After a brutal road trip through New York City, Oakland, and Minneapolis, the Tampa Bay Rays return home where they will start a three-game series against the American League wildcard hopeful Rangers of Texas. The Rays are coming off an 18-inning, 5-2 win against the Twins, while the Rangers are coming off a three-game sweep of the Tigers.
Make no mistake, the Rays have not been good over the latter half of the month. In fact, despite the extra inning win on Thursday, Tampa Bay still clinched a sub-.500 June, snapping a franchise-record-tying stretch of five consecutive winning months. The pitching staff continues to give up early runs and cannot seem to hold leads, while the offense struggles to muster any consistent production at the plate. And while they started the month toward the top of the AL East, just behind the Yankees, Tampa Bay enters the series 6-1/2 games behind New York in the division and just one game ahead of the Rangers for the top spot in the AL Wildcard race.
Cough…principal owner Stu Sternberg’s prodigious solution to the Rays “Stadium Saga” certainly isn’t helping the cause for the players and fans, but I digress.
Texas enters the series 9-5 over its last 15 games where the team worked to a productive .470 SLG/.208 ISO/.338 wOBA/8.1 wRAA slash line. Even though they performed to a 104 wRC+ — which is just 4% better than league average — they were 22% better than the Rays over the same stretch.
The news of the series, aside from the potential for low attendance numbers* because of the aforementioned ludicrous proposal by Sternberg, will be the big league debut of the Rays two-way prospect Brendan McKay. More both in Noteworthiness.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will call on Yonny Chirinos (4-3, 2.63 ERA), Brendan McKay (3-0, 1.08 ERA at AAA), and Blake Snell (4-7, 5.01 ERA). Chris Woodward will counter with Lance Lynn (9-4, 4.32 ERA), Adrian Sampson (3-3, 5.23 ERA), and Jesse Chavez (1-0, 0.00 ERA).
Yonny Chirinos allowed two runs on six hits and two walks over six innings on Saturday. He fanned three Athletics. The right-hander was in line for the loss when he exited the game, however, the Rays were able to tie it up in the top of the seventh inning to get him off the hook. Chirinos has a 2.63 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 4.18 K/BB over 87 innings this season. He is 0-1 with a 9.53 ERA in one career start (5-2/3 innings) against the Rangers.
Lance Lynn relinquished five runs on six hits and one walk while striking out six on Saturday against the White Sox. Lynn saw his streak of eight consecutive quality starts come to pass when he allowed four first-inning runs, yet the right-hander retired 18 of the next 20 batters faced with the help of several nice plays behind him en route to his ninth win on the season. Only two pitchers in the majors have more wins than Lynn: Jake Odorizzi, who the Rays just saw on Wednesday, and Lucas Giolito. Even so, Lynn is 0-1 with a 4.87 ERA in three career starts (20-1/3 innings of work) against Tampa Bay. He relies primarily on a whiffy 95 mph four-seam fastball, while also mixing in a 93 mph worm-killer sinker with little arm-side run, a heavy 89 mph cutter, and an 81 mph curveball with 12-6 movement. Key Matchups: Kevin Kiermaier (2-6, 2B, BB), Tommy Pham (1-2), Joey Wendle (1-3), Mike Zunino (1-2, HR, RBI)
Brendan McKay will be promoted to the big leagues ahead of his scheduled start on Saturday. Even though Rays will likely keep his pitch around 65, he stretched out to 85 pitches in his last start with Triple-A Durham on June 22. McKay has proven ready for the major leagues with his performance at Durham, posting a 1.08 ERA and 0.76 WHIP with 26 strikeouts across 25 innings. Again, more on the move in Noteworthiness.
Adrian Sampson allowed one run on seven hits and a walk while striking out four over seven innings on Sunday. Over his previous two outings, Sampson had allowed nine runs in just eight innings, so suffice it to say Sunday was a much-needed turnaround. He was able to lower his season ERA to 4.14 over 82-2/3 innings. Sampson is 0-1 with a 3.18 ERA in one career start (5-2/3 innings) against Tampa Bay. The right-hander relies primarily on a 93 mph four-seam fastball with natural sinking action and an 84 mph slider with exceptional depth, while also mixing in a firm 88 mph changeup with some arm-side fade. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (2-3, HR, 2 RBI), Tommy Pham (1-3), Joey Wendle (1-2, 2B), Mike Zunino (1-3)
Blake Snell again did not fare well in his last start, allowing seven runs on 11 hits and a walk across 3-1/3 innings on Tuesday. He struck out three. There’s at least one bright side: he made it out of the first inning, which he didn’t do in his last outing. Still, the left-hander has royally struggled in his last two appearances, yielding 13 runs over 3-2/3 total innings of work. Over his last three starts, Snell’s ERA has jumped more than 1-1/2 runs, and he now sits with a 5.01 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 105 strikeouts over 79 innings this season. Be that as it may, he is 2-0 with a 0.79 ERA in two career starts (11-1/3 innings) against the Rangers.
Jesse Chavez allowed one unearned run on five hits over 6-1/3 innings against the Tigers. He struck out seven. It was the 35-year-old’s longest outing in over two seasons, giving himself some job security in his new role as the Rangers’ fifth starter. Chavez carries a 2.79 ERA and a 3.2 K/BB through 51-2/3 on the season. He is 0-1 with a 2.79 ERA in nine career outings (one start, 19-1/3 innings overall) against Tampa Bay. He relies primarily on a 92 mph two-seam sinker and an 89 mph cutter with good “rise” but little cutting action, while also mixing in a hard 87 mph slider with little depth, a whiffy 92 mph four-seam fastball with run, and a firm 86 mph changeup. Key Matchups: Avisail Garcia (5-9, 2 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Kevin Kiermaier (2-5, RBI), Mike Zunino (4-16, 2B, RBI)
— As mentioned above, the Rays will promote Brendan McKay, as well as Casey Sadler, before Saturday’s ballgame.
The two-way player entered the season as one of the top minor prospects in the game. Keith Law (ESPN) and Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen each ranked McKay as the 14th-best prospect in baseball, while MLB.com ranked him 29th, Baseball Prospectus ranked him 42nd, and Baseball America ranked him 49th.
McKay has shown a lot of promise on the bump, with a pristine 1.85 ERA, 6.24 K/BB rate, and 11.6 K/9 across 165 innings pitched. At the plate, he has slashed a .216 BA/.348 OBP/.356/.704 OPS line with 14 homers over 541 plate appearances, although he has been a rather prodigious hitter against Triple-A pitching.
While it is uncertain how long his initial stay in the big leagues will last, McKay will be used to address the Rays’ pitching needs. Tyler Glasnow is facing a long stint on the injured list after suffering a setback in his recovery from a forearm injury, and Tampa Bay is down to Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Yonny Chirinos as regular starters, with openers and bulk inning guys handling the other times through the rotation. Getting some quality innings from McKay would go a long way for the Rays, as they could then focus on adding relief pitching at the deadline, as opposed to having to think about acquiring a starter as well.
It isn’t yet known whether McKay will get any DH at-bats at the big leagues level, although as MLB Trade Rumors suggested, Tampa Bay has cycled so many players through the designated hitter spot this season (as a way of keeping everyone fresh) that it stands to reason McKay could also get a look.
— Jośe Alvarado has also been reinstated from the Restricted List. In order to make room for McKay, Sadler, and Alvarado, the Rays optioned INF Mike Brosseau and LHP Jalen Beeks, while C Nick Ciuffo designated for assignment.
— *Regardless of the feasibility of his proposal (hint: it is completely unfeasible) Stu Sternberg issued a challenge to those of us in the Bay Area sports market: step up our support. Let’s prove to Sternberg he’s wrong … that we CAN support OUR Tampa Bay Rays. I’ll be there this weekend, hopefully, you will too.