After a 2-6 roadtrip, and a below .500 record for the month of April, the Tampa Bay Rays return to the Sunshine State, where they’ll face the Miami Marlins over the next four days — both in Miami and St. Pete.
The last couple of games in Toronto were both winnable, and frustrating. Not only were the Rays facing a team that hadn’t won a series at home, but the Jays were also 2-8 at the Rogers Centre. Yet when you go 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position, and only plate nine runs — seven in the first game alone — it’s kind of hard to win games.
After a brief panic attack following the series finale loss, Bradley Neveu (DRaysBay) calmly reminded me, well…all of us, that things will get better, and reinforcements are on the way:
Evan Longoria, Logan Morrison and Derek Norris are all running some really low BABIPs right now. They will come up, and the results will come with it.
The long relievers in the bullpen Austin Pruitt, Erasmo Ramirez and Chase Whitley have performed exceptionally well lately. We should see one of them in the mid-to-late innings most nights when Archer doesn’t start.
Jake Odorizzi will be back tomorrow to bolster the starting rotation. Outfielder Colby Rasmuslooks ready to join the Rays within the next few days. Infielder Matt Duffy should be back in May. Catcher Wilson Ramos is projected to be with the team a month after that. All of these players are significant upgrades to this team; a team that is already performing like a .500 club. And who knows, maybe we’ll see the hot-hitting Patrick Leonard or any of the other prospects up with the Rays soon.
Longoria (.258 BABIP), Morrison (.236 BABIP) and Norris (.220 BABIP) are performing well under their career norms as it relates to BABIP, meaning they’ve been incredibly unlucky thus far. As for the activation of Odorizzi from the DL, that gives Rays manager Kevin Cash the ability to rely on a more dynamic bullpen, not one that has to cover innings for a player who isn’t active.
Lest we not forget that when looking at their Pythagorean and BaseRuns expectations, the Rays should be above .500. The Marlins, on the other hand, are underperforming Tampa Bay. If anything, this series can be viewed as a momentum building one, going into the forthcoming series’ with the Blue Jays and Royals. That is, if Tampa Bay can get back on the winning side of the ledger.
Over the next four days, Kevin Cash will throw Jake Odorizzi (1-1. 4.15 ERA, 5.69 FIP), Alex Cobb (1-2, 4.66 ERA, 4.41 FIP), Blake Snell (0-2, 3.42 ERA, 5.16 FIP), and Matt Andriese (1-1, 3.86 ERA, 5.28 FIP). Don Mattingly will counter with Wei-Yin Chen (2-1, 4.71 ERA, 4.47 FIP), Edinson Volquez (0-3, 4.44 ERA, 4.43 FIP), Adam Conley (1-1, 6.75 ERA, 4.55 FIP), and Dan Straily (1-2, 4.15 ERA, 3.77 FIP).
Odorizzi will return from the disabled list to make his first start since April 15. He is 6-3 with a 3.20 ERA in 14 career Interleague starts, and 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in one start at Marlins Park. As expected, Odorizzi experienced no issues coming out of his simulated game a few days earlier, so the Rays have formally named his as their starter for Monday’s series opener.
Chen was lifted after five innings and 83 pitches in Philadelphia, after posting a season-high seven no-hit innings on 100 pitches in Seattle. Chen, who spent four years with the Orioles, has 117-1/3 innings against Tampa Bay under his belt — the most against any team. The five-pitch pitcher (92 mph four-seam fastball, 75 mph curveball, 83 mph changeup, 91 mph sinker and 85 mph slider) is 5-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 20 career starts against the Rays. Key matchups: Peter Bourjos (4-9, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 BB), Kevin Kiermaier (4-13, 3B, HR, 2 RBI), Evan Longoria (11-40, 4 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 6 BB), Logan Morrison (1-3), Derek Norris (3-12, HR, RBI, BB), Colby Rasmus (1-3, BB), Steven Souza Jr. (4-16, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB)
Cobb, on the positive end of the spectrum, allowed just two earned runs over five innings on Wednesday in Baltimore. He, however, continued to struggle with his changeup, although he’s making progress. In his last start he threw his splitter 32 times, and got 18 swings (four whiffs).
Volquez has given up five first inning runs in five starts, and is susceptible to getting beaten up early. That’s good for the Rays, as they’ve scored 25 first inning runs; second only to Milwaukee, and 22.52% of their 121 total runs. Volquez is still seeking his first win in Miami. He is allowing loud, hard contact, and 51.9% of the balls put in play against the right-hander have been line drives or fly balls. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but Volquez is 3-1 with a 3.65 ERA across six starts against Tampa Bay. Key matchups: Peter Bourjos (3-6), Kevin Kiermaier (3-10, BB), Evan Longoria (5-17, 2B, 4 RBI), Brad Miller (2-3, HR, RBI), Logan Morrison (2-5, 3B, RBI, BB), Colby Rasmus (7-16, 3 2B, HR, 7 RBI), Steven Souza Jr. (2-3, HR, 3 RBI), Rickie Weeks Jr. (7-19, 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 4 BB)
Snell continues to struggle with his fastball command, failing to last more than five innings in four consecutive starts. He needed 96 pitches to get 15 outs in his last start. Snell appears to have a problem with consistent windups, forcing his pitches well out of the zone. His 18:18 strike to ball ratio through 26-1/3 innings is a touch worrisome to say the least…not that you haven’t heard that one before, or anything.
Conley allowed nine runs in 1-2/3 innings in his last star, after not allowing more than six previously. The southpaw also had gone six innings in each of his last two starts. The three-pitch hurler, that relies primarily on his 90 mph four-seam fastball, 85 mph slider and 83 mph changeup, is 0-0 with a 3.00 ERA in one start against the Rays. Key matchups: Evan Longoria (1-3), Steven Souza Jr. (1-2, 2B, BB)
Andriese snapped a streak of 18 starts in which he threw six innings or fewer, when he pitched seven and allowed three earned runs on Saturday. However, by surrendering a home run to Justin Smoak, he extended another streak to six straight starts in which he’s given up the long-ball.
Straily, a strike thrower, had a string of 12 straight innings without a walk snapped when he issued three consecutive free passes in his loss to the Pirates. Straily still has thrown well overall, fanning 29 batter in 26 innings this season. So far, Straily has depended upon a whiffy 91 mph four-seam fastball, and an 85 mph worm burner of a slider. He’s also mixed in an 84 mph circle change with natural sink. Key matchups: Brad Miller (1-4, 2B, BB), Logan Morrison (1-3), Colby Rasmus (2-5)
— The feel good story of the series, according to Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times):
Rays rookie Chih-Wei Hu will be thrilled to see countryman Wie-Yin Chen pitch in person in the majors tonight when he starts for the Marlins. Even better would be for Hu to get in the game, as they are the only two current big-leaguers from Taiwan. “This will be a very big story in Taiwan,” Hu said. “I look at him like a superstar. I’m excited to see him pitch. It’s a big thing for me and it’s a big thing for Taiwan. A bigger thing would be if he’s pitching and I’m pitching in the game. That would be really cool.” Hu said that before leaving for spring training, he told Chen, “I’ll see you in the big leagues.” Tonight, he will.