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Rays-Brewers preview: Faria vs. some dude named Woodruff

The two teams are eerily similar this season

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

After stealing the final three games in a big-time road series with the Houston Astros, the Rays head back home (29-23) to host the Milwaukee Brewers for a three-game set. The Rays currently sit a half game behind the Kansas City Royals for the second wild card spot, so any and every game is important right now.

The Brewers have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season, sporting a matching 57-53 record this season and are kind of an NL-version of the Rays. After an 89-loss season in 2016, the small market team has seemingly pressed fast-forward on their rebuilding process and are right in the thick of a tighter-than-most-thought-it-would-be NL Central race. They’ll be as motivated as the Rays to come out of this series with a victory.

Starting Pitchers

Jacob Faria

The Rays young stud-hopeful is still sporting a 2.93 ERA but has seen a slight slip in his numbers of late. After starting his career with five of the most impressive debut outings in recent memory, Faria has still been solid in his past five starts, but he has much more looked the part of a rookie pitcher. Here’s the first five, next five breakdown for the 24-year-old righty.

It’s worth noting that it likely isn’t fatigue slowing Faria down, as he has reached 150 innings pitched in each of his past two seasons. More likely, it is hitters beginning to get a bit of a book on Faria and adjusting to him. That’s fine. Faria is a skilled youngster who should eventually adjust back and continue with his early run of success. You’d be hard pressed to find a pitcher who doesn’t have any period of adjustment in his early career. If you can get through your adjustment period with only a few tough outings, that’s a win.

It’s not as if Faria’s recent starts have been complete bombs either. He has given up at least three runs in each of his past three starts, but he still has 17 strikeouts in those 16.1 innings and has only allowed ten combined runs. He’s still doing an excellent job of keeping the ball in the park, and his FIP (4.68) and xFIP (5.15) are both lower than his ERA (5.51) over that time, suggesting he’s been a bit unlucky.

As for the Brewers, they are the 20th-ranked offense in baseball this season, per wRC+, but I think that undersells them. There’s definitely a lot of swing-and-miss in their lineup (25.7 K% leads the league) and they lack a true super-duper, but like the Rays, they have a deep lineup with plenty of hitters who can leave the yard (Eric Thames - 25 HR; Travis Shaw - 24 HR; Domingo Santana - 18 HR), and they have plenty of speed on the basepaths (90 SB, second in MLB).

Brandon Woodruff

The Brewers will be countering Faria with a 24-year-old rookie of their own. Woodruff will be making his MLB debut, however, as he has spent the vast majority of the season at Triple-A. Woodruff broke onto the prospect scene in 2016 with a dominant run over High-A and Double-A, sporting one of the best K-BB% rates in the minors. He made an appearance earlier this year on FanGraphs’ “KATOH’s Most-Improved Pitching Prospects So Far” article, and he does have some name recognition, despite this article’s title.

Woodruff has a 48.1 percent groundball rate at Triple-A this season, and Steamer projects him for a 4.64 ERA at the major league level. There’s not a lot to go on with Woodruff right now, and all that there is would be based on his minor league pitching numbers, which obviously require a grain of salt. It’s never a bad thing to face a pitcher making his MLB debut, though.

Starting Lineups

Today's Lineup

Milwaukee Brewers Tampa Bay Rays
Milwaukee Brewers Tampa Bay Rays
Eric Thames - DH Corey Dickerson - LF
Domingo Santana - RF Lucas Duda - 1B
Ryan Braun - LF Evan Logoria - 3B
Travis Shaw - 3B Logan Morrison - DH
Jesus Aguilar - 1B Steven Souza - RF
Hernan Perez - 2B Brad Miller - 2B
Manny Pina - C Wilson Ramos - C
Keon Broxton - CF Mallex Smith - CF
Orlando Arcia - SS Daniel Robertson - SS
Brandon Woodruff - RHP Jacob Faria - RHP