The Rays, now 5-1 in their last six games, will take on a 8-12 White Sox team to begin a four-game set tonight. After winning two straight series against two strong teams (Athletics and Yankees), I think I speak for most Rays fans when I say that a good outcome is expected this weekend from the South Side.
With a wRC+ of just 74, Chicago currently owns the MLB's worst offense right after the Miami Marlins.
Their starting rotation and bullpen, on the other hand, are a completely different story. The Sox's pitching staff—led by ace Chris Sale—is fifth in the league in ERA (3.26) and eighth in FIP (3.56).
Thursday (8:10 ET): LHP Chris Sale vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson
Thanks to a rainout Tuesday night, the Rays unfortunately will have to face hard-throwing southpaw Chris Sale.
The Rays actually had some success last year against Sale during his breakout 2012 campaign, hitting him hard in one start but getting mowed down in the other.
His platoon splits are pretty standard for a left-handed starter; career .299 wOBA vs. righties and a .255 wOBA vs. lefties. He's been extra tough on left-handed batters so far this season, although it's very likely that there's not much to look into here as the numbers are taken from small sample size (7.0 IP).
One thing I've noticed about Sale is that he has incorporated more of his three secondary pitches this year. He's thrown 9% less four-seamers while mixing in more sliders and changeups.
Sale has his work cut out for him with Jeremy Hellickson on the hill for the Rays. Helly has got better with every start this season, shutting down an offensively-potent A's team through seven very strong innings in his last time out.
His velocity has been down in his first four starts, but it doesn't seem to be a concern as he continues to build it back up.
Friday (8:10 ET): RHP Jake Peavy vs. RHP Roberto Hernandez
Jake Peavy (2-1, 3.20 ERA) seems to be on track for another solid year in 2013. His numbers after his first four starts are strong, but it's important to note that he only faced one good offensive team and was roughed up in that outing.
All eyes will be on Roberto Hernandez, who's had a very encouraging start to the season. The numbers (4.74 ERA) don't tell the story for Hernandez at all. His low 60.2 LOB% and his 3.60 SIERA indicate that his ERA is bound to go down and that he's encountered his fair share of bad luck.
Hernandez's stuff has looked sharp, and it should be exciting to see how he fares Friday night.
Saturday (7:10 ET): RHP Gavin Floyd vs. LHP Matt Moore
Gavin Floyd is 0-3 with a 4.98 ERA to start the season, but we can expect his numbers to improve as his BABIP sits at .361 and his FIP at 3.98. Other notable stats are his high K/9 (9.97), his high GB% (50.8) and his low xFIP (3.20).
Floyd has had success against the Rays in the past; 5-1 with a 2.48 ERA.
Matt Moore will try to continue his terrific month of April Saturday night. He's allowed just three runs in four starts (26.0 IP). Let's hope that his extremely low BABIP (.143) and high FIP (3.39) don't begin to catch up with him in this game.
Sunday (2:10 ET): RHP Dylan Axelrod vs. LHP David Price
Dylan Axelrod is really just your average No. 5 starter. He doesn't have stuff that will blow batters away, but he has a solid slider that he throws more than any other pitch in his arsenal.
Axelrod is 0-1 with a 3.80 ERA and a 4.27 FIP through four starts.
David Price will square off against Axelrod for the series finale. He's had a slow and rather unfortunate start to the season, but appears to be on the way back to regular form after his very good inning last time out against New York.
Infield: Paul Konerko 1B, Jeff Keppinger 2B, Alexei Ramirez SS, Conor Gillaspie 3B, Tyler Flowers C, Hector Gimenez C, Tyler Greene 2B/SS
Outfielders: Alejandro De Aza, CF Jordan Danks, RF Alex Rios, Dewayne Wise, Blake Tekotte
RHP Addison Reed CL, LHP Matt Thornton SU, RHP Jesse Crain SU, RHP Nathan Jones MID, RHP Matt Lindstrom MID, LHP Donnie Veal MID, LHP Hector Santiago LR
Rays: DH Luke Scott (calf strain), 15-day DL; Yunel Escobar (hamstring), day-to-day
White Sox: 2B Gordon Beckham (fractured hamate bone), 15-day DL; LF Dayan Viciedo (oblique); 15-day DL
As I mentioned before, Chicago's offense is not a good one.
Alex Rios is leading the team offensively, hitting for a .415 wOBA with six homers and 11 RBI. Third baseman Conor Gillapsie has been pretty productive as well, putting up a .351 wOBA.
The bigs bats on this team have underproduced. Paul Konerko has taken a decline, hitting for wOBA of just .306 and an ISO of .174. Adam Dunn has been the biggest disappointment of them all, beginning the year with a .196 wOBA and a suprisingly low walk rate of 7.8%.
Old friend Jeff Keppinger, who was signed by the Sox for an over-priced three-year deal this offseason, has also been a let down. His -8 wRC+ pretty much sums it up, and his strikeout rate is at a career-high 11%.