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St. Petersburg Devil Rays series preview: Russia invades Kansas City

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The Rays need to win to keep the ax from falling.

The Red Army invades
The Red Army invades
Epsilon/Getty Images

The St. Petersburg Devil Rays have landed in Kansas City intent upon spreading Russian ideals to Middle America on a holiday weekend memorializing those who have served. The suddenly powerful underachievers have the Moscow brass worried as they sit in last place in the American League East, trailing the first-place Boston Red Sox by seven games.

Word on the streets of St. Petersburg - soon to be renamed Putingrad - is that heads may literally roll if the Devil Rays don't reverse course soon. Vladimir Putin does not suffer losers, and if the Rays keep losing, someone will probably suffer a mysterious illness or end up meeting the business end of a Burlak.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Monday, 7:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Matt Andriese 4 27.1 17 6 2.63 3.11 4.33 4.36
Ian Kennedy 9 53.1 53 18 3.38 4.33 4.25 3.89

Thanks in part to a funky delivery, Andriese's four-pitch mix has produced better than expected results thus far this season. Living and dying with his four-seamer and his hybrid cutter-slider [insert tasteless joke here, guttermouth], which comprise over 85% of his offerings, he mixes in a curve and an occasional change-up. Through good fortune that is likely undeserved, Andriese has yet to suffer the more ordinary fate that his xFIP and SIERA suggest he should have experienced. He doesn't miss bats (8.7 SwStr%, 16.2 K%), doesn't get automatic outs via infield fly-balls (6.9%), and doesn't avoid hard contact (37.0%). He does limit the free passes (1.98 BB/9, 5.7 BB%), but if he expects for the .225 BABIP his comrades have given him to continue, he is probably in for a rude awakening.

Ian Kennedy - a Red Menace himself - will attempt to thwart the Red Menace heading into Kansas City. He should be well rested after his last start was limited to 3.1 disjointed innings thanks to a rain delay gumming up the works.

Game Two - Tuesday, 7:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Drew Smyly (L) 10 62.0 67 15 3.92 4.03 3.86 3.44
Dillon Gee 10 35.0 32 13 3.86 5.17 4.30 4.02

Smyly's 2016 has been a bit odd. He owns a sterling 21.1 K-BB%, the ninth-best mark amongst qualified starters. He's induced a 16.9 IFFB%, the fourth-best mark amongst qualified starters, while owning the highest FB% of starting pitchers. His defense has helped him to the tune of a .255 BABIP. His hard-contact rate is a normal 30.5%. Yet somehow, Smyly's ERA is just under 4.00. His SIERA is just 0.03 worse than Chris Sale's, ranking 20th of qualified pitchers. It certainly would appear that Smyly's luck has been of the dumb and unfortunate kind when it comes to actual runs scoring against him. With expected results not matching what ends up on the field, Putin has tasked his best men to figure out what is going wrong because the Russians don't believe in luck.

Dillon Gee will look to reassure the Royals that he is the right man for the spot in the rotation he was given after a rocky start in Minnesota last week. His strikeout and walk numbers have actually been respectable in the rotation, but he got hit often and hard in his last start, yielding three home runs in just four innings of work.

Game Three - Wednesday, 7:15 PM CDT

Pitcher G IP K BB ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
Chris Archer 11 60.1 72 29 4.62 4.76 3.62 3.80
Danny Duffy (L) 19 30.2 34 7 3.23 2.95 3.55 3.05

A 5.3 fWAR pitcher just last year, Archer's early returns in 2016 have been of the near-disastrous variety. Suffering a bit of a velocity drop on his fastball (1.3 MPH) while scrapping his two-seamer entirely, his walk rate has jumped from 7.6% to 10.8% and his HR-rates have doubled from last year's 0.81 HR/9 and 10.4 HR/FB% rates to 1.79 HR/9 and 21.8 HR/FB%. This has ballooned his ERA and FIP to those marks much too close to 5.00 for comfort. When his HR-rates get normalized his xFIP and SIERA are a little more palatable, but they are still poor compared to his respective 3.01 and 3.08 marks in 2015. Whatever is wrong with Archer this year is causing a lot of consternation at the Kremlin.

Ned Yost and the Royals will have to hope that Danny Duffy's rocky sixth inning in his last start against Chicago was just a hiccup. He had been so good to that point but got rocked the third time through the order. The source of his previous undoings was efficiency and allowing walks.

The Batsmen

Name Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Brandon Guyer CF 140 6 21 14 1 .305 .403 .542 .406 165
Brad Miller (L) SS 156 5 13 15 4 .232 .301 .437 .318 104
Evan Longoria 3B 205 9 26 24 0 .254 .302 .466 .327 110
Steve Pearce DH 134 8 19 20 0 .302 .388 .552 .401 162
Steven Souza RF 174 9 21 19 2 .263 .322 .475 .344 122
Logan Morrison (L) 1B 139 3 12 11 3 .228 .317 .325 .287 82
Corey Dickerson (L) LF 149 8 14 19 0 .209 .257 .460 .300 91
Taylor Motter 2B 27 2 4 5 0 .200 .407 .550 .411 169
Curt Casali C 106 5 11 14 0 .165 .221 .361 .253 58
Bench Pos PA HR R RBI SB BA OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Hank Conger (S) C 66 1 3 6 0 .190 .227 .270 .221 36
Mikie Mahtook Util 13 0 1 0 0 .077 .077 .077 .068 -71
Desmond Jennings OF 126 3 12 10 2 .175 .246 .281 .237 47

Stats through Saturday, May 28

Built around an offense with the highest (tied with the Cardinals) ISO in baseball at .191 and second-most home runs (70) in baseball, these slugging Russians seem to be begging to get drug tested as time has not forgotten what Russian Olympians were willing to put themselves through to achieve athletic greatness during the heights of the first Cold War. As we enter a second one, it seems like this Russian squad is loaded with Russians adopting fake names - Brandon Guyer? Steven Souza? Evan Longoria? Mikie Mahtook? - generated by by the KGB to pass as Americans while only having a loose grasp on the language.

These Russian plants have slashed .238/.308/.429, good for a .319 wOBA and 105 wRC+. Their position players have been firmly middle of the road, value-wise, as their plan to sell out getting on-base for power has cost them in some regards.

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