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Rays Series Preview: Citrus Series Sequel

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Miami Marlins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays head back home after collecting more wins and going high when others went low. The Rays are currently 5.0 games ahead in the American League East with the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays in a tie for second. Importantly, the Rays hold the head to head tie breaker against both opponents, so it would be disappointing if the Rays aren’t able to hold onto this lead over their last 22 games of the season.

The Rays schedule is very favorable. As of right now the only team above .500 remaining is the Philadelphia Phillies who end the season with a three game set at Tropicana Field. This weekend’s opponent Miami Marlins are currently sitting at .500. The Rays have four days off over the next three and a half weeks, so the team should be well rested when the playoffs come.

Despite the favorable schedule in Major League Baseball any team is very capable of beating any other team on any given night or even sweep them as the Rays experienced in Baltimore earlier this year. So they need to stay focused.

Even though the Rays have a virtual lock on the playoffs the most important part is getting healthy. On Wednesday Charlie Morton returned to the mound. Nick Anderson is expected to join the team this afternoon. Oliver Drake and Ryan Yarbrough are expected to be back within the next week. Yandy Diaz and Mike Zunino are expected back at some point in the next few weeks. Getting healthy is priority number one.

Matchups

Friday 6:40 PM: Pablo Lopez vs Josh Fleming
Saturday 6:40 PM: Sandy Alcantara vs Blake Snell
Sunday 1:10 PM: Trevor Rogers vs Tyler Glasnow

The Rays get two of their top arms getting closer to peak performance in the home half of the Citrus Series in Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow.

Before them, Josh Fleming will make his third career start. Fleming held the Marlins scoreless in 5.1 innings his last time out, but it’s always difficult to face the same team back to back. This will be a good test as the Rays look to understand when the unheralded rookie has to offer.

As for Miami:

Pablo Lopez had a very good start last time out against the Rays. He held the Rays to two runs over 7.0 innings while striking out five and walking none. Will be interesting to see what the Rays bats learned in the last start and if they are able to get some damage done tonight.

Sandy Alcantara was activated from the Injured List to make the start in the series finale against the Rays in Miami. It was the first start for Alcantara since Opening Day after testing positive for COVID-19. The Rays hit him around and thanks to some questionable Marlins defense put up eight runs, five earned, over 4.0 plus innings on the mound.

Trevor Rogers will be making his third career start. In 9.0 innings he has struck out 11, but walked 7. The walks haven’t come back to haunt him as he allowed only two runs in his first two starts despite the base runners granted free passes. If he is wild the Rays are sure to take advantage with a league leading 11.3% walk rate. Then it will come down to coming through with a big hit to put crooked numbers on the board.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Marlins made a splash trading for Starling Marte.

The Marlins offense has been one of the weaker units in the majors hitting .235/.311/.367 and putting up a 89 wRC+. They have scored 4.13 runs per game which is good for 25th best rate in the game.

The Marlins traded Jonathan Villar to the Blue Jays, but made the biggest offensive splash of the trade deadline by trading for Starling Marte from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Marte is hitting .315/.384/.462 and has put up a 128 wRC+.

Miguel Rojas (175 wRC+) and Garrett Cooper (154 wRC+) have been the standout bats in very small samples for the Marlins due to missing time.

Brian Anderson (115 wRC+), Francisco Cervelli (123 wRC+), Jon Berti (108 wRC+), and Matt Joyce (107 wRC+) have been solid contributors.

Corey Dickerson has struggled in the first season of a multi year free agent contract hitting .232/.292/.359 and putting up a 80 wRC+.

The Marlins have an interesting mix of veteran and very young bats. The consistency isn’t there yet, but they are still capable of putting together big nights when things come together.

Keep winning series.

Outside of getting healthy the only thing the Rays should be worried about is staying focused and getting ready for the post season. It would take a collapse that rivals the 2011 Boston Red Sox to miss out on the playoffs and considering the expanded playoffs it would likely be worse. A half dozen or so wins out of the final 22 should lock in the playoffs, but you don’t want to be playing badly heading into the tournament.