The Tampa Bay Rays return from the All-Star Break with plenty of momentum as they head to Kansas City to start a three-game series against the Royals on Friday night. The Rays won six of their final seven games in the first half of the season. Kansas City is on a three-game losing streak after dropping three of four in Toronto last weekend.
At 51-41 on the season, the Rays enter the second half of the season 10 games over .500, holding the top Wildcard spot in the American League.
The Rays struggled to find their form for most of the first half of the season, yet they ultimately got into a rhythm prior to the break. Tampa Bay was able to sweep Boston before taking two out of three against Baltimore. Their lone loss during that stretch came in a 6-4 extra-inning loss on Saturday. They are going to need to stay red-hot for the entire second half of the season if they want to catch New York, which is currently 12.0 games up in the AL East. However, given their Wildcard position, they are in good shape as far as the playoff picture is concerned.
The offense has finally started to be more consistent, although the injury bug continues to be an issue, especially with the placement of the club’s best hitter, Harold Ramirez, on the 15-day Injured List. To compensate for the loss, the Rays didn’t trade for Ian Happ, rather they signed outfielder Roman Quinn. More on him below.
Left-fielder Randy Arozarena leads the team with 86 hits, including 12 homers. He has also driven in a team-high 43 runs. Tampa Bay is currently without four of its top seven batters due to injuries, although they are facing a Kansas City pitching staff that is 27th in the league with an ERA of 4.80 (and a 4.48 FIP). And while that may give the impression that this three-game set will be a cakewalk, consider that Kansas City’s pitching staff has been pretty good over the last two weeks, with the starting rotation posting a 3.56 ERA and a 3.29 FIP, and the bullpen maintaining a 3.92 ERA and a 3.72 FIP.
The Royals were one of the worst teams in baseball during the first half of the season, although they did go through a promising stretch in the middle of July. They were able to win five out of six games, taking two out of three against Cleveland and three out of four against Detroit. They added a win over Toronto in their series opener last Thursday before losing the final three games of the series.
Kansas City has relied on its offense to win games this season. Left-fielder Andrew Benintendi, who has 102 hits and has driven in 37 runs on the season leads the way, while shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. has 87 hits, and second baseman Whit Merrifield has 81. Catcher Salvador Perez remains sidelined due to a thumb injury. They will face a Rays pitching staff that has been good in 2022, posting a combined 3.37 ERA and 3.81 FIP in the first half. However, those numbers are belied by spotty performances over the last two weeks, with the starting rotation maintaining a 4.27 ERA and a 4.19 FIP, and the ‘pen posting a far better 3.80 ERA and a 2.78 FIP.
The Rays went 4-2 against the Royals last season with a +14 run differential.
Over the next three days, Kevin Cash is expected to turn to Drew Rasmussen (5-3, 3.22 ERA), Ryan Yarbrough (0-4, 5.49 ERA) in some capacity, and Jeffrey Springs (3-2, 2.53 ERA). Mike Matheny has yet to set his post-break rotation, however, it’s believed he’ll turn to Brad Keller (5-9, 3.96 ERA), Zack Greinke (3-6, 4.64 ERA), and a pitcher to be named before the series finale. Given the fluid nature, I’ll update things pending clarity.
Drew Rasmussen allowed three runs on four hits and a walk across six innings against Boston two Thursdays ago. He struck out five. Rasmussen got through three scoreless frames before Rafael Devers tagged him for a solo home run in the fourth. The right-hander gave up two more runs in the sixth but was able to complete the inning to notch his third quality start of the 2022 campaign. Rasmussen notched a modest five strikeouts in the outing, although he racked up a more impressive 18 swinging strikes against the free-swinging Red Sox. He has made six starts since his last win, but he’s allowed three or fewer runs in four of those appearances. Overall, the right-hander maintains a 3.22 ERA and a 3.74 FIP, with a 2.95 K/BB and a 1.66 WHIP across 72.2 innings. Rasmussen is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two career outings (2 IP) against the Royals.
Brad Keller allowed one run on three hits and a walk over seven innings in Game 1 of the July 10th doubleheader. He struck out eight and earned a win over the Tigers. Keller dominated through five shutout frames before Riley Greene scored on a wild pitch in the sixth. He’s now 4-1 with an impressive 2.15 ERA over his last five starts. The 26-year-old right-hander lowered his season ERA to 3.96, 4.22 FIP, a 2.09 K/BB, and a 1.27 WHIP through 97.2 frames. Keller relies primarily on an 87 mph slider with exceptional depth, a 94 mph four-seam fastball, and a 93 mph worm-killer sinker with heavy sinking action, while also mixing in a hard 90 mph changeup. He is 1-3 with a 6.86 ERA in five career outings (four starts) against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-4), Yandy Díaz (4-10, 4 RBI, 2 BB), Brett Phillips (1-2, BB), Taylor Walls (1-2, BB)
Ryan Yarbrough got the start against Baltimore on Saturday, allowing two runs on five hits and no walks while striking out four across 5.1 innings. Yarbrough was activated from the taxi squad prior to the start after spending most of June and the first half of July with Triple-A Durham. The left-hander looked good against the Orioles, throwing 43 of 65 pitches for strikes (66% strike rate) and departing in the sixth inning in line for the win. Of note, the left-hander leaned on his fastball 28% of the time — about twice as much as his season average. And while there wasn’t anything instantly remarkable about the 88 mph heater, although he was able to use it to great effect, as Yarbrough’s secondary pitches became that much more effective. It was a promising start for the southpaw after surrendering 10 runs over seven innings and two big-league appearances in June. Overall, he ended the first half with a 5.49 ERA and a 4.84 FIP, with a 2.18 K/BB and a 1.47 WHIP across 39.1 big-league innings. Yarbrough is 2-0 with a 4.91 ERA in three career outings (one start) against Kansas City.
Zack Greinke gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits and a walk over four innings against the Blue Jays two Fridays ago. He struck out three. Greinke is now less than 150 strikeouts away from 3,000 for his career, yet that was the only positive takeaway from his outing as he got the hook after 83 pitches (49 strikes, 59% strike rate). On the season, Greinke maintains a 4.64 ERA and a 4.57 FIP, with a 1.33 WHIP, and 2.8 K/BB through 77.2 innings. The right-hander relies primarily on an 89 mph four-seam fastball that has some natural sinking action, and an 84 mph slider that has short glove-side cut, while also mixing in a 72 mph Curveball, and a firm 87 mph changeup that has some natural sink to it. He is 4-6 with a 3.36 ERA in 17 career outings (14 starts) against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Christian Bethancourt (2-2, RBI), Ji-Man Choi (1-2, BB), Yandy Díaz (1-3)
Jeffrey Springs gave up three earned runs on five hits and two walks while striking out five over four innings against the Red Sox on July 5. He subsequently hit the IL with a “lower leg injury.” Springs got into trouble early, giving up home runs to Xander Bogaerts and Trevor Story in the first and second innings. He eventually settled down to throw a couple of scoreless frames before being pulled after four innings of work. Despite giving up three earned runs over four innings he still has a 2.53 ERA and a 3.66 FIP, with a 1.05 WHIP, and a 4.66 K/BB on the season. He, however, has given up five home runs over his last two starts. Springs is 0-0 with a 4.15 ERA across 4.1 career innings against the Royals.
— The Rays announced that they signed outfielder Roman Quinn to a major league contract. Outfielder Harold Ramirez, who broke his thumb prior to the All-Star Break, has been placed on the 15-Day Injured List to open a spot on the active roster. To create room for Quinn on the 40-man roster, right-hander Cristofer Ogando was designated for assignment.
Quinn, 29, has spent the bulk of his career with the Phillies, and cracked Baseball America’s list of top 100 prospects back in 2013. However, he’s been held back by injuries since then. He’s appeared in six different MLB campaigns but has appeared in only 201 combined games, never topping 50 in any individual season. Whether it’s due to injury or not, Quinn’s never really gotten into a groove at the plate, at least at the big-league level. Across his time in the bigs, he’s slashed .223 BA/.300 OBP/.343 SLG/.643 OPS with a 74 wRC+. He has been valuable elsewhere, however, racking up 43 steals (97th percentile sprint speed this season, 86th percentile base runner since 2016), and providing quality defensive work (71st percentile success rate among OF since 2016).
Quinn most recently signed a minor league deal with the Royals and played well in Triple-A, hitting .250 BA/.406 OBP/.500 SLG/.906 OPS with a wRC+ of 142, albeit across just seven games. Even though he hasn’t hit much in the big leagues, his overall minor league career is a bit more interesting, as Quinn boasts a .300 BA/.370 OBP/.443 SLG/.813 OPS line across 1,038 MiLB plate appearances, with a 131 wRC+. The Rays’ newest fourth outfielder has multiple +430 foot home runs, and a 109.4 mph MaxEV.