4/27 to 4/29 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

For the first time this season, the Yankees will play another club for the second time. They swept three games from the Rays at Tropicana Field last week and now Tampa Bay is coming to the Bronx for a three-game set starting tonight. The Yankees lucked out again and will miss Chris Archer. He started yesterday and has a 0.84 ERA (2.29 FIP) in five starts this year. Archer hasn’t allowed an earned run since Opening Day.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

The Rays are coming into this series riding a five-game winning streak — they took the last two games of their series with the Red Sox last week and swept the Blue Jays this weekend, all at home. They outscored Toronto and Boston 30-12 in the five games. Tampa Bay is 11-8 overall with a +5 run differential. They’re tied with the Yankees atop the AL East, though New York has the better run differential (+21).

Offense & Defense

So far this season rookie manager Kevin Cash’s offense is averaging 4.26 runs per game with a team 113 wRC+. The MLB averages this year are 4.16 runs per game and, well, a 100 wRC+. The Rays are slightly healthier than the last time these two teams played, but they’re still without IF Nick Franklin (oblique), C/DH John Jaso (wrist), and 2B Ryan Brett (shoulder).

Loney. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Loney. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Obviously 3B Evan Longoria (152 wRC+) is the star of the show in the middle of Tampa Bay’s lineup. He’s been getting a lot of help from 2B Logan Forsythe (135 wRC+), OF Kevin Kiermaier (146 wRC+), and OF Steven Souza (141 wRC+) in the early going. 1B James Loney (217 wRC+ in very limited time), who was injured the last time these two teams played, is a Grade-A Yankees killer. He’s hit .351/.397/.511 in 45 career games against the Bombers and .282/.337/.412 against everyone else.

Among those doing solid work in platoon roles are IF Tim Beckham (162 wRC+), OF Brandon Guyer (135 wRC+), and OF David DeJesus (172 wRC+). Beckham has 37.5 K% and a .435 BABIP. Something has to give. SS Asdrubal Cabrera (52 wRC+) has been a drain on the offense so far, as have OF Desmond Jennings (65 wRC+) and C Rene Rivera (23 wRC+). C Bobby Wilson and IF Jake Elmore round out the bench.

Defensively, the Rays are at their best in the outfield thanks mostly to Jennings and Kiermaier. Souza is a quality defender as well but he’s not at the same level as the other two. Longoria and Loney are excellent on the infield corners but Asdrubal and the Forsythe/Beckham tandem on the middle infield are really shaky. Not Mets caliber shaky, but shaky. Rivera is a top of the line pitch-framer and about average at everything else behind the dish. Tampa is a very good defensive club despite the eyesore on the middle infield.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Adam Warren (Career vs. TB) vs. RHP Nate Karns (Career vs. NYY)
The Yankees got a look at the 27-year-old Karns last week, when he held them to two runs on two hits in five innings. He struck out seven and walked four. Karns has a 5.32 ERA (6.14 FIP) in four starts and 23.2 innings this year with mediocre strikeout (19.8%) and walk (13.9%) rates and an awful homer rate (1.90 HR/9). He does get grounders though (48.4%), so when teams square him up, they hit it a long way. Righties (.350 wOBA) have hit him harder than lefties (.314 wOBA) in the early going. Karns uses low-to-mid-90s four-seamers to set up his big breaking low-80s curveball, the pitch that is the reason he is in the big leagues. He also throws a mid-80s changeup.

Tuesday: RHP Chase Whitley (Career vs. TB) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (Career vs. NYY)
Odorizzi, 25, may have improved his long-term outlook more than any other pitcher over the last 18 months or so. He has a 1.65 ERA (2.43 FIP) in 27.1 innings across four starts in 2015 with good peripherals — 21.6 K%, 7.8 BB%, 42.3 GB%, no homers allowed — and no platoon split. Odorizzi improved his stock by learning a filthy mid-80s splitter from teammate Alex Cobb. It gave him the swing-and-miss pitch he needed to be anything more than a back-end starter. He also throws low-90s four-seamers, mid-80s cutters, and a few slow upper-60s curveballs. It’s almost like an eephus pitch. The Yankees saw Odorizzi last weekend and scored three runs in six innings. He did strike out nine though, including six with the splitter. Whitley is coming up to make the spot start for the Yankees tomorrow, in case you missed it yesterday.

Smyly. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Smyly. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Wednesday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (Career vs. TB) vs. LHP Drew Smyly (Career vs. NYY)
Smyly was one of the pieces of the David Price trade last summer and he was excellent after arriving in Tampa Bay, pitching to a 1.70 ERA (3.07 FIP) in seven starts and 47.2 innings down the stretch. The 25-year-old southpaw came down with shoulder tendinitis in Spring Training and returned to the rotation last week, holding the Blue Jays to two runs in 4.2 innings with five strikeouts and no walks. Smyly throws both two and four-seamer fastballs in the upper-80s/low-90s as well as a mid-80s cutter. An upper-70s curveball is his top offspeed pitch and he uses a low-80s changeup against righties. The Rays held Smyly to an 80-pitch limit in his first start last week and I’m sure he’ll have some sort of cap Wednesday since he’s just returning from a shoulder scare.

Bullpen Status
Archer gave the Rays seven innings yesterday and all their key relievers got the afternoon off, so Cash’s bullpen is in good shape. RHP Matt Andriese (4.13 FIP) threw two innings as the only reliever used. RHP Brad Boxberger (1.01 FIP) is the relief ace — Cash has used him mostly as the closer but did bring him into a game in the seventh inning last week to face the heart of the Red Sox order in a big spot and put out a potentially big fire. RHP Kevin Jepsen (1.68 FIP) is the team’s other high-leverage reliever.

RHP Ernesto Frieri (7.78 FIP), RHP Brandon Gomes (1.47 FIP), and RHP Steve Geltz (4.35 FIP) are Tampa Bay’s middle innings righties. Frieri has allowed three homers in 8.2 innings this year and 25 homers in 119 innings since the start of 2013 (1.9 HR/9). He throws hard but man, when he makes a mistake, it gets hit a mile. LHP Everett Teaford was just called up and is the only southpaw in the bullpen. He has yet to appear in a game. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of the Yankees’ bullpen them head over to DRays Bay and The Process Report for some great analysis of the Rays.

Yankeemetrics: April 17-19 (Rays)

Welcome back, Alex. (Photo credit: Chris O'Meara/Associated Press)
Welcome back, Alex. (Photo credit: Chris O’Meara/Associated Press)

Back to the future, Part I
Alex Rodriguez delivered a vintage performance in the series opener against the Rays, leading the Yankees to a 5-4 win at Tropicana Field. A-Rod was almost literally the entire Yankees offense on Friday night. Seriously.

Rodriguez went 3-for-4 with four RBI and scored two runs; the rest of the lineup produced one run and went 2-for-26 in the game. Each of his three hits either gave the Yankees the lead or tied the game: his second-inning solo homer put the Yankees up 1-0, his sixth inning two-run blast tied the game at 4-4, and his eighth inning single drove in the game-winning run.

Let’s give A-Rod’s performance the proper Yankeemetric treatment, in bullet-point form:

• His first homer traveled 477 feet, according to hittrackeronline.com, the longest home run in the majors this season and the second-longest by any Yankee over the last 10 seasons. The only longer one was a 488-foot shot by Rodriguez on June 15, 2006 off Cliff Lee at the old Yankee Stadium.

• He is the second-oldest Yankee ever to have multi-homer game with four-or-more RBI, behind only a 43-year-old Enos Slaughter July 19, 1959 vs. the White Sox.

• He ended the night with four homers and 11 RBI after the first 10 games of the season. A-Rod is the first Yankee in franchise history to hit that many homers and have that many RBI in the team’s first 10 games at the age of 39 or older. The last 39-year-old (or older) on any team to reach those totals this early into the season was Eddie Murray for the Indians in 1995.

A-Rod’s eighth-inning heroics were set up by a lead-off single from Carlos Beltran. It was his 1,000th hit in the American League, making him the eighth player in major-league history with at least 1,000 hits in both leagues. The others are Frank Robinson, Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, Fred McGriff, Orlando Cabrera, Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano.

Back to the future, Part II
Masahiro Tanaka tossed his first (and hopefully not last) gem of the season on Saturday night as the Yankees clinched their first series win of the season with a 9-0 victory. It was the second-biggest shutout win for the Yankees at Tropicana Field, behind only a 10-0 blowout on April 10, 2010.

Tanaka dominated the Rays lineup, throwing seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts, no walks and two hits allowed. The last Yankee right-hander with a performance like that – at least eight strikeouts, zero walks and no more than two hits given up – was Mike Mussina in his near-perfect game against the Red Sox on Sept. 2, 2001.

The game was a pitchers duel until the sixth inning when Brian McCann ripped a two-run triple to break a scoreless tie. It had been more than 15 years since a Yankee catcher hit a go-ahead triple that late in a game. Jorge Posada‘s sixth-inning bases-loaded triple on April 13, 2000 was the game-winning hit against the Rangers.

Chris Young turned the game into a rout with a grand slam in the seventh inning. He is the first Yankee right-fielder with a grand slam against the Rays since Paul O’Neil on August 16, 2001. Before Young, no Yankee right-fielder had ever hit a grand slam at Tropicana Field.

How sweep it is
The Yankees finished off their first sweep of the season with a 5-3 win on Sunday. Last year the team didn’t record its first series sweep of three games or more until June 10-12 at Seattle.

Yes, the Yankees have certainly lived up to their Bronx Bombers nickname this season (17 homers in 12 games) but don’t underestimate their ability to play smallball, too. They scored two of their five runs via sacrifice flies on Sunday, bring their total to an MLB-best 10 sac flies on the season. It is just the second time since they became an official stat in 1954 that the Yankees have hit double-digits sac flies in the team’s first 12 games (had 12 in 1997).

Andrew Miller struck out three batters after giving up a leadoff double for his fourth save of the season. It was his third consecutive outing with a save and at least three strikeouts, the first Yankee reliever ever to have a streak of games like that (Mariano Rivera never did it more than two appearances in a row, believe it or not).

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

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

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

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

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

Offense & Defense

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

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

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

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


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

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

Pitching Matchups

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

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

Odorizzi. (Presswire)
Odorizzi. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baltimore Orioles

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Red Sox

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa Bay Rays

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

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

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

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

Toronto Blue Jays

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

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

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

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

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

AL East Shakeup: Andrew Friedman leaves Rays for Dodgers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitching Matchups

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

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

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

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

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

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