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Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: A battle of teams with 11-game streaks this year

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The Rays are lava hot, but luckily the Royals have experience breaking 11-game streaks.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals head to Tampa Bay to take on the defending American League champions for the second and final time this season. They come into the series having lost 14 of their last 18 to the Rays and six of their last seven in Tampa. When the two teams met in Kansas City last month, it was kind of a weird series that was played in extremely cold temperatures and the Royals required a wild comeback in the final game to avoid the sweep, so the Rays have the upper hand over the Royals. And lately they’ve been absolutely on fire, winning their last 11 games after starting the year slowly. They’re now 11 games over .500, so their season has been made over these last couple weeks. If only the Royals were still on their 11-game winning streak, there’d be a fun storyline in place.

The Rays are doing it with their bats. They’re near the top of the league in runs scored and they’ve gotten there by doing just about everything well. They hit homers, they work walks, they steal bases and they sort of hit for average, at least be 2021 standards. The only thing that can be exploited is there’s a lot of swing and miss in their game, but they can score with just about anyone and just put up 14 on the Blue Jays to sweep that four-game set. The pitching is also very good and they just fortified their bullpen in a trade with the Brewers to bring in some middle relief help. But ultimately, they have good starters, including a truly dominant ace in Tyler Glasnow and their bullpen gets the job done well, though maybe with fewer strikeouts than you’d expect.

Royals vs. Rays Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Rays
Category Royals Rays
Winning % .489 .612
Team wRC+ 89 108
Team xFIP 4.32 3.88
Run Differential -25 50
H2H Wins 1 2
Highest fWAR Danny Duffy, 1.6 Joey Wendle, 1.9

Rays Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Randy Arozarena LF 203 .277 .369 .446 10.3% 26.6% 135 1.5
Austin Meadows DH 194 .223 .325 .470 11.9% 25.3% 125 0.8
Manuel Margot RF 169 .250 .284 .394 4.7% 16.0% 92 0.6
Brandon Lowe 2B 187 .209 .326 .418 12.8% 29.4% 111 1.0
Ji-Man Choi 1B 32 .400 .531 .760 21.9% 28.1% 255 0.7
Taylor Walls SS 14 .250 .357 .417 14.3% 28.6% 124 0.1
Joey Wendle 3B 159 .310 .365 .552 5.7% 19.5% 156 1.9
Francisco Mejia C 92 .284 .352 .469 5.4% 16.3% 134 0.7
Kevin Kiermaier CF 98 .213 .286 .281 8.2% 32.7% 64 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
Mike Zunino C 108 .214 .287 .582 8.3% 38.0% 140 1.5
Yandy Diaz 1B/3B 187 .255 .374 .299 15.0% 12.8% 106 0.5
Mike Brosseau INF/OF 108 .170 .231 .340 5.6% 38.0% 63 -0.3
Brett Phillips OF 103 .218 .317 .345 12.6% 41.7% 94 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
Diego Castillo 18 18.2 1 2 34.7% 8.0% 3.38 2.82 0.1
Pete Fairbanks 9 8.2 1 0 27.5% 12.5% 2.08 4.95 0.2
Andrew Kittredge 17 23.0 5 0 22.7% 5.7% 1.17 3.61 0.5

Probable Starting Pitchers

May 25 - Brad Keller vs. Rich Hill, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 9 38.2 3 4 17.6% 9.0% 6.52 4.52 0.0
Rich Hill 9 44.0 3 1 25.4% 9.6% 3.89 4.16 0.4

It was a brutal start to the season for Rich Hill. He gave up exactly four earned runs in each of his first four starts and only went 16.1 innings total in those games. The fourth of those games was against the Royals in that weird 14-7 game. He was given a huge lead and couldn’t get out of the third inning. Since then, though, he’s made five starts and only one of them has been shorter than six innings. He finally gave up a run in his last start, but he hadn’t given anything up since April. In total, he has a 0.98 ERA in 27.2 innings over those five starts with a ridiculous 10 hits allowed and 31 strikeouts. So what I’m saying is that he’s going well. He’s using a basically identical pitch mix to last season, but he’s getting more swings and misses on both his fastball and his curve. I’m honestly not sure why as they look pretty similar to last season, but it’s really helped him to get a lot of swings and misses that he was missing last year. Lefties are essentially unplayable against him, though. Even with his struggles early, he hasn’t given up a single extra base hit, so I’d look for the Royals to try to get any lefty they can a day off, but that could be difficult with their current roster construction.

I feel like the alert level on Brad Keller is down to yellow. It’s not that he was great his last time out, but he’s just looking more and more like the guy we’ve seen over the last three seasons. Sure he gave up three runs in 5.1 innings but he only walked one batter and continued to do a better job of just throwing strikes. There’s still something missing from what he did last year compared with what he’s doing this season, but his starts don’t feel like hardcore analysis opportunities nor do they feel like automatic losses. So that’s definitely an improvement.

May 26 - Mike Minor vs. Tyler Glasnow, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Mike Minor 9 49.0 3 2 25.1% 8.2% 5.14 4.28 0.5
Tyler Glasnow 10 62.0 4 2 36.0% 8.7% 2.90 2.87 1.3

I mentioned Glasnow above, and he’s really turned into a fantastic big league pitcher. The stuff has always been there, but he’s learned to harness it extremely well and while he isn’t pitching like he did in 2019, he’s been one of the better pitchers in the American League this season. It’s worth mentioning in the long-term that he’s just three starts away from tying a career high and he’s less than 50 innings from a career high, so I wonder how he’ll hold up throughout the season, but so far so good for him. He has a very active fastball that he throws more than half the time and averages 97 along with a nasty slider and a fantastic curve. The slider has a whiff percentage of 40.8 percent and the curve is at 54.8 percent, so just don’t get in bad counts against him or else you’re likely toast. The slider makes him murder on lefties, so he has reverse platoon splits. Additionally, he does struggle just a bit with runners on and he’ll walk guys, so if the Royals are feeling risky, they could see if they can work counts with him to get a walk and additionally to hope to get him out of the game. His season-high in pitches is 105, so if they can work it a little bit, he could be out after six even if he’s pitching well.

I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve seen from Minor over his last couple starts. He was obviously outstanding against the White Sox, but I thought he was way better than his line against the Tigers on Friday when he ended up giving up four runs in six innings. I sort of understand the logic of bringing him back out for the seventh in that game, but I also disagreed with it and it ended up ultimately costing him a run and the Royals a game. For the good, he had eight strikeouts and no walks and tied a season-high with 14 swings and misses. For the second straight game, he was really in the zone and got by with some deception. The Rays have enough swing and miss in their lineup that I could see this start going well for him, but the Rays offense is tough so he’ll need to be on his game.

May 27 - Brady Singer vs. Shane McClanahan, 2:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brady Singer 9 45.0 2 3 23.4% 8.6% 4.00 4.01 1.0
Shane McClanahan 5 22.1 1 0 28.6% 7.7% 4.03 3.16 0.4

Shane McClanahan actually debuted in the postseason last year, but made his first regular season start in late April and he was really impressive. He’s been really aggressive with his slider, throwing it 45 percent of the time, which is more than any other pitch. And with good reason because it’s been fantastic. He’s allowed a .150 average and gets a whiff on literally half of the swings against it. His fastball looks great out of his hand, but it’s been hit pretty hard with an average exit velocity of 95.5 MPH and an average against it of .306. He’s also struggled a bit with his curve and changeup and he throws those sparingly. So far this season, he’s also had a reverse platoon split, which is likely because of that slider being so good and deadly against right-handed bats. As good as he’s looked, he’s really struggled with runners on and specifically with runners in scoring position, which isn’t the weirdest thing for a young pitcher no matter how highly touted they are. It’s pretty clear that the Rays are limiting his pitches as he’s never thrown more than 80 pitches, so a good approach will get him out of the game quickly.

Brady Singer has learned a little more to pitch without his best, as he noted after this start this past weekend that he would have been out of the game after three last season if he had what he had on Saturday against the Tigers. But he got through 6.1 and gave up three runs and ultimately gave the Royals a chance to win a game. His slider is going to be a very important pitch. Outside of Ji-Man Choi who has seen eight total sliders from righties this season, the highest average among Rays hitters on sliders from righties is Francisco Mejia at .250. Austin Meadows has slugged .533 on sliders from righties, but otherwise, it’s a lot more struggle. As a team, they’re hitting .128 with a .245 SLG on sliders from righties with a 33.9 percent whiff rate. If he can get his slider going, he’ll be able to get through this lineup.

Prediction

I struggled to predict a Royals win while they were on an 11-game losing streak, but I feel like 11-game winning streaks are made to be broken. Which Keller and which Hill we see in the first game will make a big difference, but I ultimately think the Royals take one of the three games, but they have a shot to have the pitching edge in two of the three games, which is a nice position to be in on the road.

Poll

Do the Rays leave this series with their winning streak at 14?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Absolutely not. They’ll be on a three-game losing streak after a Royals sweep.
    (6 votes)
  • 27%
    Nope. The Royals take two of three to quiet them.
    (38 votes)
  • 59%
    They’ll lose the streak but win the series, taking two of three.
    (83 votes)
  • 9%
    Oh yeah. They’re going to sweep and never lose again.
    (13 votes)
140 votes total Vote Now