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Rays Series Preview: Nats not nice

5-5 got you down? Let’s turn that frown upside down.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Washington Nationals
Daniel Hudson, who the Rays paid $7 million for without getting any innings, smiles after earning a save against Tampa Bay.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays have played mediocre baseball for the last week and have a 5-5 record over their last ten. It hasn’t been bad, but is a step down from their scorching hot 21-4 run that separated themselves from the pack in the American League East standings.

The Rays still hold a 3.5 game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays and 4 game lead over the New York Yankees. The Rays also hold the tie breaker against both clubs attempting to chase them down should it get to that point.

Over the last two weeks the Rays have 13 games remaining. Winning 6 or 7 of these games probably is enough, but fans should want to see the team getting healthy and playing better as the season winds down. Don’t want to peak too early, but you don’t want to be in a downward spiral heading into the playoffs.

Matchups:

Tuesday: Anibal Sanchez vs John Curtiss (!)
Wednesday: Austin Voth vs Josh Fleming

Anibal Sanchez’s season has mostly been defined by allowing too many homers. In 38.1 innings he has allowed nine homers. This has led to an inflated 6.81 ERA/5.78 FIP/5.42 xFIP. Last time out he kept the Rays in the park, but they did manage to plate three runs in 5.0 innings. Facing the same team in back to back starts gives some advantage to the offense, so we’ll see what the Rays learned last week.

John Curtiss is making his second appearance as an opener. Overall his 1.53 ERA/2.98 FIP/3.27 xFIP has been very good over 17.2 innings. He’s posted a solid 26.9% strikeout rate, but he’s really excelled at limiting base runners with a 3.0% walk rate.

Ryan Yarbrough is scheduled to make an appearance as the bulk guy following Curtiss tonight. It’s a role he’s excelled at in the past, and one he likely may play in the playoffs, so it makes sense to begin that transition now.

Austin Voth has been hit around in his short MLB career. In 88.2 innings he’s posted a 5.48 ERA/5.46 FIP/5.17 xFIP. This year has been worse with a 7.99 ERA/7.49 FIP/6.21 xFIP. He’s allowed 11 homers in 32.2 innings.

Josh Fleming continues to exceed expectations. Through four starts his 4.12 ERA is better than his 5.49 FIP, and his 20% strikeout rate is a few points higher than any level previously in the minors. Likewise, his 15.0 K-BB% is a career best, albeit over 19.2 IP. Let’s hope that continues?

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals
Nationals shortstop Luis Garcia (62) makes an error on a ground ball
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

DC: Solid offense, but horrific defense.

As a team the Nationals are hitting .263/.333/.433 and have put up a 101 wRC+. Despite an offense that looks close to average the position players have combined for 1.6 fWAR (third lowest in the majors). They rank last in the league by DRS (-35) and UZR (-14.8).

Offensively they are lead by Juan Soto (205 wRC+) and Trea Turner (166 wRC+).

Many of their veterans that helped lead them to the 2019 World Series Championship have been below replacement level with Kurt Suzuki (-0.1 fWAR), Asdrubal Cabrera (-0.1 fWAR), Adam Eaton (-0.3 fWAR), Eric Thames (-0.3 fWAR), and Howie Kendrick (-0.3 fWAR) providing little help.

The young guys have struggled at the plate with Victor Robles (68 wRC+), Carter Kieboom (58 wRC+), and Luis Garcia (73 wRC+) either taking steps back or not solidifying themselves as major league contributors to this point.

The Rays should be launching.

The Rays face off against two starting pitchers that have had trouble keeping the ball in the park. The Rays should be able to take advantage of these right handed pitchers with the left handed power they possess. It isn’t always guaranteed as Sanchez showed last week, but it’s the easiest path to a Rays victory.

Oliver Drake is expected to be activated from the Injured LIst this afternoon. Unfortunately Ji-Man Choi will be heading to the Injured List with a hamstring strain in return.

If any position player on the roster the Rays had depth it is at left handed first baseman though. Nate Lowe will get a shot to show what he can do over the next two weeks.

Hopefully the Rays can pick up a win or two but not suffer any more injuries.