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Rays vs Cubs Preview: Snell vs. Lackey... oh my

Snell vs. Lackey

MLB: Miami Marlins at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays wrap up their brief two-game series with the reigning World Series champions with a 2:20 ET start time on Wednesday.

Tampa Bay held on for their dear lives with a 6-5 victory in game of this couplet on Tuesday, and a win would put them a (tied-for) season-high four games over .500.

Starting Pitchers

Blake Snell

Snell gets another shot at the big league level, and he may need a decent showing to stick around instead of the rays deciding to shuttle him back to the minors. Snell is 0-5 on the season, and that figure has been relatively deserved. He had a four-start stretch near the start of the season in which he went five innings a pop and allowed an average of two earned runs per start, but his season-long ERA of 5.36 is indicative of what most Snell starts have been like. His FIP (5.30) and xFIP (5.33) suggest this hasn’t merely been a case of tough luck, but instead has been the result of truly poor pitching. In his lone start since being recalled, Snell allowed six runs over five innings, walking five and allowing one long ball in what looked to be a decent matchup against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.

Now Snell has to go into Wrigley and face the Cubs. The Cubs haven’t been nearly the offensive juggernauts this season that they were in 2016 (19th in wRC+), but they still know how to work the count (one of three teams with a double-digit walk rate), and they can punish lefties. Their wRC+ of 110 against southpaws in 2017 is fifth-best in baseball, and their 31 home runs against lefties rank sixth in all of baseball. In Kris Bryant, they have one of the preeminent lefty-bashers in all of baseball (169 wRC+ against lefties), and their top left-handed bat (Anthony Rizzo) is no slouch against lefties either this season (165 wRC+).

Blake Snell has not yet been credited with a win this season.

John Lackey

The one good thing for Snell is that he is going up against a pitcher who has had plenty of issues of his own right in 2017. The 38-year-old righty has an ERA (5.24) that nearly matches Snell, while his FIP (5.89) and xFIP (4.58) are split as to whether he has been better or worse than Snell this season.

The thing that jumps out immediately for Lackey in 2017 is the home run rate. Lackey is allowing a career-high (by far) 2.33 HR/9, as he has been victimized by a 22.4 percent HR/FB rate. That HR/FB rate is more than double his career rate (10.4 percent), and while some of that can be explained by whatever may or may not (but definitely may) be happening with the baseball, some of it is undoubtedly bad luck.

That being said, Lackey has never allowed this much hard contact in his career, a recipe for disaster in this current iteration of the sport. His fly ball rate is also the highest it has been since 2006, so the Rays should look to take advantage of this killer duo with a few long balls if they can (which their 129 homers this season suggest they most certainly can). Lackey’s velocity is also lower than ever, making it easier to turn on his pitches, and this is a game where the club should (emphasis added) be able to score a few runs in support of Snell.

Starting Lineups

Today's Lineup

Tampa Bay Rays Chicago Cubs
Tampa Bay Rays Chicago Cubs
Mallex Smith - CF Wilson Contreras - C
Corey Dickerson - LF Kris Bryant - 3B
Evan Logoria - 3B Anthony Rizzo - 1B
Logan Morrison - 1B Ben Zobrist - RF
Steven Souza - RF Ian Happ - LF
Tim Beckham - 2B Albert Almora Jr. - CF
Adeiny Hechavarria - SS Javier Baez - 2B
Jesus Sucre - C Addison Russell - SS
Blake Snell - LHP John Lackey - RHP