4/2 to 4/5 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Meaningful baseball! Indoors? (Presswire)
Meaningful baseball! Indoors? (Presswire)

At long last, meaningful baseball is back. The Yankees open the 2017 regular season this afternoon with the first of three games against the Rays at Tropicana Field. For some reason the Yankees and Rays have an off-day Monday even though this series will be played in a dome. I guess the Opening Day game was originally scheduled for Monday before ESPN flexed it to Sunday. The Yankees’ schedule the next ten days goes game, off-day, game, game, off-day, game, game, game, game, off-day. Fun.

What Have They Done Lately?

Last season was pretty much a disaster for the Rays, who went 68-94 with a -41 run differential overall, including 37-62 in their final 99 games. They hold the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft as a result. Tampa hasn’t picked that high since taking Tim Beckham first overall in 2008. Buster Posey was picked fifth overall that year. Not the greatest moment in Rays history. Anyway, the Rays went 12-16-5 with a +14 run differential this spring. That means nothing me.

Offense & Defense

Longoria. (Presswire)
Longoria. (Presswire)

Over the last few seasons the common theme has been the Rays can pitch, but they can’t hit. Last year they started to hit, but their pitching let them down. Go figure. Tampa Bay averaged 4.15 runs per game with a team 98 wRC+ a year ago, and their biggest position player loss over the winter was noted Yankees killer Logan Forsythe. Won’t miss that dude at all. He crushed the Yankees.

No one has any stats because the season hasn’t started yet, and there’s no chance I’m going to regurgitate Spring Training numbers here, so instead here is each player’s 2016 performance and their 2017 ZiPS projection.

2016 MLB Stats 2017 ZiPS Projection
C Derek Norris .186/.255/.328 (55 wRC+), 14 HR, 458 PA .229/.302/.382 (80 wRC+)
1B Logan Morrison .238/.319/.414 (101 wRC+), 14 HR, 398 PA .242/.318/.399 (96 wRC+)
2B Brad Miller .243/.304/.482 (111 wRC+), 30 HR, 601 PA .248/.313/.440 (104 wRC+)
SS Tim Beckham .247/.300/.434 (98 wRC+), 5 HR, 215 PA .236/.286/.388 (82 wRC+)
3B Evan Longoria .273/.318/.521 (123 wRC+), 36 HR, 685 PA .266/.318/.485 (113 wRC+)
LF Mallex Smith
.238/.316/.365 (84 wRC+), 16 SB, 215 PA .231/.296/.322 (71 wRC+)
CF Kevin Kiermaier .246/.331/.410 (104 wRC+), 12 HR, 414 PA .258/.316/.426 (101 wRC+)
RF Steven Souza .247/.303/.409 (94 wRC+), 17 HR, 468 PA .242/.314/.419 (101 wRC+)
DH Corey Dickerson
.245/.293/.469 (101 wRC+), 24 HR, 548 PA .251/.300/.461 (103 wRC+)
BENCH
C Jesus Sucre .480/.522/.680 (244 wRC+), 1 HR, 29 PA .236/.263/.292 (51 wRC+)
IF Daniel Robertson N/A (110 wRC+ in Triple-A) .241/.316/.340 (83 wRC+)
OF Peter Bourjos .251/.292/.389 (79 wRC+), 5 HR, 383 PA .230/.286/.361 (71 wRC+)
UTIL Rickie Weeks .239/.327/.450 (102 wRC+), 9 HR, 205 PA .213/.299/.374 (85 wRC+)

Reminder: The Rays traded Trea Turner (+3.8 WAR from 2015-16) and Joe Ross (+3.5) to the Nationals for Souza (+1.9) two years ago on purpose. That’s going to go down as an all-time bad trade. If you’re a big market team like the Yankees, you can survive that because you can paper over the mistake with money. A small payroll team like the Rays? Forget it. Total disaster.

Aside from a Smith/Bourjos platoon in left field, the Rays look to be fairly set with their lineup. We’re used to seeing them employ multiple platoons and all sorts of different lineup arrangements. That doesn’t seem to be the case this year. Longoria is the center piece, obviously. Even if the Rays do opt for multiple platoons, Longoria will be in the lineup day after day, not posting a .900 OPS.

I should note the Rays will not have three key-ish players to start the season due to injury: SS Matt Duffy (Achilles), OF Colby Rasmus (hip), and C Wilson Ramos (knee). Ramos won’t be back until midseason after tearing his ACL for the second time in four years. Tampa Bay signed him to a two-year deal over the winter knowing that. Duffy and Rasmus are expected back sometime point in April, possibly in time for the series between these two clubs at Yankee Stadium next week.

The Rays started sacrificing defense for power a few years ago, leading to Souza in right and Miller at second. Both are liabilities in the field. Kiermaier is excellent, probably the best defensive center fielder in baseball, and Longoria is very good at the hot corner. The Smith/Bourjos platoon will save runs in center field. Beckham and Morrison are solid defenders, and while Norris doesn’t have much of an arm, he rates as a very good pitch-framer. So, overall, the Rays are good defensively, but not otherworldly like they were three or four years ago.

Pitching Matchups

Archer and Cobb. (Presswire)
Archer and Cobb. (Presswire)

Sunday (1pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TB) vs. RHP Chris Archer (vs. NYY)
Nice pitching matchup to start the season. Archer is better than last year’s numbers (4.02 ERA and 3.81 FIP) would lead you to believe, and I think we all know that. His strikeout (28.2% from 2015-16) and ground ball (46.9% from 2015-16) tendencies suggest good things will happen. I have no evidence to back this up and I’m too lazy to look through the game logs, but it seems Archer usually dominates the Yankees for a few innings before giving it up late. Am I the only one that feels that way? Whatever. As always, Archer is primarily a mid-90s fastball/upper-80s slider pitcher, though his mid-80s changeup has come a long way the last few seasons. His slider is one of the best in the business, hence the strikeouts. It gives both lefties and righties fits.

Tuesday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TB) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (vs. NYY)
It’s too bad the Yankees don’t have Brian McCann anymore. He’s wrecked Odorizzi throughout his career: 13-for-28 (.464) with three doubles, three homers, and a triple (!). Last season Odorizzi pitched to a solid 3.69 ERA (4.31 FIP) in a career high 187.2 innings, and, like everyone else, he became very home run prone (1.39 HR/9). The ball was flying out of the park last summer. I hope it does again this year too. Homers are fun. Odorizzi’s strikeout (21.5%), walk (7.0%), and grounder (36.6%) rates were right where they always are in 2016. He’s more of a pop-up guy that a long fly ball guy, so don’t get too excited by the lack of grounders. Odorizzi has a deep repertoire that includes three fastballs (low-90s two and four-seamers, upper-80s cutter), one offspeed pitch (mid-80s splitter), and two breaking balls (low-80s slider and low-80s curve). The split has become his go-to put-away pitch. Odorizzi has been pretty tough on Yankees not named McCann the last few seasons.

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (vs. NYY)
Future Yankee Alex Cobb? He’ll be a free agent after the season and seems like a potential alternative to pricier free agents like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta (and Tanaka?). He’s good, he’s reasonably young (29), and he’s had success in the AL East. Seems like someone the Yankees would gravitate toward. Anyway, Cobb missed all of 2015 and most of 2016 with Tommy John surgery, and when he returned last year, he had an 8.59 ERA (5.60 FIP) in five starts and 22 innings. His walk (6.7%) and grounder (52.5%) rates were in line with his career norms, though his strikeouts (15.4%) were way down and his homers (2.05 HR/9) were way up. Typical post-Tommy John surgery rust and small sample size weirdness, I’d imagine. A mid-80s splitter is Cobb’s moneymaker, and he also throws a low-90s four-seamer and an upper-70s curveball.

Bullpen Status

Farquhar. (Presswire)
Farquhar. (Presswire)

Manager Kevin Cash will be short a few relievers to start the season because of injuries. RHP Brad Boxberger (lat), RHP Shawn Tolleson (flexor), and Rule 5 Draft pick RHP Kevin Gadea (elbow) are all on the disabled list. Tolleson and Gadea are on the 60-day DL already, so they’re out long-term. Boxberger could return later this month.

Unlike the Yankees, the Rays can not use early season off-days to skip their fifth starter, so they’ll open the new season with a normal seven-man bullpen. Remember when six-man bullpens were normal? Good times. Here is Tampa’s relief crew:

Role 2016 MLB Stats 2017 ZiPS
RHP Alex Colome Closer 1.91 ERA (2.92 FIP), 31.4 K%, 56.2 IP 2.93 ERA (3.18 FIP)
RHP Danny Farquhar Setup 3.06 ERA (5.10 FIP), 29.1 K%, 35.1 IP 3.79 ERA (3.92 FIP)
LHP Xavier Cedeno Setup 3.70 ERA (2.64 FIP), 34.7 K%, 41.1 IP 3.40 ERA (3.45 FIP)
RHP Tommy Hunter Middle 3.18 ERA (3.06 FIP), 16.6 K%, 34 IP 3.81 ERA (3.70 FIP)
RHP Jumbo Diaz Middle 3.14 ERA (5.24 FIP), 20.3 K%, 43 IP 3.82 ERA (4.20 FIP)
RHP Erasmo Ramirez Middle 3.77 ERA (4.76 FIP), 16.7 K%, 90.2 IP 4.08 ERA (4.61 FIP)
RHP Austin Pruitt Long N/A (3.76 ERA and 3.53 FIP in AAA) 4.69 ERA (4.51 FIP)

As the only lefty in the bullpen, I assume Cedeno will be Cash’s designated Greg Bird specialist these next three games. That’s not the most intimidating bullpen in the world — the middle relievers don’t figure to miss many bats at all — but Colome is an All-Star caliber closer, so if the Rays have a lead after eight innings, the Yankees will be in trouble. Farquhar, by the way, is one of the players the Yankees traded to the Mariners for Ichiro Suzuki back in 2012.

Saturday Open Thread

Only a few more hours, folks. Only a few more hours until the Yankees open the new season against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Hooray for that. The Yankees had a quick workout there today — they replaced the turf at the Trop over the winter, so the players were getting familiar with the bounces and whatnot — and that’s about it. Last night to relax before the long grind begins.

This is the open thread for the rest of the day. MLB Network is showing an exhibition game right now (Giants vs. Angels) and later tonight (Dodgers vs. Angels). The Nets and Devils are both playing, plus there are the two March April Madness games later on. You folks know how these work, so have at it.

Pirates return Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Webb to Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Another Rule 5 Draft pick player is back. The Pirates have returned left-hander Tyler Webb to the Yankees, both teams announced today. That means he cleared waivers. Webb is back with the Yankees as a non-40-man roster player, and the team has assigned him to Triple-A Scranton.

Webb, 26, was New York’s tenth round pick back in 2013. He’s pitched to a 3.61 ERA (2.91 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 7.2% walks in 127 Triple-A innings the last two years. Although he’s spent most of his career as a reliever, the Yankees tried Webb as a starter last season, and he made a few spot starts and extended relief outings. I wonder whether they’ll have him try that again this year.

I thought Webb had a pretty good chance to stick as a Rule 5 Draft player because he’s left-handed, has a little something on his fastball, and has had success in Triple-A. Alas. He allowed four runs in 13 innings this spring while striking out eleven and walking one. The Pirates went with former Yankee Wade LeBlanc for their final bullpen spot over Webb. He would have had to remain on their 25-man big league roster all season.

Three of the four players the Yankees lost in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft have now been returned: Webb, Tyler Jones (Diamondbacks), and Caleb Smith (Cubs). The only one left is catcher Luis Torrens, who is in camp with the Padres and is reportedly the front-runner for their backup catcher’s job. He’s 20 years old and making the jump from Low-A to MLB, plus the history of Rule 5 Draft pick catchers is terrible, so I think he’s coming back at some point, sooner rather than later.

Report: Construction delays may force Yankees to play first home series at Citi Field

(Chris McGrath/Getty)
(Chris McGrath/Getty)

According to the Associated Press, renovation construction delays at Yankee Stadium could force the Yankees to play their first home series at Citi Field. The home opener is Monday, April 10th, and the Rays will be in town for a three-game set. The Mets will be on a road trip through Philadelphia and Miami that week.

The Yankees announced extensive renovations to Yankee Stadium over the winter designed to make the ballpark more fan friendly. They added a kids zone for parents, and, most notably, the center field area has been upgraded. The Yankees removed over 2,000 seats to build two new “Bullpen Landing” sections next to the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field. Here’s the artist’s rendering:

(Yankees)
(Yankees)

Those “Bullpen Landing” sections are the problem. Material delays have slowed down construction. Other teams have played games while their ballpark was being renovated — the Cubs played most of the 2015 season without bleachers at Wrigley Field, and they were short bathrooms on Opening Night — but because these renovations are in center field, they’re in the batter’s eye, and that’s a problem.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Yankees have had to play home games in Queens. They played all home games in 1974 and 1975 at Shea Stadium while the old Yankee Stadium was being renovated, and they also played one game at Shea Stadium in 1998. A concrete beam fell at Yankee Stadium and forced the ballpark to be closed for emergency repairs and safety inspections.

I should note it is not final the Yankees will play their first home series in Citi Field. Construction could still be done in time. Also, make sure you note the date: April 1st. There’s usually a lot of silly news dumped on this date each year, news designed to trick people and make them laugh, and maybe give them a little scare too. Posts for fools, if you will.

(Sorry, we’ve been out of the April Fool’s Day game for a while and decided it was time to get back in. So, just to be clear, this post is FAKE NEWS.)

The RAB crew’s official predictions for the 2017 MLB season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon the Yankees and Rays will open the 2017 baseball season with the very first game of the year. They’ll be the only show in town for a few hours. That’s much better than 2014, when the Yankees and Astros were the last teams to play their first game of the season. This Spring Training was a blast, but I’m ready for the regular season. Bring it on.

Anyway, with the new season upon us, we figured it would be a good idea for everyone here at RAB to make some predictions. Sounds good? In an effort to save table space, I’m going to direct you to CBS for my predictions. You don’t have to read them, just click the link and leave the tab open for a few minutes. I made some Yankees specific bold-ish predictions earlier this week, so check those out too. Here’s how everyone else here at RAB sees the season playing out:

Ben Domenic Jay Joe
AL East Blue Jays Red Sox Yankees
AL Central Indians Indians Indians
AL West Astros Astros Rangers
AL WC1 Red Sox Mariners Red Sox
AL WC2 Yankees Yankees Tigers
NL East Nationals Nationals Nationals
NL Central Cubs Cubs Cubs
NL West Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
NL WC1 Pirates Giants Mets
NL WC2 Giants Mets Cardinals
ALCS Indians Indians Yankees
NLCS Cubs Cubs Dodgers
WS Indians Cubs Yankees
AL MVP F. Lindor M. Machado A-ROD M. Trout
NL MVP K. Bryant B. Harper C. Seager
AL CYA M. Tanaka C. Archer M. Tanaka
NL CYA C. Kershaw C. Kershaw C. Kershaw
AL ROY A. Benintendi A. Benintendi A. Judge
NL ROY D. Swanson D. Swanson D. Swanson
Katie Matt Steven Sung-Min
AL East Red Sox Red Sox Red Sox Red Sox
AL Central Indians Indians Indians Indians
AL West Astros Astros Astros Rangers
AL WC1 Mariners Orioles Yankees Astros
AL WC2 Yankees Rangers Blue Jays Blue Jays
NL East Nationals Nationals Nationals Nationals
NL Central Cubs Cubs Cubs Cubs
NL West Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
NL WC1 Giants Mets Mets Cardinals
NL WC2 Cardinals Giants Cards/Rox tie Giants
ALCS Astros Red Sox Indians Indians
NLCS Dodgers Cubs Cubs Nationals
WS Dodgers Cubs Indians Nationals
AL MVP M. Machado M. Trout M. Trout M. Trout
NL MVP B. Harper B. Harper B. Harper B. Harper
AL CYA C. Archer M. Tanaka M. Tanaka M. Tanaka
NL CYA N. Syndergaard C. Kershaw N. Syndergaard N. Syndergaard
AL ROY A. Benintendi A. Benintendi A. Benintendi A. Benintendi
NL ROY H. Renfroe D. Swanson D. Swanson D. Swanson

Surely there’s nothing here you disagree with, correct? Great. Enjoy the weekend.

March 31st Camp Notes: Green, Adams, Montgomery, Lineup

At long last, Spring Training is over. The Yankees wrapped up their exhibition schedule tonight with a loss to the Braves at SunTrust Park. Gary Sanchez had the first (unofficial) hit in the ballpark’s history and Greg Bird had the first (unofficial) homer. Georgia boy Dustin Fowler drove in two with a rocket into the gap. Watch the video above. That kid can really lay into the ball when he gets something to hit.

Michael Pineda got the start and allowed three runs, all on a Freddie Freeman homer, in five innings. He struck out six and walked one in his final tune-up outing. Joe Girardi used a small army of relievers out of the bullpen. It was one of those “everyone gets to pitch!” exhibition games. The Yankees went 24-9-1 this spring. I believe I heard the YES broadcast say that is tied for the most spring wins in franchise history. Correct me if I’m wrong. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here is the rest of the day’s notes:

  • The Yankees announced Chad Green has been optioned to Double-A Trenton while Kyle Higashioka and Ben Heller were optioned to Triple-A Scranton. Green is going to Trenton so he and Jordan Montgomery, who is in Triple-A, can start the same days and both be lined up for the first time the Yankees need a fifth starter.
  • Chance Adams will start the season in Double-A, not Triple-A. That surprises me, though I don’t think this is a long-term thing. He’ll be in Scranton soon enough. The Yankees probably have some developmental benchmark they want him to hit before a promotion. [Josh Norris]
  • Right-hander Mark Montgomery has been released. He was a pretty big deal a few years ago. Relief pitcher prospects, man. Can’t trust ’em. Montgomery has already landed on his feet though — he’s signed with the Cardinals. [Josh Norris]
  • Tyler Webb did not make the Pirates as a Rule 5 Draft pick. He’ll go on waivers and be offered back to the Yankees should he go unclaimed. Because he’s a lefty with some Triple-A success, some team might grab him on waivers. [Adam Berry]
  • And finally, Girardi confirmed tonight’s lineup will be the Opening Day lineup. That means Sanchez second and Jacoby Ellsbury fifth. We’ll see how long it lasts. [Andrew Marchand]

That’s it, folks. Spring Training is over. The Yankees are heading back to Tampa to start the regular season against the Rays. Saturday is an off-day and Sunday is the season opener. That’s a 1pm ET start. Masahiro Tanaka vs. Chris Archer is the Opening Day pitching matchup.

Exhibition Game Thread: Welcome to SunTrust Park

(@SunTrustPark)
(@SunTrustPark)

Twenty-one years ago, the Yankees closed Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with a win in Game Five of the 1996 World Series. Tonight they have a chance to open brand new SunTrust Park with another win. Sure, the stakes are much lower, but beating the Braves is always fun. It warms my heart that the Yankees had more World Series wins at Turner Field (two) than the Braves (zero).

The dimensions make it seem SunTrust Park will be somewhat pitcher friendly, perhaps less so than Turner Field, but I guess we have to see how the ball carries first. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that, a few years ago when SunTrust Park was being built, the Braves were losing in the artist’s renderings. Can’t make it up. Here is the lineup the Braves will use tonight, and here are the players the Yankees will run out there:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Michael Pineda

Available Pitchers: RHP Dellin Betances, LHP Aroldis Chapman, RHP Jonathan Holder, RHP Bryan Mitchell, LHP Tommy Layne, and LHP Chasen Shreve are the regulars in the bullpen. Not sure who’s pitching though. RHP Colten Brewer, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, RHP Ernesto Frieri, RHP J.R. Graham, RHP Ben Heller, RHP Matt Marsh, RHP Dillon McNamara, and RHP Andrew Schwaab are all on the trip as well.

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Chris Carter, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Pete Kozma, 3B Miguel Andujar, LF Clint Frazier, CF Dustin Fowler, and RF Aaron Hicks will be the second string off the bench. C Radley Haddad, C Jorge Saez, 1B Mike Ford, IF Cito Culver, and OF Rashad Crawford are the extras.

The weather report says it’s a nice night in Atlanta. Clear and cool. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:35pm ET. You’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. There’s also MLB.tv and the FOX Sports Go app. Enjoy the game.