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Rays Series Preview: Bienvenidos a Miami

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The first of consecutive weekend series to decide who takes home the oranges

MLB: New York Mets at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays have been collecting wins at an impressive rate over the last couple weeks as they have won 15 of their last 18 games.

Sitting at 21-11 the Rays are all but assured of a playoff spot considering the expanded playoff format this year. FanGraphs has them at 99.7% chance to make the playoffs and when FanGraphs looked at the odds over the last six seasons no team with more than a 80% chance to make the playoffs with a month remaining hasn’t made the playoffs.

Although it looks like a near lock you don’t have to go that far back to get the 2011 season when the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox both blew near double digit leads going into September, but that’s a fond memory now ain’t it.

One thing in the Rays favor is their schedule. In the first 32 games of the season the Rays played 20 games against a team that is currently over .500 (4 versus the Atlanta Braves, 6 versus the New York Yankees, and 10 versus the Toronto Blue Jays) while over the final 28 games they only play 10 such games (6 versus the Miami Marlins and 4 versus the Yankees).

The Marlins are the surprise team to be above .500 at this point in the season at 14-12, even though we like their pitching.

They brought in some veteran position players after losing around half their MLB roster due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the first week of the season, and things are working out, but to say their success is shocking would be an understatement.

Matchups:

Friday 7:10 PM: Ryan Yarbrough vs Sixto Sanchez
Saturday 6:10 PM: Josh Fleming vs Humberto Mejia
Sunday 1:10 PM: Blake Snell vs Pablo Lopez

Sixto Sanchez makes his second MLB start tonight. Sanchez was the prize of the JT Realmuto trade and currently ranks 18th on Baseball America’s top 100 list. He allowed three runs in 5.0 innings with four strikeouts in his Major League debut, although the Washington Nationals did get to him with two homers. Sanchez brings a high 90s fastball (98.9 mph average in his debut), a low 90s changeup, and a high 80s slider.

Yarbrough had been scheduled to pitch last night and went through his warm ups prior to the social justice postponement of the series finale against the Orioles. He will pitch tonight and bump the whole rotation out a game, moving Glasnow to the upcoming Yankees series.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays
Rays pitcher Ryan Yarbrough (48) throws on the field after the game against the Baltimore Orioles was postponed at Tropicana Field.
Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Humberto Mejia made the jump to the majors despite never throwing a pitch above high A due to the outbreak. He’s struck out 11 and walked 6 in 10.0 innings overall. He’s allowed three homers and has a 5.40 ERA/6.95 FIP in his young career. Mejia is a far different pitcher than Sanchez. He throws a fastball that sits in the low to mid 90s. His changeup and slider sit in the mid 80s while he adds a curve in the high 70s. None of the pitches are bad, but none generate that many whiffs on their own.

Fleming gets his second major league start after his promotion in the wake of Yonny Chirinos’s tommy john surgery. Overall, he’s extremely similar to Yarbrough, so their pairing in the rotation is an interesting wrinkle. Fleming soaked up five innings in his debut, allowing only two runs on four hits and two walks, striking out three.

Pablo Lopez is the veteran of the rotation the Rays will face at 24 years young. Over 197.1 career innings he has a 4.38 ERA/4.09 FIP/4.14 xFIP good for 3.0 fWAR. He’s a groundball pitcher with a 50.1% rate, but this year he’s only allowed one homer in 27.1 innings. He features a low to mid 90s fastball, high 80s changeup, 80 mph curveball, and 90 mph cutter. His changeup is his go to pitch when he needs a whiff (22.66% whiff rate in 2020).

Snell’s most recent outing was his first over 100 pitches, lasting 5.2 innings in what was ultimately a Rays loss against Toronto, despite only two earned runs. It’s great to finally have him stretched out. On the season he has yet to walk more than two batters in a game.

Marlins take on three lefties.

The Marlins have posted a below average offense at 4.46 runs per game and are hitting .244/.322/.369 line and 94 wRC+. Their .125 ISO is second lowest in the league only ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals
Corey Dickerson #23 and Jesus Sanchez #76 of the Miami Marlins celebrate a win after a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on August 21, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Thus far the Marlins have really struggled against lefties hitting .232/.283/.367 line and 80 wRC+. They’ve struck out 27.7% of the time and only walked 6.3%. The .135 ISO is slightly better than their overall line, but their on base skills disappear.

A lot of former Rays are littered among the offense with Corey Dickerson (96 wRC+), Jesus Aguilar (109 wC+), and Matt Joyce (126 wRC+) having solid seasons. Logan Forsythe (27 wRC+ in 13 games) has struggled. Former Rays prospect Jesus Sanchez has also cracked into the roster.

Other top performers:

  • Miguel Rojas got off to a quick start hitting .367/.457/.667 and put up a 204 wRC+, but only has had 35 plate appearances due to a positive COVID-19 test.
  • Brian Anderson continues to be one of their most productive players hitting .244/.356/.442 and putting up a 123 wRC+. He shares the team lead with four homers on the season.
  • Jonathan Villar was picked up off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles this winter and has been solid (93 wRC+) and leads the team with nine stolen bases.

Don’t overlook the Marlins.

Earlier this season the Rays had a terrible trip to Baltimore as they dropped three games to a team that wasn’t expected to be good. In Major League Baseball anybody can lose to anybody on any given day and even be swept.

The Rays just need to keep their head up and win series. They’re going to drop some games, but staying healthy needs to be the top priority.

Monday afternoon is the trade deadline, so be on the lookout for some roster activity.