Finally after 190 grueling, dreadful, despairing, hope-inspiring-but-returning-back-to-depressing days, the Rays first game of the season is here. During their six month hiatus from the regular season, the Rays have lost several of the faces of the franchise.
During spring training, multiple acquisitions inspired hope for the Rays faithful, and the rotation once more looked to be one of the league's best, but the the roster that breaks camp to face the Orioles is far from the one the Rays brass envisioned. They will start the season with five pitchers and one position player on the DL (Alex Cobb, Alex Colome, Drew Smyly, Jake McGee, Matt Moore, and Nick Franklin). All players were expected to be key components of the Rays roster, with the exception of Matt Moore who is expected back mid-season.
Required Reading from Camden Chat
The Baltimore Orioles know how to hit a fastball
•Camden ChatUnder Dan Duquette the Orioles have been one of the best teams hitting against fastballs in the Major Leagues. What advantage does this give them and what does it mean going forward?
Anyway, the Baltimore Orioles will the be the first challenge the Rays face during the 2015 season as they begin a three game series today at 3:10 pm at a sold out Trop.
Follow this link to an interactive graph showing the matchups for every game. The projections are made using a tool created by our own Ian Malinowski and by Jason Hanselman of Dock of the Rays. It combines regressed platoon splits based off The Book and Bojan Kaprovica's work, with Steamer projections, and uses a log5 method to calculate the matchups. Overall projections and projections vs. average lefties and righties are park-neutral (meaning everyone is on the same footing). Projected matchups are placed in The Trop (also on the same footing, but scaled slightly different than the overall projections).
Chris Tillman vs Chris Archer at 3:10 PM, April 6
This will be Chris Tillman's second opening day start in a row for the O's as he faces the Rays lineup. He's made a total of 14 starts against Tampa Bay in his career and has a 4-6 record with a 4.08 ERA. Evan Longoria in particular has hit him very well going 13-33 with five homers against Tillman. As you can see below, he and John Jaso are projected to be the best matchups for either team during the game (Longoria because he's really good; Jaso because he's a lefty).
Chris Archer was handed the opening day nod after Cobb and Smyly went down with their respective injuries, but he's still capable of being the ace on the team. During spring training, he worked on harnessing his change up and to the naked eye, he seems to have done rather well.
Still, Archer will rely on his excellent fastball/slider combo, which makes him especially tough for opposing right-handed batters. That's bad news for the Orioles, as their three best hitters at the moment are all righties.
Here is how each team is projected to matchup against Tillman and Archer (thanks to Ian for the chart).
Wei-Yin Chen vs Nathan Karns at 7:10, April 7
This will be Chen's second straight year pitching the second game of the season for Baltimore. In 2014, Chen had a breakout year in his third season in the majors. He has a fastball that sits in the low 90's, while also possessing some other average breaking pitches.
Chen is very difficult on lefties, meaning that John Jaso should probably sit against him, and that the Rays will count on their power righties of Evan Longoria and Steven Souza, as well as the solid right-handed bat of Brandon Guyer and Desmond Jennings to create offense.
Nathan Karns made two starts for the Rays late last year, one was very good, the other...not so much. He came into camp hoping to win the 5th starter spot, but comes out of it as the second arm in the Rays rotation. This start will only be Karns fifth in the majors and he'll be going against the team he made his major league debut against when he went 4+ innings on May 28th, 2013 and allowed three runs on five hits.
Miguel Gonzalez vs Jake Odorizzi at 7:10 PM, April 8
Miguel Gonzalez will begin his fourth season with the Orioles and he's quietly been one of their most consistent starters of the years. He's average against lefties and tough on righties, meaning that there are no sure bets in the Rays lineup. Jaso, Longoria, and James Loney should all be serviceable against him, though.
Jake Odorizzi comes in the 2015 season as a strikeout pitcher, having learned a dominant pitch last season that helped him accumulate more strikeouts. When the Rays acquired him, he struggled to have that out pitch, but with his development he has become a solid pitcher in the rotation.