Archive for Tampa Bay Rays
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.
This season starts right where last season ended. The last time these two clubs met, the Rays swept the Yankees and leapfrogged the Red Sox on the final day of the season to secure a playoff berth. I’m sure you remember that. The Yankees had already clinched everything they could have possibly clinched, so we were all able to sit back and enjoy The Collapse without having to worry about its impact on our beloved Bombers.
That’s all in the past now, and it’s time to look forward to 2012. Both clubs added some new players this offseason — in Tampa’s case a familiar face — and figure to again contend for the AL East crown. Winning the division is much more important now with the new playoff system, so right off the bat this is an important series. Every intra-division game will mean that much more this summer.
With the exception of Raul Ibanez, the Yankees return the same offense that finished second in baseball with a 113 wRC+ in 2011. Any improvement will come in the form of Alex Rodriguez staying healthy, Mark Teixeira pounding the ball the other way as a left-handed hitter, and Nick Swisher avoiding another two-month long slump to open the season. I wouldn’t expect Curtis Granderson to hit 40+ homers again, but that’s only because back-to-back 40+ homer seasons are very rare. He should still whack 30 dingers or so.
The Rays made some more substantial changes to their lineup. Their DHs have posted an unfathomable 94 wRC+ over the last three seasons, easily the lowest among the AL clubs during that time. They tried to rectify that by bringing in Luke Scott, who is coming off shoulder surgery but posted a 140 wRC+ in 2010, his last healthy season. I wouldn’t expect a repeat performance at age 33, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be anything but an upgrade at the DH spot if the shoulder is sound. Carlos Pena (119 wRC+ in 2011) replaced Casey Kotchman (125 wRC+) at first, meaning they’ll actually get some homers out of the position. A full year of Desmond Jennings (131 wRC+) will help as well.
The rest of the Rays offense is the same as it has been for the last few seasons. Evan Longoria (134 wRC+) and Ben Zobrist (131 wRC+) do the heavy lifting while Matt Joyce (129 wRC+) does most of his damage against righties. B.J. Upton (115 wRC+) is widely considered a disappointment, but he’s a productive player who is just entering his peak years and will again threaten 20-30. The shortstop and catcher positions are black holes. Tampa has some power and a lot of speed, and they managed to add some of the former this past winter without really sacrificing much of the latter.
Friday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jamie Shields
Sabathia and Shields split a pair of head-to-head matchups last season, and both guys were brilliant. They each allowed two runs total across 17 and 15.2 innings, respectively. Sabathia is making his ninth career Opening Day start, including his fourth straight in pinstripes. This is Shields’ fourth Opening Day assignment in the last five years. The crafty right-hander likes to pitch backwards, specifically by using his curveball early in the count to batters on both sides of the plate. His put away pitch is that world-class changeup, which he’ll throw in any count. Shields is always a tough assignment, so let’s hope he’s still a little rusty from the offseason.
Saturday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP David Price
The Yankees haven’t been very kind to Mr. Price over the last few years. They roughed him up for six runs in four innings in last year’s season finale, and of course Derek Jeter took him keep for his 3,000th career hit back in July. Price is my Cy Young pick, however. His strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates all improved last year even though it didn’t show up in his ERA. I expect him to take another step forward this year and become that dominant, unquestioned ace. Price uses multiple mid-90s fastballs (four-seamer and two-seamer) and an array of offspeed stuff (changeup, curve, slider). Kuroda has never pitched against the Rays franchise in the regular season, though they did get a look at him in Spring Training a few weeks ago.
Sunday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
Both Hughes and Hellickson have something to prove this year. Hughes has to show that his dreadful 2011 season is a thing of the past and that he’s back to his 2010 form. Hellickson, despite winning the Rookie of the Year award, has to show that his ability to keep runs off the board despite underwhelming peripherals is a skill and not just dumb luck. A 1.49 run difference between ERA and FIP begs for a bigger sample. He could be the rare Matt Cain-esque exception, or he could be due for a huge regression. Hellickson is a changeup specialist like Shields, throwing the pitch nearly 33% of the time last season. He’ll mix in a curveball and two low-90s fastballs. The Yankees had mixed results against him in 2011, a few good games and a few bad ones.
Since this is the first series of the year, both teams have a pretty fresh bullpen. David Robertson is still rounding into form after missing close to three weeks with a bone bruise in his foot, so don’t be surprised if Joe Girardi takes it a little easy on him this first week. Boone Logan is dealing with some back spasms and might not be available right out of the chute. Everyone else is a-okay as far as we know.
The Rays could be without closer Kyle Farnsworth, who is battling an elbow strain that is likely to send him to the DL. They have until game time to make a decision. Righty Joel Peralta and lefty J.P. Howell figure to serve as platoon closers in Farnsworth’s stead. Former Tigers closer Fernando Rodney could also see some ninth inning work. Ground ball specialist Burke Badenhop and hard-throwing lefty Jake McGee fill the middle innings while displaced starter Wade Davis will handle long-man duties. Of course, we have to mention that Tampa’s pitching staff plays up because their defense is so good. Jennings and Upton are fantastic in the outfield while Longoria, Zobrist, and Pena are no worse than rock solid on the infield.
For all the latest info on the Rays, we recommend checking out DRays Bay.
The Tampa Bay Rays have made life quite difficult in the AL East. Previously a two-team powerhouse, the East saw Tampa Bay’s rise to prominence in 2008. That year the Yankees boasted the fourth-best record in the American League, but missed the playoffs thanks to Tampa’s presence atop the standings (among other factors). The Rays sunk a bit in the 2009 season, but in 2010 they came back to win the AL East, and then made the playoffs as the Wild Card in 2011. They return in 2012 with a slightly heftier payroll. Will it be enough for a third straight playoff berth?
Tampa Bay’s chances — and, really, everyone’s chances — have increased thanks to the second Wild Card spot. But it’s not Tampa’s bid for a Wild Card spot that should have Yankees fans worried. They’ve built another strong team in 2012, one that will likely contend for the AL East crown. They’re the early-season sexy picks for the title, too; ESPN.com’s Buster Olney dubbed them baseball’s best team earlier this year. Let’s take a closer look at what makes them tick.
Once again, the Rays will go with a homegrown rotation in 2012. For the last 165 games they’ve used a homegrown starter, an MLB record. They will, however, finally use a starting pitcher over the age of 30 in 2012, the first time since 2007. To compensate, they’ll also employ one of the youngest and most highly touted pitchers in the league. In other words, the Rays will again boast a formidable pitching staff.
The rotation starts with James Shields, who will face CC Sabathia on Opening Day next Friday. He’s been a workhorse since his full-season debut in 2007, making at least 31 starts and pitching at least 203 innings in each year (and in all but one year he pitched at least 215 innings, including nearly 250 last year). Last season Shields held the Yankees in check, allowing just 10 runs in 38.2 innings, striking out 31 to just 10 walks.
While Shields has been impressive on his own against the Yankees in the last three years, throwing 81.2 innings in 12 starts to a 3.20 ERA, they have gotten the best of him; Shields is just 4-5 against the Yankees in that time. Then again, Shields has pitched a bit better against the Yankees in that span than he has overall. From 2009 through 2011 he sports a 3.96 ERA, which is league average.
After Shields, the Rays have lefty David Price as a strong No. 2 starter. He can even be considered the staff ace, despite Shields holding that spot nominally. Price’s 2009 debut was rough, but that can be expected of a 23-year-old in baseball’s toughest division. He came back in 2010 to produce one of the best seasons in the AL, even finishing second in the Cy Young voting. His ERA jumped in 2011, but all of his peripherals improved. Most notably, he trimmed nearly a walk per nine off his rate. If he can continue striking out nearly a batter per inning while refusing to walk too many batters, his results will follow.
The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Award recipient fills the third spot in the Rays rotation. Jeremy Hellickson got off to a rolling start last year, throwing 189 innings to a 2.95 ERA. He’s not exactly a strikeout artist, and he didn’t demonstrate great control in 2011. In fact, his peripherals were fairly mediocre. But he does have a chance to take a step forward in 2012.
The big difference between the 2011 and 2012 Rays rotations is Matt Moore. One of the game’s most highly touted prospects, Moore will get his chance in the rotation. It’s hard to undersell his potential. He simply plowed through the minors, dipping below 12 K/9 just once — and even then it was 11.5 K/9. He’s going to give the Yankees fits for years to come. If everything goes well, he’ll join Price atop the rotation, leaving little room to miss Shields once the Rays inevitably trade him.
It might be easy for a Yankees fan to write-off a bullpen that features Kyle Farnsworth as closer, but he’s not the same Farnsworth that plagued the Bronx from 2006 through mid-2008. He has found some semblance of control, which has in no small way led to his prominence in the last few years. He’ll get the nod again as closer in 2012, but he has some reinforcements.
Joel Peralta is a name that probably doesn’t register on many Yankees fans radars.
Since debuting in 2005, at age 29, he’s pitched for five different teams. Yet he’s been quite effective in the last two seasons. In that span he has boasted a 2.55 ERA in 116.2 innings, striking out 8.5 per nine while walking just 2.1. One of his big assets has been the ability to suppress hits. He has allowed just 5.7 per nine in that span, which leads to an otherworldly 0.87 WHIP. His key is the splitter, which he uses to generate swings and misses as well as poor in-air contact.
The Rays have some depth behind those two late-inning guys as well. Jake McGee had a middling 2011, mostly due to his home runs allowed. If he can get them under control he’ll provide some power out of the pen. Wade Davis, who just lost the fifth starter competition to Jeff Niemann, could very well be one of those guys who flourishes in the pen after struggling in the rotation. There’s also Fernando Rodney, whom the Rays brought in on a flier, and J.P. Howell, who, given his injury history, is also essentially a flier.
Even with some riskier guys at the end of the pen, the Rays do have some depth to cover them. There’s Josh Leuke, whose fastball command, combined with quality breaking ball and splitter, could provide value out of the pen later in the year. Brandon Gomes, who pitched well in his 37 innings out of the pen last year, could provide reinforcements later as well. Combine those with a few other up-and comers, and the Rays do have some pen depth this year. That afford them the opportunity to take risks with guys like Howell and Rodney.
In 2011 the Rays actually finished with a below average AL offense, scoring just 4.36 runs per game. The Yankees actually scored one run per game more than the Rays, which is no small difference when spread over 162 contests. They have, however, added a few key pieces this off-season that could boost their offensive profile.
At first base the Rays were particularly abysmal. They hit a combined .288/.357/.388, placing them 13th out of 14 AL teams in OPS. To help remedy the issue they brought back Carlos Pena, who spent 2011 with the Cubs. In his four years with the Rays Pena consistently supplied power, even if he didn’t hit for a high average. The walk rate, combined with his 20-30 home run power will bring a big improvement to the Rays’ overall first base numbers.
The Rays weren’t quite as bad with the DH spot in 2011, though they did rank 10th out of 14. Even still, there was a pretty sizable gap between 10th and 9th, and the Rays DHs did combine for a .320 OBP. To remedy this they signed Luke Scott, who has certainly hit for power in the past. From 2008 through 2010 he hit .266/.348/.497 with the Orioles, a 123 OPS+. He did struggle through an injury plagued 2011 season, but if he rebounds to his former self he’ll provide another boost to the Rays offense.
Another improvement the Rays will realize comes from Desmond Jennings. In left field the Rays were above average last year, due in no small part to Jennings’s .259/.356/.449 line. Yet he appeared in only 63 games, after starting the season in the minors. A full season of him, even a little below the level he established in 2011, will be a big boost to the overall offense. Add in his ability to swipe a bag — he was 20 for 26 in those 63 games, after going 17 for 18 in AAA — and he becomes a legitimate offensive threat.
Last season Evan Longoria’s production dropped off a bit at an age where we expect improvement. He did suffer a foot injury, which cost him a number of games. Perhaps that’s part of the reason for his drop-off. One big reason, however, might be the ebbs and flows of a career. Fancy this: Longoria produced a career-low .239 BABIP in 2011. This isn’t to say that he was merely unlucky. It is to say that it’s considerably out of line with his .301 career BABIP, and the .336 and .313 marks he produced in 2010 and 2009. At the same time, his walk rate jumped, as did his power production. If he brings his average back up into the .280 neighborhood with those power and patience improvements, he could be an MVP contender.
In addition to Longoria and Pena in the middle of the lineup, the Rays also have Ben Zobrist. His numbers might not stand out, .269/.353/.469 in 2011, but that was good for a 132 OPS+. Combine that with his defensive versatility and you have a highly valuable player who can hit essentially anywhere in the lineup. B.J. Upton and Matt Joyce are also quality hitters to round out the outfield. The only real hole in the Rays’ offense, then, comes at shortstop, where Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez both provide little. Rodriguez is the better bet to provide near league average numbers, as he did in 2011, so it won’t be as though they have a gaping hole there.
One area where the Rays receive universal praise is their defense. Longoria, Zobrist, Pena, Upton, and Jennings are all well above average defensively, and the rest of the team, from the starters to the bench, fields well too. The Rays boasted the best defensive efficiency — number of balls in play turned into outs — of nay team in the majors last year, and by no small margin. In terms of Baseball Prospectus’s PADE, which adjusts defensive efficiency for park effects, the Rays demolished every team in 2011 (4.30, with the next closest being 1.98). That will make things quite easier on their already quality pitching staff.
* * *
Once again, the Rays will complicate the AL East. They might not have the on-paper powerhouse lineups that both the Yankees and the Sox boast, but they do have a number of high-quality hitters throughout the lineup. One through seven, in fact, will comprise above-average hitters, with only the shortstop and Jose Molina dragging them down. They also have five high-quality starters that can rival any rotation in the division. It might take a few things breaking their way, but the Rays do have a legitimate shot at the AL East crown this year.
That was Tropicana Field last night, shortly after the Rays beat the Yankees by the score of 5-2. The majority of the 18-something-thousand fans in attendance stayed at their seats after Red Sox-Orioles game was put on the big board, just in time for the final two outs. The fans collectively groaned when Dustin Pedroia drove in a run, then booed when David Ortiz followed that with an infield single. Adrian Gonzalez flew out for the second out of the inning, and that drew a ton of cheers.
While all this was going on in the stands, the Yankees were in their clubhouse without a care in the world. You’d never know they had just lost a game to a division rival, they were too busy poking fun at the rookies for their early-90′s music costumes. Russell Martin told a story about how he asked the home plate ump if he had stretched before the game because he (or his strike zone) was a little tight. Joe Girardi vaguely explained his pitching plans for the next two days. Phil Hughes zipped up Austin Romine‘s Madonna outfit. They were a team with nothing to play for at the moment, and it showed.
Outside though, outside that clubhouse, it was a celebration. Jed Lowrie had swung over a Jim Johnson sinker for strike three, the 27th out in Boston’s latest failure to distance themselves from the Rays. Less than 24 hours earlier, Jacoby Ellsbury was being hailed as the no-doubt MVP for his game-winning, 14th inning homer off Scott Proctor in the Bronx, but now he was a goat. A goat because of this …
The ball was in glove, and then it wasn’t. The result was the first inside-the-park homerun by an Orioles player in Camden Yards history, a three-run number by Robert Andino that turned a 3-2 lead into a 6-2 lead. The Trop exploded when Lowrie went down swinging, a thunderous combination of cowbell, cheers, and whatever the hell that foghorn thing they play after homeruns and wins is … all combined with great acoustics (hooray for the dome!). The press box was literally shaking, and honestly, it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced at a ballpark.
This collapse is just … it’s unthinkable. I mean, 2004 was just completely different. That was a short series where the proverbial “anything can happen” happened. This Red Sox collapse is a month-long stretch of ineptitude, a team beating itself with bad defense, really bad pitching, and just not enough offense to makeup for it. Boston has gone from nine games up with a 99.6% chance of making the postseason on September 3rd to tied in the loss column with a 63.3% chance of making the postseason just 24 days later. Take a second to wrap your head around that.
As Yankees fans, we’re conditioned to hate the Red Sox and laugh at their misfortune. It comes with the territory, so this collapse is right in our wheel house. No sympathy, nothing. But we don’t ever think about the other end of The Collapse (has to be capitalized at this point, right?), the team that did the catching up. I got to experience that firsthand last night, or rather I got to observe fans who experienced that firsthand last night. It wasn’t about the suffering of the Red Sox, it was about the excitement of the Rays. A young, exciting, and likable team that legitimately qualifies as an underdog doing things underdog teams do. It was a very different view of things as a Yankees fan, a view of a world where winning isn’t a birthright. Apparently that way of life can be fun too.
(Ellsbury .gif via @bubbaprog)
Here’s a question: if the Red Sox are performing poorly enough to miss the playoffs, should Yankee fans root for them to make it? Put another way, given that Boston has been 2007 Mets-level bad in September, are there enough flaws there that Yankees fans should root for Boston to beat out Tampa and Los Angeles and make for an easy target, should they squeak by through to the ALCS? Between the Rays and the Sox, who is the weakest link?
The Red Sox case
Boston has a myriad of problems. One problem is the lack of performance they’ve gotten from the corner outfielder slots. Carl Crawford’s first year of his big contract has been a disaster. J.D. Drew has missed time and his replacements haven’t exactly lit up the league. Drew may be back at some point, but it’s clear that the corner outfield spots for Boston currently represent a problem with no easy fix.
The Sox are also suffering through injuries, although not as many as last year. Youkilis has a back injury, a hip injury and a sports hernia. Despite the rain on Friday, Youkilis did some batting off a tee, and Francona indicated that he “still felt it”, which makes sense since the injury will ultimately require surgery. As a result, Boston Globe writer Pete Abraham reported that it’s looking increasingly unlikely that he’ll return at all this year, perhaps as a pinch-hitter at best. Obviously this is a significant blow to the Red Sox. Youkilis is one of their best hitters, and he’s also one of the most potent right-handed hitters in a lineup dominated by lefties. One of those lefties, Adrian Gonzalez, is also hurting. Gonzalez is dealing with a rotator cuff injury that causes him pain every time he swings the bat. It’s also sapped him of his opposite-field power. If you’re keeping track at home, two of the Sox four best hitters (the other two being Pedroia and Ellsbury) are dealing with serious injuries.
There’s also the wilderness that is their rotation. In addition to not paying his child support, Erik Bedard has – surprise! – injury and durability concerns. Meanwhile, John Lackey is just flat terrible. Weiland, Miller and Wakefield all represent last-resort options, the kind of guys you’d want to kick around for the 25th spot on the playoff roster but not pencil in for a Game 3 or Game 4 start. Aceves has been well above-average, but it appears to be too late to switch him to the rotation. Even the front of the rotation, Lester and Beckett, has lost a bit of its shine. For the second year in a row, Lester’s walks are a little higher than what you’d expect from someone with his talent, and his strikeouts have dipped. Beckett’s injury created a bit of uncertainty around him, and while he did rack up the strikeouts in his last outing against Baltimore, he lost his way late in the game and gave up the lead. New York has rotation questions too, but this doesn’t diminish the fact that Boston’s issues are severe and won’t be remedied until this offseason at the earliest.
The Sox are still a decent team. Pedroia, Ellsbury and Gonzalez are exceptional hitters. Papelbon is having a great year, and if Bard regains his form they could have one of the best late game combos in the playoffs. The nature of the playoffs is wild and unpredictable, and a suddenly hot offense backed by a strong Lester and Beckett and closed with Bard and Papelbon could carry the Sox to the World Series. At the same time, it’d be silly to deny that this team has major issues.
The Rays’ Case
The case for the Rays as the weakest link revolves around their average offense and their iffy bullpen. Calling their offense average is entirely just. Their team wRC+ is 100, which defines average. Their lineup is bolstered by the likes of Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist, but there are still weak spots in that lineup. Parenthetically, one has to wonder how much closer the Rays would be to Boston had Manny Ramirez given them 500 at-bats this season.
Their bullpen is also a point of weakness, described to me by R.J. Anderson as Tampa’s “dirty little secret”. It’s simply not as good as it has been in the past. While Farnsworth had been solid for the Rays thus far, he’s dealing with elbow soreness. Set-up man Joel Peralta has been respectable, but behind him are a slew of guys best utilized in platoon matchup scenarios. Plenty of them have serious control issues, meaning that Maddon’s ability to mix and match in the late innings is compromised a bit.
The Rays are strong in their pitching staff. As frontline tandems go, it’s hard to do better than David Price and James Shields. These two would be absolutely frightening in a short series. The Yankees wouldn’t face them until the ALCS, so they’d get a crack at Niemann and Hellickson too, but the fact remains that Price and Shields are two of the best pitchers in baseball. Finally, there’s the Matt Moore factor. He’s likely headed to the bullpen, and a reprise of David Price’s usage in the 2008 playoffs would make the Rays’ end of game crew very tough, especially if they get Kyle Farnsworth back at full strength. He’s certainly the X factor.
So which team is a more formidable opponent, and for which team should the Yankee fans be rooting to make the playoffs? It’s a matter of preference. Personally, even granting all of Boston’s issues and the fact that they’re an average at best team right now, I’d like them out as soon as possible. Doesn’t the prospect of three games in Boston in October in the ALCS, with the pennant on the line, make you want to reach for a bottle of Pepto? The Rays may be just as good as Boston right now, even better. But as Moshe Mandel said to me the other day, they may be just close enough that it’d be nice to see the Sox complete this collapse and miss the playoffs altogether. No Big Papi heroics and Sweet Caroline for me, thank you very much.
How important is this series? It’s obviously huge for the Rays, but it’s not life or death for the Yankees. They have seven games left against Tampa and a seven-game lead for the wildcard, but just two wins in those seven games punches their ticket to October. These are far from must wins, but it would be nice to have a playoff spot wrapped up before the Red Sox come to town on Friday.
What Have The Rays Done Lately?
I think you’re all well aware of what the Rays have done lately. They took three of four from the Red Sox in Fenway before having yesterday off, and they now sit just two games back of Boston for the wildcard (one in the loss column). Tampa has won ten of their last 14 games.
Rays On Offense
Overall, it’s an exactly league average offense with a .317 wOBA, a 100 wRC+, and a 104 OPS+. That said, they have several players coming into the series very got. Evan Longoria (.360 wOBA overall) has hit .310/.461/.603 this month, and B.J. Upton (.325 wOBA overall) is right behind him at .311/.408/.557 for September. Matt Joyce (.360 wOBA overall) has rebounded from prolonged slump to hit .270/.404/.459 in the season’s final month. He doesn’t play much against left-handers, though.
Those three have been really, really good during Tampa’s recent surge, but three others have been really, really bad. Ben Zobrist (.355 wOBA overall) has hit .196/.274/.286 this month, and the amazingly awesome Desmond Jennings (.395 wOBA overall) has crashed back to Earth with a .212/.297/.303 batting line over his last 16 games. Casey Kotchman (.351 wOBA overall) has been a touch better than Jennings in September (.217/.304/.317), but his struggles go back a little further (.215/.311/.292 in his last 38 games). The rest of the lineup is a bit of a mix-and-match.
Sean Rodriguez may or may not be limited in this series after getting hit by a pitch in the Sox series, but he’s lethal against left-handed pitchers (.271/.391/.465). Reid Brignac (.203 wOBA) and Elliot Johnson (.244 wOBA) are the two shortstop options, so yuck. Kelly Shoppach (.260 wOBA) is rumored to see more time behind the plate down the stretch, ahead of John Jaso (.291 wOBA) and Jose Lobaton (.122 wOBA in a small sample). Brandon Guyer (.272 wOBA in limited action) will likely see some outfield time against lefties, and then there’s spare parts like Dan Johnson (.162 wOBA mostly due to April), Justin Ruggiano (.287 wOBA in limited time), Sam Fuld (.302 wOBA), and Russ Canzler (one plate appearance, one walk). The Rays will absolutely steal bases, with Upton (30), Fuld (20), Jennings (18), Damon (18), and Zobrist (18) being the main threats.
Rays On The Mound
Tuesday, RHP Wade Davis (vs. Ivan Nova): One of many great pitching prospects to come out of Tampa’s system in recent years, Davis has yet to have the kind of success some of his peers have enjoyed. His 4.41 ERA is right in line with his 4.66 FIP, a 119 FIP- that essentially matches last year’s 118 FIP-. A fly ball guy (36.3% grounders) without much strikeout ability (5.10K/9), Davis works with a pair of low-90′s fastballs (two and four-seamer), a high-70′s curveball, a mid-80′s slider, and a mid-80′s changeup. The Yankees have not faced him yet this year, but they saw him four times last year (3.43 ERA).
Wednesday, RHP Jeremy Hellickson (vs. CC Sabathia/Phil Hughes): One of many great pitching prospects to come out of Tampa’s system in recent years, Hellickson is coming off that grueling 117-pitch outing in Fenway. His peripherals (4.28 FIP) are not nearly as good as his ERA (2.91), and he’s another fly ball guy (34.0% grounders) that struggles to miss bats (5.78 K/9). Two fastballs (low-90′s two and four-seamers) and a knockout changeup are his primary weapons, but we’ll also see a mid-70′s curve on occasion. Hellickson can be sneaky good, he is just a kid in his first full year as a starter in the AL East, after all. The Yankees have seen him twice this year, once good (2 R in 7 IP) and once bad (4 R in 4.1 IP).
Wednesday, RHP Jamie Shields (vs. Sabathia/Hughes): One of many great pitching prospects to come out of Tampa’s system in recent years,
Big Complete Game James has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. His peripherals (3.35 FIP) match the ERA (2.78), with lots of strikeouts (8.25 K/9), lots of grounders (46.2%), and few walks (2.31 BB/9). Shields is the master at pitching backwards, setting up his low-90′s two and four-seamers with that world class changeup and a high-70′s curveball. He’ll also throw a mid-80′s slider and a high-80′s cutter. In three starts against the Yankees this year, Shields has held them to six runs (four earned) in 22.2 IP, and four of those runs came in one start.
Thursday, RHP Jeff Niemann (vs. Bartolo Colon): One of many great pitching prospects to come out of Tampa’s system in recent years (notice a pattern here?), Niemann has pitched very well since returning from the disabled list in late-June. He’s posted a 3.41 ERA (~3.80 FIP) with 7.69 K/9 and 2.45 BB/9 in 103 IP. His pitching approach is pretty straight forward, featuring two fastballs in the low-90′s (two and four-seamer) and a high-80′s curve, but he’ll occasionally mix in three other pitches: mid-80′s slider, mid-80′s changeup, and a low-80′s split. The Yankees have seen Niemann just once this year, when he held them to one run in 7.1 IP in his fourth start off the DL.
Bullpen: The Rays have a bunch of call-ups on their roster, but they’re still a man short in the bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth is having a very good year (3.27 FIP), but he’s battling an elbow issue and might not be available for part or all of the series. Joel Peralta (3.43 FIP) has stepped in at closer in the meantime. J.P. Howell (holding lefties to a .217/.277/.283 batting line), Juan Cruz (3.95 FIP), and Jake McGee (5.14 FIP) handle the majority of the middle innings.
For the most part, the rest of the bullpen is made up of low-leverage call-up types, guys like Brandon Gomes (4.09 FIP), Dane De La Rosa (2 IP so far), Cesar Ramos (4.70 FIP), Andy Sonnanstine (4.48 FIP), and Alex Torres (2 IP so far). The secret weapon is Matt Moore, the best pitching prospect in baseball. The hard-throwing lefty has made two appearances totaling 4.1 IP so far, and they aren’t shy about throwing him into big spots against both lefties and righties. We’ll see him at some point this series, and there’s even been some rumblings that he could get a start in the doubleheader.
Recommended Rays Reading: DRays Bay.