Archive for Tampa Bay Rays
I wasn’t planning to continue the series previews this year, but apparently they were pretty popular. I wasn’t aware of that. So, back by popular demand…
This six-game road trip features six games on artificial turf, as the Yankees now head to Tampa for three games with the Rays after playing three games against the Blue Jays in Toronto. The Bombers and Fightin’ Maddons are meeting for the first time in 2013.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Rays are 8-10 with a -7 run differential this season, but they did just sweep a three-game series against the Athletics this weekend. After scoring 53 runs in their first 15 games (3.53 per game), they scored 17 runs in the three games against Oakland (5.67 per game).
Despite the big weekend, the Rays still own a below-average team 90 wRC+ that ranks as the eighth worst in baseball. Their only injured offensive player at the moment is DH Luke Scott, who has yet to play in a game this season.
Tampa’s overhauled offense features two familiar faces in the middle of the lineup: 2B/RF Ben Zobrist (122 wRC+) and 3B Evan Longoria (142 wRC+). They’ve batted three-four pretty much everyday so far. Platoon bats 1B James Loney (146 wRC+) and former Yankee DH Shelley Duncan (106 wRC+) are off to nice starts. 2B Kelly Johnson (102 wRC+) and CF Desmond Jennings (101 wRC+) have basically been average in front of Zobrist and Longoria.
Manager Joe Maddon’s parade of part-timers includes IF Sean Rodriguez (89 wRC+) and IF Ryan Roberts (68 wRC+), who will start against lefties. OF Matt Joyce (62 wRC+) and OF Sam Fuld (-31 wRC+) get the call against lefties. SS Yunel Escobar (40 wRC+) plays everyday while pitch-framer extraordinaire C Jose Molina (85 wRC+) gets most of the starts behind the plate. C Jose Lobaton (10 wRC+) backs him up. Overall, the Rays are middle of the road when it comes to hitting homers (17), but they’ve been one of the league’s most prolific base-stealing clubs (13).
Starting Pitching Matchups
Monday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Matt Moore
The 23-year-old Moore is off to a very strong start, allowing just two runs in 18 innings across his first three starts (1.00 ERA and 3.36 FIP). The strike out (10.0 K/9 and 27.8 K%) and ground ball (52.5%) rates are strong, but he has been a little too liberal with the free pass (5.50 BB/9 and 15.3 BB%). Like everyone else it seems, Moore’s velocity is down compared to last year, but he’s still sitting in the 91-94 mph range with the four-seamer. He’ll mix in the occasional two-seamer, but otherwise his primary secondary pitches are a low-80s slider and a mid-80s changeup. The Yankees have seen the southpaw a few times now, and they’ve both hit him hard and been shutdown. Little of both.
Tuesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP David Price
Price, 27, is the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, but he’s had two good (not great) and two poor (one awful) starts in the early going (6.26 ERA and 4.49 FIP). Outside of some early homer problems (1.96 HR/9), the left-hander’s peripherals are right in line with what he’s done in recent years: 8.22 K/9 (20.8 K%), 2.74 BB/9 (6.9 BB%), and 49.3 K% grounders. Price remains a low-to-mid-90s fastball machine, throwing a ton of four-seamers, two-seamers, and cutters. An upper-70s curveball is his top offspeed pitch, but he’ll also use mid-80s changeups and sliders. We’ve all seen plenty of Price through the years, both the fans and the Yankees players. Should be no surprises here.
Wednesday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Alex Cobb
Cobb has been a trendy breakout pick this year, and he’s managed a 2.53 ERA (3.21 FIP) in his three starts so far. He hasn’t missed a ton of bats in his relatively short big league career, something that has held true so far this season (6.33 K/9 and 17.2 K%). His walk (2.53 K/9 and 6.9 BB%) and ground ball (45.2%) rates are very strong, however. Cobb uses his two- and four-seamer almost evenly, and both sit in the 88-92 mph range. His best pitch is a knockout mid-80s changeup, which he’ll use in any count against righties and lefties. He’s very similar to the departed Jamie Shields in that regard. An upper-70s curveball rounds out his repertoire. The Yankees have seen Cobb a handful of times these last two years and he’s handled them well each time.
Despite their strong rotation, the Rays rank among the AL leaders in total relief appearances (53) because of all the mixing and matching. Closer RHP Fernando Rodney has been very good again despite an early-season appearance that wrecked his pitching stat line (4.76 ERA and 5.67 FIP). Setup men RHP Joel Peralta (2.25 ERA and 2.02 FIP) and LHP Jake McGee (7.36 ERA and 5.89 FIP) have both been dynamite — McGee allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning on Opening Day and has been whittling down his ERA ever since. He’s been untouchable of late.
Low-leverage guy RHP Brandon Gomes (4.70 ERA and 4.98 FIP) threw two innings yesterday and is presumably unavailable today. Former Yankee RHP Kyle Farnsworth (4.50 ERA and 7.02 FIP) will see some late-game action, then they have LHP Cesar Ramos (8.31 ERA and 6.02 FIP) and long-time big leaguer RHP Jamey Wright (2.06 ERA and 3.86 FIP) filling out Maddon’s seven-man relief unit. Outside of David Phelps, everyone should be available for Joe Girardi in the series opener tonight. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent usage details. For the latest and greatest on the Rays, we recommend DRays Bay and The Process Report.
11:30pm: It’s Shields, Davis, and either a player to be named later or cash for Myers, right-hander Jake Odorizzi, left-hander Mike Montgomery, and infielder Pat Leonard. That one has “Royals GM Dayton Moore is trying to save his job” written all over it.
11:09pm: The exact details are still trickling in, but the Rays and Royals have agreed to a trade that will send both James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City for top prospects Wil Myers and others. Shields will be next to impossible to replace as a proven above-average AL East workhorse, but if anyone can do it, it’s Tampa Bay. Myers is one of the five best prospects in baseball and gives them a big bat to pair with Evan Longoria for the next six years. The 2013 Rays likely got worse, but the 2014+ versions got a lot better.
Just three more games and the Yankees are done, done with their primary competition for the AL East crown. They played their final games against the Orioles last weekend, and this weekend they’ll wrap up the season series against the Rays. Every game is important these days, but Tampa is likely to come out with a major sense of urgency this series.
What Have They Done Lately?
Get swept by the Orioles, that’s what they’ve done. The Rays needed to win two of three this week to really get back in the AL East race, but they instead come to the Bronx four games back of a) first place in the division, and b) the second wildcard spot. They’re 77-66 with a +76 run differential on the season.
Tampa continues to be a slightly below average offense at 4.1 runs per game overall and 3.5 runs per game in their last 15 contests. Evan Longoria (131 wRC+) has been off the DL for a while but still gets regular reps at DH as he recovers from a bad hamstring injury. Jeff Keppinger (128 wRC+), Ben Zobrist (128 wRC+), and Matt Joyce (121 wRC+) provide plenty of support, though Joyce can be neutralized by left-handers. B.J. Upton (111 wRC+) has been scorching hot of late (six homers in his last nine games) and rounds out the offensive core.
The big name among the rest of the offense is Carlos Pena (91 wRC+), who is having a down year but will almost certainly hit a homer at some point this weekend. The Yankees always struggle to get him out. Desmond Jennings (106 wRC+), Sam Fuld (103 wRC+ in limited time), and Luke Scott (88 wRC+) all take regular at-bats, as does Ryan Roberts (77 wRC+). Roberts fouled a ball off his ankle yesterday and is day-to-day. If he can’t go, expect to see Elliot Johnson (88 wRC+) take his spot on the infield. Ben Francisco (81 wRC+) provides some pop against lefties, the Joses — Lobaton (86 wRC+) and Molina (63 wRC+) — do the catching, and the crop of September call-ups includes speedy outfielder Rich Thompson, slick-fielding infielder Reid Brignac, corner guy Stephen Vogt, and catcher Chris Gimenez.
Friday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP David Price
Price, 27, will be pitching for the first time in 12 days tonight after missing his last start with a sore shoulder. He was performing like a legitimate Cy Young candidate prior to the injury, with a 2.54 ERA (3.20 FIP) and gaudy peripherals — 8.72 K/9 (24.3 K%), 2.69 BB/9 (7.5 BB%), and 51.7% grounders — in 27 starts and 180.2 innings. Price is all about the fastball, sitting in the mid-90s with the two- and four-seamer and right around 90 with the cutter. He just added that last pitch not too long ago and will backdoor it to righties all day long. An upper-80s slider, a mid-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball are his three scantily used offspeed pitches. The Yankees have seen plenty of Price both this year and in the past, the good and bad versions.
Saturday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jamie Shields
The Yankees got their latest look at the 30-year-old Shields in St. Pete a week ago, when he held them to three runs in eight innings. He’s pitched very well of late, allowing no more than three runs in any of his last eight starts and dragging his season ERA down to 3.71 (3.56 FIP). His strikeout (8.55 K/9 and 22.7 K%) and ground ball (52.3%) rates are career highs, the walk rate (2.35 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%) a career worst (but still really good). Shields is a six-pitch, backwards-pitching machine. He’s in the low-90s with three fastballs (two-seamer, four-seamer, cutter) and backs them up with one of the best changeups in baseball. An upper-80s slider and an upper-70s curve round out his arsenal. Like Price, the Yankees have seen plenty of both the good and bad versions of Shields throughout the years. There’s no mystery here.
Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Matt Moore
It’s been a good but not overwhelmingly great season for the 23-year-old Moore, who owns a 3.68 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 28 starts and 166.1 innings. His strikeout rate is excellent (8.93 K/9 and 23.2 K%), but the walks (3.95 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%) and ground balls (37.8%) leave a lot to be desired. Moore throws easy mid-90s gas, both two- and four-seamers, and complements it with mid-80s sliders and changeups. I still don’t understand how left-handed hitters have a .324 wOBA against him; he should be eating same-side hitters alive with his stuff. The Yankees hung six runs on Moore in 6.1 innings last week after he held them to three runs in seven innings earlier this summer.
The Rays played 14 innings yesterday, running through their entire regular bullpen as well as September call-up Chris Archer (2.83 FIP). He threw 3.2 innings and 79 pitches in relief, so don’t expect to see him at all this weekend. Super-closer Fernando Rodney (2.22 FIP) threw just one inning yesterday after having four days off, so I have to think he’ll be available all three games this weekend given the circumstances. This is probably also four- and five-out save territory as well. The Rays really need these games.
Setup right-hander Joel Peralta (3.08 FIP) and setup left-hander Jake McGee (1.95 FIP) have both appeared in two straight games, ditto Kyle Farnsworth and Wade Davis (2.97 FIP for both). Second lefty J.P. Howell (4.58 FIP) and ground ball man Burke Badenhop (3.72 FIP) have only appeared in one straight game. Aside from Archer, the other call-ups are right-handers Brandon Gomes and Dane De La Rosa, plus left-hander Cesar Ramos. Joe Girardi‘s bullpen has been worked hard of late, so make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact details. DRays Bay is the place to go for the latest and greatest on the Rays.
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The Yankees will begin an important series against the Red Sox tonight, but another really important series will open some 400 miles south as well. The second place Orioles are hosting the third place Rays for three games this week, a series that will have a big impact on the AL East race one way or the other. Those clubs will also end the season with three games against each other in St. Pete. As I mentioned yesterday, both teams can’t win those games, and that’s good for New York.
Under the old playoff system, I probably would have rooting for either the Rays or Orioles to sweep all those games. It really wouldn’t have mattered who, the important thing would have been creating separation between the top two teams and the third team in the division. There wasn’t a significant enough advantage to winning the division over skating into the postseason as the wildcard under the old system, so just getting in was the focus. Clinch a postseason berth then worry about the division title was the annual mindset.
That isn’t the case anymore. Capturing that AL East crown is so much more important under the two wildcard system because no one wants to play a do-or-die, win or go home game to decide the season. That means the Yankees absolutely want both the Rays and O’s as far back as possible. Since both teams can’t sweep, the best thing for the Bombers would be for one of those two clubs to take two of three this week. Since Baltimore is one game back and Tampa two, it seems that the Rays taking two would help the Yankees the most. However, since most of us consider Joe Maddon’s club to be the bigger threat, maybe it would be better if the Orioles won the series. There’s no clear right answer here.
Either way, this is all predicated on the Yankees taking care of the Red Sox and everyone else they play from here on out. They have to start winning games consistently to maintain their slim lead. It just so happens that their top two competitors play more than one-quarter of their remaining games against each other, and they’ll theoretically hold each other back for the top spot in the division. The Yankees can only focus on winning their games, but us scoreboard watchers should be hoping that the neither the Rays or Orioles decides to whoop the other this week.
Despite last night’s win, the Yankees are still in the middle of a borderline disaster ten-game stretch that has seen them go just 2-4 in the first six games. Their big and comfortable AL East lead has disappeared and right now they’re just one game up with 26 to play. We’re used to the Yankees battling the Rays for the division crown, but the Orioles are new to the mix this season after 15 years of being non-competitive. Because of that recent history, it’s easy to write them off. Heck, I did it pretty much all season up until about two or three weeks ago.
In a lot of ways, these current Orioles are similar to the 2008 Rays, who just snuck up on everyone and became good all of a sudden. I think the young talent on that 2008 Tampa team — Evan Longoria, Jamie Shields, David Price, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford , etc. — is way more impressive than what they have going on in Baltimore, but Buck Showalter has his team in the race in early-September and they deserve a ton of credit for that, even if Nate McLouth is batting third.
It’s obvious this four-game weekend series with the Orioles has enormous division title implications, but we can’t forget that the Rays are right there as well. They’re three back in the division, one good weekend from taking over first place. All three of the AL East contenders have different strengths and weaknesses, and yet they’re all essentially in the same position with roughly four weeks to go. The Yankees are fortunate that because they’re currently in the lead, they control their own destiny and theoretically don’t need help from anyone else.
Anyway, with a few hours to go before first pitch tonight, I figured it was a good time to see who you folks consider to be the biggest threat to the Bombers in the division race. Both the O’s and Rays are dangerous but I personally believe one of those two clubs is more dangerous than the other. You might feel differently, so let’s find out…
Another day, another huge series. The Yankees fell on their face against the Orioles this weekend and now head to Florida to face the Rays, who sit four games back in the loss column. New York has won just five of 12 against Tampa this year, including just one of their last ten at Tropicana Field.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Rays wrecked Ricky Romero and the rest of the Blue Jays over the weekend, winning the last two after losing six of seven. At 73-61 with a +77 run differential, Tampa has the fifth best record and fourth best run differential in the league.
With a team 96 wRC+ and an average of 4.2 runs per game, the Rays are a slightly below-average offensive club. They recently welcomed Evan Longoria (132 wRC+) back from a lengthy DL stint and he’s obvious a huge, huge part of their lineup. He’s that legitimate, don’t let him beat you bat that they were sorely lacking in the first half.
Aside from Longoria, manager Joe Maddon’s best offensive weapons are Ben Zobrist (132 wRC), Matt Joyce (124 wRC+), and contact machine Jeff Keppinger (134 wRC+). Desmond Jennings (108 wRC+) and B.J. Upton (102 wRC+) have been a bit better than average, Luke Scott (93 wRC+) slightly below. Carlos Pena (91 wRC+) has really struggled in recent weeks and has started to lose playing time, but you know he’ll hit a homer or two this series. The Yankees haven’t figured out how to retire him yet. It’s only been six years, hard to blame them really.
The rest of the lineup is filled out by Ryan Roberts (76 wRC+), the recently acquired Ben Francisco (88 wRC+), the recently healthy Sam Fuld (122 wRC+ in limited time), and the punchless catching tandem of Jose Molina (65 wRC+) and Jose Lobaton (83 wRC+). September call-ups include the speedy Rich Thompson, third catcher Chris Gimenez, and flamed out former prospect Reid Brignac. The Rays usually get written off as having a poor offense, but Longoria, Joyce, Zobrist, and Keppinger can do a lot of damage in a hurry.
Monday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jamie Shields
It’s been an up-and-down season for the 30-year-old Shields, who has pitched to a 3.91 ERA (3.70 FIP) overall but a 2.01 ERA (3.00 FIP) in his last half-dozen starts. The right-hander currently has career-high strikeout (8.70 K/9 and 22.7 K%), walk (2.42 BB/9 and 6.3 BB%) and ground ball (51.7%) rates among his six full big league seasons. Shields is a master at pitching backwards, using three fastballs — low-90s four-seamer, low-90s two-seamer, upper-80s cutter — and three offspeed pitches — upper-80s slider, mid-80s changeup, upper-70s curveball — to keep hitters guessing. He’s had starts that range anywhere from bad to good to great against the Yankees both this year and throughout his career. There’s no mystery here, both sides are familiar with each other.
Tuesday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. RHP Alex Cobb
Cobb, 24, stepped into the rotation when Jeff Niemann broke his leg earlier this season and he’s basically taken his job. The right-hander owns a 4.39 ERA (3.61 FIP) in 18 starts and 106.2 innings this year, relying more on grounders (57.0%) and limiting walks (2.45 BB/9 and 16.4 K%) than missing bats (6.67 K/9 and 17.5 K%). Cobb relies heavily on his two-seam fastball that sits right around 90, though he will mix in a few straight four-seamers at the same velocity. Lefties get his low-80s changeup, righties his upper-70s curve. The Yankees saw Cobb earlier this season, hanging four runs on him in seven innings.
Wednesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Matt Moore
You won’t find many 23-year-olds with better arms than Moore, who has more than held his own (3.58 ERA and 3.85 FIP) during his first full season in the big leagues. The walks (3.98 BB/9 and 10.4 BB%) are a bit high but that’s nothing unusual for a rookie in the AL East. Moore is missing plenty of bats (8.77 K/9 and 22.9 K%) and getting a lot of easy-to-catch fly balls (38.% grounders). The left-hander throws some of the easiest mid-90s gas in the league, backing up the heater with low-90s slider and a mid-80s changeup. For whatever reason, Moore has a pretty drastic reverse split (lefties have gotten him for a .343 wOBA, righties just .299). It’s just weird, you’d expect him to own lefties. Anyway, the Yankees scored three runs in seven innings off the rookie earlier this season.
Expanded rosters means everyone has a few fresh relievers nowadays, but the core late-game guys are the most important. Lights-out closer Fernando Rodney (2.80 FIP) has been the best reliever in the AL this season, and he was able to take yesterday’s game off following a five-out save on Saturday. Setup man Joel Peralta (3.28 FIP) has had some rough moments this season, but former Yankee Kyle Farnsworth (2.70 FIP) will lend a helping hand.
From the left side, the Yankees will have to deal with the hard-throwing Jake McGee (2.28 FIP) and the soft-tossing J.P. Howell (4.34 FIP). Former starter Wade Davis (3.29 FIP) seems to have found a niche as a multi-inning middle reliever, and ground ball machine Burke Badenhop (3.79 FIP) is the need-a-double play guy. The two September call-ups are right-hander Brandon Gomes and left-hander Cesar Ramos. It’s a solid bullpen overall with a dominant closer. Considering the magnitude of the series, I have to think Rodney will be available for more than one inning if needed.
Joe Girardi ran through most of his bullpen yesterday, though the late-game tandem of David Robertson and Rafael Soriano were able to get some rest. The middle relief is a complete mess at the moment, not so much in terms of availability, just effectiveness. Cory Wade might see some seventh inning time just by default. I would expect Boone Logan to be unavailable this afternoon, but check out our Bullpen Workload page for the latest on the team’s bullpen usage. For the latest and greatest on the Rays, DRays Bay is the place to go.
The Yankees have Rays have already played three different series this season, with Tampa taking the first three games but New York rebounding to win four of the last six. Believe it or not, the Yankees have not won a game at Tropicana Field since last July, a span of seven games.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Rays are reeling, having just lost three of four to the Tigers and six of their last seven overall. They’ve also won just nine of their last 26 home games, if you can believe that. Tampa is 41-38 overall with a -1 run differential, both the second worst in the AL East.
A slightly below average offensive team at 4.12 runs per game overall, the Rays have scored two or fewer runs six times in their last dozen games. I suppose that’s what happens when your two best hitters — Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce — are on the disabled list at the same time. The most productive hitter on their active roster right now is Ben Zobrist (129 wRC+), who joins Jeff Keppinger (124 wRC+ in 124 PA) and Elliot Johnson (109 wRC+ in 205 PA) as their only three above average contributors. Carlos Pena (101 wRC+) has been essentially league average.
Tampa hasn’t gotten a ton out of Desmond Jennings (95 wRC+) or B.J. Upton (86 wRC+), both of whom have visited the DL at different times this season. Luke Scott (83 wRC+) just came back from injury to take over DH duties from Hideki Matsui (40 wRC+), who will probably get the Ol’ Yeller treatment soon. Random infielders like Sean Rodriguez (63 wRC+), Will Rhymes (45 wRC+), and Brooks Conrad (39 wRC+) fill out the roster while catching duties fall on the shoulder of two Joses — Lobaton (80 wRC+) and Molina (70 wRC+). Overall, the Rays have hit just .220/.305/.365 at the Trop this year. Kinda hard to believe a team could hit so poorly in its home park.
Monday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. LHP Matt Moore
Moore made his first career start against the Yankees last season, striking out 11 in five scoreless innings. He’s been much more human this year, pitching to a 4.19 ERA (4.47 FIP) in 88 innings across 15 starts. The strikeout rate (9.20 K/9 and 23.6 K%) is fantastic, but the walk (4.30 BB/9 and 11.0 BB%), homer (1.33 HR/9), and ground ball (40.2%) numbers aren’t all that impressive. The 23-year-old southpaw throws some of the easiest mid-90s cheese you’ll ever see, and he backs up the fastball with a mid-80s changeup and a low-80s slider. Oddly enough, left-handed batters have tattooed Moore for a .398 wOBA this season with nearly as many walks (11) as strikeouts (12). It’s a small sample (83 batters faced) thing and unlikely to continue going forward, but it’s very weird.
Tuesday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jamie Shields
The Yankees have already seen Shields three times this season, getting to him twice (5 IP, 6 R on Opening Day and 5 IP, 7 R in early-June) with another okay game (6 IP, 3 R in early-May) mixed in. He’s allowed four or more runs in four of his last six starts and in six of his last nine starts, contributed to his 4.04 ERA (3.70 FIP). Shields currently owns career bests in strikeout (8.51 K/9 and 21.5 K%) and ground ball (53.6%) rates but a career worst walk rate (2.75 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%). He’s also giving up a decent amount of homers (1.03 HR/9). Shields will pitch backwards with six pitches, setting up his three fastballs — low-90s two-seamer, four-seamer, and cutter — with three offspeed pitches — mid-80s changeup, low-80s curve, and upper-80s slider. You folks all know how good he can be by now, we’ve seen him enough through the years.
Wednesday: RHP David Phelps vs. LHP David Price
Like Shields, the Yankees have seen Price three times this season — 6.1 IP, 2 R in April, 7 IP, 5 R in May, and 5 IP, 1 R in June. His overall season performance is borderline Cy Young caliber, a 2.92 ERA (3.42 FIP) with strong strikeout (8.34 K/9 and 22.8 K%), walk (3.01 BB/9 and 8.2 BB%), and ground ball (54.2%) rates. Price has as added a low-90s cutter this year and uses it to freeze right-handed batters with called strikes outside. It looks like this and is basically unhittable. He’ll still use mid-90s two and four-seamers to go along with his low-80s changeup, upper-80s slider, and upper-70s curveball. Again, you folks know how good Price can be. He’s no stranger.
The Rays welcomed former Yankee Kyle Farnsworth back over the weekend, and he’s now setting up annoyingly good closer Fernando Rodney (1.97 FIP). It’s a big help with Joel Peralta (4.00 FIP) stinking up the joint (and getting suspended for having pine tar in his glove). Lefty setup man Jake McGee (2.15 FIP) pitched yesterday and in four of the last five days, so he might be on the shelf tonight. Ditto middle man Wade Davis (3.63 FIP), who has appeared in two straight. Rodney pitched yesterday as well. The rest of Joe Maddon’s bullpen features ground ball specialist Burke Badenhop (4.29 FIP) and soft-tossing left-hander J.P. Howell (4.92 FIP). Pretty much an Island of Misfit Relievers cast of characters.
Joe Girardi‘s bullpen is in pretty good shape after getting eight innings out of Phil Hughes on Sunday and seven out of Hiroki Kuroda on Saturday. Former Ray Rafael Soriano has pitched in two straight games, so he might be working at a reduced level of effectiveness tonight if he’s even available. Everyone else is good to go though; check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact details. For everything you need to know on the Rays, the best place to go is DRays Bay.
Separated by one game in the loss column in the AL East, the Yankees and Rays will meet for the third time this season over the next few days. Tampa swept the season opening series at Tropicana Field before New York took two of three in Yankee Stadium early last month. First place is on the line … but it’s only June so it’s not like this is a huge series. It is the biggest of the season to date, however.
What Have They Done Lately?
Despite sitting atop the AL East with a 31-23 record and a +18 run differential, the Rays have actually lost five of their last eight games. They did take two of three from the fading Orioles over the weekend, contributing to their league best 19-11 home record. Tampa’s 12-12 road record is another matter.
Sitting just below the league average a 4.26 runs per game, the Rays own a perfectly average 100 wRC+ as a team and really miss the injured Evan Longoria (167 wRC+). The offense has instead been carried by Matt Joyce (162 wRC+), who has held his own against left-handers (133 wRC+) in the early going. Desmond Jennings (114 wRC+) is likely to return from the DL to reinforce the top of the order at some point this series if not tonight. He’s been out with a knee issue.
Staples like B.J. Upton (117 wRC+), Carlos Pena (108 wRC+), and Ben Zobrist (103 wRC+) have been no worse than average but have a tendency to perform better than that against the Yankees. Luke Scott (98 wRC+) has been in a prolonged slump (87 wRC+ in May) and is losing playing time to former Yankee Hideki Matsui (100 wRC+). Godzilla has three hits in his 16 plate appearances, including two homers. Miscellaneous annoying infielders like Drew Sutton (53 wRC+), Sean Rodriguez (80 wRC+), Will Rhymes (81 wRC+), and Elliot Johnson (104 wRC+) have been anywhere from bad to average while both catchers — Jose Lobaton (56 wRC+) and Jose Molina (57 wRC+) — have been awful. Rich Thompson (-27 wRC+) is basically a pinch-runner/defensive replacement in the outfield.
Tuesday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Jamie Shields
This will already be the third time the Yankees are facing Shields this season. The first go ’round (six runs in five innings) went much better than the second (three runs in six innings), but I think we all know how good he can be. Shields has pitched to a 3.95 ERA with a 3.59 FIP, with career bests in strikeout (9.12 K/9 and 23.8 K%) and ground ball (59.0%) rate. His walk rate (2.71 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%) is a career worst though, and his 1.11 HR/9 is up there. Shields is the master at pitching backwards, using his various offspeed pitches — low-80s curveball, upper-80s slider, and world-class mid-80s changeup — to setup his three upper-80s/low-90s fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter). He’s a tough assignment, no doubt about it.
Wednesday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Alex Cobb
Cobb has made three solid starts (3.71 ERA and 3.20 FIP) since replacing Jeff Niemann in the rotation; he had a comebacker fracture his leg. He’s primarily a ground ball guy (57.1%), not a strikeout (6.35 K/9 and 15.4 K%) or low-walk (3.71 BB/9 and 9.0 BB%) type. Cobb uses four pitches, including a pair of upper-80s fastballs in the four and two-seamer. He also throws a mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. The Yankees faced Cobb once last year, though he held them to two runs (one earned) in six innings. At least they’re not going in blind.
Thursday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP David Price
My Cy Young pick has cooled off a bit after a roaring start, pitching to a 2.44 ERA and a 3.24 FIP in his eleven starts. His strikeout rate (7.57 K/9 and 20.7 K%) is his worst in three years and his walk rate (2.81 BB% and 7.7 BB%) jumped a bit after a career-low last season, but his ground ball rate (52.6%) is his best ever. Price is another three fastball — mid-90s two-seamer, mid-90s four-seamer, low-90s cutter — guy with three offspeed pitches — upper-80s slider, upper-70s curveball, low-80s changeup. The Yankees have seen him two already this season with good results (five runs in seven innings) and bad results (two runs in 6.1 innings). You know how good he is.
Like the Yankees, the Rays had Monday off so their bullpen is rested. New York has the added advantage of getting a complete game from Phil Hughes on Sunday, so the bullpen has really had two full days off. Good stuff.
Anyway, Tampa’s bullpen is anchored by the reborn Fernando Rodney, who’s pitched to a 2.19 FIP thanks to his newfound ability to throw strikes (1.37 BB/9 and 4.0 BB%). Homer prone setup man Joel Peralta (4.10 FIP) has pitched better after a few rough weeks to start the season, and situational ground ball (55.0%) righty Burke Badenhop (4.25 FIP) lends a hand from time to time. Long man Wade Davis (3.48 FIP) is the only other right-hander in the bullpen.
The Rays have three left-handers to deploy in various situations. Jake McGee (1.35 FIP) is the hard-throwing guy that will pitch to both lefties and righties but J.P. Howell (4.77 FIP) is the soft-tossing specialist. Cesar Ramos (4.40 FIP) is a low-leverage mop-up type who is far from a roster lock. He could be sent down and replaced with another disposable arm at any time. Overall, the Tampa relief corps is in the middle of the pack with a 3.72 FIP. For the latest and greatest on the division rivals from Florida, check out DRays Bay.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Yankees wrapped up the toughest stretch of their early-season schedule over the weekend, going 5-3 with a rain out in nine games against the Red Sox, Rangers, and Tigers. They woke up this morning 2.5 games out of first place after splitting the first two games of their three-game series with the Orioles, not an ideal position but hardly one worth getting worked up over on May 2nd. You can’t win a division title this early in the season, but the Yankees are in a position to improve their odds of winning a second straight AL East crown in a big way in the coming weeks.
The Rays announced yesterday that Evan Longoria will be out 6-8 weeks with a partially torn left hamstring, and injury he suffered running the bases on Monday night. Tampa Bay has a really, really good team, but it’s impossible for any club to replace a player of Longoria’s caliber. Joe Maddon & Co. will try to get by with in-house replacements like Jeff Keppinger, Elliot Johnson, and Will Rhymes for the time being. Longoria’s injury is obviously a major blow to a chief division rival.
Needless to say, the Yankees have a golden opportunity now. Not only will the Rays be without their best player for the next two months, but New York will also enjoy a rather cushy schedule. Only three of their next 27 games are against 2011 playoff teams — a three-game set in the Bronx against the Longoria-less Rays next week — and only nine of their next 55 games are against 2011 playoff clubs (including interleague play). That stretch takes them almost all the way to the All-Star break. It’s hard to ask for anything more.
Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, winning the division is of the utmost importance now. The Yankees have a chance to pad their win total during what appears to be an easy stretch of the schedule while Tampa will have to try to survive without one of the game’s very best players. The two clubs are in very different situations, and there’s an opportunity for New York to create some separation between themselves and a primary AL East competitor over these next few weeks. The sooner the starting rotation sorts itself out and the Yankees can get on a roll, the better.