4/17 to 4/19 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Can't sleep, mascot will eat me. (Presswire)
Can’t sleep, mascot will eat me. (Presswire)

The Yankees spent yesterday’s off-day at their second home in Tampa, and tonight they’ll open a three-game series with the Rays at Tropicana Field. The Trop used to be a house of horrors for New York — back in the day everything that could go wrong did go wrong there, it seemed — but the Yankees won five of ten games there last season. That’s … decent.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

While the Yankees were in Tampa resting yesterday, the Rays were up in Toronto wrapping up a series with the Blue Jays with a 4-2 win. They took three of four in the series and probably didn’t get in until 3am or so this morning. Tampa and is 6-4 overall with a zero run differential. Exactly as many runs scored as allowed.

Offense & Defense

Believe it or not, the Rays are one of the better scoring teams in baseball so far this season, averaging 4.40 runs per game. (MLB average is 4.13 right now.) They are currently without 1B James Loney (oblique), DH John Jaso (wrist), and 2B Nick Franklin (oblique) though. Loney straight up destroys the Yankees. They’re catching a break that he’s out this series. Also, 3B Evan Longoria took a pitch to the hip last night and left the game. Not sure what his status is for tonight’s opener or the series in general.

Here is Tampa Bay’s regular lineup at the moment, their 2015 performance to date, and their 2015 ZiPS projections:

2015 Performance 2015 ZiPS Projection
DH David DeJesus
7-for-18 (.389), 1 HR .235/.321/.366 (95 OPS+)
RF Steven Souza
8-for-32 (.250), 2 HR .231/.309/.403 (107 OPS+)
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
8-for-42 (.190), 1 2B, 1 3B .260/.325/.411 (101 OPS+)
3B Evan Longoria
7-for-31 (.226), 1 HR .255/.330/.441 (117 OPS+)
LF Desmond Jennings
8-for-34 (.235), 4 SB .243/.320/.385 (100 OPS+)
1B Allan Dykstra
1-for-14 (.071) .193/.312/.398 (82 OPS9)
2B Logan Forsythe
2-for-33 (.242), 1 HR .224/.301/.341 (82 OPS+)
CF Kevin Kiermaier
11-for-32 (.344), 2 HR .253/.305/.392 (97 OPS+)
C Rene Rivera
4-for-34 (.118) .215/.269/.333 (73 OPS+)

New manager Kevin Cash is not quite as platoon happy as Joe Maddon but he does use UTIL Tim Beckham and OF Brandon Guyer against lefties, usually in favor of Forsythe and DeJesus, respectively. (Cash is also quite fond of the double steal, I’ve heard.) C Bobby Wilson and OF Mikie Mahtook are the other bench players. Fun fact: The Rays selected Mahtook with the Yankees’ first round pick in 2011, which they received as compensation for Rafael Soriano.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With Loney hurt, Longoria is the Rays’ only above-average defensive infielder. Cabrera has a knack for highlight reel plays but he’s a weak spot overall. His defense has really fallen off the last three or four years. Forsythe is just adequate at second and is better suited for third, really. Rivera is a stud behind the plate though. I guess he counts as an infielder.

The outfield is a much different story. Kiermaier is one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball — that’s why they moved Jennings to left — and the two guys flanking him are very good as well. Cash has used Kiermaier in right to shut down the running game on occasion because he has a very strong arm. If the Yankees hit the ball in the air, it’ll probably be caught. If they hit the ball on the ground … who knows.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Adam Warren (Career vs. TB) vs. RHP Nate Karns (Career vs. NYY)
Karns, 27, came to Spring Training as a fifth starter candidate, and he wound up starting the second game of the season because Alex Cobb, Alex Colome, and Drew Smyly all got injured. Karns spent just about all of last season in Triple-A, where he had a 5.08 ERA (4.03 FIP) with a 24.5 K% and a 9.9 BB% in 145.1 innings. He owns a 5.65 ERA (6.02 FIP) in 36.2 career big league innings scattered across the last three years. Karns’ go-to pitch is a big breaking low-80s curveball, which he sets up with a straight low-to-mid-90s four-seamer. He also throws a mid-80s changeup, but that curve is his moneymaker. Karns has made two starts this season — one good (two runs in seven innings) and one not so good (six runs in 5.2 innings.)

Saturday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (Career vs. TB) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (Career vs. NYY)
Very quietly, the 25-year-old Odorizzi ranked ninth among 88 qualified starters last season with a 9.32 K/9. (That translated to a 24.2 K%.) Odorizzi had a 4.13 ERA (3.75 FIP) in 168 innings with an 8.2 BB% a year ago, and righties (.324 wOBA) actually hit him better than lefties (.294 wOBA). Thanks to low-90s two and four-seamers and a mid-80s cutter, Odorizzi is very fastball heavy, throwing those pitches a combined 65% of the time or so since the start of last season. A mid-80s splitter is his main offspeed pitch (hence the reverse split), and he’ll also throw a very low upper-60s curveball. It’s an extreme change of pace pitch. Odorizzi’s two starts have been excellent this year — 6.2 scoreless innings (two hits and seven strikeouts) and eight innings of one run ball.

Odorizzi. (Presswire)
Odorizzi. (Presswire)

Sunday: RHP Michael Pineda (Career vs. TB) vs. TBA
The Rays still have not announced their starter for Sunday but all indications are it will be right-hander Matt Andriese. He’s made one start and one relief appearance so far this year, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks in 4.2 total innings. He struck three. Last year in Triple-A the 25-year-old Andriese had a 3.77 ERA (4.24 FIP) with a 17.1 K% and a 4.9 BB%. He throws three fastballs (low-90s two and four-seamers and an upper-80s cutter) and a mid-80s slider. Andriese has thrown a handful of upper-80s changeups but it’s not a big weapon for him. If Andriese doesn’t start Sunday, I honestly have no idea who Tampa Bay would run out there. They have an off-day Monday and could decide to bite the bullet and go with a bullpen game Sunday.

Bullpen Status
Chris Archer gave the Rays seven excellent innings last night — the Yankees are pretty lucky to be missing him, it looks like he’s ready to take that next step towards true ace-hood — yet Cash still used three relievers, including closer RHP Brad Boxberger. He threw 24 pitches in an inning of work. RHP Steve Geltz and RHP Kevin Jepsen both pitched as well. They’ve both thrown in two of the last three games.

RHP Grant Balfour is currently filling a middle relief role and LHP Jeff Beliveau is their only southpaw reliever. The ultra-hard-throwing RHP Jose Dominguez and the not as hard-throwing RHP Kirby Yates round out the bullpen. Andriese is technically in the bullpen too, but he’s kinda in the rotation as well. The Yankees were off yesterday, so their bullpen’s fresh, but head over to our Bullpen Workload page anyway. Then check out DRays Bay for the latest on the southern-most AL East team.

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A New Era of Widespread AL East Mediocrity [2015 Season Preview]

For the first time since 2006 and only the fourth time since the wildcard system was implemented in 1995, just one AL East team qualified for the postseason last year. The AL East’s reign as baseball’s dominant division is over. The Orioles won the division by 12 games last season but there is no clear cut favorite heading into 2015. It’s just a jumbled mess of mediocrity. There’s a very real chance the division will be without a 90+ win team for the first time since the 2000 Yankees took the AL East with 87 wins. Here’s an overview of the Yankees’ division rivals heading into the new season.

"Hmmm. Who will win this terrible division?" (Presswire)
“Hmmm. Who will win this mediocre division?” (Presswire)

Baltimore Orioles

Biggest Strength: I say roster depth in general. They have five average or better starters — well, that’s with Kevin Gausman in the rotation and Ubaldo Jimenez in the bullpen — and a quality set of relievers to go with some power bats and a versatile bench. The defense is also very good, especially on the infield. And Buck Showalter is a difference-making manager. His strategic on-field moves are arguably the best in the game. On any given day, Baltimore can win with their pitching or their offense. They’re well-rounded.

Biggest Weakness: The lack of on-base guys — losing Nick Markakis will only exacerbate that — and injury issues. The O’s led baseball with 211 homers last year (the Rockies were a distant second with 186) but were only eighth with 705 runs because their team .311 OBP ranked 17th out of the 30 clubs. The O’s could easily lead MLB in homers again even without Nelson Cruz and that’s great. Homers are awesome! But they’re better when guys are on base.

As for the injury issues, both J.J. Hardy (shoulder) and Matt Wieters (Tommy John surgery) will open the season on the DL. Manny Machado is coming off right knee surgery and has already had surgery on both knees before his 23rd birthday. Will that hamper his mobility at third base? Machado’s an elite defender with a good but not great bat. Any decline in his defense will take a big bite out of his overall value. The starting catcher and left side of the infield carry health concerns.

The O’s In One Sentence: They lost some key players to free agency this past offseason, but there’s no way I’m going to write them off as a contender.

Hanley's back. (Presswire)
Hanley’s back. (Presswire)

Boston Red Sox

Biggest Strength: The offense. Hanley Ramirez is going to be a big help, even if he only plays 120 games. And even though Pablo Sandoval has gotten overrated — I’m guessing there are many fans who’ve only seen him play in the World Series and think that’s who he is all the time — Red Sox third basemen have hit .226/.280/.351 (85 OPS+) the last two years. He’ll be a big upgrade at the hot corner.

We have no idea what Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo can do across a full MLB season yet, but expectations are high, especially for Betts. (They’re so insanely high at this point that there’s basically no way he can meet them.) Mike Napoli and David Ortiz are still annoyingly productive, and there’s at least some hope Dustin Pedroia can halt his decline now that his thumb’s healthy. The Red Sox are going to mash, especially at home.

Biggest Weakness: The rotation. My goodness. Forget the “they don’t have an ace” stuff. Do they even have two league average starters? Rick Porcello was quite good last year, with a 116 ERA+ in 204.2 innings, but Clay Buchholz had a 72 ERA+ in 170.1 innings. Justin Masterson has an 83 ERA+ in his last 528 innings (!) and those three miles an hour he lost off his fastball last year haven’t come back this spring. Wade Miley had an 86 ERA+ in 201.1 innings last year and Joe Kelly had a 91 ERA+ in 96.1 innings. Also, this group has combined for an 18.0% strikeout rate the last three years, so they miss a below average number of bats. Who’s going out there to stop a losing streak?

The Sawx In One Sentence: If the Red Sox are going to contend, they’ll have to contend like the mid-2000s Yankees and outhit their own pitching staff.

No. 2 starer. For real. (Presswire)
No. 2 starer. For real. (Presswire)

Tampa Bay Rays

Biggest Strength: I … I … I don’t know. I guess the revamped outfield defense with Kevin Kiermaier in center and Desmond Jennings in left? Otherwise the Rays don’t seem to be particularly good at anything. Evan Longoria is a really good player, Chris Archer is a quality starter, and the Jake McGee/Brad Boxberger bullpen duo is as good as it gets, at least once McGee comes back from offseason elbow surgery. That’s about it. Unlike the Orioles, who don’t have an obvious strength but are solid all around, the Rays don’t have an obvious strength and have questions all around.

Biggest Weakness: The rotation. Remember when the Rays used to add a new immediate impact rookie starter to their rotation year after year? That doesn’t happen anymore. They needed 24 starts from Roberto Hernandez in 2013 and 15 starts from Erik Bedard in 2014. Matt Moore (Tommy John surgery), Alex Cobb (forearm), and Drew Smyly (shoulder) are all hurt, so Tampa Bay had to scramble to trade for the extremely homer prone Erasmo Ramirez a few days ago and will start Nate Karns in the second game of the season. He had a 5.08 ERA in a full season at Triple-A last year. This rotation won’t be Devil Rays caliber bad, but it is in no way a strength.

The Rays In One Sentence: Ex-manager Joe Maddon and ex-GM Andrew Friedman jumped ship and not a moment too soon.

Reyes, Donaldson, and Encarnacion. And none of 'em is Toronto's best hitter. (Presswire)
Reyes, Donaldson, and Encarnacion. And none of ‘em is Toronto’s best hitter. (Presswire)

Toronto Blue Jays

Biggest Strength: Middle of the lineup. The 3-4-5 combination of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson is straight up terrifying. They rank 10th, 11th, and 20th in OPS+ the last two years (min. 800 PA) and 7th, 2nd, and 18th in homers, respectively. Those three are going to generate a ton of runs, especially when Jose Reyes is healthy and leading off. Bautista and Encarnacion were scary enough these last few years. Adding Donaldson to the mix is unfair.

Biggest Weakness: Top heavy roster and extreme reliance on youth. Toronto is going to have two rookies in the rotation (Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez), two rookies in the lineup (Dalton Pompey and Devon Travis), and two rookies in the bullpen (Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro). For a team looking to contend, they’re putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of young players with no real backup plans. Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion, Donaldson, R.A. Dickey, and Mark Buehrle have to produce as expected for this club to have a chance. They don’t have the pieces to cover for a disappointing season from one of the veterans.

The Jays In One Sentence: Once again the Blue Jays made some big splashes in the offseason but stopped short of adding all the pieces they need, especially pitching.

AL East Shakeup: Joe Maddon opts out of contract to leave Rays

Rays manager Joe Maddon has opted out of his contract and is leaving the organization, the team announced. I’m sure we’ll hear tons about him potentially joining Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers in the coming days and weeks. Or maybe he just has his eye on that open first base coaching job in the Bronx. Times are a changin’ down in Tampa, that’s for sure.

AL East Shakeup: Andrew Friedman leaves Rays for Dodgers

Rays GM Andrew Friedman has left the team to take over as the Dodgers president of baseball operations, both teams announced. After years of building annoyingly good teams on a tiny budget, Friedman will now have the largest payroll in the game at his disposal. Of course, now he has actual expectations too. Team president Matt Silverman will replace Friedman and I have no doubt the Rays will continue to be a thorn in the Yankees’ side going forward. They weren’t a one-man show all these years.

9/15-9/17 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Brian Blanco/European Press)
(Brian Blanco/European Press)

It’s September, which means a heavy intra-division schedule and two series against the Rays in the span of a week. The Yankees are in Tampa to start a three-game set tonight. They’re 7-9 against the Rays this year, including 4-3 at Tropicana Field. Since their elimination number is two, the Yankees would be mathematically eliminated from the AL East race if they lose the series regardless of what the Orioles do.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Rays beat the Blue Jays in extra innings yesterday and took two of three in Toronto this weekend. They lost two of three to the Yankees in New York last week, as you may remember. Overall, Tampa Bay is 72-78 with a +4 run differential, leaving them in fourth place in the AL East and five games back of the Yankees.

Offense
Manager Joe Maddon’s offense averages 3.85 runs per game with a team 100 wRC+, which is weird. A 100 wRC+ is exactly league average but the runs per game rate is about half-a-run below average. Timing is important, I guess. OF Desmond Jennings (104 wRC+) is their only injured position player and he is done for the season with a knee problem.

Loney. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
Loney. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

As has been the case the last half-decade or so, Maddon’s lineup revolves around 2B/OF Ben Zobrist (119 wRC+) and 3B Evan Longoria (107 wRC+). Longoria is having a good year but a down year compared to his usual standards. 1B James Loney (109 wRC+) has been solid overall but the Yankees can’t seem to get him out. OF Wil Myers (83 wRC+) has been both injured and ineffective this year. OF Matt Joyce (114 wRC+) and OF Kevin Kiermaier (120 wRC+) have both been comfortably above-average.

SS Yunel Escobar (94 wRC+) plays everyday and OF Brandon Guyer (109 wRC+) platoons against lefties. C Ryan Hanigan (98 wRC+) and C Jose Molina (23 wRC+) split time behind the plate. UTIL Sean Rodriguez (100 wRC+), OF David DeJesus (131 wRC+ in limited time), and UTIL Logan Forsythe (81 wRC+) have been Maddon’s regular bench players this summer. C Curt Casali and IF Nick Franklin are the September call-ups.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: LHP Chris Capuano (vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Colome (vs. NYY)
The Durham Bulls, Tampa’s Triple-A affiliate, was eliminated from the postseason over the weekend, and the 25-year-old Colome is one of several players who will be called up today. He has spent most of the year hurt or in Triple-A — Colome made one start and one relief appearance for the Rays earlier this year (three runs in 9.2 innings) — where he had a 3.77 ERA (3.25 FIP) in 15 starts and 86 innings. His strikeout (7.64 K/9 and 19.8 K%) and walk (3.14 BB/9 and 8.1 BB%) rates were okay and hitters were completely unable to take him deep (0.21 HR/9). Colome sits in the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball and his top secondary pitch is a mid-80s changeup. He’ll throw a handful of upper-80s cutters and low-80s curveballs per start, but the fastball/changeup combination is his bread-and-butter. Neither of Colome’s big league outings earlier this year were against the Yankees.

Tuesday: RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (vs. NYY)
Odorizzi, 24, has a 4.08 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 29 starts and 159 innings this year, thanks mostly to his elite strikeout rate (9.51 K/9 and 24.9 K%). His walk (3.11 BB/9 and 8.1 BB%), homer (1.08 HR/9 and 9.0 HR/FB%), and ground ball (30.7%) rates are less impressive. Righties (.314 wOBA) have had a little more success against Odorizzi than lefties (.296 wOBA), and he’s been much better at home (.248 wOBA) than on the road (.379 wOBA). Odorizzi uses a straight four-seamer right around 90 mph to set up his mid-80s slider, which is his top breaking ball. He’ll throw a handful of mid-80s changeups and big-breaking upper-60s curveballs per start. The Yankees hammered Odorizzi for six runs in 4.1 innings last week.

(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
Odorizzi. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

Wednesday: RHP Brandon McCarthy (vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (vs. NYY)
The 26-year-old Cobb has taken over as Tampa’s ace now that David Price has been traded away. He has a 2.75 ERA (3.06 FIP) in 24 starts and 147.1 innings this year — Cobb missed several weeks with an oblique strain in the first half — with very good to great strikeout (8.43 K/9 and 22.9 K%), walk (2.57 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%), homerun (0.55 HR/9 and 7.8 HR/FB%), and ground ball (56.1%) rates. Righties (.292 wOBA) have had more luck against him than lefties (.247 wOBA) because of his knockout mid-80s changeup. Cobb throws his two and four-seamers in the low-90s and he’ll also throw a bunch of low-80s curveballs. As you may remember, he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Yankees last week.

Bullpen Status
Although Maddon won’t come out and admit it, LHP Jake McGee (1.71 FIP) has taken over as Tampa’s closer these last few weeks. They had been using a committee for a while. McGee blew the save yesterday, like he did last week when he served up Chris Young‘s walk-off homer. RHP Grant Balfour (4.13 FIP), RHP Brad Boxberger (2.87 FIP), and RHP Joel Peralta (3.64 FIP) all see setup innings. McGee, Balfour, and Peralta all pitched yesterday.

Middle relievers RHP Brandon Gomes (4.57 FIP) and RHP Kirby Yates (3.59 FIP) have been in the bullpen just about all summer, ditto long man LHP Cesar Ramos (4.30 FIP). LHP Jeff Beliveau, RHP Steve Geltz, and LHP C.J. Riefenhauser are the extra September arms. Gomes and Beliveau both pitched briefly yesterday. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen. I can’t imagine David Robertson will be available tonight and probably not tomorrow night either. The Process Report is the definitive Rays analysis on the web.

9/9-9/11 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The second to last homestand of the season ends with this series, a three-gamer against the Rays. Neither team is whether they expected to be at the start of the year. The Yankees have won only five of 13 games against the Tampa this year, including only one win in six head-to-head meetings at Yankee Stadium.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Rays were off yesterday and they took two of three from the Orioles at home over the weekend. They dropped eight of eleven games before that. Tampa is 69-75 with a +8 run differential on the season, leaving them comfortably in fourth place in the AL East.

Offense
With an average of 3.85 runs per game and a team 99 wRC+, manager Joe Maddon’s squad is essentially league average offensively. Actually about half-a-run per game below that when it comes to runs actually crossing the plate. Sequencing matters. OF Desmond Jennings (104 wRC+) is done for the season with a knee injury. Otherwise the Rays are healthy.

(Mike Fuentes, AP)
(Mike Fuentes, AP)

As always, Maddon’s lineup is built around 3B Evan Longoria (105 wRC+), who is having a very down year by his standards. UTIL Ben Zobrist (120 wRC+) is a perpetual pain in the behind and OF Matt Joyce (115 wRC+) is having a nice year as well. OF Wil Myers (86 wRC+) came off the disabled list not too long ago and he just destroys the Yankees. They can’t seem to get him out. 1B James Loney (106 wRC+) has been unable to repeat last year’s success and OF David DeJesus (133 wRC+) is having a nice year around a broken hand.

SS Yunel Escobar (84 wRC+) plays everyday while C Ryan Hanigan (95 wRC+) and ex-Yankee C Jose Molina (24 wRC+) split catching duties. OF Kevin Kiermaier (125 wRC+) has cooled off following his ridiculously hot start. He is playing center field regularly now that Jennings is hurt. The always annoying UTIL Sean Rodriguez (100 wRC+) is on the bench, as are IF Logan Forsythe (82 wRC+) and OF Brandon Guyer (109 wRC+). C Curt Casali is the third catcher now that rosters have expanded.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. TB) vs. RHP Chris Archer (vs. NYY)
Back-to-back rough outings (14 runs in ten innings) have the 25-year-old Archer sitting on a 3.60 ERA (3.26 FIP) in 28 starts and 167.1 innings so far this year. His strikeout (8.18 K/9 and 21.1 K%), homer (0.48 HR/9 and 6.2 HR/FB%), and ground ball (46.7%) rates are all very good, though his walk rate (3.39 BB/9 and 8.8 BB%) has jumped quite a bit from last year. It’s still not bad though. Righties (.310 wOBA) have actually fared better than lefties (.295 wOBA) against him so far this year, which is odd because Archer is a mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider guy. He throws only a handful of mid-80s changeups per start and those guys tend to have platoon splits, not reverse platoon splits. Archer has faced the Yankees twice this year, holding them to one run in 6.2 innings back in April and two runs in seven innings June. He never seems to not pitch well against New York.

Wednesday: LHP Chris Capuano (vs. TB) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (vs. NYY)
Odorizzi, 24, has quietly had a solid rookie season for the Rays, posting a 3.84 ERA (3.49 FIP) in 28 starts and 154.2 innings. His strikeout rate is excellent (9.66 K/9 and 25.4 K%) and his walk rate is good (3.03 BB/9 and 8.0 BB%), but he doesn’t get ground balls at all (30.4%). He has somehow managed to keep the ball in the park reasonably well despite that lack of grounder (0.99 HR/9 and 8.3 HR/FB%). Like Archer, he has a reverse split (righties have a .312 wOBA, lefties .288). Odorizzi uses a four-seamer right around 90 mph to set up his mid-80s slider, which is his top secondary pitch. He’ll throw a handful of mid-80s changeups and big-breaking upper-60s curveballs per start. The Yankees scored three runs in four innings when they saw Odorizzi in May, then they scored another three runs in 5.2 innings in July.

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

Thursday: RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (vs. NYY)
With David Price gone and Archer still finding his way, the 26-year-old Cobb has taken over as the ace of Maddon’s staff. He missed time with an oblique injury earlier this season but otherwise has a 2.83 ERA (3.07 FIP) in 23 starts and 140 innings. Across the board he has posted very strong peripherals: 8.61 K/9 (23.3 K%), 2.57 BB/9 (6.9 BB%), 0.58 HR/9 (8.6 HR/FB%), and 56.4% grounders. Thanks to his knockout mid-80s changeup, lefties (.259 wOBA) have actually had less success against Cobb than righties (.296 wOBA). His two and four-seamers sit in the low-90s and he’ll also throw a bunch of low-80s curveballs. The Yankees scored no runs in 7.1 innings against Cobb last month, the only time they faced him in 2014.

Bullpen Status
The Rays continue to say they are using a closer by committee, but LHP Jake McGee (1.29 FIP) has more or less taken over the ninth inning. Maddon will use him in the eighth inning on some occasions depends on the matchups. RHP Joel Peralta (3.68 FIP) and RHP Brad Boxberger (2.50 FIP) will also see late-inning work. RHP Grant Balfour (4.01 FIP) still gets some high-leverage chances despite his poor year.

The rest of Maddon’s bullpen includes RHP Kirby Yates (3.67 FIP), RHP Brandon Gomes (4.87 FIP), and LHP Cesar Ramos (4.30 FIP). LHP Jeff Beliveau and RHP Steve Geltz are the extra September call-up arms. Tampa Bay was off yesterday, so their bullpen is relatively rested. The same goes for the Yankees. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent relieve usage then check out The Process Report for everything you could possibly want to know about the Rays.

8/15-8/17 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Getty)
(Getty)

A few weeks ago, this series looked it would be a battle for postseason position. Instead it’s a trade deadline seller against an almost non-contender. The AL East isn’t what it once was, folks. The Yankees have lost seven of ten games to the Rays this season. They split four games at Tropicana Field back in April.

What Have They Done Lately?
The Rays just took three of four from the awful Texas Rangers and went 6-4 on their ten-game road trip overall. At 60-61 with a +21 run differential, Tampa is in fourth place in the AL East, two games behind the Yankees. The Bombers have to win at least one game this weekend to avoid falling into fourth place.

Offense
With an average of 3.99 runs per game and a team 104 wRC+, the Rays are both below-average and above-average offensively at the same time. They’re getting hits, just not bunched together. Tampa is currently without OF Wil Myers (94 wRC+) and OF David DeJesus (134 wRC+), who are on the disabled list with wrist and shoulder injuries, respectively. Myers is on a rehab assignment but is not expected to rejoin the team this weekend. C Ryan Hanigan (88 wRC+) is also on the disabled list with an oblique problem and IF Desmond Jennings (106 wRC+) is day-to-day with a shoulder issue.

(Marilyn Indahl/Getty)
(Marilyn Indahl/Getty)

As usual, manager Joe Maddon’s lineup is built around 3B Evan Longoria (103 wRC+), though he is having a very down year by his standards. His six-year, $100M extension doesn’t kick in until 2017. They better hope this year is just a blip. OF Matt Joyce (130 wRC+) is having a strong year, ditto 2B/OF Ben Zobrist (128 wRC+). OF Kevin Kiermaier (130 wRC+) has been a pleasant surprise since coming up to replace Myers. 1B James Loney (105 wRC+) is having a typical James Loney year, which means not 2013.

C Jose Molina (31 wRC+) splits catching duty with C Curt Casali (41 wRC+ in limited time) now that Hanigan is on the disabled list. OF Brandon Guyer (111 wRC+) backs up in the outfield while UTIL Sean Rodriguez (111 wRC+) and UTIL Logan Forsythe (94 wRC+) play just about everywhere. Rodriguez destroys the Yankees, as I’m sure you know. SS Yunel Escobar (91 wRC+) is the everyday shortstop. Tampa Bay is carrying only three bench players at the moment.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Brandon McCarthy (vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (vs. NYY)
With David Price traded away and Matt Moore out following Tommy John surgery, the 26-year-old Cobb is the team’s de facto ace. He has a 3.41 ERA (3.43 FIP) in 18 starts and 108.1 innings this year while missing a few weeks with an oblique strain. His strikeout (8.47 K/9 and 22.5 K%), walk (2.66 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%), homer (0.75 HR/9 and 10.6 HR/FB%), and ground ball (57.5%) rates all range from very good to excellent. Thanks to his knockout mid-80s changeup, lefties (.266 wOBA) have actually had less success against Cobb (.315 wOBA) than righties. His two and four-seamers sit in the low-90s and he’ll also throw a bunch of low-80s curveballs. The Yankees have not faced Cobb this year.

Saturday: RHP Shane Greene (No vs. TB) vs. LHP Drew Smyly (vs. NYY)
Smyly, 25, was part of the Price trade, arguably the centerpiece. He has a 3.73 ERA (3.84 FIP) in 118.1 innings across 20 starts and three relief appearances in 2014, though only his walk rate (2.74 BB/9 and 7.2 BB%) stands out. His strikeout (7.91 K/9 and 20.9 K%), homerun (1.06 HR/9 and 9.6 HR/FB%), and ground ball (37.0%) numbers are nothing to write home about. Righties (.376 wOBA) have hit him a ton harder than lefties (.208 wOBA). Smyly has one of the biggest platoon splits in the game. He operates with a mid-80s slider and three fastballs: low-90s four-seamers, upper-80s two-seamers, and mid-80s cutters. He’ll also throw a handful of low-80s changeups per start. Smyly has not faced the Yankees this year and he went three runs in 5.1 innings and 7.2 shutout innings in his first two starts with the Rays.

Hellickson. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Hellickson. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (vs. TB) vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (vs. NYY)
Elbow surgery kept the 27-year-old Hellickson on the shelf until early last month, so he’s only made five starts and thrown 26.2 innings this year. His walk rate (2.03 BB/9 and 5.5 BB%) is low, as are his strikeout (6.75 K/9 and 18.4 K%) and ground ball (30.5%) rates. Aside from 2013, Hellickson has consistently outperformed his peripherals because he’s adept at getting infield pop-ups and other weak contact. His homer rate (1.01 HR/9 and 7.3 HR/FB%) is about average and lefties (.274 wOBA) have had a tougher time against him than righties (.330 wOBA). Hellickson works with both a four-seam and two-seam fastball at right around 90 mph, and his go-to secondary pitch is an upper-70s changeup. He’ll also throw some mid-70s curves per start. Hellickson has failed to complete five full innings of work in three of his five starts off elbow surgery.

Bullpen Status
RHP Grant Balfour (4.16 FIP) has struggled this year, so Maddon has been using a closer by committee for several weeks now. LHP Jake McGee (1.22 FIP) has been outstanding and gets the ball in the most important spots regardless of inning. Sometimes the seventh, sometimes the eighth, sometimes the ninth. RHP Joel Peralta (3.73 FIP) and RHP Brad Boxberger (2.66 FIP) also work the late innings.

The rest of the bullpen includes LHP Jeff Beliveau (3.92 FIP in limited time), RHP Brandon Gomes (5.34 FIP), RHP Kirby Yates (3.00 FIP), and LHP Cesar Ramos (4.25 FIP). McGee, Boxberger, and Beliveau all pitched yesterday. The Yankees had two of the last three days off, so their bullpen is generally well-rested. Dellin Betances might not be available tonight after his extended outing on Wednesday, but that’s it. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent reliever usage, then check out The Process Report for everything you need to know about the Rays.