There's an old saying: to not be the worst, you have to beat the best. Well, tonight, the Rays get their chance against the Oakland Athletics, who currently hold the best record in all of baseball at 28-16. The A's have accomplished their impressive start on the back of the top offense in baseball (117 wRC+) and the second best pitching staff by runs allowed, although their 2.92 ERA is belied by a 3.51 FIP and 3.58 xFIP.
Missing from the series will be Ben Zobrist, still on the disabled list with a dislocated thumb. Depending on the matchup, he's either the Rays' second or third best hitter, so these will be the ugliest matchup graphs I've shown you in some time.
Here is an interactive graph of batter-pitcher matchup projections for every game of the series. The matchup projections come from a tool I made with Jason Hanselman (Dock of the Rays) that incorporates Bojan Koprivica's research on regressing platoon splits and ZiPS projections. The grey line is at an average wOBA of .320.
Thanks to Jason's work, these projections are now park-adjusted. The overall and vs. average L/R pitchers displayed are park-neutral, and the matchup is paced in the park where it will be played.
Jake Odorizzi vs. Drew Pomeranz, 7:10
The most salient characteristic of Drew Pomeranz is his ridiculously wide split for a starter. Even regressing that split, I have Pomeranz at 9% worse than average against righties, and 10% better than average against lefties. So much of the quality in the Rays lineup comes from the left-handed Matt Joyce, James Loney, and David DeJesus, and of those three, only Loney is liable to play, but this is the type of game where the Rays platoon bats of Logan Forsythe, Sean Rodriguez, and Brandon Guyer can, and perhaps must succeed.
Erik Bedard vs. Tom Milone, 7:10
Milone, also a lefty, is a much more balanced pitcher. He's around average against hitters on both sides of the plate, which I think will actually make him a little bit more difficult on the Rays. He'll still keep Joyce and DeJesus on the bench, but he doesn't automatically make the coterie of right-handed Rays toward the right side of the chart a strong play, either.
Chris Archer vs. Sony Gray, 4:05
The matchup of these two young right-handers gives a radically different look than that of the previous two games. Both Archer and Gray should be expected to be tough on righties (I've got both of them at about 10% more difficult than the average righty). The top hitters for both teams are all righties (Evan Longoria, Josh Donaldson, and Yoenis Cespedes), so this is a game where the middle tier of hitters needs to step up. With Ben Zobrist gone, the Athletics appear better positioned to do so. Rays fans better hope that Longo and Wil Myers can overcome their tough matchup, or that Matt Joyce goes off.