After an abbreviated two-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, punctuated by a postponement of the third and final game of the previously scheduled three-game set, the Tampa Bay Rays departed the friendly confines of Tropicana Field for Miami, where they will start a three-game, interleague series against the Marlins on Friday. The Marlins took two-of-three from the Mets.
Before we continue, I think this moment in history deserves acknowledgment. The Rays participated in an act of protest in support of the fight for social justice and to end systemic racism, joining 13 other big-league teams that did the same. In light of the postponement, the Rays made a public comment, which can be seen above.
For what it’s worth, we here at X-Rays Spex cut our teeth on political punk rock and the fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. And while this isn’t a music blog, the morals and values we embraced back then, by way of the DIY punk scene, remain with us to this day. What’s more, we are BIPOC Rays fans and bloggers (I am Lebanese and Spanish), and because of it, the view that systemic racism isn’t a thing, or doesn’t exist, seems nonsensical. Personally, I have experienced it first hand. F**k white supremacy, and f**k systemic racism. And if that triggers you, feel free to unfollow X-Rays Spex. Now, back to the series preview.
The Rays enter play a season-high 10 games over .500 and with a 99.6% chance of making the playoffs with 28 games left to play according to FanGraphs.
Tampa Bay has been one of the hottest teams in baseball over the last few weeks. They have won 15 of their last 18 games and stretched their American League East lead to 2-1/2 games over the Yankees on Wednesday when New York was swept by Atlanta in a doubleheader.
Kevin Kiermaier left in the middle of an at-bat during Wednesday’s contest and is listed as day-to-day. It isn’t yet known if he will hit the Injured List, in which case he would likely be replaced by newcomer Brett Phillips.
Miami has won three of its last four games. They find themselves in second place in the National League East, and they would qualify for the postseason if the season ended today. Yet, Fangraphs gives them just a 31.8% chance of a playoff berth, thanks in part to an inconsistent offense. Jonathan Villar leads the team with 28 hits and nine RBI this season, although he has struck out 29 times in 103 at-bats. Former Ray Jesús Aguilar has 26 hits to his credit and a team-high 20 RBI. Aguilar is tied with third baseman Brian Anderson for the team-lead in home runs with four.
For whatever reason, even though the Marlins are a chronically beleaguered team, Citrus Series games are always tight affairs. Even so, the Rays swept the Marlins in last season’s iteration, four games to none.
Rays Pitching Probables
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash is expected to turn to Ryan Yarbrough (0-2, 4.45 ERA), Josh Fleming (1-0, 3.60 ERA), and Blake Snell (2-0, 3.04 ERA). Don Mattingly is expected to counter with Sixto Sanchez (1-0, 5.40 ERA), Pablo Lopez (3-1, 1.98 ERA), and Daniel Castano (0-2, 4.11 ERA).
Ryan Yarbrough allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out six over 6-1/3 innings on Frida. Yarbrough’s previous start was cut short due to rain, but he matched his longest start of the season Friday by going 6-1/3 innings. Unfortunately, the four runs he gave up in the second inning forced him to settle for his third straight no-decision. To his credit, Yarbrough locked it in from that point on and was fairly effective outside of the second inning. He now carries a 4.45 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 30-1/3 innings (six starts).
Sixto Sanchez allowed three runs on six hits over five innings on Saturday, in his big league debut. He struck out four without walking a batter. Sanchez flashed the velocity that’s made him a top prospect as he popped 100 mph on the radar gun four times in the first inning alone. He also showed good control, throwing 46 of 66 pitches for strikes (70% strike rate), although he caught too much of the plate as the Nats launched two home runs off of him. It was still a very impressive start to his career. Sanchez relies primarily on a 97 mph two-seam fastball power sink and a four-seamer that climbs into triple digits, while also mixing in a changeup that dives at the plate, and a hard slider that can be a plus pitch at times.
Josh Fleming got the start and allowed two runs on four hits and two walks across five solid innings. He struck out three on 72 pitches (41 strikes, 57% strike rate, 22% SwStr%). The southpaw allowed a solo homer to Teoscar Hernandez in the second inning, and an RBI single to Travis Shaw in the fourth. Yet he was also able to work around a double in the fifth, and his day ended with the Tampa Bay trailing by a pair. Fortunately for Fleming, the Rays plated three runs in the bottom of the frame to leave him in line to pick up his first career win. With Yonny Chirinos on the shelf, Fleming showed that he is perfectly capable of pitching in the big leagues.
Pablo Lopez allowed six hits and two walks while striking out three over five scoreless frames on Monday night against Washington. Lopez dealt with plenty of traffic on the basepaths, although he managed to exit the contest staked to a 7-0 lead. The right-hander tossed 16 of the 23 first-pitch strikes. Lopez has looked sharp in five starts this season, allowing two runs or fewer in each outing, good enough for a 1.98 ERA to go along with a 1.24 WHIP and a 3.86 K:BB over 27-1/3 innings. He relies primarily on a 94 mph four-seam fastball, an 87 mph changeup, and a 94 mph sinker, while also mixing in a 91 mph cutter, and a 79 mph curveball. Lopez is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in one career start against the Rays.
Blake Snell allowed two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out nine over 5-2/3 innings on Monday against the Blue Jays. Snell one run in the third on a double and another in the sixth on a solo homer before exiting the game with a one-run lead. It was positive to see Snell rack up nine punchies after fanning just three in his last outing Tuesday in New York. Over six starts this season (23-2/3 IP), Snell owns a 3.04 ERA and 1.10 WHIP with 32 strikeouts.
Daniel Castano allowed six hits and three walks over 4-2/3 shutout innings during the first game of a doubleheader against the Mets on Tuesday. The 25-year-old threw 23 pitches during his start Saturday, came back on two days of rest to start Tuesday’s matinee, and ended up one out short of qualifying for the win. Castano has a 4.11 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, and 1:1 K:BB across 15-1/3 innings as a fill-in starter for the Marlins. He relies primarily on a 90 mph worm-killer four-seam fastball with heavy sink, an 80 mph slider with glove-side cut and two plane action, and an 82 mph changeup with slight cut action, while also mixing in an 89 mph sinker. Castano has never faced the Rays.