9/24-9/26 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Non-Mariano thoughts following the off-day
Hughes will start tomorrow in place of Sabathia
Escobar and Loney. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
Escobar and Loney. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

This had the potential to be a huge, season-defining series. Instead, the Yankees have lost six of their last nine games and are holding onto a microscopic chance — 0.3% according to Baseball Prospectus — of making the postseason. Their tragic number is three meaning they could be eliminated this series even if they sweep.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Rays just buried the Orioles by sweeping a four-game series in Tampa. That series included two walk-off wins, one of which came in the 18th inning. Tampa has won nine of their last 12 games and is 87-69 with a +42 run differential. They are two games up on a wildcard spot and five games up on New York.

At 4.3 runs per game with a team 108 wRC+, the Rays have their best offensive team in a few years now. The days of scratching across a few runs and relying on the pitching are over, for at least one year. OF Desmond Jennings (111 wRC+) is nursing a minor hamstring injury and may sit out a few games as a precaution. Other than that, Tampa’s healthy.

Myers. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
Myers. (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

As usual, manager Joe Maddon’s lineup revolves around 3B Evan Longoria (128 wRC+). 2B/OF Ben Zobrist (114 wRC+) always seems to punish the Yankees and OF Wil Myers (131 wRC+) has proven to be a tough out in his relatively young big league career. OF Matt Joyce (115 wRC+) and 1B James Loney (116 wRC+) have both been productive this year while 2B/OF Kelly Johnson (104 wRC+), OF David DeJesus (100 wRC+), DH Luke Scott (108 wRC+), and SS Yunel Escobar (101 wRC+) have been closer to average.

The Joses — Lobaton (109 wRC+) and Molina (76 wRC+) — split catching duties while OF Delmon Young (93 wRC+) and UTIL Sean Rodriguez (106 wRC+) will see time against lefties off the bench. OF Sam Fuld (52 wRC+) is more of a defensive replacement than anything. Maddon’s bench also includes C Chris Gimenez, IF Tim Beckham, and OF Freddy Guzman thanks to September call-ups. Remember Guzman? He was on the Yankees playoff roster in 2009 as a pinch-running specialist. Only appeared in two games though, both in the ALCS against the Angels.

Starting Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Matt Moore
You’d never know it based on win-loss record and ERA, but the 24-year-old Moore has pitched almost exactly the same this year as he did during his rookie season last year. Here, look:

2012 2013
W-L 11-11 15-4
ERA 3.81 3.34
FIP 3.93 3.94
Strikeout Rate 8.88 K/9 (23.1 K%) 8.68 K/9 (22.8 K%)
Walk Rate 4.11 BB/9 (10.7 BB%) 4.31 BB/9 (11.3 BB%)
Homer Rate 0.91 HR/9 (8.6% HR/FB) 0.90 HR/9 (8.8% HR/FB)
Ground Ball Rate 37.4% 39.1%

The rate stats are essentially identical. Kinda neat. Also goes to show how much a 36-point drop in BABIP can help a pitcher’s record and his ERA. Anyway, Moore has seen his fastball velocity drop off this year, but he still sits comfortably around 92-93 mph with his two 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. The Yankees have seen Moore a whole bunch of times since he broke into the league in late-2011, including four times this year. The good news is that each of those four starts has gotten progressively worse: one run in eight innings in April, one run in six innings in May, three runs in six innings in June, and five runs in five innings July. Would be cool if that trend continued.

Wednesday: TBA vs. LHP David Price
A triceps problem earlier this year really hampered the 28-year-old Price, but he’s been excellent the last three months and has a 3.43 ERA (3.07 FIP) in 25 starts overall. Both his strikeout (7.33 K/9 and 20.4 K%) and ground ball (45.0%) rates have taken big step downs this year, but his walk rate is a career-low (1.37 BB/9 and 3.8 BB%) and his homer rate is in line with his career norms (0.79 HR/9 and 8.8% HR/FB). Price is still the same fastball-heavy guy he’s always been, using mid-to-high-90s two and four-seamers as well as an upper-80s cutter approximately 70% of the time combined. He’ll backdoor that cutter to righties for called strikes and there’s nothing they can do about it. Unhittable pitch. A mid-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball round out his arsenal. The Yankees and Price have seen plenty of each other over the years, so there are no surprises.

The Yankees have yet to announce their rotation problems for the rest of the year in the wake of CC Sabathia‘s season-ending hamstring injury, hence the TBA.

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
(Al Messerschmidt/Getty)

Thursday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Alex Cobb
Cobb, 25, is in the process of emerging as the next great homegrown Rays ace. He’s got a 2.90 ERA (3.39 FIP) in 21 starts while missing a whole bunch of time after taking a line drive to the head. You probably remember that. Scary stuff. The combination of his strikeout (8.58 K/9 and 23.5 K%), walk (2.84 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%), and ground ball (56.0%) rates is elite, and he’s pretty good at keeping the ball in the park too (0.86 HR/9 and 15.9% HR/FB). Cobb is a changeup master, using low-90s two and four-seamers to setup his fading mid-80s put-away pitch. He’ll also throw an upper-70s curveball that can be absolutely filthy when it’s on. That pitch has really helped him this summer. Cobb has faced the Yankees a few times since breaking into the league three years ago and he tends to pitch very well against them — they’ve scored four runs in 22.1 innings against him this season (1.61 ERA).

Bullpen Status
Maddon had to really work his sore relievers hard during the Orioles series, and not just because of the 18-inning game. Closer RHP Fernando Rodney (2.85 FIP) was off yesterday but pitched in three straight and four of five days before that, including two innings on Friday. Setup man RHP Joel Peralta (3.66 FIP) has pitched the last two days, three of the last four days, and four of the last six days. LHP Wesley Wright (4.05 FIP) and RHP Jamey Wright (2.99 FIP) have appeared in each of the last two days and three of the last four. Wright is just a lefty specialist though, so he only faced a batter or two each time out.

Rodney. (Jeff Gross/Getty)
Rodney. (Jeff Gross/Getty)

Setup LHP Alex Torres (2.40 FIP) and LHP Jake McGee (3.41 FIP) both had two straight days off before pitching yesterday. RHP Roberto Hernandez (4.59 FIP) has taken over as the long man while LHP Cesar Ramos (3.96 FIP) is more a multi-inning lefty than a specialist. Trade deadline pickup RHP Jesse Crain (1.52 FIP) was just activated off the DL yesterday — the trade was structured so that the more he pitched for Tampa, the better the player to be named later would be — and has yet to appear in a game for Tampa. LHP Jeff Beliveau, RHP Brandon Gomes, RHP Jose Lueke, and RHP Jake Odorizzi round out the expanded roster bullpen.

The Yankees were off yesterday and are in fine bullpen shape. They haven’t used a single reliever other than David Robertson or Mariano Rivera since Thursday. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact details. For the latest and greatest on the Rays, I recommend The Process Report and DRays Bay.

Non-Mariano thoughts following the off-day
Hughes will start tomorrow in place of Sabathia
  • Darren

    Let’s hope the Yankees familiarity with Moore breeds a little contempt. Would be good to see them take advantage of his sort of high walk rates and maybe one well-timed bomb. Need Hiroki to step it up and not give up any early runs. Let’s get the lead and coast to a nice easy win.

    And let’s go Mariners, White Sox and Astros!

  • ropeadope

    Their tragic number is three, meaning they could be eliminated this series even if they sweep.

    Care to elaborate?

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

      If the Indians win their next three games, the Yankees are officially eliminated from the postseason even if they sweep the Rays.

      • ropeadope

        Possibly I’ve had a stroke, but I disagree.

        • LK

          You’re right.

          If the Yanks and Cleveland both sweep, the Yanks will be unable to pass Cleveland, but will still be in range of the Rays. Even if Texas also sweeps the Yanks could still tie the Rangers if the remaining games all go their way. So a sweep for NYY ensures they’re still alive, though it’s possible that they would have literally no margin for error left at all by that time.

          • nsalem

            If we make it to the weekend our chances would be much stronger than it is now. Rangers losing 3 out of 4 in LA is not impossible as is the Rays losing 2 out of 3 in Toronto. I think the chances of us sweeping the Rays in our current physical crunch is the most unlikely occurrence in this dream scenario. With a healthy CC, A-Rod and Gardner possibly, but now very unlikely. Some extraordinary events (like Ichiro and Overbay simultaneously coming back from the dead) would have to occur for the Yankees to sweep. Maybe Miracle Max will be in attendance tonight.

      • nsalem

        The would still be able to catch the Rays and if the Rangers win all their games they couldn’t clinch against the Yankee’s till they won on Friday night if the Yankee’s dont lose.

      • Tom

        That’s not true. If the Yankees swept and Cleveland swept, the Yankees would be chasing the Rays for the #2 spot in the wild card, not Cleveland. Therefore, they can not be eliminated in this series if they sweep.

  • Vern Sneaker

    Until our 10-11 September, and especially our 3-3 week-that-just-was vs. Toronto and SF (ugh!), this was the series I was looking at for end-of-season thrills and an against-all-odds playoff spot.


  • Frank

    Series preview? Who cares. Rays take 2 of 3.

  • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Mark Teixiera – Ghostbuster (formerly Drew)

    While I hope the Yankees go down with a fight, I am a strange feeling that we are going to watch them roll over and die this series.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    0.3%?! Let it all hang out and let’s go!

    As a matter of fact, I’m going to drop my pants at work and let it all hang out in solidarity. Ah, the breeze….

    • nsalem

      Maybe they could win it for Prussia.

    • Lukaszek

      No me sorprenderia si no ganamos

      Esto ya es el colmo!

    • mustang (The Has Beens & Wannabes Bunch 2013)

      Come on people Tilapia dropping his pants at work!

      AND THIS

      “Joseph Neubauer was fired from his position because he didn’t want to mess up an attendance streak at Yankee Stadium. Neubauer has been rooting for the Bronx Bombers since he was 10-years-old and hasn’t missed a home game since the 1970s, CBS 2?s Jessica Schneider reported.”

      These great men would not give up on this team!

      What the fuck do we have to look forward to in the off- season anyway?

      The Giants?
      The Jets?
      The Knicks?

      • Robinson Tilapia



  • http://www.twitter.com/mattpat11 Matt DiBari

    I sort of remember looking better against Cobb the last time than his line would indicate

  • JGYank

    Earlier I thought this would be the make or break series with postseason level excitement that we would have to sweep but not anymore. We are already broken.

  • Patrick

    I somewhat understand having hope–even when the odds are long.

    But some of you crack me up. Like the ones rooting against KC last night vs Seattle. Funny stuff. It is a waste of time to talk about what needs to happen for NY to get in. It is over. Been over.

    NY is not good enough right now to sweep Tampa anyways. Yankees will take 2 of 3 as the playoff odds fall to Blutarsky’s GPA: 0.0

    • gc

      You forget Mr Blutarsky’s eloquent speech about the Germans bombing Pearl Harbor and the Deltas going out and doing the impossible: Destroying the homecoming parade, embarrassing Dougie and Greggie and the other Hitler youth, and WINNING in the end! :)

      Go Yankees!

    • mustang (The Has Beens & Wannabes Bunch 2013)

      I’m glad I made you laugh. I guess the best thing to do is to bitch about how bad they are and how its going to take forever for them to be good again. It’s not like we don’t have the next 2 to 3 years to do that.

  • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

    So what you’re saying is the sweep by the Mets is what is keeping us out of the playoffs?

  • Lukaszek

    You know what sucks? If Angel Hernandez wasn’t blind, Cleveland wouldn’t be so far ahead

  • Eddard

    Ballgame over, series over, season over, decade over if they don’t make a change at GM and manager. This series is irrelevant, the kids should be playing and I’d send Mariano out there every game to let the home town fans see him one more time.

  • https://twitter.com/KramerIndustry Kramerica Industries

    At the very least, I want two things out of this series:

    1) Don’t let the Rays eliminate the Yankees on Yankee Stadium turf. What a nightmare that would be.

    2) Even if the Yankees playoff chances are next to dead, the Yankees can certainly put a huge scare into the Rays’ chances.

    Go and get it.

  • Darren

    BTW, if you read all the postseason tiebreakers, in certain situations, your record in the second half is a determining factor, which means games in July, August and September mean more than games in April May and June.

    In any case, it feels to me like the story of the season was written in June and July, those endless games of zero offense.

    • JGYank

      There are a lot of tiebreakers before that so ties will never come down to that.

  • mustang (The Has Beens & Wannabes Bunch 2013)

    The most fun sport moments are unexpected and unrealistic.

    The 1996 Yankees down 0-2 with Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz to face.

    or this comes to mind


    • Robinson Tilapia

      Please tell me that’s Luis Castillo or Billy Fucking Buckner. Pretty please?

    • thenamestsam

      Yup. I’d like to know what prize people think they win by giving up early. It’s not over. In fact we can say with pretty decent mathematical precision exactly how not over it is. They have a .3% chance of making the playoffs. Is it going to happen? Probably not. But a few times out of a thousand it just might. When the tragic number hits 0 I’ll move on and we can start thinking about next year. But until then I’m going to keep right on rooting for the nearly impossible. 997 times out of a thousand I’m going to be disappointed, but who cares? I’ll deal with the disappointment when the day comes instead of embracing it prematurely.

  • phil

    Hey Mike,

    The process report (the rays link) has benn out of service for about a year!