7/26-7/29 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

RAB Live Chat
Game 103: The Return of Soriano
(J. Meric/Getty)
(J. Meric/Getty)

The Yankees aren’t on the road anymore, but that doesn’t mean the second half schedule gets any easier. The Rays are the hottest team in baseball and they’re in the Bronx for a three-game series this weekend. New York and Tampa have split ten games this year with the Yankees outscoring their division rivals 44-38. No, really.

What Have They Done Lately?
Like I said, the Rays are the hottest team in baseball right now. They were rained out yesterday, but they took two of three from the Red Sox in Fenway Park before that and have won 19 of their last 22 (!) games overall. At 60-42 with a +68 run differential, Tampa is a half-game back of Boston in the AL East with the fourth best record in baseball.

Offense
Unlike the last few years, manager Joe Maddon has an above-average lineup at his disposal. The Rays average 4.7 runs per game with a team 111 wRC+, the seventh and second best marks in baseball, respectively. Tampa is perfectly healthy on offense, not a single regular position player on the DL.

Myers. (J. Meric/Getty)
Myers. (J. Meric/Getty)

As usual, the focal point of Maddon’s offense is 3B Evan Longoria (140 wRC+). He’s a monster. 2B/OF Ben Zobrist (113 wRC+), DH Luke Scott (135 wRC), OF Wil Myers (134 wRC+ in limited time), 1B James Loney (130 wRC+), 2B/OF Kelly Johnson (121 wRC+), OF Desmond Jennings (118 wRC+), and OF Matt Joyce (112 wRC+) are all above-average contributors as well. That’s eight players as good or better than the Yankees second best hitter (Brett Gardner has a 112 wRC+).

The rest of the roster includes SS Yunel Escobar (90 wRC+), UTIL Sean Rodriguez (100 wRC+ in limited time), OF Sam Fuld (55 wRC+ in limited time), and the tandem of C Jose Molina (73 wRC+) and C Jose Lobaton (98 wRC+). They split time behind the plate almost 50/50. Tampa is a top ten homer-hitting team (seventh with 115), but they’re just middle of the pack with 56 steals. These aren’t your older brother’s Rays anymore, they can hit.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Friday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
The Yankees caught a bit of a bad break with Tampa’s rainout yesterday, because instead of facing the eminently beatable Roberto Hernandez on Sunday, they will instead face the 26-year-old Hellickson tonight. He’s got a 4.62 ERA (3.85 FIP) with solid peripherals: 7.34 K/9 (20.0 K%), 2.13 BB/9 (5.8 BB%), 1.17 HR/9 (11.1% HR/FB), and 40.8% grounders. The one they call Hellboy outperformed his peripherals the last two years, but now he’s underperforming them for some reason. A 68.2% strand rate (78.9% career) will do that to a guy. Hellickson’s top pitch is a fading upper-70s changeup that he throws nearly 30% of the time. Low-90s two and four-seam fastballs set it up. He’ll also throw a mid-to-upper-70s curveball. The Yankees have seen Hellickson a few times over the years and he’s generally handled them well.

Archer. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Archer. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Saturday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Chris Archer
Another year, another Rays pitching prospect emerges at the big league level. This year it is the 24-year-old Archer, who has a 2.76 ERA (4.29 FIP) in ten starts. He is getting grounders (46.2%) and limiting homers (0.77 HR/9 and 7.9% HR/FB), but his strikeout (6.29 K/9 and 16.9 K%) and walk (3.84 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%) numbers leave something to be desired. Archer has shown four pitches this year, though his mid-90s four-seamer and wipeout mid-80s slider are his calling cards. He’ll also throw a low-to-mid-80s two-seamer and a low-to-mid-80s changeup. It’s worth noting that Archer has a massive platoon split this year, holding righties to a .223 wOBA while lefties have tagged him for a .321 wOBA. He started against the Yankees late last month and held them to one run in six innings.

Sunday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Matt Moore
Moore, 24, has a 3.17 ERA (3.56 FIP) in 20 starts this year but he’s been dynamite of late, allowing four total runs in his last five starts (35.2 innings). His strikeout (8.66 K/9 and 23.1 K%) and homer (0.62 HR/9 and 6.2% HR/FB) rates are very good, but the walk (4.33 BB/9 and 11.5 BB%) and ground ball (39.0%) numbers leave something to be desired. Moore’s fastball velocity has dropped off this year, but he still sits comfortably around 92-93 mph with his twojust and four-seamers. His low-80s slurve — it’s more slider than curve at this point — and low-80s changeup are both legit put-away pitches. He’s got nasty, nasty stuff. The Yankees have seen Moore a few times since he broke into the league in late-2011, including three times this year. I suppose the good news is that each of those three starts has gotten progressively worse: one run in eight innings in April, one run in six innings in May, and three runs in six innings in July. Hopefully that trend continues.

Torres. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Torres. (Bob Levey/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Maddon’s bullpen is very well-rested coming into the series. Not only were the rained out yesterday, but David Price threw a complete-game on Wednesday and Moore threw a complete game on Monday. Their relievers have only had to work in just one of the last four days. Lucky them.

RHP Fernando Rodney (3.21 FIP) is the closer and has settled down after a rough start to the season. RHP Joel Peralta (3.55 FIP) is his primary setup man, and the Rays have an excellent pair of power southpaws in LHP Jake McGee (3.49 FIP) and LHP Alex Torres (1.70 FIP). Torres has been close to unhittable. RHP Kyle Farnsworth (4.60 FIP), LHP Cesar Ramos (3.19 FIP), and the steady RHP Jamey Wright (3.09 FIP) round out the relief corps.

The Yankees are in decent bullpen shape. Both David Robertson and Mariano Rivera pitched yesterday, but everyone else should be good to go. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for a look at the team’s recent … bullpen workload. DRays Bay and Process Report are my go-to Rays blogs.

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RAB Live Chat
Game 103: The Return of Soriano
  • JLC 776

    HUGE series! Go get ‘em, boys!

  • trr

    I guess Soriano will be in the lineup tonight. If Jeter comes back tomorrow, suddenly the whole lineup is looking better…but looking ain’t playing. The whole lineup needs to produce more if we’re gonna contend. It starts tonight, so let’s go!

    • Oooooo

      Granderson and Pineda about 10 days from now and things might not be so bad. This is actually a big series. If the Yanks can hold some ground in the next week, things could really turn around for them. We collectively as the fans have been waiting for the jolt or 2nd wind and it just hasn’t come yet. Let’s see how things go the next 10 days!

      • Robinson Tilapia

        There’s little reason to bring Pineda up unless you have to. Let him get his arm strength back. I’m honestly fine, at this point, not seeing him until the AAA is over.

        • Oooooo

          I hear you, but a few things might come into play: 1. Hughes is traded and they need him to take the spot. 2. Which should be #1 is that he is down long enough to extend his service clock, which I believe will be about 8 days from now. I agree no rush, but a couple reasons why we might see him in the rotation the next 10 days or so.

          • JonS

            If Hughes is traded, Phelps will step into the rotation.

  • CTRob

    Going tomorrow. The baseball fan in me is disappointed the Rays Starters are moved back. I wanted to see Moore. The Yankees fan in me b-slapped that guy in the face.

    Hope Nova keeps them down. Gonna be cool to see Sori back in pinstripes. Maybe even see Jete. That would rock.

  • Bubba

    Doesn’t Sean Rodriguez have a 1000 wRC+ against the Yankees?

  • Mike Stanley

    2 questions:

    1. Has Pineda hit the service mark extra year banked time period in AAA?

    2. WHY IS ARCHER SO FREAKING SAD IN THAT PICTURE

    • SDB

      2. He thought he might not get to pitch against the 2013 Yankees.

    • ropeadope

      1. Any day now.

      2. He landed on his keys.

  • JonS

    Is it bad that I saw the CC/Helickson matchup and it didn’t inspire any confidence of a win?

    • I’m One

      Fucking realist! Get the hell out of here! We have no room for you!

  • vicki

    sori hitting cleanup. i choose to be excited about this, and not to dwell on the pitching matchups.

  • Duh Injuries

    Um, Hellickson has a 4.62 ERA – not exactly Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez – with a WHIP only six points lower than Sabathia’s so stop making him out to be like he’s either, especially when he’s drawing Sabathia. As disappointing as Sabathia has been this year – he’s been pitching like a #3 starter for ace money – he’s still better than Hellickson on the whole. Sabathia has 19.1 more IP and 22 more SO in only one more start than Hellickson. Neither have a good ERA but I’ll give Sabathia the edge on his body of work.

    Soriano is batting cleanup, protecting Cano, and being protected by Overbay tonight as I figured he would be. Good. ‘Glad Sori is back :)

    The Yanks are 2.5 games behind Baltimore for the second wilcard slot and six games behind Tampa Bay for the first wildcard slot. I would LOVE to see them sweep the Rays to pull to within three games of the Rays and a half-game of Baltimore if Boston takes two of three from Baltimore this weekend. Realisitcally, I think we’re looking at the Yanks taking two of three from Tampa Bay at best and the Red Sox taking two of three from Baltimore for 1.5 games behind Baltimore going into Monday. I’d be thrilled with that, too.

    • CS Yankee

      “…and being protected by Overbay tonight”

      Overbay couldn’t protect anyone, evn if he owned a tank.

      I’m banking on the single win but some midnight trade deals involing some Vets (hoping there not WW2 vets either).

  • Gerry

    The Yankees are finished this year. They could be spoilers this year. With so many of the good players having used PEDs and with no news from the Yankee farm system I expect them to be also fans for some time.

    • Oooooo

      Watch the Yankees acquire Nick Castellanous, Granderson comes back, Pineda fills out the rotation and the Yanks go 45-10 down the stretch. :)

      We need a little positive energy and I’ll be that person!

    • Deathstroke Heathcott

      Goddammit Gerry!

  • Brian S.

    I will always love Draysbay for what they did to Overthemonster back in 2011 but they got really strict and boring this last year, at least it appears that way the two times I have lurked this season.