The Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees are set to kick off a four-game divisional series Thursday evening at Yankee Stadium. The Rays are coming off a three-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays, thanks to solid pitching and a walk-off RBI base hit by Matt Duffy. The Yankees are coming of a series split against the Nationals punctuated by a 5-4 loss Wednesday night.
Tampa Bay followed a 1-10 stretch of play by winning four of the last five games. But even in the midst of a poor stretch of play, the Rays’ offense began to put together more consistent at-bats, scoring 4.57 runs per game (on average) over the last seven games. The Yankees, on the other hand, appear to be on the opposite trajectory, scoring just 3.14 runs per game (on average) over the same stretch of play. And while the Yankees boast a more powerful lineup (.216 ISO/.449 SLG vs .118 ISO/.346 SLG), both teams claim very similar run production totals over the last 14 days.
That’s not to say that the Rays should discount the Yankees in any way, shape, or form — the Bronx Bummers are fully capable of putting crooked numbers on the board. What I am suggesting though, is that the good guys could be facing the Evil Empire at the right time, heading into their toughest stretch of play where they will compete against three playoff contending teams 15 times over the next 17 days.
…Now, if they can keep Didi Gregarious and company in the ball park.
Kevin Cash will lean on Blake Snell (8-3, 2.30 ERA) and Nathan Eovaldi (1-1, 3.94 ERA) in the first two games, and presumably Ryan Yarbrough (5-2, 3.90 ERA) and Austin Pruitt (2-3, 4.50 ERA) on Saturday and Sunday, based on when they last pitched. The Rays, however, have not set the openers for the final two games. We will offer updates when the situation clarifies. Aaron Boone will counter with Domingo German (0-3, 6.00 ERA), Johnathan Loaisiga (3-1, 4.32 ERA), Luis Severino (9-2, 2.27 ERA) and presumably CC Sabathia (4-1, 3.27 ERA) although the starter in the final game is to be announced.
Blake Snell didn’t have his A+ stuff in his last start, however, he made big pitches when he needed to. Snell pitched out of the stretch in each of the six innings he worked, and notched just one strikeout. However, the southpaw held Seattle to 0-for-8 wRISP. While his line was not spotless — he gave up seven hits, walked a pair, and plunked the first batter of his big league career — Snell still limited any damage caused by the Mariners, and gave up just two runs. The southpaw is 2-3 with a 4.58 ERA in nine career starts against the Yankees, and 0-3 with a 6.58 in six starts at Yankee Stadium
Domingo German allowed three earned runs on five hits and no walks across six innings Saturday against the Mets. He struck out nine, and did not factor into the decision. The 25 year-old right-hander is still looking for his first win of the season. This season German has relied primarily on a whiffy 83 mph 12-6 curveball and a hard 96 mph four-seam fastball that generates plenty of swings and misses, while also mixing in an 88 mph changeup with obvious armside fade, and a 96 mph sinker with natural sink.
Nathan Eovaldi allowed three runs on four hits with no walks over five innings of a no-decision on Sunday against the Mariners. He struck out three. Eovaldi was staked to a 3-1 lead when he took the mound in the sixth inning, after causing through the Mariners’ lineup over the previous four innings, yet a leadoff single and a full count homer on a hanging slider spelled his doom. A former Yankee, Eovaldi will be making his first start in the Bronx (and against his former team), where he had gone 10-4 with a 3.74 ERA over 23 starts at Yankee Stadium.
Johnathan Loaisiga is a 23 year-old right-hander that is 3-1 with a 4.32 ERA in his last six starts with Double-A Trenton. In his last start he went just two innings and 49 pitches, while allowing four runs. Loaisiga will pitch in place of Masahiro Tanaka (strained both hamstrings) who was placed on the disabled list Saturday. The scouting report on the right-hander (per MLB.com)
While Loaisiga is small and skinny, he has surprising power to his three-pitch repertoire. His quick arm repeatedly generates 93-96 mph fastballs that top out at 98 with life down in the strike zone. His low-80s curveball features a high spin rate and his upper-80s changeup has nice fade, albeit with a bit too much velocity.
Loaisiga has a clean delivery that he repeats well, allowing him to work the bottom of the strike zone and issue just three walks in 32 2/3 innings last season. His stuff and control give him a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter, though his size and health history are concerns. If he winds up in the bullpen, his stuff should add even more power and he could rush through the Minors.
Ryan Yarbrough allowed four runs on seven hits and one walk across six innings and 88 pitches (59 strikes, 67% strike rate) while earning the win Monday night against the Blue Jays. He struck out four. Rays manager Kevin Cash was pleased with how Yarbrough battled to provide the Rays some length. The left-handed strike thrower has never faced the Yankees.
Luis Severino took the loss against the Mets on Sunday, allowing two earned runs on five hits over five innings. He struck out seven and walked two. Severino was on cruise control through the first four innings, but he gave up a two-run home run to his former teammate, Todd Frazier, in the fifth that proved to be the difference in the game. He, however, is still in the midst of a monster campaign, as Severino has performed to a 2.27 ERA, a 0.96 WHIP and a 4.74 K/BB over 91 innings this season. He held the Rays to just two runs over 7-1/3 innings against the on April 4, and is 6-1 with a 2.77 ERA in seven career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (1-3, 2B, RBI), Matt Duffy (1-2), Mallex Smith (2-4), Jesus Sucre (1-4, RBI)
Austin Pruitt allowed one earned run on four hits over 2-2/3 innings against the Blue Jays on Tuesday. He struck out one.
CC Sabathia blanked the Nationals over 5-2/3 innings on Wednesday. He allowed four hits, walked three, and struck out just three on 101 pitches (62 strikes, 61% strike rate). Sabathia has allowed three runs or fewer 10 times this season, and has been blown up just twice (both losses). Sabathia has replaced his overpowering fastball with guile and craftiness, relying heavily on his 89.4 mph cutter, which he throws up and in on righties. The swarthy southpaw is 16-14 with a 3.77 ERA in 45 starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (3-7, HR, 2 RBI), Matt Duffy (1-3), Carlos Gomez (5-16, HR, RBI), Wilson Ramos (1-4), Rob Refsnyder (1-3)