The New What Next: Enter the Evil Empire — A Series Preview of Sorts

Ben Zobrist, center, carries his belongings out of the dugout after a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, in Baltimore. Baltimore won 3-0. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Proof the Rays brought their bats on their recent nine-day road trip. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t use them. (Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The Tampa Bay Rays return home Thursday following a 3-0 loss to the Orioles, and an abysmal 3-5 road trip. Suffice it to say, after going a combined 11-for-52 wRISP (21%), the Rays bats may have been in the dugout, but they certainly weren’t in the batters box. Tampa Bay has now dropped three in a row, while averaging under two runs per game over a ten-game span. Look at the bright side: The Rays are 7-8 after the first 15 games. Compare that to last season when Tampa Bay went 5-10 in the first two weeks of the season.

The Rays welcome the Yankees to the big top for a four game set. At 6-16 (against the Yankees) in their past 22 games at the Trop, the Rays will try to turn their misfortune around. The Yankees haven’t won a season series against Tampa Bay since 2009.

Much like the Rays, the Yankees are banged up. 1B Mark Teixeira, closer Dave Robertson and backup INF Brendan Ryan and C Francisco Cervelli have all been on the DL since opening day. SS Derek Jeter has missed a couple of games with quad issues, though was expected to return to the fold Wednesday night. Yet, the Yankees are atop the AL East with a 9-6 record, having won four in a row.

It bears mentioning, with a 5 IP/3 ER/3 BB/4 K slash line on 95 pitches (59 strikes, 62% K/BB), Jake Odorizzi put together a decent start Wednesday. Odorizzi kept the Rays in the game throughout his stint on the mound. In short, it is akin to what we should hope for (or expect, somewhat similar) out of Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos, Friday and Sunday. It is essential for the bats to come to life — after all, three of their last six losses came by three runs or fewer. And if you accept the idea that a four run chasm is not an unbridgeable gap, the Rays could have won four of their last six games.

Rays and Yankees series starters.

Rays and Yankees series starters.

Rays and Yankees offensive production at home, away, and overall.

Rays and Yankees offensive production at home, away, and overall.

Rays and Yankees, by the numbers.

Rays and Yankees, by the numbers.

CC Sabathia: The Rays LOVE CC Sabathia. Thursday marks the 10th time Price has opposed Sabathia, and Tampa Bay won eight of those matchups with Price going 6-1 with a 2.68 ERA. Sabathia is 1-6 with a 6.11 ERA in his last eight starts against the Rays, and 0-5 with a 4.50 ERA in his past eight at Tropicana Field. Meanwhile, his velocity continues to plummet. Case in point, his first start of the season (against the Astros) when Sabathia’s fastball averaged 90.6 MPH, peaking at 91.6. The continued slowing of his radar gun readings has gone from “concerning” to “alarming,” while his ERA/FIP/xFIP/SIERA are all on a three-year rise. In short, facing the swarthy LHP could be just what the Rays need to jumpstart their offense. Key match-ups: David DeJesus (16-57, 7 2B, HR, 6 RBI), Yunel Escobar (11-36, 4 2B, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 3 BB), Ryan Hanigan (3-9, HR, RBI), James Loney (5-18, HR, 3 RBI), Evan Longoria (21-53, 6 2B, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 12 BB), Wil Myers (3-9, HR, 5 RBI), Sean Rodriguez (13-42, 3 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 4 BB). 

Hiroki Kuroda: Per Rotowire, “Kuroda gave up four runs on six hits and three walks, while striking out five over 6.1 innings, in Saturday’s 7-4 win over the Red Sox.” Kuroda could be another godsend for the Rays. At 2-3 with a 7.36 ERA against the Rays over the last few years, Tampa Bay has had their way against the 39 year old RHP, tagging him for 26 runs (24 earned) in 29-1/3 innings of work. Overall, the Rays have slashed .268 BA/.321 OBP/.546 SLG/.867 OPS against Kuroda, with eight players posting a +.250 OBA. Key match-ups: David DeJesus (2-6, 2 2B, RBI), Yunel Escobar (4-16, 2B, BB), Logan Forsythe (1-3, BB), Desmond Jennings (3-11, RBI, BB), Matt Joyce (5-14, 3 HR, 3 RBI, BB), Evan Longoria (4-14, 2B, HR, 13 RBI, 5 BB), Wil Myers (1-2, BB), Ben Zobrist (5-12, 2 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 BB).

Ivan Nova: Out of the starters listed for the series, Ivan Nova has been the toughest nut to crack for Tampa bay. The Rays, historically, have not fared well against the 27 year-old RHP. If his last outing speaks to anything, it’s how tough he can be on opposing batters. Nova bounced back from two bad outings to begin the season Sunday night, holding the Red Sox to two runs on eight hits over 7.1 innings. His velocity is down, as is his K/9. Still, if Sunday’s outing speaks to anything, it’s that Saturday could be a long day for the offensively strapped Rays. Key match-ups: David DeJesus (3-7), Desmond Jennings (6-22, 2B, 3B), James Loney 6-10, 3 BB), Evan Longoria (8-28, 2 HR,, 5 RBI, 2 BB), Wil Myers 3-12, 2B, BB), Sean Rodriguez (2-5, HR, RBI, 5 BB).

Noteworthiness

 

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Stu Sternberg Makes A Comment, and the Media Goes Bananas

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, left, talks to fans on Opening Day. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, left, talks to fans on Opening Day. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

One of my favorite songs by Florida’s own Against Me!, is called Unsubstantiated Rumors Are Enough For Me (to Base My Life Upon). Though the lyrics aren’t necessarily pertinent to the Tampa Bay Rays Stadium debacle, I can’t help but feel the song’s title speaks to the Stadium Saga — if only loosely.

Why loosely… Or why at all?

A verifiable statement isn’t an unsubstantiated rumor; not in the least. In the case of Stu Sternberg, his tells are quite obvious. Sternberg isn’t happy in Tropicana Field (for a few reasons), and he wants his team to have a new facility. I can’t blame him. Furthermore, he would like the opportunity to vet a few different locations, throughout the region, for a new facility — not just, as many would have you believe, Tampa. I can’t blame him for that either.

I feel a certain level of frustration when I read the words of supposed journalists, who focus solely on one and only one point/issue, while ignoring the general context or the totality of an argument. This has become a rather common concurrence when speaking about the Stadium Saga. Ignoring the context, or the totality of an argument (or statement),  leads to unneeded hyperbole and zealotry. Case in point, a recent Associated Press article titled, Rays owner calls Tampa ‘very, very attractive’.

In the article, Sternberg was quoted as saying, “Tampa is obviously very, very attractive on the list, and we expect to at some point, hopefully sooner, look there as well as some other parts of the region,” during a panel at the MLB Diversity Business Summit. Sternberg went on to say, “We haven’t had the greatest success in attracting the what we call enough fans relative to the success we’ve had on-field, and we would like to explore other parts of the region, specifically Tampa and parts of St. Petersburg.”

Sports talk radio, among other media outlets, has been abuzz since news broke of Sternberg’s comments. Their obvious conclusion: Sternberg wants to look at Tampa, and Tampa only. Let’s break down what Sternberg actually said at the business summit.

Sternberg, indeed, said “Tampa is obviously very, very attractive,” however he also noted there are other locations “on the list,” meaning exactly what he said: he has his eye on few different locations. He also said he’d like to look in Tampa, “as well as some other parts of the region.” He wasn’t vague, he left nothing open to interpretation. Finally, and again, Sternberg blatantly said the Rays would like to explore other parts of the region, specifically Tampa and parts of St. Petersburg.

Was he asked specifically about Tampa in the business summit? One could only infer yes, based on the candor of his answer. Because of it, perhaps it’s unwise to jump to conclusions. After all, as the saying goes, “A man only has his word,” and we should take Sternberg at his word, devoid of spin and a lack of context.

Sternberg has essentially made the same argument, somewhat to a fault, for the better part of six years. That he said it once again is neither shocking or surprising. Rather, it’s fairly common place by now. Should his comments be heeded? Absolutely. Should his comments be misinterpreted or misappropriated? Nope. However, tell that to the contextual bandits who would like nothing more than to drive, or be a part of, the narrative. They can’t help but go bananas over anything, and everything, Tampa and Stadium Saga oriented.

In the end, Tampa is attractive… But so are other locations in the region. Can’t we just leave it at that for now?

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Looking Backward While Moving Forward: O’s Handcuff Rays 7-1, Matt Moore to Receive Tommy John Surgery

Take two. The Rays and Orioles will throw Jake Odorizzi and Miguel Gonzalez (respectively) on the mound Wednesday, following Tuesday's rainout. (Photo courtesy of Marc Topkin)

Take two. The Rays and Orioles will throw Jake Odorizzi and Miguel Gonzalez (respectively) on the mound Wednesday, following Tuesday’s rainout. (Photo courtesy of Marc Topkin)

Perhaps you could blame it on his inability to throw quality strikes. Or, maybe you could blame it his lack of command, leaving fastball after fastball up, and over the plate, in very hittable locations. Then again, it could have been his seeming inability to keep batters off balance by not throwing his change-up often. I’d argue it was choice D, all of the above. Whatever the case, Chris Archer did the Rays no favors Monday night, tossing the Orioles hitters meatball after meatball in his less than stellar 5 IP/12 H/7 R outing. The Rays fell to the Orioles — a team who hit five doubles off Archer — by a score of 7-1. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then surely the graph and chart below, sum up the game better than I could ever wish to.

Uhh… (Courtesy of Fangraphs)

Uhh… (Courtesy of Fangraphs)

Chris Archer's At-Bat Outcome Chart. (Courtesy of Brooks Baseball)

Chris Archer’s At-Bat Outcome Chart. (Courtesy of Brooks Baseball)

Hey, look at the bright side: Brad Boxberger looked absolutely filthy in his one inning of work. He used all of 10 pitches (seven strikes) to shut down the Orioles in a 1-2-3 sixth inning. Boxberger was impressive, especially in his at-bat against Nelson Cruz. The righty attacked the Orioles slugger in the upper and outer reaches of the zone. Boxberger ultimately struck out Cruz (swinging) on a fastball at the top of the zone. His four pitch at-bat was the icing on an efficient 10 pitch (seven strikes) cake…urm, outing. And lest we forget Josh Lueke who, in redeeming fashion, tossed two innings of one hit/one strikeout ball on 14 pitches (11 strikes).

Ben Zobrist and James Loney were the lead actors in a movie that I like to call the Rays Offense. Zobrist has now hit safely in six of seven games. He came around to score the lone run on an Evan Longoria base hit. Loney went 2-for-4 and hit the ball hard all night.

Concerns?

Why would a .178 BA hitter bat in the DH spot? Why would Brandon Guyer get the start in left field, based solely on the premise that two of his three career home runs have come in Baltimore — even though neither came off Wei-Yin Chen?

Logan Forsythe, Wil Myers, Yunel Escobar, and Ryan Hanigan looked clueless at the plate, combining to go 0-11 with one walk.

And what was going on in the outfield Monday night? Between Guyer and Jennings, I’m convinced there was an ongoing series of banana peels being thrown onto the field. Moving forward.

The New What Next

Take two. The Rays and Orioles will throw Jake Odorizzi and Miguel Gonzalez (respectively) on the mound Wednesday, following Tuesday’s rainout. David Price, who was scheduled to start Wednesday, will now get the start Thursday against the Yankees. You can read about Wednesday’s pitching match-up in our series preview.

Rays 4/16/14 Starting Lineup

Zobrist 2B
Myers RF
Joyce DH
Longoria 3B
Loney 1B
Jennings CF
DeJesus LF
Escobar SS
Molina C
Odorizzi RHP

Noteworthiness

  • Matt Moore Opts For Surgery

We learned late Monday night that Matt Moore has opted to receive Tommy John Surgery on April 22nd, in St. Petersburg. He is projected to be sidelined for 11-15 months. “The discomfort he (Matt Moore) felt during an afternoon throwing session made it clear he could not pitch with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament,” writes Marc Topkin.

Moore went on to say,

“What was coming out, it’s a shame to have to be shut down right now, but it just wasn’t comfortable. Being stuck in the position I am right now, where it’s not exactly comfortable but it’s not exactly completely broke, it’s kind of one of those things that you know it’s going to get worse. If we had to have our best guess, that was what we would say — it’s going to get worse.”

Moore felt left elbow discomfort last week, though he initially assumed he would be able to pitch through it following a regimen of rest and rehab. But MRI exams a partial tear of the ligament, while Monday’s throwing session (on flat ground) made it clear he needed to have the surgery — and soon — to minimize the number of games he would miss in the 2015 season.

Moore joins the ranks of 12 other major-league pitchers to have the ligament replacement surgery since the start of Spring Training.

  • Where to Go with the Rotation Now

On the subject of whether the Rays would be interested in re-signing Jeff Niemann, GM Andrew Friedman said they would most likely look within the organization when filling out the rotation staff. That being said the re-signing of Niemann, or a trade for someone like Barry Zito, probably isn’t in the cards. Friedman went on to say they’re still confident of a strong season, and will get though injuries…that, “its an all hands on deck approach right now.”

  • Resetting the Rotation Following Tuesday’s Rainout

The Rays may reset the order following the rainout Tuesday, with the possibility of splitting the lefties Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos — who’s getting one more start before Maddon makes up his mind regarding the need to call up a pitcher from Triple-A Durham — with Chris Archer getting the start on Saturday.

 

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Rays 4/14/14 Starting Lineup, Etc

20140414-145854.jpg

Ahhh, beautiful Oriole Park at Camden Yards…

Rays 4/14/14 Starting Lineup

Zobrist 2B
Jennings CF
Forsythe DH
Longoria 3B
Myers RF
Loney 1B
Guyer LF
Escobar SS
Hanigan C
Archer LHP

Noteworthiness

  • Less is more? In their last five games, the Rays are 3-0 when scoring two runs or fewer, and 0-2 when scoring 3 or more.
  • Joe Maddon is going with a local good-luck charm, as Maryland native Brandon Guyer has hit two of his three career home runs in Baltimore. Granted he’s never hit one off Wei-Yin Chen, but…
  • Matt Moore threw the ball today, though there’s been no word on how it went, or what is next. We’ll keep you posted.
  • Don’t forget, you can read about tonight’s pitching match-up, and oh so much more, in our Rays vs. Orioles series preview.
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The New What Next: Rays vs. Orioles — A Series Preview of Sorts

Joe Maddon watches the action during the game against the Cincinnati Reds Sunday. I can only imagine what's going through his head at this very moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Joe Maddon watches the action during the game against the Cincinnati Reds Sunday. I can only imagine what’s going through his head at this very moment. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Just a day after the Tampa Bay slogged away from Cincinnati with a disappointing 12-4 loss in the series finale, the Rays find themselves in Baltimore for a three-game series against the Orioles.

So far, this has been an odd road trip…to say the least. Tampa Bay has gone 7-for-30 wRISP, tagging the opposing pitchers for only 13 runs. Though Tampa Bay took two of three from the Reds, they still ended the series with a -6 run differential. Yet the Rays have a 3-3 record — six games into their nine-game road trip — and are about to face a scuffling Orioles squad who, if I may, don’t look so hot themselves. There is a very realistic possibility that the Rays could come home with a winning record on this wonky trip — which they’ll need going into the upcoming Yankees series, when they throw their B-starters on the mound.

It still won’t be easy. With Matt Moore and Alex Cobb on the DL, Tampa Bay could use a few more strong outings from Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and David Price. Archer will try to lead the Rays to a fifth consecutive win over the Orioles in the series opener, Monday night. Odorizzi is looking to bounce back from a rough 5 IP/7 ER outing against the Royals. And Price is looking to put together another quality start, following his dazzling outing against the Reds where he gave up just one run on four hits, while walking one and striking out 10 in 8-1/3 innings of work.

The Orioles dropped two of three to the Toronto Blue Jays, but have still won three of their last five games. The Orioles have struggled to score runs for the most part, while the pitching staff has allowed four or less runs in five of their last seven games.

Rays and Orioles series starters.

Rays and Orioles series starters.

Rays and Orioles offensive production at home, away, and overall.

Rays and Orioles offensive production at home, away, and overall.

Rays and Orioles, by the numbers.

Rays and Orioles, by the numbers.

Wei-Yin Chen: Chen has been shaky this season, allowing eight combined runs in his first two starts, while failing to pitch past the sixth inning in each of those outings. The Rays have been able to hit Chen over the last three years, tagging the Orioles’ lefty for 20 runs (17 earned) in 50-1/3 innings of work. Still, Tampa Bay will have a tall order to fill with Chen on the mound — a combined .239 BA/.304 OBO/.359 SLG/.663 OPS with speaks to that. Key match-ups: Matt Joyce (1-4, 2 BB), Jose Molina (2-5, 2B, RBI, BB), Wil Myers (1-4, BB), Ben Zobrist (10-33, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB).

Wei-Yin Chen heat map. (Courtesy of ESPN)

Wei-Yin Chen heat map. (Courtesy of ESPN)

Miguel Gonzalez: Over the course of the last three seasons, the Rays have fared well against Gonzalez, handing the Orioles RHP a 2-3 record (in eight appearances) with a 3.94 ERA. It was around this time last year when the Rays pounded Gonzalez, tagging him for five runs (four earned) on eight hits, including three home runs. Gonzalez has already given up four homers in just 9-1/3 innings this season, and the Rays will look to pounce on his current streak of woeful pitching. Key match-ups: Yunel Escobar (4-14, 2B, RBI, 2 BB), Evan Longoria (5-16, HR, RBI, 2 BB), Jose Molina (4-12, HR, 2 RBI, BB).

Miguel Gonzalez heat map. (Courtesy of ESPN)

Miguel Gonzalez heat map. (Courtesy of ESPN)

Chris Tillman: Make no mistake about it, Orioles ace Chris Tillman is very good. However, the Rays have hit Tillman well, handing him a 2-4 record in seven starts (over the last three seasons) with a 4.05 ERA. The Rays will undoubtedly be patient at the plate; after all, Tillman works a lot of high-count at-bats — 3-1 counts, 3-2 counts, etc. Because of it, Tillman has a hard time going deeply into games. Key match-ups: David DeJesus (2-6, RBI), Matt Joyce (6-21, 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, BB), Evan Longoria (10-24, 2 2B, 4 HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB).

Chris Till man heat map. (Courtesy of ESPN)

Chris Till man heat map. (Courtesy of ESPN)

Noteworthiness

  • Since 2008, the Rays have not lost a season series to the Orioles, going 66-43 — including a 13-6 record in 2013. The Orioles, on the other hand, have the advantage at home, with a 72-65 record overall.
  • The Orioles bullpen, with Tommy Hunter as the closer, has been effective thus far, with Darren O’Day among those who give the Rays trouble.
  • Baltimore newcomer Nelson Cruz has handled David Price exceptionally well over his career slahing .360 BA/.353 OBP/.407 SLG/.760 OPS against the left-handed ace. That’s the fifth best OPS among players with at least 20 at bats against Price. Matt Wieters has also hit Price hard. On the other hand, Adam Jones has struggled against Price hitting just .220 BA/.238 SLG in 42 plate appearances. He’s not the only Oriole that Price has owned. Chris Davis has yet to get an extra base hit against Price.
  • The Rays optioned Jeff Beliveau back to Durham, with the corresponding move expected Monday. Maddon and company have recalled Brad Boxberger, who will add to an overworked bullpen. Boxberger is Alex Torres-like, and has big-league experience. You can read more about Boxberger here.
  • Alex Cobb is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a left oblique strain. Cobb said it is “really disappointing” to hear the MRI results, and hard to believe he will be out 4-6 weeks because he doesn’t feel hurt. Which begs the question: Would the Rays seek help elsewhere? Maddon didn’t seem keen on Ramos’ start Sunday, and there are three other pitchers on the 40-man roster in Durham: Nate Karns, Enny Romero, and Mike Montgomery. Furthermore, rumors are flying over the potential interest in former Giant Barry Zito, and former Ray Jeff Niemann.
  • On that note, Ken Rosenthal wrote in his newest column, “Though the Rays’ rotation has been ravaged by injuries to Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, the team is planning on using internal options rather than pursuing outside help.” This could be an acknowledgement that the Rays expect this rash of injuries to be a short-term problem, especially as it relates to Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. The though being, if the Rays expected Hellickson and Cobb to be out longer than they previously acknowledged, then they would potentially seek an arm (like the above mentioned Zito and/or Niemann) in the free-agent market.

 

 

 

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