T-Mobile Park: a beautiful facility for some, a house of horrors for others. (Photo Credit: X-Rays Spex)

After a sub-optimal 1-6 road trip, which included four walk-off losses, the Tampa Bay Rays look to get off the schneid when they open a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox, at home. The Red Sox dropped two of three to the Royals over the weekend.

Tampa Bay enters play 13 games above .500 and 1/2 game behind the Red Sox in the division. Still, if they can turn their fortunes around against their division rivals, the Rays can retake first place once again.

Both pitching staffs had something in common in their respective previous series: they gave up 10 two-out runs. For the Rays, the hurlers couldn’t seem to put together the all crucial shutdown inning when they needed it the most — after they tied the ball game or took a lead.

In spite of the losses, Boston’s offense has been much better than Tampa Bay’s over the last two weeks, slashing a .263 BA/.325 OBP/.451 SLG/.776 OPS/.336 w OBA line with a 110 wRC+ and a 9.8 wRAA. Compare that to the Rays, who have slashed .228 BA/.306 OBP/.380 SLG/.686 OPS/.299 wOBA with a 94 wRC+ and a -4.4 wRAA. The pitching staff will have its hands full. That being said, Boston’s pitching staff isn’t infallible and will give up its fair share of runs, so the Rays will have to take advantage of any mistakes that may come their way.

Enter Wander Franco.

The Rays felt that Franco was ready for the big leagues, so the Wander era starts Tuesday. The 20-year-old has been a wunderkind for Triple-A Durham this season, slashing .315 BA/.376 OBP/.601 SLG/.977 OPS/.414 wOBA with seven homers, 35 RBI, and a 155 wRC+ in 39 games.

Here’s how baseball’s top prospect has performed so far this season leading up to tonight’s MLB debut.

Having both Franco and Taylor Walls will give Tampa Bay much more flexibility and, ideally, make them more productive. As Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) put it, “Infielders can be rested against matchups that will be more challenging. Both infielders can play second, short, and third, and all very well. Each switch hits, making it tougher for opposing bullpens to match up.”

And while the addition of the consensus No. 1 prospect in all of baseball shouldn’t be seen as anything more than the team feeling as though he was ready — after all, Mike Trout and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had their fair share of struggles adapting to the big leagues — this hopefully will be a spark for a team that has played some rather insipid baseball of late.

Pitching Probables

Kevin Cash will turn to bulk guy Ryan Yarbrough (4-3, 4.14 ERA) behind opener Andrew Kittredge, Rich Hill (5-2, 3.62 ERA), and likely Michael Wacha (1-2, 5.19 ERA) over the next three days. Alex Cora will counter with Eduardo Rodriguez (5-4, 6.21 ERA), Garrett Richards (4-4, 4.36 ERA), and Nick Pivetta (6-3, 4.36 ERA)

Ryan Yarbrough allowed seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits while walking one and striking out five across 6-1/3 innings on Wednesday against the White Sox. It was a rough outing for the southpaw, who had allowed no more than three earned runs in seven consecutive starts before Wednesday. He was blown up by Boston back on April 7, allowing six runs across five innings at Fenway. Still, Yarbrough maintains a 3.91 ERA and a 4.21 FIP on the season with a 1.15 WHIP and a 4.92 K/BB.

Eduardo Rodriguez allowed four earned runs on six hits and a walk while striking out eight across four innings on Tuesday against Atlanta. Rodriguez was staked to a five-run lead in the first three innings of the game, but he was hit hard, allowing four extra-base hits. He is in the midst of a concerning stretch, as Rodriguez has allowed at least four runs in seven of his last nine turns. He was able to balance some of that damage with the eight strikeouts, backed by 17 swinging strikes on 80 pitches. On the season, Rodriguez now has a 6.21 ERA and a 3.63 FIP with a 4.33 K/BB across 66-2/3 frames. He relies primarily on a whiffy 93 mph four-seam fastball and a hard 87 mph changeup, while also mixing in an 89 mph cutter that has strong cutting action, a 93 mph sinker that has some natural sinking action, and an 83 mph slider. Rodriguez is 1-3 with a 5.44 ERA in nine career starts against Tampa Bay. Rodriguez Key Matchups: Yandy Diaz (4-7, 2 BB), Brandon Lowe (3-6, 2 HR, 3 RBI), Manuel Margot (2-3)

Rich Hill got the start and allowed four runs on six hits across five-plus innings. He walked one and struck out five on 86 pitches (57 strikes, 66% strike rate). Hill cruised through the front five innings, having allowed just two runs on an RBI bloop single and a solo homer. But the wheels fell off for Hill in the sixth after Mitch Haniger singled to left, and Ty France homered, making it 5-4.

For what it’s worth, it certainly didn’t help that the left-hander got the squeeze on a couple of strikes that were called balls by home plate umpire Joe West with Haniger at the plate. Does that change much for the left-hander? Not really, although he may have approached the at-bat vs. France differently. Whatever the case, Hill maintains a 3.64 ERA and a 4.16 FIP across 71-2/3 innings with a 1.05 WHP and a 3.04 K/BB.

Garrett Richards gave up six runs (four earned) on seven hits and a walk across four innings against Atlanta on Wednesday. tossed four innings against Atlanta on Wednesday. He struck out three. Richards surrendered four earned runs for the second straight start. Wednesday’s start was his poorest since a six-run, two-inning effort in his first appearance of the season, and it marked the second time he failed to pitch at least 4-2/3 frames. Richards has been mostly consistent this season, pitching five or more innings and giving up three or fewer earned runs in nine of his 14 starts. He owns a 4.36 ERA and a 4.03 FIP on the season with a 1.61 WHIP and a 1.83 K/BB. Richards relies primarily on a 94 mph four-seam fastball with heavy sinking action and an 88 mph hard slider, while also mixing in an 80 mph curveball that has exceptional bite. The right-hander is 3-1 with a 4.22 ERA in four career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Kevin Kiermaier (2-6, 2B), Mike Zunino (7-11, 2 2B, HR, 5 RBI)

Micahel Wacha gave up five runs on 11 hits and a walk while fanning two across 3-2/3 innings on Friday. As expected, Wacha was unable to go deep into the game. He tossed 77 pitches (21 inefficient pitches per inning) and induced just three swinging strikes. Most of the damage came in a six-hit, four-run, 27-pitch first inning, and Wacha couldn’t even make it through the fourth inning. The veteran right-hander conceded that his stuff wasn’t the sharpest it’s been all season, although he thought he had enough to get the job done … I’d imagine the results throw cold water on that, but what do I know? I digress.

They definitely hit the pitches where they were pitched. If it was in, they pulled it. If it was away, they went with it. Credit to those guys. They had a good approach going in there. They found the holes, found the open spots and were able to put them there. I’ve got to do a better job making those two-strike pitches whenever I do get in those counts.

— Michael Wacha

Wacha now owns a 6.92 ERA over his last five appearances.

Nick Pivetta allowed three runs on six hits and three walks with six strikeouts in five innings on Friday against Kansas City. A third-inning three-run homer off the bat of Adalberto Mondesi was enough to send the right-hander to his third loss in his last four turns. Pivetta was strong over the first two months of the season, yet he’s now allowed 13 runs across 20-2/3 frames in his last four starts. Overall, the 28-year-old has a 4.36 ERA and a 4.13 FIP with a 1.35 WHIP, and a 2.39 K/BB across 74-1/3 innings. He blanked the Rays across five innings back on April 5. Key Matchup: Randy Arozarena (1-1, BB)

Leave a comment