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Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: These guys again?

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Like the relative you just can’t get rid of, the Royals have to deal with the Rays again.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays
Apr 18, 2019; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Yandy Diaz (2) is congratulated as he scores during the eighth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After losing two of three to the Rays last week in Tampa, the Royals get four more against the best team in baseball, but this time on their home turf. The Rays had lost four in a row when the Royals got to town last week, but after sweeping the Red Sox over the weekend, they’ve now won four of five again and look to be fairly unstoppable. Not much has changed for them since we last talked Rays. They’ve played just two games, but they have lost Joey Wendle for awhile after a hit by pitch from the Royals broke his wrist. Oh, and they’ve started giving Emilio Pagan some higher leverage innings, but that started during the Royals series, so yeah, not a whole lot has changed.

Meet the Rays Again

Rays vs. Royals Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Rays
Category Royals Rays
Winning % .321 .667
Team wRC+ 94 109
Team xFIP 4.74 3.71
Highest fWAR Hunter Dozier, 1.6 Yandy Diaz, 1.1

Rays Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Brandon Lowe 2B 95 .291 .347 .581 7.4% 33.7% 144 1.0
Tommy Pham LF 120 .296 .417 .449 16.7% 15.8% 140 0.8
Ji-Man Choi DH 75 .286 .387 .444 12.0% 21.3% 128 0.3
Yandy Diaz 3B 109 .289 .385 .600 14.7% 18.3% 157 1.1
Avisail Garcia RF 99 .250 .303 .457 6.1% 29.3% 99 0.3
Kevin Kiermaier CF 99 .264 .313 .462 7.1% 22.2% 102 0.7
Mike Zunino C 70 .224 .257 .418 4.3% 25.7% 76 0.4
Nate Lowe (AAA) 1B 90 .300 .444 .543 18.9% 21.1% 156 ---
Willy Adames SS 98 .200 .265 .300 7.1% 29.6% 54 0.1

Rays Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Michael Perez C 37 .258 .378 .355 16.2% 40.5% 108 0.1
Daniel Robertson INF 87 .176 .274 .257 11.9% 28.6% 50 -0.2
Guillermo Heredia OF 33 .160 .323 .320 15.2% 30.3% 84 0.1

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 14 13.0 0 2 35.2% 13.0% 1.38 3.44 0.5
Diego Castillo 14 14.1 0 2 29.1% 9.1% 2.51 3.41 0.0
Emilio Pagan 7 7.1 0 0 33.3% 4.2% 1.23 3.18 0.3

Probable Pitchers

Monday April 29th - 7:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Ryne Stanek (Opener) 11 13.2 0 0 25.0% 5.8% 1.32 4.54 0.4
Yonny Chirinos (Primary) 5 25.1 3 0 23.4% 5.3% 3.55 4.09 0.2
Brad Keller 6 37.0 2 2 18.6% 12.8% 3.41 4.92 0.4

The Rays will start this one with Ryne Stanek for an inning or two and then likely will turn it over to Yonny Chirinos. The Royals saw both last week with Chirinos in a starting role and Stanek as the opener. Stanek has been nearly unhittable in the opener role going 9.1 innings with three hits allowed, just one walk allowed and 11 strikeouts. Chirinos has now made three starts and this will be his third “relief” appearance. He went six against the Royals last week and gave up three runs on six hits with three strikeouts. He did allow three home runs, which was more than he’d allowed all season until the last game. He utilized his sinker extensively against the Royals and it was solid for him, but the splitter was the star of the show for him. For young pitchers, facing a team twice in the span of just a few games is a big test and the Royals offense, while inconsistent, can cause some problems, so this is a very good test for Chirinos

Brad Keller is back from his suspension for this one and facing the Rays once again. He had his worst start of the year lats Monday, giving up five runs on seven hits over 6.1 innings. He was likely a victim of Ned Yost not trusting his bullpen because he had no business pitching in the seventh inning and giving up the lead. Once again, he couldn’t get swings and misses or the strikeouts that come with them, and that’s a concern. It’s the third start out of four with just three strikeouts for him, a stat that needs to change for him to get back on track. After throwing 101 or more pitches in four of his first six starts, including 118 a couple weeks ago, getting an extra day or two off may not end up the worst thing for Keller, so we’ll see how he reacts to both that and getting the Rays once again.

Wednesday May 1st - 12:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Ryne Stanek (Opener) 12 15.0 0 0 24.6% 5.3% 1.20 4.47 0.4
Jalen Beeks (Primary) 8 19.0 1 0 23.5% 9.4% 3.32 3.82 0.3
Jakob Junis 6 32.1 2 2 22.4% 7.0% 5.57 3.80 0.4

Stanek gets to open his second straight game after going 1.1 innings against the Royals on Monday night and holding them to just one hit. He’s likely to be followed by Jalen Beeks who had been up and down to start the year until his last appearance against the Royals last week when he went 4.2 innings and struck out seven while giving up just two hits and walking two. The 5’11” lefty throws his four-seamer at about 92-93 and he’s given up some hits on it, but it hasn’t been hit all that hard this season. It’s a pretty middling spin rate, which is why if he’s not locating, he’s likely getting hit on it. His changeup, though, has been outstanding this season, with opponents hitting just .129 on it. He’s exactly the type of pitcher to give the Royals trouble, so it’s no surprise that he did last week.

Jakob Junis probably looked the best he had all year on Wednesday afternoon in the Royals 10-2 win over the Rays when he went five innings and gave up just one run on four hits and struck out six. Everything seemed to be working for him before he got hit on the hand with a comebacker and left the game. He got 11 whiffs on 75 pitches, which was his second best swing and miss percentage of the season. The disappointing thing about the hand injury, aside from the actual injury, was we missed the chance to see if he could get a little deeper into a game. He’d looked that good through five innings before this season before getting hit as he saw a lineup a third time. While Junis is never going to be confused for a ground ball specialist, he has a ground ball rate of 50.5 percent this year, which is definitely a career high and great to see.

Wednesday May 1st - 45 minutes after Game One Ends

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Blake Snell 5 28.1 2 2 37.5 5.8 2.54 2.46 0.7
Glenn Sparkman 3 6.2 0 1 8.6% 5.7% 8.10 5.09 -0.1

The Royals get another chance to hit Blake Snell after handling the Cy Young winner with relative ease last week. It was his first start back after a short stint on the injured list for a broken toe, so there might have been some rust for him since he didn’t have a rehab start to get back into the swing of things. In spite of struggling and getting pulled in the fourth inning, he got 10 swinging strikes on 65 pitches, so the stuff was definitely there. To the Royals credit, it was just the second time out of five starts that he’d allowed more than a run. My guess is this start goes much better for him. It might end up being more like last year’s start where he gave up just a run over six innings and struck out 11. That’s not ideal.

Glenn Sparkman gets the shot in this one as the 26th man in the double header. His work with the team in limited action earlier this season wasn’t great with 13 hits allowed in his 6.2 innings, but on the bright side, he walked just two. When I saw Sparkman in spring training last year, I thought I saw a future as a quality middle reliever who might be able to handle the seventh or eighth even if he reached his ceiling. His velocity doesn’t play up as well as a starter (which is obviously true for most), and I just don’t think it’s enough unless he can go max effort. It might not really be enough, even in relief, as he got battered on the fastball in his first stint this year with a .471 average allowed and 95.9 MPH average exit velocity. That’s crazy, and even though the sample is small, it’s reason for big concern there. He did start against the Rays last year and went four innings, giving up three runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and three walks. Honestly, that’d probably be an okay outcome in this one.

Thursday May 2nd - 1:15pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Charlie Morton 6 32.2 3 0 29.1% 11.9% 2.76 4.10 0.8
Danny Duffy 1 5.0 0 1 4.6% 13.6% 5.40 6.77 -0.1

Charlie Morton is such an interesting story, basically changing everything about the way he pitches and then letting the Astros help to get even more out of him. He’s not a 200 inning guy by any stretch, but he’s going to get you a ton of strikeouts and can absolutely dominate a game with a fastball that averages 94-96 and a curve he throws more than anything that’s been beyond dominant this season so far with 27 of his 39 strikeouts coming on it. He’s gotten a lot of weak contact this year with an average exit velocity of 83.7 MPH and a hard hit rate of under 30 percent. He’s faced the Royals three times in his career, but only once as the new Morton and that was last year when he gave up three runs over six innings with nine strikeouts. Hitter/pitcher stats are never reliable, but sometimes they’re fun. Martin Maldonado’s .545/.667/.636 line in 15 plate appearances against Morton is fun.

Danny Duffy’s first start was a mixed bag. He struggled with command early in the game and his pitch count ran up and he gave up two in the first. He really did settle in, though, after throwing 50 pitches in the first two innings and threw 36 pitches over his final three. He didn’t get many whiffs and he only struck out one in the whole outing, but the takeaway here is that his fastball reached 95 and he averaged 92-93, which is nice to see. You’d like to see him average closer to 94, but for a first start back, it’ll do. I still think he should have made one more rehab start, but there was enough to like in that first start that you have to hope he can build on it. There was enough to dislike that you have to be worried for him and the team. I guess time will tell.

Prediction

The Rays are back to playing well and are obviously superior to the Royals. They have two of their horses going in this series and a successful opener plan as well. I think the Rays take three of four, which is better than a sweep, so yeah. What do you think?

Poll

Who Takes the Series?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Royals Sweep
    (13 votes)
  • 16%
    Rays Sweep
    (19 votes)
  • 5%
    Royals Win Three of Four
    (6 votes)
  • 43%
    Rays Win Three of Four
    (49 votes)
  • 22%
    Split
    (25 votes)
112 votes total Vote Now