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Series Preview: Rays vs. Texas Rangers

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MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays salvaged a series split by defeating Gerrit Cole in the series finale against the New York Yankees.

The Rays sit atop the American League East. They are 2.0 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox, 4.5 games ahead of the New York Yankees, and 5.0 games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays. They also are tied with the San Francisco Giants for the best record in the majors.

The Rays have won 17 of their last 20 while the Texas Rangers have lost nine in a row and 18 of their last 22.

Matchups:

Friday 8:05 PM: Josh Fleming vs Kyle Gibson
Saturday 4:05 PM: Rich Hill vs Kolby Allard
Sunday 2:35 PM: Tyler Glasnow vs Dane Dunning

The Rangers pitching staff has been a roughly league average staff by FIP and xFIP but their 4.55 ERA comes firmly in the bottom ten in the league.

Kyle Gibson has been very good in 2021. He has a 2.24 ERA/3.23 FIP/4.02 xFIP. His 20.1% strikeout rate and 7.9% walk rate are in the ballpark of league average. Where he’s excelled is limiting homers with a 0.45 HR/9. He does this in two ways: he induces a 52.7% groundball rate, and he while avoids damage when the ball does get airborne with a 6.0% HR/FB rate. Gibson’s primary pitch is a 92.6 mph sinker that he only throws roughly 35% of the time. He will mix the remaining 65% of his pitches between five pitches. He throws a 93.3 mph four-seam fastball, 89.1 mph cutter, 83.3 mph slider, 85.1 mph changeup, and 79.2 mph curveball. He’s willing to throw any of his six pitches to batters from either side of the plate. When he’s looking for a strikeout he’ll go to his slider and cutter.

Kolby Allard is scheduled to make his second start of the year. He has a 3.38 ERA/3.92 FIP/3.85 xFIP in 24.0 innings. He has mostly pitched in a 2-3 multi inning role out of the bullpen, but threw 4.0 innings in his first start of the season his last time out against the Seattle Mariners. The left hander throws a 92.0 mph four-seam fastball as his most effective (24.8% swinging strike) and most frequently used pitch (51.1%). He throws a 86.7 mph cutter as his second most used pitch at roughly 30%. He’ll occasionally sprinkle in a 76.7 mph curveball and 8.7 mph changeup, but the changeup is almost exclusively used against right handed batters.

Former University of Florida pitcher Dane Dunning has been quite good this year outside of ERA. He has a 4.67 ERA/3.00 FIP/3.26 xFIP. He’s posted a 24.4% strikeout rate and 7.6% walk rate. He’s avoided homers with a 10.5% HR/FB rate. His .356 BABIP with a 56.6% groundball rate has been the only problem. In seven of his first eleven starts he’s allowed two runs or fewer. Dunning’s primary pitch is a 90.5 mph sinker. His 80.1 mph slider and 84.5 mph changeup are used to get swings and misses. He will limit the use of his slider against left handed batters and changeups against right handed batters, but is willing to throw the pitches to the batters of the opposite hand. He will very rarely throw a 78.7 mph curveball that is designed to steal a strike.

The Rangers have one of the weakest offenses in the majors

The Rangers are hitting .228/.298/.374 and put up a 90 wRC+ through the first third of the season. They have scored 4.00 runs per game.

One standout has been Adolis Garcia. Replay might have reversed an inside the park homer that would have been the first of his career at the Trop, but that hasn’t stopped him. Garcia has been one of the hottest hitters in the league on his way to winning the American League Player of the Month for May. He is hitting .283/.318/.567 and putting up a 144 wRC+. He leads the team with 16 homers.

Joey Gallo (116 wRC+, 9 homers) and Nate Lowe (114 wRC+, 8 homers) have been the primary contributors in the middle of the lineup to help out Garcia.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa (105 wRC+), Willie Calhoun (104 wRC+), and Nick Solak (102 wRC+) have been solid contributors.

Charlie Culberson (75 wRC+) and Jose Trevino (66 wRC+) have had disappointing seasons while being pushed into more playing time due to injuries.

The Rays will take on a struggling Rangers team. This is an opportunity to put some distance in the division standing while the Red Sox and Yankees play this weekend.

Sending prayers to Tyler Zombro and his family

Last night the Durham Bulls game was suspended after pitcher Tyler Zombro took a liner off the head. This was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen on a baseball field. In a statement released by the Rays he is in stable condition, but there is very limited information available at this time. This devastating accident certainly puts minor things like wins and losses into perspective.