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Series Preview: Rays face West Coast Rays

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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Oakland Athletics Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays take the road trip to Oakland after winning their last two games and earning a rare series win. The Athletics are coming off two series victories against the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays.

The Matchups:

Thursday: Matt Moore vs Sonny Gray

Friday: Jake Odorizzi vs Sean Manaea

Saturday: Drew Smyly vs Kendall Graveman

Sunday: Blake Snell vs TBA*

* Rich Hill was scheduled to make a start this series after he was pulled during the first batter against the Blue Jays on Sunday when a blister popped on his finger. The A’s need him to get back out there as the trade deadline approaches.

Gray leads a rotation that has struggled

Sonny Gray has been a disappointment at the top of the Atheltics’ rotation. After never having an ERA over 3.08 in his three previous seasons in the majors his ERA has ballooned to 5.12. The 4.61 FIP thinks he’s been a bit unlucky, but part of that is also due to the leagues’ worst defense behind him. Gray is combining his career low 17.3% strikeout rate with a career high 8.9% walk rate. After three years of sub-10% HR/FB rates it has spiked to 15.7%. Since returning from a DL stint on June 5th he has gotten better results, but still has been prone to the blowup. In six of the eight starts he has allowed three or fewer runs.

Sean Manaea has been a bag of mixed results in his first taste of MLB action. He has limited walks at a 6.5% rate and a 19.1% strikeout rate. In two of his last four starts he has managed to keep the opponents from scoring, suggesting that he’s getting better. As is typical with a left handed pitcher he has had difficulty with right handed batters as they have hit .287/.339/.489 and .350 wOBA against him. He’s been really tough on left handed batters, however, as they have only managed a .175/.246/.321 line and .250 wOBA.

Kendall Graveman is your typical low strikeout, low walk back end starter. He’s posted a 4.25 ERA and 4.60 FIP. He’s a ground ball pitcher that relies on bad contact to be successful. Left handed batters have teed off against Graveman as they have hit .291/.373/.476 and a .364 wOBA.

Oakland relievers have seen a lot of action.

The Athletics bullpen has pitched the third most innings in all of baseball at 333. (In contrast, the Rays bullpen has only been called on to pitch 278.1 innings and eighth lowest in the majors.) The Athletics bullpen has a 4.22 ERA which is 20th in MLB, but their 3.92 FIP is 13th.

Sean Doolittle has regained the closer’s role with another productive season. He’s posted a 2.93 ERA and 3.77 FIP. His 28.9% strikeout rate leads the team and his 6.6% walk rate is above average. If you’re going to get to the left handed reliever it is likely to be through right handed batters as they have hit .262/.338/.516 and posted a .352 wOBA.

Ryan Madson, who was signed to a 3/$22 million contract to start the year, had been pegged as the designated closer. His strikeout rate, however, has moved backwards from 23.4% to 18.2% and his walks have escalated from 5.7% to 7.7%. That’s usually not a great combination, and explains why Doolittle now has the closer role. His 3.57 ERA has been ok, but his 4.59 FIP suggests he’s been lucky to this point.

Ryan Dull has been a real bright spot in the bullpen. He has combined a 27.0% strikeout rate and 5.4% walk rate. This has led to a 2.05 ERA and 3.11 FIP. He’s been particularly tough on right handed batters as they have only managed a .137/.164/.301 line and .196 wOBA.

The loss of Josh Reddick has had a tremendous impact on the Athletic’s offense.

The Athletics offense has basically been the Rays offense without the power. They have a combined for a .251/.306/.400 line and 90 wRC+. The Athletics have been better against left handed pitchers as they have hit .260/.310/.427 and 98 wRC+. Losing Josh Reddick for an extended period of time has definitely hurt their offensive production against right handed pitching.

Against left handed pitchers they are led by Danny Valencia (185 wRC+), of 3 HR in a game against the Rays fame, Marcus Semien (163 wRC+), and Billy Butler (126 wRC+).

Against right handed pitchers they are led by Josh Reddick (158 wRC+), former Rays farmhand Stephen Vogt (119 wRC+), Khris Davis (109 wRC+), and Danny Valencia (102 wRC+).

The Oakland Athletics have the worst defense in the league according to defensive metrics. The Athletics have combined for -33.4 UZR and -74 DRS. Even with some heavy regression as you must do with defensive metrics they still project to be among the worst in baseball.

The Rays showcase Moore and Odorizzi ahead of the trade deadline.

It’s too late to save the season, but the Rays need the starting pitching to continue their improved performance of late to increase their trade value (or give fans some reason to look forward to 2017).

It feels great to win two in a row and hopefully there are more wins in the future.