The Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics begin a four-game series on Memorial Day at the Oakland Coliseum, in the other Bay Area. The Rays are coming off a mediocre 3-3 home stand against Boston and Baltimore, but are winners of three of their last four games. Meanwhile, the A’s had similar results against Seattle and Arizona.
The Rays didn’t fare well with runners in scoring position in their last series, going just 7-for-36. However, Tampa Bay went 7-for-26 in games two and three, for a much more palatable .267 BA wRISP. Had the Rays been able to cash in on the 10 wRISP opportunities on Friday, they’d easily have swept the Orioles.
Oakland won its last series against Arizona, but scored just six runs in total. That’s a testament to the Athletics’ pitching staff, which has performed to a combined 2.62 ERA/3.50 FIP over the last seven games. However, the same staff has performed to an overall 4.09 ERA/4.20 FIP on the season, while allowing an average of 4.38 runs per game. Compare that to Tampa Bay, which has scored 4.45 runs per game (on average), but allowed 4.07.
They say in order to be successful in baseball, you must beat those directly ahead of you in the rankings. As it stands, the Athletics are two games ahead of the Rays in the Wildcard standings. True, it may be a fool’s errand to even think about Postseason baseball 50-games into the 2018 season, especially when the Rays are still one game under .500. One also cannot discount the trade whispers surrounding the team, which bring uncertainty and unease. Be that as it may, the Rays have an opportunity to leap-frog a direct competitor — one that is under-performing Tampa Bay, at least as it relates to BaseRuns. The Rays are performing more like a 27-23 team, with a +19 run differential, while Oakland should be 26-26 on the season with a +4 run differential. They also have outperformed the Athletics in every offensive category over the last 14-days, with the exceptions od ISO and HR%. If Archer and company can keep the ball in the park, they have a good chance of winning the series.
In the end there is a reason the Rays are 21-1 when they score at least five runs, and that’s due in part to the pitching staff which has performed to a combined 3.66 ERA/4.02 FIP throughout the month of May. Can they continue to perform well against the +.500 team from Oakland?
Over the next four days Kevin Cash will lean on Chris Archer (3-3, 4.68 ERA), Blake Snell (6-3, 2.78 ERA), Nathan Eovaldi (0-0, 0.00 ERA), and the bullpen (11-12, 4.19 ERA). Bob Melvin will counter with Trevor Cahill (1-2, 2.75 ERA), Daniel Gossett (0-2, 6.28 ERA), Sean Manaea (5-5, 3.34 ERA), and Daniel Mengdon (5-4, 2.85 ERA).
Chris Archer allowed one run on four hits and three walks through six innings Wednesday night against Boston. He struck out six. Archer dueled his mentor, David Price, pitch for pitch in the marquee matchup. He looks to close out a strong May effort after a horrible first month of play which found Archer performing to a 6.61 ERA, and a 1.59 WHIP in six starts. In five May starts, Archer owns a 2.76 ERA with a 1.07 WHIP. The main difference? He has kept the ball in the yard; Archer allowed a homer in each of his first six starts, yet aside from his worst May start against the Orioles on May 12 — in which he gave up three home runs — Archer hasn’t allowed a long ball all month. Archer is 1-0 with a 3.97 ERA in two career starts against Oakland, both of which came at the Trop.
Trevor Cahill pitched well despite taking a no-decision against Seattle on Tuesday, throwing a season-high 102 pitches. A two-run homer by Mike Zunino in the seventh inning was his only blemish. Cahill has thrown four quality starts this season, in six total games, and hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any given outing. Nevertheless, his offense hasn’t given him enough run support, alas a 1-2 record. This season he has relied primarily on a 92 mph worm killer sinker and a whiffy 85 mph changeup, while also mixing in an 88 mph 12-6 slider, a hard 80 mph knuckle curveball with sharp downward bite, and a whiffy 93 mph four-seam fastball. The 30 year-old right-hander is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA in five career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchup: Carlos Gomez (2-3, RBI)
Blake Snell blanked the Red Sox on three hits over six strong innings on Thursday, fanning eight and walking two. By shutting down a tough Boston lineup, the southpaw kept his strong start to the season rolling — collecting his sixth victory of the campaign and lowering his ERA to 2.78. Despite averaging a 3.79 ERA over his 218-1/3 career big-league innings coming into the season, Snell’s 1.02 WHIP and 3.21 K/BB over 58-2/3 innings this season certainly look like the real deal in the early goings of the 2018 campaign.
Daniel Gossett allowed just one unearned run on four hits and a walk with five punch-outs over seven innings in a hard luck loss Wednesday against the Mariners. That was the best start of the season for the 25 year-old right-hander, who previously allowed five and four runs (respectively) over 7-1/3 innings of his first two outings this season. So far he has relied primarily on his 94 mph four-seam fastball that is bereft of movement, and a hard 89 mph worm killer slider, while also mixing in a 93 mph sinker with little arm-side run and sink, a firm 86 mph changeup with slight cut action, and a whiffy 81 mph curveball. Gossett is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA in one career start against the Rays (totaling seven innings). Key Matchup: CJ Cron (1-3)
Nathan Eovaldi was on the disabled list since March 28 with loose bodies in his right elbow. After arthroscopic surgery and a slight setback, Eovaldi is scheduled to make his first start of the season Wednesday at Oakland.
The team reportedly toyed with the idea of starting Eovaldi on Tuesday, splitting up Chris Archer and Blake Snell in the rotation, but that plan changed Sunday.
I think just given how we stacked up, we talked about maybe inserting Nate, but then you can also make the argument on the flip side, it’s been working pretty good for (Chris Archer and Matt Snell), they kind of complement each other in that they’re different and they attack differently, Cash said. Obviously, one is right, one is left. So to keep them back to back after a little more time thinking, that’s what we decided to do.
In his last season of action (2016) he relied primarily on a hard 98 mph four-seam fastball with natural sinking action and slight arm-side run, and an 89 mph splitter which boasts some natural sink, while also mixing in a hard 87 mph slider, and a 94 mph cutter with good “rise” and little cut action.
Sean Manaea allowed six runs on eight hits over 3-2/3 innings against Arizona on Friday, striking out two and walking a pair in a losing effort. Manaea allowed four extra-base hits during his very short outing, the last of which was a two-run triple by Paul Goldschmidt that knocked him out of the game. This was Manaea’s shortest outing of the season and the first time he’s given up more than four runs. After a fantastic April — he allowed just four earned runs across five starts, including a no-no against Boston on April 21 — Manaea has allowed a total of 21 earned runs through five starts in May, bringing his ERA to 3.34. This season he has relied primarily on his 91 mph four-seam fastball with heavy sinking action and obvious run, and an 83 mph worm-killer changeup with slight cut action, while also mixing in an 80 mph 12-6 slider with two-plane movement. He is 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA in two career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (2-8), Rob Refsnyder (2-6, 2B, 2 RBI), Daniel Robertson (1-3), Mallex Smith (2-3)
The Rays have not yet named a starter in the series finale. I will update this piece once one is named.
Daniel Mengdon tossed a two-hit gem Saturday against the Diamondbacks, en route to his fifth win of the season. He fanned five and issued zero walks. Mengdon continued to dominate, as he has now given up just four earned runs over his last 33-2/3 innings (1.07 ERA), including a current 17-inning scoreless streak. The 25 year-old right-hander coaxed 13 ground balls in that outing, which has been a big part of his success over this stretch. However, with only 43 strikeouts in 66-1/3 innings this season, and an insanely lucky — and unsustainable — .164 BABIP over the last 14-days, a regression is anticipated. This season he has relied primarily on his 93 mph four-seam fastball with some added backspin, while also mixing in an 85 mph slider with two-plane movement, a 93 mph sinker with little armside run and almost no sinking action, an 83 mph changeup that has some slight arm-side fade, and a 73 mph curveball. Key Matchup: CJ Cron (1-2)