The Tampa Bay Rays will begin a four-game, three-day set with the Oakland Athletics on Friday night. Both teams are coming series’ wins against the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays (respectively).
In the series finale with the South-siders, Tampa Bay got back to the .500 mark for the 18th time this season thanks to Derek Norris, Peter Bourjos and Colby Rasmus, who powered the team to a 7-5 victory on the back of four homers. The Rays are currently averaging 4.54 runs per game, and are hitting .245 as a team. And in spite of a few sputters here and there, the starting pitching has been solid, posting a 3.98 team ERA (sixth in the Majors).
It isn’t all balloons and rainbows for Tampa Bay, however, as news broke that Kevin Kiermaier will miss up eight weeks with a hairline fracture in his hip — an injury which he incurred as he attempted to beat out an infield hit during the series finale. Instead of running through the bag, and potentially colliding with first baseman José Abreu, he slid into first. He left the game with what initially was called a jammed hip, however, an MRI Friday morning showed a hairline fracture.
He’s going to be out a while, Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
The speedy Mallex Smith has been recalled from Triple-A Durham, and will take over as the primary centerfielder.
He’s going to get his chance, Cash said.
Cash spoke about the injury with MLB Network Radio on Friday:
— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) June 9, 2017
It, in no uncertain terms, is a crushing blow for the Rays and Kiermaier, who finally had started to come around on the offensive side of things. After all, the specter of last season’s 20-40 record with Kiermaier on the DL still lingers. The ball club did make contingencies in case of a situation like this, as they made sure to stock up on outfielder depth during the off-season. That depth will be tested starting this weekend.
The Athletics couldn’t sweep the Jays Thursday after former third baseman Josh Donaldson exacted some 10th inning revenge on Oakland, when he hit a two-run homer to break a five-to-five deadlock. Boding in their favor, and in spite of Oakland’s subpar record at the bottom of the AL West, the A’s now are scoring an average of 4.19 runs per game. Yet the .235 hitting team has paired a lackluster offense with a 4.60 team ERA (24th in the Majors).
This should be a pretty interesting series because of the scheduled double-header Saturday — the first since July 16, 2011, when the Athletics played host to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the second in the history of Tropicana Field (September 2004, due to Hurricane Frances).
Over the next four games Cash will lean on Alex Cobb (4-5, 4.52 ERA, 4.44 FIP), Erasmo Ramirez (3-1, 4.09 ERA, 3.89 FIP), Matt Andriese (5-1, 3.45 ERA, 4.64 FIP), and Chris Archer (4-4, 3.65 ERA, 2.86 FIP). Bob Melvin will counter with Andrew Triggs (5-5, 3.36 ERA, 3.80 FIP), Sean Manaea (5-3, 3.81 ERA, 3.22 FIP), Sonny Gray (2-2, 4.57 ERA, 3.80 FIP), and Jesse Hahn (2-4, 3.40 ERA, 2.89 FIP).
Cobb suffered his roughest outing of the season in his last start, allowing nine runs on 14 hits over five innings, including two home runs; one of which was a grand slam. He is 3-2 with a 2.44 ERA against the Athletics, including a four hit complete game shutout back on August 23, 2012 — the game in which our friend James Bowman (of Against Me!) threw out the first pitch.
Triggs had a tough start against the Nationals on Friday, relinquishing a career-high nine hits over 3-2/3 innings. He also gave up two home runs, which could continue to be a problem against the Rays who lead the Majors in homers. He, however, boasts a minuscule 0.72 ERA on the road this season, and has allowed three runs or fewer in five out of his last seven starts. This season Triggs has relied primarily upon a heavy 90 mph sinker which generates a lot of whiffs, a pedestrian 83 mph slider, and a 76 mph curveball with slight glove-side movement. Key matchup: Evan Longoria (1-1, 2B)
Ramirez gave up four earned runs over 4-2/3 innings vs. Seattle; his first loss of the season. The versatile hurler will make his sixth start of the season to open the double header on Saturday. The Rays have won four of Ramirez’s five starts, and the right-hander looks to bounce back.
Manaea extended his win streak to four games with a quality six-inning, two run/four hit effort against the Blue Jays. He struck out seven and walked three, while throwing a career-high 111 pitches. The left-handed hurler — who has relied primarily on his 92 mph four-seam fastball with heavy sink and some tail, a whiffy 85 mph changeup, and a whiffy 81 mph slider this season — blanked the Rays last season over eight string innings, scattering just four hits along the way. Key matchups: Tim Beckham (1-3), Corey Dickerson (1-3)
Andriese will make his return from the DL in the second game of the double header, after being shelved since May 30 when he made an early after 1-2/3 innings with a groin strain. Prior to the injury, Andriese was 4-0 in five starts.
Gray posted seven strong innings against Washington on June 4, allowing three runs on four hits and three walks, while fanning six. However, in his last road start, Gray gave up seven runs on nine hits over 4-2/3 innings. He has been hit or miss against Tampa Bay over seven career starts, going 2-2 with a 4.22 ERA. This season he’s relied primarily on a worm-killer 94 mph four-seam fastball, and a whiffy 93 mph sinker. He’s also mixed in a sweeping 81 mph curveball, an 85 mph slider with exceptional depth, and a hard sweeping 89 mph changeup. Key matchups: Tim Beckham (2-2, HR, RBI), Corey Dickerson (2-5, HR, 3 RBI), Evan Longoria (6-20, 2B, HR, 3 RBI)
Archer took a hard-luck loss on Tuesday, fanning 11 over seven innings, but allowing two runs on a pair of homers. The right-hander has gone at least seven innings in his past three starts, as well as seven of 13 overall, and now has collected double digit strikeouts in five of his last seven starts.
Hahn earned the win over Toronto in his first start back from the disabled list (right triceps strain). He allowed one run on seven hits over six innings, while walking one and fanning two. He also coaxed a pair of double plays in that outing. The Rays have only faced the right-hander — who this season has relied primarily upon a 94 mph sinker, while also mixing in a sweeping 76 mph curveball, a firm 86 mph circle changeup, and a ground ball inducing 85 mph slider — one time; a four hit, one run, 7-2/3 inning affair. Key matchups: Corey Dickerson (3-7, 2B, HR, 3 RBI), Evan Longoria (1-3), Derek Norris (1-2, BB), Colby Rasmus (2-7, 2B, RBI), Steven Souza Jr. (1-3)
— Jeff Sullivan (FanGraphs) wrote that the Athletics’ defense this season has, well…sucked:
This year’s A’s have been something of a mystery to me. No matter how you break them down, they don’t ever look very good, but they’ve felt like a statistical underachiever. Let me explain. You know our BaseRuns standings? The A’s have an actual run differential of -59, which is one of the worst in the game. However, they have an estimated BaseRuns run differential of -2, which is perfectly ordinary. That means the A’s have a difference of 57 runs, where no other team has a difference greater than 35. And while the lineup is a part of it, the run prevention has been worse than the estimate by 0.79 runs per game. No other team has been worse by more than 0.36.
Something has caused the A’s to allow more runs than they arguably should have. Now, in reality, a variety of things have contributed. There’s seldom ever one explanation. Yet the major factor here is the one described in the headline, and it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched the A’s on a regular basis. We’re a third of the way into the season, and the Oakland defense has sucked.