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Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: It doesn’t get any easier for the Royals

The Royals will continue to figure out how to win on the road against teams in a fight for the postseason.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Dave Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

While the Rays aren’t having the type of season they’ve grown accustomed to over the last few years, they are currently sitting in a coveted playoff spot…but barely. After losing to the Orioles last Friday, they fell out of a playoff spot before rallying to win the final two games of that series and taking two of three from the Yankees to get back in there. But it’s tenuous at best with seven teams within 5.5 games of each other for the three wild card spots. And that doesn’t include the Guardians, who are barely on top of the AL Central. All that is to say that this is a huge series for the Rays against a now struggling Royals team that has lost five of six after winning six of eight. This Rays team is getting healthier with some players back and some close, but is still not healthy.

They’ll be without both Mike Zunino and Kevin Kiermaier for the rest of the year. But they’re supposed to get Manuel Margot back this weekend. Wander Franco is now a question mark after leaving a game on his rehab assignment with soreness, so it doesn’t appear that he’ll be back this weekend. The pitching side is much less optimistic on the health front, but they seem to be rolling along decently anyway and might even get Tyler Glasnow back this season. They really do need the help offensively as they just don’t score enough runs. But the pitching, as usual, is plenty good. And plenty deep. So they can make opposing offenses look silly, which isn’t great news for a Royals offense that hasn’t scored in 26 innings.

Royals vs. Rays Matchups Stats

Category Royals Rays
Category Royals Rays
Winning % .403 .534
H2H Wins 2 1
Team wRC+ 94 101
Team xFIP 4.47 4.07
Run Differential -140 26
Highest fWAR Brady Singer, 1.9 Shane McClanahan, 3.5

Rays Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Yandy Diaz 3B 433 .273 .383 .388 14.1% 11.1% 134 2.3
Brandon Lowe 2B 231 .232 .307 .415 9.1% 24.2% 112 1.0
Randy Arozarena RF 466 .254 .318 .435 6.9% 25.1% 120 1.3
David Peralta LF 360 .252 .314 .445 8.1% 23.9% 107 1.4
Harold Ramirez DH 273 .325 .374 .450 5.9% 13.6% 142 1.6
Ji-Man Choi 1B 332 .239 .340 .380 13.6% 29.2% 113 1.1
Taylor Walls SS 345 .175 .270 .294 11.0% 25.8% 70 -0.3
Jose Siri CF 195 .189 .246 .300 6.2% 36.4% 58 0.9
Francisco Mejia C 215 .269 .288 .433 2.3% 23.7% 108 0.9

Rays Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Christian Bethancourt C/1B 234 .232 .275 .355 4.7% 23.1% 83 0.8
Yu Chang INF 122 .209 .279 .318 6.6% 36.1% 76 0.0
Isaac Paredes INF 256 .218 .293 .450 9.0% 16.4% 116 1.5
Roman Quinn OF 79 .197 .278 .268 8.9% 39.2% 61 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
Jason Adam 51 47.2 1 2 32.4% 5.8% 1.13 3.01 1.4
Pete Fairbanks 11 10.2 0 0 36.6% 2.4% 2.53 1.69 0.4
Brooks Raley 44 39.1 1 1 29.6% 6.2% 2.52 3.17 1.1

Royals vs. Rays Projected Pitching Matchups

August 18 - RHP Max Castillo vs. RHP Luis Patiño, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Max Castillo 9 20.2 0 0 24.7% 6.2% 3.05 3.33 0.0
Luis Patiño 3 8.0 0 1 7.7% 10.3% 6.75 7.37 -0.2

With the Royals sending Brad Keller to the bullpen, Max Castillo appears to be the guy to start for them in his place. They got Castillo from the Blue Jays as part of the Whit Merrifield deal at the deadline and while Castillo was pitching pretty well in the big leagues, the Royals sent him to AAA. He struggled in his first start, but was much better in his second. You might remember seeing him during the Royals trip to Toronto before the break when he gave up three runs in three innings. He hasn’t been especially stretched out, so the odds are pretty good that we see Keller in this one anyway, but if Castillo can give the Royals four innings, I think they’d be pretty satisfied with that. Castillo generally throws strikes and has decent enough staff with a fastball/changeup/slider mix. I’m excited to see him get a shot here.

Career vs. TB: 2 G, 3.1 IP, 0-0, 0.00 ERA

The Rays are calling up Luis Patiño for a start here to help give their rotation an extra day off during a long stretch of games without an off day. He looked good for them last season and like he might be a big part of their rotation moving forward, but he had an oblique strain early in the year and has spent most of his truncated season in the minors. He’s only thrown 35.1 innings total between the big leagues and the minors, so he’s fresh at the very least. He works with a mid-90s fastball that, when right, is a tough pitch to square up along with a slider that can be absolutely filthy. This year, in his brief big league time, he’s used his sinker and changeup a lot more, but he was mostly a two-pitch guy last season. I think some of that is in his limited big league time this year, his slider has been hit very hard with a 1.083 SLG. Granted, it’s just a few at bats, but he’s just not getting whiffs on it at all. It’s hard to judge much from this year, but last year he struggled with lefties, though as I mentioned, he wasn’t using all four pitches quite as often, so I guess we’ll see if that continues.

Career vs. KC: 1 GS, 4.0 IP, 0-0, 6.75 ERA

August 19 - RHP Brady Singer vs. LHP Shane McClanahan, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brady Singer 19 104.0 6 4 25.5% 6.0% 3.29 3.34 1.9
Shane McClanahan 22 134.1 11 5 32.2% 5.1% 2.28 2.28 3.5

What more is there to say about Brady Singer after he threw six shutout innings against the Dodgers on Sunday? Personally I’m not ready to declare him an ace, but he has shown the upside to be there and he’s without a doubt the Royals ace. Since the start of July, he’s made eight starts spanning 50 innings. In those eight starts, he has a 2.16 ERA, a 29.3 percent strikeout rate and a 7.6 percent walk rate. Those are absolutely ace numbers. He faced this Rays team in his first start after the break and struck out 12 in six innings. He had maybe his worst start of his career in Tampa last season, giving up six runs in 2.2 innings. He’s a different pitcher now, but that’s a demon he’ll need to destroy.

Career vs. TB: 2 GS, 8.2 IP, 0-1, 7.27 ERA

Shane McClanahan is such an interesting story because he made his big league debut in the playoffs in 2020 and actually pitched important innings. Then he came back last year and was very good as a rookie before turning into one of baseball’s best pitchers this season, earning a start in the All-Star game. He hasn’t been quite as good since with a 4.94 ERA and just 18 strikeouts in 23.2 innings, so maybe the Royals are catching him at a good time. He works a 96-98 MPH fastball up in the zone, has a very good changeup, an excellent curve and a slider that gets forgotten because it’s just not as good as the other pitches, but it’s still quite good too. He’s only allowed a slugging percentage of higher than .400 on his fastball and even that’s just .431. He throws a first-pitch strike nearly 64 percent of the time, which is a problem for opponents because he also allows a .325 OPS when he’s ahead in the count. It’s very tough to beat this guy.

Career vs. KC: 1 GS, 5.0 IP, 1-0, 0.00 ERA

August 20 - LHP Kris Bubic vs. RHP Drew Rasmussen, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kris Bubic 20 91.2 2 7 19.4% 11.1% 5.11 4.47 0.5
Drew Rasmussen 20 99.2 7 4 20.4% 6.2% 2.80 3.68 1.8

I thought Kris Bubic looked better against the Twins than he did in some of his better starts over his recent run, but the results just weren’t as good for him. So that’s sort of good and bad. He did strike out seven over 5.2 innings, which is pretty good, and walked three, which isn’t great. But he gave up 10 hits. On the plus side, it was nine singles. Is that sustainable? I don’t think so. But he threw strikes. And since the break, he’s done that a lot better than before. He has a 21.2 percent strikeout rate and a 7.7 percent walk rate. He’s still not getting the first pitch over as much as he’d like, but I think limiting the walks has made all the difference for him, which isn’t surprising in the least. By the way, in that time, he has a 2.80 ERA and 3.44 FIP. So even with a bad start in Minnesota, I don’t think I’m any less bullish on Bubic moving forward. There’s a lot to like here.

Career vs. TB: 1 GS, 7.0 IP, 1-0, 2.57 ERA

We had a chance to see Drew Rasmussen in Kansas City when the Rays were in town in July and he looked pretty good. It was the start of an incredible run for him with the most recent chapter being taking a perfect game into the ninth inning. He ended up losing the perfecto, the no-hitter and the shutout, but still went 8.1 innings in 87 pitches, which is very impressive. He’s made five starts since the break with a 1.67 ERA and a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio. Rasmussen works with a four-seamer at 95-96, a cutter, slider and the very occasional curve. I’m not sure if there’s a 60 in the pitch mix, but they’re a bunch of 50s and 55s, which can get the job done when you have the control and command that he does. He’s also been incredible at home this year with a 1.87 ERA, which is not great for the Royals. But he hasn’t gotten to triple digits in pitches in a game yet, so if the Royals can work the count a little on him, they have a chance to at least get him out early-ish.

Career vs. KC: 3 G, 1 GS, 7.0 IP, 2-0, 1.29 ERA

August 21 - RHP Zack Greinke vs. LHP Jeffrey Springs, 12:40pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Zack Greinke 20 104.2 4 8 13.8% 4.4% 4.13 4.42 1.2
Jeffrey Springs 24 89.1 5 3 26.5% 5.3% 2.52 3.18 1.7

It’s no secret that Zack Greinke has had his struggles on the road, but I thought he had a nice start against the Twins in Minnesota in a game that turned ugly after he left. He did give up three runs in six innings, but just one was earned and he struck out exactly five for the fourth time in his last seven starts while walking nobody for the second straight start and the seventh time this season. He’s been good since the break, with a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings over five starts. He has given up 33 hits, but he’s only walked five, so it sort of evens out. And of those 33 hits, 24 were singles. Not that singles can’t hurt, but they hurt less than extra base hits. If you take it back a few more starts, Greinke has been quite good since coming off the IL, going 53 innings in 10 starts with a 3.23 ERA and 4.4 percent walk rate. Again, lots of hits, but he limits the damage well.

Career vs. TB: 17 G, 14 GS, 96.1 IP, 4-6, 3.36 ERA

This start is currently scheduled to go to Jeffrey Springs, who has been fantastic for the Rays this year after being very good out of the bullpen for them last year. Coming into this season, he’d made just two career big league starts and those were back in 2018, but he moved into the Rays rotation for good on May 9 and while he isn’t an innings-eater by any stretch, he’s been really, really good for them. He doesn’t have elite velocity, sitting in the low-90s but he is able to elevate effectively. While that does lead to some home runs allowed, he gets a lot of outs with his fastball. But like so many “crafty” lefties, it’s the changeup that gets the job done with a whiff rate closing in on 40 percent, he uses his changeup very effectively. He also throws a slider that I’ve never been terribly impressed with but yet it gets results, so what do I know? That changup has given him a pretty drastic reverse platoon splits with righties posting a .606 OPS against him compared to .755 for lefties. He also seems to get better the bigger the situation with a .503 OPS allowed in high leverage, .625 in medium leverage and .739 in low leverage.

Career vs. KC: 5 G, 1 GS, 8.2 IP, 0-0, 3.12 ERA

Royals vs. Rays Prediction

I’m starting to see a pattern of solid play at home for the Royals and very poor play on the road. And against a Rays team fighting for its postseason life in Tampa, I just don’t feel great about this series. Young players are unpredictable, so anything can happen, but I’m going to say that the Royals come out of this with just one win.


Four games in many do the Royals win?

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