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Game Preview (9/6) vs. New York

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Rays (57-81) at New York (77-59)
7:05; Yankee Stadium
Rays TV/PAX

Well, the Rays finally got a day off yesterday, their first day off since August 18th. Now, if anyone read my little piece on Labor Day Baseball, you know I think the Rays should have played yesterday, but the schedule-makers (along with everyone else) seem to want the Rays to fail. The offense didn't impress me in Toronto, and the third best AL offense instead had to have the bottom-feeders that are the pitching staff bail them out. Or, depending on how you look at it, they had to rely on the Blue Jays awful hitting.

Nonetheless, the Rays got back on the tracks, with Lurch pitching decently on Friday, and the bash borthers Kaz and Big Red shutting down Toronto on Saturday and Sunday. Well, the Rays don't have to face the Blue Jays' pitching staff anymore, they get to face the Yankees' batch of overpayed hurlers. Just to recap, the Yankees have gotten so desperate that they have....
-Signed Hideo Nomo
-Signed Al Leiter
-Signed Darrell May

That is pretty desperate for a team whose payroll is roughly 7 times that of the Rays. If you look at it the Yankees are sort of a more successful version of the Rays, albeit much more expensive. They both have relied heavily on their hitting, and it has come through for them, and they both have anemic pitching. For the series, the Rays get Randy Johnson, who has been waaaay below his normal self this year, Jaret Wright, who, as I anticipated, has been a spectacular fluke, and a starter to be announced, possibly Aaron Small, who has done surprisingly well for them this year.

But the probables are not Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz, let's face it. And with the probables as they are, Yankee-killer Eduardo Perez is due to be in the lineup for two of the three games, with the very hot Travis Lee getting the start on Thursday. The flip side to this is that the Yankees offense, the best in the AL, gets to tee off against the league's second worst pitching staff. The Rays, so far, are ahead in the season's duel, but the series should be very close, and should be full of fireworks.

PITCHING MATCHUP:
Rays-LH Casey "Mac" Fossum (8-11, 4.92)
NYY-LH Randy Johnson (13-8, 4.04)

BREAKDOWN: Two leftys go to the hill tonight for their respective teams. Taking the mound for the Rays is Casey Fossum, who has seen a steady downturn in his production when he takes the mound. He went 6.2 innings last Wednesday, surrendering SIX EARNED RUNS and getting the loss. More troubling is the three homers Mac served up, his most since playing the, you guessed it, Yankees in June. This is just one in a string of horrible starts for Mac that has seen his ERA inflate by 1.09 since last July 29th. His ERA for August was a whopping 8.44. If Mac continues to pitch like that, he'll be serving up Big Macs, and that isn't my term for home runs that he surrenders, though, come to think of it, it could be. Anyways, disturbing trends I have noticed in the last month are....

-More fly balls. Fossum has a 33-41 G:F ratio, and  gave up eight home runs on the month, double his total from July. Seems to me that he has been leaving more fat hanging curveballs over the plate that hitters have just been whacking.

-Too many walks. Fossum isn't what I would call a high strikeout, high walk pitcher. But the problem is, he has been high walk, without the high strikeout. He has not struck out more than five in the last month, and this is okay, but he has walked almost as many, projected clearly in his K:BB ratio, 22:16.

My theory is that because of his increased home run allowed total, Foss has been afraid to challenge hitters in the strikezone, leading, of course, to walks. He won't get it easy tonight against an expierenced Yankees lineup that will wait for their pitch, so while Foss can't back down, he has to assert himself in the strikezone. Fossum has also had problems with hits allowed, so I fully expect him to do better this month, even if he does continue his K:BB and home run problems, mostly because hits are more chance. I am too pressed for time right now to calculate Mac's DIPS ERA for the month, but if someone would take the liberty of doing it themselves, I am sure it would be much lower than his August ERA, though the high home run total does not help. I will probably update you with it tomorrow, when I have more time.

Before I wrap Mac's scouting report up, I just want to comment on a few things I've read over at RaysBaseball. These things concern possibly shutting Kaz and Mac down. The reason most often cited for Kaz is his age, and the dramatic increase in innings pitched he has had so far this year. Among the reasons cited for Mac is his smallish frame and, once again, rise in innings pitched. Let me just say, I am all for shutting Kaz down. He has pitched a lot this year, he is young, and to risk wear and tear on his arm for a few meaningless games in September is, for lack of a better word, stupid. I'd sit him even if it means putting, :shudders:, AWOL into the rotation. But why shut down Fossum? He's a big boy, getting to put 28 candles on his birthday cake come next January. And those who say having him finish this year would be a steep rise in innings pitched are just wrong. He pitched 147.1 innings in 1999 between Texas A&M and the minors, 149.1 in '00, 152 in '01, and 161.1 last year. Curently, he is sitting at 135.1. Now, if he goes an average of six innings through the end of the season, by my projection, he ends up at 30 innings for the rest of the season, assuming I'm right in him making an average of six innings through five more starts. That puts him at 165.1 for the season, not all that muich of an increase over his 161.1 last year. Hell, even if he pitches a complete game in each of his final starts, he is still only at 180, only about 20 more than his previous career high. The bottom line: Kaz should sit, Fossum should not.

Anyways, so how did Mac do last time out vs. the Yankees? Well, he last faced them at home on August 15th, and in his best start of the month, he went six innings giving up five hits and four runs, but only two earned, on four walks and four strikeouts. Among Yankee hitters, Tino Martinez has a home run against Mac in his only at bat against him and Alex Rodriguez is 2 for 5 with a double, a homer, and two RBI.

Taking the mound for the Evil Empire is one of the best pitchers of our generation, fireballing southpaw Randy Johnson. The good news for us is, Randy has never done well against the Rays and he is having a subpar year. The bad news is he is on a roll, coming off two spectacular starts that made him look like the Randy of old. He picked up his Yankees-high 14th win of the year last time out against Seattle in a seven inning shutout. Granted, he was facing the Mariners and Royals, not eactly the '27 Yankees, but he went 15 innings total, surrendering only seven hits and one earned run. And to top it off, he walked two and struck out 13. Moving back to the bright side, Johnson has struggled mightily in two of his three starts against the Rays, surrendering 12 ER over 10.1 IP in them. He seemed to figure out the Rays a little more last time out, going seven innings and surrendering only two earned on five hits. Regardless, he still hasn't figured out Edurado (Read: Ed-yardo) Perez, who is 4 for 6 with five runs scored, three, count 'em three home runs, and five RBI. Just in case you are wondering, that is 27% of his total home run output (11) this year. The best news, Perez is 3 for 4 in Yankee Stadium, with four runs scored, two homers, and three RBI. My advice to the Yankee Stadium employees, be prepared to replace seats with holes in them after the game is finished.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The bottom line is, well, expect tons of fireworks. The Rays and Yankees offenses are both in the AL Top 3, the Rays have killed Randy Johnson before, and Mac is struggling. But, if Mac wanted to surprise me and pitch half-decent, the Rays take the win, and thus clinch the season series. Either way, with Al Leiter/Jaret Wright going tomorrow, the Yanks better give it their all in this one, or they'll end up fighting for the series win on Thursday.

So with the two leftys starting, you should see a lot of platoons. The Rays will certainly have Toby Hall at the backstop today, with an infield/DH of (in no particular order) Perez-Green-Lugo-Cantu-Gonzalez, and an outfield of Crawford-Hollins-Gomes. This outfield will be without Aubrey Huff, who has not gone AWOL, but has left the team for undisclosed reasons, hopefully not the type Rob Bell left for.

Should be a high-scoring game in the Bronx tonight, and the number of total runs might actually eclipse the number of car thefts going on for a change!

GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!