The Rays have won their last two series, besting the St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays for two out of three games each.
But they are heading to a city that has not been kind to them.
The Rays have lost eight straight in Kansas City and 15 of 16. Their lone win in that stretch came April 8, 2014.
They’ve had rain, snow (well, that actually came in 2013), bad offense with decent pitching, bad pitching with decent offense. They’ve had games where nothing went right and games where they just lost. But what they haven’t had is a win.
The Kansas City Royals, who are just ahead of the Rays in the crowded Wild Card race, come to this series having lost four in a row, which includes a sweep by the Cleveland Indians over the weekend. They were held scoreless en route to a 20-0 loss over the three game set.
Monday 8:15 PM: Austin Pruitt vs Ian Kennedy
Tuesday 8:15 PM: Alex Cobb vs Jakob Junis
Wednesday 8:15 PM: Jake Odorizzi vs Jason Vargas
Rays avoid Danny Duffy, recently placed on the disabled list
Ian Kennedy has been a solid innings eater, but this year the innings have been just barely above replacement level. He has a 5.09 ERA and 5.36 FIP. His 20.7% strikeout rate is his lowest since 2009, and his 9.7% walk rate would is the highest of his career. He’s allowed 26 homers in 127.1 innings. He’s allowed over a .200 ISO to batters of both hands. In his last start he allowed three runs in 4.2 innings to the Colorado Rockies.
Jakob Junis has had a solid start to his major league career. The 24 year old has a 4.68 ERA and 4.98 FIP over his first 57.2 innings. He has a 19.2 strikeout rate and 7.1% walk rate. In his last start he held the Rockies to one run over 5.1 innings.
Jason Vargas has a 3.72 ERA and 4.29 FIP. He had a great start to the season, but his second half hasn’t been very good. In 106.2 innings in the first half he allowed a 2.62 ERA and a .288 wOBA. In 39.0 innings since the all-star break he has a 6.69 ERA and has allowed a .392 wOBA. The left handed pitcher will still be the Rays biggest test this series. In his last start he allowed four runs in five innings to the Cleveland Indians.
The Royals bullpen has taken a step back, but is still good.
This winter the Royals traded Wade Davis to the Cubs weakening the back end of their pen. Overall the bullpen has a 4.09 ERA and 3.91 FIP.
Kelvin Herrera has picked up 26 saves, but hasn’t been as effective as he has in the past. He has a 3.88 ERA and 4.28 FIP due to an elevated home run rate. His strikeout rate is down to 23.0%.
Joakim Soria was having a solid season with a 3.96 ERA and 2.05 FIP, but was placed on the disabled list on August 18th with a strained oblique.
Left handed pitcher Mike Minor has been their most effective reliever with a 3.03 ERA and 2.71 FIP in 62.1 innings. He’s struck out 28.6% of batters while walking 6.5%.
Yesterday Onelki Garcia took the bullet in the 12-0 loss to the Indians by working 5.2 innings of relief. I’m sure they’ll make a move for a fresh arm by tonight’s game. The rest of the bullpen hasn’t been overworked.
The Royals offense has disappointed.
The Royals are hitting .257/.310/.418 and have a 89 wRC+. They don’t hit a lot of homers. They have the league’s lowest walk rate, but are one of only eight teams to have a strikeout rate below 20%.
Eric Hosmer has led the way offensively with a .320/.384/.502 and 135 wRC+. He has 21 homers and is only the second time in his career he’s hit at least 20.
Mike Moustakas has broken out in the power department with a career high 35 homers. His 119 wRC+ places him as the only well above average bat in the lineup.
Lorenzo Cain (107 wRC+) leads the team in fWAR due to his excellent defense in center field, above average bat, and baserunning.
Salvidor Perez (105 wRC+) and Whit Merrifield (102 wRC+) have been their other above average bats.
Since coming back to the Royals Melky Cabrera has added a 115 wRC+.
The Rays have a chance to move past a Wild Card competitor
The Rays look to remain on the fringes of the playoff race. They are still 3 games behind with a lot of teams in the way with 30 games to play. The Rays can make their Wild Card hopes more realistic if they can take advantage of a Kansas City team in a slump.
Meanwhile, while the Rays are travelling there will be baseball at Tropicana Field! The Rays have offered their stadium to the displaced Houston Astros, who will take on the Texas Rangers starting on Tuesday. A determination will be made whether the New York Mets vs Astros series will also be played in St. Petersburg.