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Series Preview: Rays vs. Yankees

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Four games in the Bronx that can help — or hurt — the Rays postseason hopes

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio Rides New Citywide NYC Ferry Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays head to New York for a four game set against the New York Yankees. Four away games against the team directly ahead in the standings with the season nearing the two-thirds mark....we’re not nervous! No, not at all!

In recent play, the Rays salvaged a series victory over the Baltimore Orioles by winning the final two games. The New York Yankees have won three in a row.

The Matchups:

Thursday 7:05 PM: Chris Archer vs CC Sabathia
Friday 7:05 PM: Austin Pruitt vs Masahiro Tanaka
Saturday 1:05 PM: Blake Snell vs Caleb Smith
Sunday 1:05 PM: Jacob Faria vs Jordan Montgomery

Yankees schedule three left handed pitchers against the Rays.

CC Sabathia isn’t the same pitcher he was a decade ago, but neither is the the walking disaster he had been for the past few years. He has been effective in 2017, with a 3.44 ERA and 4.19 FIP. He has a 18.9% strikeout rate and 9.3% walk rate. In his last start he allowed one run over five innings against the Seattle Mariners. Sabathia has faced the Rays twice this year. Both times he went five innings. Once the Rays were held scoreless and they scored two runs the second time.

Masahiro Tanaka has had a disappointing season. He has a 5.37 ERA and 4.92 FIP. He has never posted a season with an ERA above 3.51 or 3.98 FIP. His 23.6% strikeout rate is the highest he’s posted since his rookie year. His 5.4% walk rate is the highest of his career, but not a big spike. The biggest difference is he’s allowed 26 homers which is already a career high. In his last start he allowed four runs in six innings to the Mariners. The Rays have knocked around Tanaka in both starts this year. On opening day the Rays put up seven runs in 2.2 innings and hit two homers against him. His second outing wasn’t much more successful, as the Rays scored six runs in 3.0 innings and hit three homers.

Caleb Smith has had an major league debut last week. He allowed four runs in 3.2 innings to the Mariners. He allowed five hits while striking out two and issuing one walk. The 25 year old had, however, been effective for the Yankees triple A team. (And let’s hope the Yankees don’t pull off a Sonny Gray or Yu Darvish trade between now and Friday).

Jordan Montgomery has had a good start to his career. In 19 starts he has a 3.92 ERA and 4.07 FIP. He has a 22.0% strikeout rate and 7.3% walk rate. The left handed pitcher has limited left handed bats to a .177/.236/.392 line and .267 wOBA. Only 55 of the 450 batters he has faced has hit from the left side. He held the Reds to one run in 6.2 innings most recently. The Rays got to Montgomery for three runs in 4.2 innings in his first career start.

The Yankee have added to a talented bullpen.

Despite spending $86MM for five years of Aroldis Chapman and having Dellin Betances under control the Yankees went out and added David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle.

Aroldis Chapman hasn’t gotten the results that the Yankees have expected. He has a 3.38 ERA, but still has an elite 1.88 FIP. His strikeouts are “down” to 31.9% and he has a 10.1% walk rate. This would be the first time since 2011 his strikeout rate is below 40%.

Dellin Betances has been a mess. He has a 2.83 ERA and 2.79 FIP. The problem has been his walk rate is getting close to one per inning and a 18.5% walk rate. He still posts an elite 40.8% strikeout rate.

David Robertson returns to the Yankees. This year he has a 2.65 ERA and 3.10 FIP. His 36.6% strikeout rate is the highest since 2014 with the Yankees. His 7.6% walk rate is back down after being up to 12.0% last year.

Tommy Kahnle was the big get in the deal with the White Sox. He has a 2.29 ERA and 1.40 FIP in his breakout season. His velocity has skyrocketed and the walks have plummeted. He has a 43.4% strikeout rate. His walkrate is down to 4.6% with a career 12.1% walk rate.

The bullpen is fresh and ready for a four game set. None of the Yankee relievers have thrown in more than one inning in the last three days.

The Judge show.

The Yankees offense has been one of the best offenses in the majors outside of Houston. They have hit .263/.340/.444 and have a 109 wRC+. The Yankees are averaging 5.35 runs per game.

Aaron Judge leads the way with a .310/.434/.646 and 182 wRC+. He leads the American League with 32 homers. He has struggled since the all-star break. He’s hitting .171/.340/.317 and has a 63 wRC+ in 53 plate appearances.

Judge is joined by Didi Gregorius (123 wRC+), Gary Sanchez (117 wRC+), Starlin Castro (116 wRC+), Brett Gardner (115 wRC+), and Matt Holiday (109 wRC+) as above average regulars with the bat.

Clint Frazier has hit .290/.306/.565 and has a 124 wRC+ in 72 plate appearances since making his major league debut.

The Rays need to win series against teams ahead of them.

The Yankees are 1.5 games in front of the Rays. The Royals have moved a game up on the Rays for the final wild card. Right now the Rays are on the outside looking in. But their starters have all been quite good the last time through the rotation, and the Rays have made their first move to add to their bullpen in adding left handed pitcher Dan Jennings. He will be activated for tonight’s game and give the Rays an effective lefty out of the pen for the first time this year.

Winning a four game series is always difficult. If the Rays win the series they move ahead of the Yankees. However if they lose the series the Yankees will be able to create space in the playoff race. There is a lot at stake this weekend.