. That’ll be something to watch.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Thursday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP David Price
Another guy we’re very familiar with, Price has been magnificent over his last three starts: 23.1 IP, 14 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 24 K. Yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about my Cy Young pick so far. Price held the Yankees to two runs back in April, though they did put nine men on base in 6.1 IP. His repertoire hasn’t changed at all — mid-90s four-seamer, mid-90s two-seamer, high-80s slider, low-80s changeup, and high-80s changeup — but he’s started getting more ground balls in additional to all those strikeouts. Price was awesome in 2010, got better last year (although it doesn’t show in the ERA), and has improved even more this season. Not fair.

Bullpen Status
Both teams had Monday off, so the bullpens are nice and fresh. Tampa closer Fernando Rodney apparently throws strikes now (1.86 FIP), which is pretty annoying. He’d been a walk machine for years. Setup men Joel Peralta (3.51 FIP) and J.P. Howell (2.59 FIP) have been effective, as has second lefty reliever Jake McGee (1.57 FIP). Ground ball guy Burke Badenhop (5.45 FIP but 54.2% grounders) has taken it on the chin a few times in middle relief. Long man Wade Davis (2.88 FIP) has done well in his new role and the left-handed Cesar Ramos (just one inning this year) was just called up for extra depth. He’s more of a multi-inning guy than a specialist.

Overall, the Rays’ bullpen has pitched to a 4.45 ERA and a 3.75 FIP, middle of the road numbers in the league. They had some games earlier in the season, particularly against the Red Sox, where the bullpen got really wrecked and skewed the numbers. It’s a solid relief corps, particularly since Shields and Price will soak up some innings in two of the three games. For the latest and greatest on Tampa, check out DRays Bay.

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"Complications" delay setting of Rivera's surgery date
Ivan Nova and the high fastball
  • Kosmo

    Rays offense will fall back to league average. Longoria is on the DL and Pena and Scott both got off to hot starts have cooled off. Pena is down in the .250 range not far removed from his .239 career ave.
    Rays win on the strength of their pitching which has been excellent.
    Hellickson, who NY doesn´t see in this series has picked up where he left off last season.

    • Urban

      I don’t even think Pena is capable of hitting .239 anymore.

      That said, he will probably hit seven HRs this series since the Yankees have yet to figure out what the rest of baseball has.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    What is it they say about good pitching? I do have a closet admiration for the Rays franchise. I admit it. They could put someone’s grandma in the lineup and win games.

    Each of these matchups could easily go either way. It’ll be nice to watch the Yankees play to the level of better competition after watching them pretty much split against teams we know they’re better than.

    Yankee four-game sweep. You heard it here first.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      A four game sweep of a three game series! Another first for the Yanks!

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Phuck it. We sweep all five.

    • Kosmo

      isn´t it a 3 game series ?

      • Esteban

        Forget about it, he’s rolling

        • gageagainstthemachine

          We won the off day by not losing a game…so that makes the four game sweep possible I’m guessing.

  • Kramerica Industries

    Another Sabathia/Price matchup. Seems to happen quite often between these two, going back to 2009. I think this is the sixth or seventh time these two have gotten together (I know it happened twice in ’09, at least twice in ’10, and seems likely to have happened in ’11 as well).

    Price and the Rays usually win those games. None of that, Rays or Price, winning this week please. The opening series sucked, and its time to put the Rays back behind the Yankees.

  • Urban

    Beat the shift.

    Just hit it over the wall!

  • JohnC

    Weather doesn’t look too promising for tonight. Hope they get the game in

    • LiterallyFigurative

      Is it a My9 game?

  • JoeyA

    Over-Under 1.5 HR’s for Pena this series

    • JohnC

      Over. He always killd the Yanks

    • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

      over.

      2 really long ones and 1 cheapie.

  • Duh Innings

    Some jackass on Twitter said the below was my “Crazy Idea Of The Day”.

    ‘Not so crazy now that Girardi is going with this, huh?

    I’m NostDUHdamus LOL.

    D-Rob, Sori, and maybe Aardvark (my nickname for Aardsma) can hold down the closer role until Mo returns.

    Duh Innings says:
    March 27, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    If Mariano Rivera retires after this season, the Yanks should go with a dual closer for 2013. This takes the pressure of filling Mo’s cleats off the dual closers as it wouldn’t be just one guy who has to succeed Mo and do what will ultimately not be as good a job as Mo or the way Mo did it no matter how good he (the new closer) is. If one guy sucks, the other guy can pick him up, or someone else can replace the guy who suck, or a third closer could be brought in for a “closer by committee”. This could work to the Yanks advantage as the opposition’s last men up would see a different look from the closer all the time, two or three closers. Maybe the Yanks would have CC face a lefty batter or two on his throw day like I remember the Yanks had Pettitte do once not too long ago. CC for the lefty who leads off the ninth, batter pops up on the first pitch, CC faces the next guy lefty or righty???

    That dual closer should be Robertson and either Soriano unless he opts out (which I hope but doubt he does) or David Aardsma if the Yanks pick up his 2013 club option which they’ll probably do as he is a veteran with some closer experience (albeit limited) and is better than a last man in the bullpen, unless he absolutely has nothing left. If it was Robertson-Aardsma we could nickname them The Davids or The Dual David, and that’d be a funny allusion to a retired Mo who is Goliath among relievers and pitchers in general haha. It could be all three.

    ‘Something to consider. I say go in-house as it’s risky to bring in a guy from another organization, especially if he has little or no postseason experience or World Series rings. Jonathan Paplebon would’ve been the PERFECT outside the organization / free-agent signing successor to Mo but he’s a Phillie now and through 2014.
    Reply
    Duh Innings says:
    March 27, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Oops, I meant Paplebon is signed through 2015 with a vesting option.

  • Raza

    I hope Nova gets his shit together. Hitters are OPS’in 1.028 against him. Not good.

  • jsbrendog

    my only question…..wtf is garden gnome night?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I think it’s literally what it said. Still makes for a better giveaway than Hand Sanitizer Night. What the hell good is a keychain-sized bottle of hand sanitizer that will last you around a week?

  • Bonnie Parker

    Make no mistake about it, this is a BIG series. We need to win it to set the tone going forward in the division. All division games are big this year due to the additional wild card. No more coasting to the end anymore. The series is at home, our ace is pitching in one of the games and their best player is out. We need to win this series.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Not trolling, but absolutely fishing for some, really any, sort of reaction when you post the exact same thought in two different threads.

      At least we’re going for consistency here and Clyde has been seemingly put out to pasture….for now. Maybe Thelma and Louise start commenting next week.

      • Havok9120

        I think he just forgot to switch usernames in between threads. It happens.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Mo’ somethingorother, mo’ problems.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      I agree it would be nice if the Yanks won this series. It would be even nicer if they swept.

      But, even if they get swept (which I hope doesn’t happen), the season is not over. The Yankees will still play the remaining 131 games on the schedule, which gives them plenty of time to right the ship.

      I expect the Yanks to win every game, even though I know that won’t happen. I have been following baseball long enough to know that even the best teams lose about 40% of the time.

      The 1998 Yanks, which lost less than 30% of time, had one stretch in August where they lost 6 of 9. Had RAB been around back then, I’m sure some of the comments would be off the charts.

      So while the Yanks winning (or better, sweeping) the series would be fun for us fans, it really doesn’t mean much in terms of the success of the season.

      Perspective. It’s a wonderful thing.

      • Havok9120

        I agree with everything here. Just know that I’ll be avoiding the Game Threads if we get crushed in order to save my eyes from bleeding.