The Tampa Bay Rays return home from a 5-4 road trip (but also a series loss to the worst team in the American League) on Monday, where they will face their biggest challenge of the season — the Minnesota Twins. The Twins are coming off a two-game series loss, yet one with a +15 run differential, thanks to a 17-0 shutout of the Royals on Saturday.
After a rough and less-than-inspiring weekend, the Rays have reached the point where it’s time to — if I may — put up or shut up. It’s crunch time … a sink or swim moment … abandonar a su suerte.
The Twins are the surprising leaders in the race for the second AL Wildcard spot, and as it was written elsewhere, this series will be the point of demarcation for the Rays.
They still see themselves in the thick of things in spite of the fact that they trail Minnesota by four games, while their chances of a postseason berth, per FanGraphs, are down to 6.3% as of Monday.
I’m not going to lie, I wouldn’t have thought the Twins were going to be the biggest series of our season in September, but they are, Alex Cobb told the Tampa Bay Times. That really kind of is our season in a series.
If the Rays have any plausible playoff aspirations, they have got to break out of this rut that keeps them from making up the ground they lost after the Rays dropped 12 of 15. Even more challenging, they are slated to face contenders with winning records over the final 24 games of the season.
I get that the chances mathematically, whatever the computer program puts out, only has us at a low percentage. “But when we look at those standings and we see the teams in front of us, we really feel like there’s no way that we shouldn’t be in that playoff scenario. We feel like we have a good enough ballclub to at least be in there.
Tampa Bay relished these kinds of opportunities under the tutelage of former manager Joe Maddon. The question begs, do the Rays still have the verve and cool needed to weather this storm?
Tampa Bay took 2-of-3 from Minnesota in their previous meeting this season.
The Rays have played much better of late, however, so have the Twins. They’ve gone on a 21-12 streak since the trade deadline, with a +72 run differential, thanks to solid defense, timely hitting and a pretty good pitching staff. And while Tampa Bay’s hurlers have pitched well of late, so has Minnesota, which has bested the Rays … at least over the last 14 days.
Over the next three days Kevin Cash will throw Alex Cobb (9-9, 3.72 ERA, 4.26 FIP), Jake Odorizzi (7-7, 4.85 ERA, 5.97 FIP), and Blake Snell (3-6, 4.02 ERA, 4.37 FIP). Paul Molitor will counter with Jose Berrios (12-6, 3.80 ERA, 3.81 FIP), Bartolo Colon (4-2, 4.09 ERA, 5.08 FIP), and Aaron Slegers (0-0, 2.84 ERA, 5.19 FIP).
Cobb went six innings and allowed three runs in his last start against the Royals. He struck out six. The right-hander allowed a run over five innings against the Twins in May — a 15-inning affair resulting in a Rays win.
Berrios tied a career high with 11 strikeouts against the ChiSox in his last start, tossing seven scoreless innings while scattering four hits. His last six starts, however, have been a mixed bag, as he has allowed one run or fewer in three starts, but five or more in the other three. Berrios did not face the Rays earlier this season. The right-hander has relied primarily on a whiffy 94mph four-seam fastball, a hard 82mph curveball with slight glove-side movement, and a 93mph sinker with slight armside run. He also has mixed in a fly-ball inducing 84mph changeup.
Odorizzi allowed three runs over five innings while notching a win against over KC in his last start. He, however, has struggled to pitch deeply into games as of late, tossing at least six innings in just one of his last six starts. On the bright side, all of the Royals’ runs came on one swing — a three-run homer by Whit Merrifield in the third inning. More concerning though, his the lack of command, paired with the inability to keep the ball in the park, has plagued Odorizzi this season. In his last 10 outings, the right-hander has given up 34 runs in 48 innings — good for a 6.38 ERA.
Colon gave up three runs over six innings in a no-decision against Chicago his last time out. He was solid over the month of August, performing to a 3.40 ERA over six starts, yet he wasn’t nearly as good over the first half of the season, performing to a 8.14 ERA/5.07 FIP over 63 innings of work. Colon is 9-6 with a 4.07 ERA in 24 career starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: Peter Bourjos (5-15, 2B, 3B, RBI, 2 BB), Corey Dickerson (3-3, 3B, RBI), Lucas Duda (1-4), Adeiny Hechavarria (4-13, 3 2B, RBI), Evan Longoria (5-14, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 3 BB), Mallex Smith (1-4)
Snell pitched well in his last start, tossing 6-2/3 innings of one-run ball on an efficient 85 pitches. At times he worked ahead of batters, and at others he fell behind. However, he did a good job to battle and get back into those at-bats. Snell took advantage of an aggressive White Sox lineup, although he wasn’t dominant per se. In all fairness, the southpaw was helped in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings by ground ball double plays — each of which was started by Adeiny Hechavarria.
Slegers will be recalled from Triple-A Rochester to make his second big league start. The right-hander struck out 10 batters in each of his last two outings in the Minors.
The scouting report on Slegers (per Puckett’s Pond):
Fastball (55) – Slegers will work typically around the 90 MPH mark with his fastball, usually working 90-92, touching 94. What makes his fastball effective is the plane he gets from his 6’10” height and the tremendous late vertical movement he gets on the pitch, with a bit of arm side sink. When he “dips” to a traditional 3/4 arm slot, he can get a touch of cut on his fastball as it moves in on lefty hitters.
Change Up (50) – Slegers does not get the same sort of movement on his change as he does on his fastball, which does make the pitch easier to distinguish, but he has excellent arm deception on the pitch. If he struggles in location on a pitch, it seems as if this is the pitch he struggles most on, however, and the more “straight” movement on the pitch allows the ball to get driven hard.
Slider (45) – Many guys get a “sweeping” slider from a tall angle, but Slegers typically has more of a slurvy slider that has a short horizontal break as well as vertical break. While the pitch would be an excellent ground ball pitch in the lower third of the zone, he seems to get better break on the pitch when he works the ball roughly thigh-high to belt-high. Slegers also can get more of a sweeping movement to lefties by “dipping” to a traditional 3/4 arm slot. The fact that the pitch’s movement is fairly gradual and not exceptionally sharp is what keeps the pitch from rating higher.
— The Rays designated LHP Adam Kolarek for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot following Sunday’s 6-2 loss, and are expected to add INF Trevor Plouffe back to the roster on Monday.
— It bears mentioning:
— X-Rays Spex (@XRaysSpex) September 4, 2017