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Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: Tropicana is about to ROCK

They’ve been the Rays longer than they were the Devil Rays, which is weird.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Apr 21, 2019; St. Petersburg, FL, USA;Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Tommy Pham (29) is congratulated by third baseman Daniel Robertson (28) as he hits a home run during the eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have shot out of the gates with a really impressive combination of excellent offense and even better pitching. They’ve carried their opener strategy from last season to this year, but not quite as often, though Blake Snell’s broken toe has made it a bit more of their strategy for the time being. An injury to Austin Meadows is bad news for him as he was hitting .351/.422/.676 to start the season, but they have a whole lot of depth that allows them to mix and match and stay very competitive. Out of the bullpen, they have the story of the season to start the year in Jose Alvarado and his ridiculous movement, but it’s more than just him with a lot of very good pitching that can come at you from the left and the right. It’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination.

Meet the Rays

Royals vs. Rays Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Rays
Category Royals Rays
Winning % .318 .638
Team wRC+ 95 115
Team xFIP 4.73 3.40
Highest fWAR Alex Gordon, 1.1 Austin Meadows, 1.2

Rays Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Joey Wendle 2B 14 .000 .143 .000 10.8% 27.7% -46 -0.1
Tommy Pham LF 99 .289 .394 .434 14.1% 17.2% 131 0.7
Ji-Man Choi 1B 75 .286 .387 .444 12.0% 21.3% 130 0.4
Yandy Diaz 3B 89 .288 .404 .548 16.9% 18.0% 158 0.9
Brandon Lowe DH 82 .280 .329 .600 7.3% 34.1% 144 0.8
Avisail Garcia RF 79 .284 .329 .514 5.1% 30.4% 123 0.5
Kevin Kiermaier CF 79 .274 .316 .521 6.3% 24.1% 120 0.7
Michael Perez C 33 .250 .364 .357 15.2% 39.4% 104 0.2
Willy Adames SS 79 .233 .291 .329 6.3% 30.4% 71 0.3

Rays Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Nick Ciuffo C 1 .000 .000 .000 0.0% 0.0% -100 0.0
Mike Zunino (Paternity List) C 53 .196 .226 .333 3.8% 24.5% 46 0.1
Daniel Robertson INF/OF 65 .172 .262 .207 10.8% 27.7% 34 -0.3
Andrew Velazquez (AAA) OF/INF 65 .311 .354 .541 4.6% 16.9% 130 ---
Guillermo Heredia OF 24 .222 .364 .444 12.5% 29.2% 125 0.2

Rays Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Jose Alvarado 12 11.1 0 2 36.2% 12.8% 1.59 3.30 0.4
Diego Castillo 12 13.0 0 2 31.3% 8.3% 2.08 2.88 0.2
Chaz Roe 9 6.0 0 2 24.1% 13.8% 4.50 4.35 -0.1

Probable Pitching Matchups

Monday April 22nd - 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 5 30.2 2 1 20.2% 13.2% 2.64 4.78 0.4
Yonny Chirinos 4 19.1 3 0 27.1% 5.7% 3.26 3.72 0.4

Yonny Chirinos will get his third start of the year in this one, but in his last outing, he went five innings in relief after Ryne Stanek served as his opener. And he was fantastic. Now, it was against the Orioles, so the standard caveats apply, but it was still fantastic. He’s also shut down Houston and San Francisco this season, so there’ve been more good than bad. Chirinos was good last year, but has upped his strikeout percentage in the early going by a lot and has been much more difficult to hit hard with an average exit velocity of 84.7 miles per hour and a hard hit rate of 31.9 percent. He relies heavily on a hard sinker but doesn’t get a ton of grounders. His split finger has been silly this year (and last honestly) with a 41.2 percent whiff rate and 47.4 percent strikeout rate. That’s the pitch the Royals might struggle with from the righty. He did pitch against the Royals last year as a rookie and gave up two home runs in five innings. One was to Whit Merrifield and one to the red hot Hunter Dozier, so keep an eye on them.

Brad Keller has probably not deserved his 2.64 ERA to start the season, but he’s been very difficult to hit to make up for all the walks he’s given up. That does seem to be by design as he’s throwing way fewer pitches in the strike zone and has increased his whiff percentage by a little bit. He’s still getting tons of ground balls and even a few more popups this season. It might be of concern that he’s gotten hit hard when he’s been hit, and that’s maybe led to the couple of home runs he’s allowed over his last two starts. His solid contact allowed has increased significantly as have his barrels. The bottom of the Rays lineup will strike out a fair amount, so he’s going to need to flash the slider to them to get them out while trying to get some of his weak contact magic back from last year against the top.

Tuesday April 23rd - 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Homer Bailey 4 23.0 2 1 29.4% 7.6% 4.30 3.48 0.5
Ryne Stanek (Opener) 10 12.1 0 0 27.7% 6.4% 1.46 4.04 0.3
Jalen Beeks (Primary) 7 14.1 0 0 19.7% 9.1% 4.40 4.14 0.2

The Rays will go back to using the opener in this one with Ryne Stanek starting the game for them and, it looks like, Jalen Beeks getting the rest. Stanek, the Blue Valley HS graduate, has found his niche in his current role and makes his sixth start of the year. He’s been lights out when opening with eight innings pitched, 11 strikeouts and just two hits and one walk allowed with no runs. He’s tough when he gets that opportunity to warm up as a starter but air it out as a reliever. Beeks hasn’t been as good, but he’s been fine enough really. He’s striking out enough hitters even though he’s walking too many and he’s allowing too many hits, but he limits too much hard contact. His fastball has been a problem for him, though, with opponents hitting .400 with a .700 SLG against it. If he has his changeup working, that’ll probably stymie the Royals who have had a bit of a swing and miss problem lately. It’s not really the swing and miss pitch for him, but he’s been good on it and guys like Adalberto Mondesi and Jorge Soler have a tendency to swing and miss quite a bit.

The Royals counter with the guy who has somehow arguably been their best starter this year, Homer Bailey. The ERA isn’t shiny, but he’s striking a ton of hitters out and limiting base runners in general with fewer hits than innings pitched and not many walks. His last two starts have been outstanding, including one against the Yankees. I know it’s a depleted lineup, but there’s still some serious talent and that ballpark can get anyone. Really, it’s the splitter, which has gotten a ton of attention over the last few days. A 48 percent whiff rate will do that. One thing that stands out about it is that it doesn’t spin much at all and pitches on the extreme end of spin rate, either way, can cause problems for hitters. The 1,126 spin rate on it is super low and makes everything else work. It’s down about 120 revolutions from last season, which can definitely make a difference and it wasn’t a horrible pitch for him last year. If he can continue to throw that pitch as well as he has, he can handle the Rays lineup.

Wednesday April 24th - 12:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jakob Junis 5 27.1 1 2 21.3% 6.6% 6.26 3.99 0.2
Blake Snell 4 25.0 2 1 40.5% 4.5% 2.16 2.15 0.8

Uh oh, the Royals get the reigning Cy Young winner in Blake Snell, who was off to a fantastic start to his season before he broke his toe getting out of the shower. As good as he was last year in winning the award for top pitcher, he’s been better this year, striking out more and walking even fewer. The only issue he’s had is that he gave up three home runs on Opening Day to the Astros, which, well, that’s pretty easy to do. Since then, he’s allowed just nine hits in 19 innings. Snell is dominant against lefties, which means the Royals have to hope Hunter Dozier can get back in the lineup and will likely be counting on Terrance Gore to start a game again, which, well, isn’t great. If a hitter is looking for some hope against Snell, well, look pretty deep, but I guess that he’s allowed two doubles in 11 at bats on his changeup indicates that he maybe hasn’t quite found the feel for it yet? I’m grasping here. This is going to be a tough task for the Royals, and one that I don’t have a lot of confidence they can handle well.

Jakob Junis gets the nod in this one and I have to say that I’m concerned. Yankee Stadium was a problem for him, as expected, so maybe he should get a bit of a pass, but he’s given up 34 hits in 27.1 innings, so this isn’t just the home run ball hurting him. And while a lot was made about his strikeouts early in the season, he’s struck out six in 11.2 innings over his last two starts. He’s had a swinging strike rate of just 6.3 percent over those starts, and that’s simply not good enough. It’s not the slider killing him, but rather his fastballs. He’s allowed a .400 average and .680 SLG on his four-seamer and .367 average and .700 SLG on his sinker. He wasn’t exactly lighting it up with those two pitches last year, but it’s real bad this season. His slider can be a putaway pitch if and only if he gets to a point where he can put hitters away and his other pitches aren’t allowing him to get there. Maybe returning to the scene of his first big league win will get him back on track. He’s been good against the Rays with a 2.19 ERA and no home runs allowed in 12.1 career innings. Yeah it’s a small sample, but if you’re looking for signs of hope, there is potentially one. I guess.


The Rays are better than the Royals by a fair amount, which is true of most teams, but definitely of this one. I got my first prediction right over the weekend, so I’m going to try to ride the high and say the Royals actually take two of three in a bit of a surprise series. What say you?


What’s the end result?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Royals Sweep
    (12 votes)
  • 22%
    Rays Sweep
    (27 votes)
  • 17%
    Royals Take Two of Three
    (21 votes)
  • 49%
    Rays Take Two of Three
    (59 votes)
119 votes total Vote Now