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Rays Series Preview: The Mets are on FIRE

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No, wait, that’s just their stadium.

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays have had a playoff spot locked up for a while, but winning the American League East is within sight. The Rays hold a 3.5 game lead over the New York Yankees and hold the head to head tiebreaker, so if the Rays finish 3-3 or better this week there’s nothing the Yankees can do about it.

The New York Mets are still alive in the National League playoff race despite a 24-29 record.

Unlike the American League where the top eight teams have felt inevitable for the last month the National League has been anything but expected and certain. The Mets sit 2.5 games behind the Cincinnati Reds (27-27), Milwaukee Brewers (26-26), and San Francisco Giants (26-26) who hold a virtual tie for the last Wild Card spot with a .500 winning percentage.

It would likely take a sweep of the Rays for the Mets to hold any hope of qualifying for the playoffs, while the Rays “magic number” is 3 to take the AL East. Both teams will have something to play for!

Matchups

Monday 7:10 PM: Pete Fairbanks vs Jacob deGrom
Tuesday 7:10 PM: Blake Snell vs Seth Lugo
Wednesday 7:10 PM: Tyler Glasnow vs Steven Matz

It’s hard to make any logical argument against Jacob deGrom being the best pitcher on the planet right now.

deGrom is coming off back-to-back National League Cy Young Award campaigns and 2020 might see him at his best. His 2.00 ERA would rank second to his 2018 season (1.70), His 36.4% strikeout rate is a gain of almost 5% over the last two years. The most incredible thing has been deGrom’s velocity gain as he as aged. Over the last three season his average fastball has gone up from 96.70 mph to 97.24 mph and finally to 98.97 mph this year. His change up and slider sit around 92 mph and his curve is in the low to mid 80s. There aren’t really any weaknesses in his game, so the Rays are going to have to take advantage of any and all opportunities when they do come in order to put any runs on the board. In his last start he was removed after 2.0 innings with a right hamstring spasm.

New York Mets v Miami Marlins
deGrom
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Due to injuries to Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman, Seth Lugo has had to move back to the starting rotation after very successful seasons out of the bullpen in 2018 and 2019. Lugo has a 4.34 ERA/4.46 FIP/2.52 xFIP for the season. Things looked much better before his last start when he gave up four homers to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Steven Matz has had a homer problem this year. He has a 9.79 ERA/7.30 FIP/4.26 xFIP in 26.2 innings. The xFIP is pretty consistent to most of his career. His 24.0% strikeout rate is around where he typically sits. The problem is he’s allowed 11 homers that is good for a 3.71 HR/9. He usually is homer prone, but the HR/9 sits around 1.50. He’s allowed five or more runs in each of his last five starts.

Pete Fairbanks picks up the start in Monday’s contest as the opener. He is likely to be followed by Josh Fleming in the bulk role.

Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow continue to build up to full power. They both had good starts against the Baltimore Orioles last weekend, but had problems with a high pitch count inning early in the game that cut their outings short.

The New York Mets lead Major League Baseball with a 123 wRC+.

Pitching and defense (-17 DRS and -2.9 UZR) has been the problem for the Mets, because the bats have done more than their fair share. As a team they are hitting .275/.353/.458.

The top of their lineup has been very effective with Dominic Smith (168 wRC+), Michael Conforto (162 wRC+), Brandon Nimmo (152 wRC+), Robinson Cano (149 wRC+), and Jeff McNeil (141 wRC+) leading the way.

2019 National League Rookie of the Year and Tampa native Pete Alonso has struggled in his sophomore campaign hitting .207/.303/.424 and putting up a 96 wRC+. His power is still there with a 12 homers, but the batting average and on base percentage has tanked.

With all these hitters performing, you’ve got to wonder which is hotter, the Mets offense or their Stadium?

Again, the Magic Number is 3.

Over the last week of the season the Rays need a combination of three Rays victories and Yankees losses to secure the American League East. Things get off to a rough start having to face deGrom, but things are looking very good if the Rays can win the series.

The Rays aren’t planning to lose, but there is sure to be some scoreboard watching with the Yankees playing four against the Toronto Blue Jays and three against the Miami Marlins.

The most important thing is to avoid more injuries and be as healthy as you can be entering the playoffs. The Rays have been playing fine, but well below what they are capable of the last couple of weeks. You don’t want them peaking right now, but you do want to see them moving in that direction.