After losing the first game of the series to the New York Yankees on Monday night by a score of 11-5, pessimism abounded in Rays' nation. It was the team's sixth loss against the Evil Empire in seven games this season, and it didn't seem like they were getting any closer to slaying the evil beast. Rays' fans searched every nook and cranny and turned over every rock in search for answers until we finally got down on our hands and knees and asked the baseball gods, "Why oh why can we not beat the damn pinstripes?"
The Rays' futility against the Yankees seemed like a mere continuation of the season's theme. In a season that has featured arm injury after arm injury after knee injury after arm injury, Rays' fans have often wondered what exactly the team must have done to piss off the baseball deities.
But then the Rays won on Tuesday night. And Wednesday night. And Thursday night. Three in a row? It's a Christmas miracle!
Perhaps this is a turning point, and the powers that be have decided that the Tampa Bay community has been punished enough. Or perhaps it is simply the eye of the hurricane and there are more rough waters ahead. Nevertheless, any series that features three victories against the bloody Yanks is a good series indeed. So, enjoy it.
After last night's victory, the Rays are only one game behind the Yankees for the division lead. The Rays send Jake Odorizzi to the mound to face Phil Hughes in tonight's game against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
His 2.09 ERA ranks 5th in the AL. @JakeOdorizzi opens series vs. @Twins on @SunSportsRays, @620WDAE, @MLBTV. #RaysUp pic.twitter.com/5zkKtyHxmT— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 15, 2015
#MNTwins batting order vs. TB: Dozier 4 Hunter 9 Mauer 3 Plouffe 5 Suzuki 2 Escobar 7 Vargas DH Hicks 8 Santana 6 RHP Hughes— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) May 15, 2015
The Book on Phil Hughes
In 2014, after seven years of underperformance and disappointment with the New York Yankees, Phil Hughes had a breakout season in his first year with the Minnesota Twins. Finishing seventh in American League Cy Young voting, Hughes posted a 2.65 FIP in 209.2 innings of work. By striking out 186 batters and only walking 16, Hughes set the all-time strikeout-to-walk ratio at 11.63, breaking Bret Saberhagen's 1994 mark of 11.00 with the New York Mets.
Minnesota rewarded Hughes' performance by giving him a $42 million dollar contract extension that will keep him in a Twins uniform through the 2019 season. However, seven starts into the 2015 season Hughes has failed to match, or even come close to matching, the breakout performance that warranted his payday.
Hughes' FIP has risen from 2.65 in 2014 to 4.62 in 2015. However, his degression has certainly not been due to a change in approach as Hughes has continued to pound away at the strike zone. Hughes, for back to back seasons, has led/is leading the majors in zone%. In 2014 he posted a 56.4%, while in 2015 he has posted a 58.9%. Although his K/9 has slightly fallen and his BB/9 has slightly risen, his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.00, while not record-breaking, is still good for fifth best in all of baseball.
Rather, the significant uptick in Hughes' FIP can be credited to the number of home runs he has allowed this season. In just seven games, Hughes has already allowed nine long balls.
Compared to last season, Hughes' HR/9 has risen from a respectable 0.69 to a dastardly 1.84 (seventh highest rate in the Bigs). Meanwhile, his HR/FB ratio more than doubled from 6.2% to 15%.
It is unclear exactly what had caused the increased number of home runs. His fastball has lost one mph since last season, and has generated less whiffs (17.89 to 14.60). But the problem seems to be with his cutter. Although it has stayed fairly consistent in terms of velocity, it has been hit a whole lot harder. The percentage of fly balls and line drives that leave the park when he throws his cutter has increased from 5.41% in 2014 to 16.67% in 2015.
According to Fangraphs, Hughes' 2015 arsenal has consisted of a 91 mph fastball (thrown 73.4% of the time, fourth highest frequency in MLB), a 89 mph cutter (16.1%), and a 76 mph curveball (9.1%). He will also very rarely throw an 86 mph changeup (1.4%).
#Rays McGee says he will be eased back into bullpen mix, won't be used on back to back days initially, is open to whatever role he gets— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) May 15, 2015