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Series Preview: Rays in Cleveland

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MLB: Cleveland Indians at Pittsburgh Pirates
Cal Quantrill has flow
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to an Austin Meadows walk off the single the Tampa Bay Rays were able to win a three game series against the Baltimore Orioles and keep their sights on the American League East divisional race.

The Rays sit 1.0 game behind the Boston Red Sox. It feels like a two team race at the present but the New York Yankees sit 7.0 games back and the Toronto Blue Jays are 8.0 games behind. The Orioles sit 26.5 games back in the division.

The Rays hold a 2.5 game lead over the Oakland Athletics in the Wild Card race. The New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners sit 3.5 games behind the Athletics and 6.0 games behind the Rays as next in line.

Matchups:

Thursday 7:10 PM: Luis Patino vs Cal Quantrill
Friday 7:10 PM: Rich Hill vs Zach Plesac
Saturday 7:10 PM: Ryan Yarbrough vs JC Mejia
Sunday 1:10 PM: Shane McClanahan vs Triston McKenzie

Cal Quantrill has shifted between the bullpen and starting rotation picking up 66.2 innings with a 4.05 ERA/4.35 FIP/4.78 xFIP. Since moving to a starting role on June 15 he has mostly thrown 4.0-6.0 innings and put up a 4.91 ERA/4.62 FIP/5.20 xFIP over 33.0 innings and seven games. His strikeout rate has plummeted to 16.6% while his walk rate has spiked to 7.6%; not a great combination. He throws a 94.7 mph sinker as his primary pitch just over 40% of the time. His secondary pitch of choice is a 88.2 mph slider that he throws 25% of the time. He adds a 85.6 mph changeup primarily to left handed batters 15% of the time. He will throw a 94.8 mph four-seam fastball just over 10% of the time. He’ll sprinkle in a 82.5 mph curveball around 4% of the time to try to steal a strike.

Zach Plesac has returned from the Injured List and is looking to stabilize the starting rotation with the absence of Shane Bieber. In twelve starts he has a 4.19 ERA/4.78 FIP/4.46 xFIP over 68.2 innings. His strikeout rate has cratered to 16.4% after posting a 27.7% strikeout rate in 2020. His 4.7% walk rate is very strong. Plesac throws a 93.3 mph four-seam fastball around 40% of the time. Against right handed batters he uses a 87.7 mph slider as a complimentary pitch and against left handed batters he will throw a 85.9 mph changeup. About 10% of the time he will add a 80.9 mph curveball to batters from both sides of the plate.

JC Mejia has a 7.53 ERA/4.70 FIP/3.94 xFIP over 34.2 innings as he’s filled in for injuries in the rotation. He has a 23.2 % strikeout rate and 8.6% walk rate that are solid. In his last start before the All-Star break the Rays put up six runs in 2.2 innings. In four of his last five outings he’s allowed four plus runs. Mejia’s primary pitch is a 92.7 mph sinker. Against right handed bats he throws a 83.2 mph slider and against left handed batters he’ll throw a 87.6 mph changeup as his secondary pitches of choice. He’ll add in a 93.3 mph four-seam fastball nearly 20% of the time. He will sprinkle in a 81.1 mph curveball just over 5% of the time.

Triston McKenzie has received a lot of hype over the last few years as the next great pitching prospect for the Cleveland Indians. This year he’s really struggled with command that has led to a 5.91 ERA/5.30 FIP/4.94 xFIP over 53.1 innings. He’s gotten plenty of whiffs with a 30.3% strikeout rate but a 17.5% walk rate is untenable from a starting pitcher. His velocity isn’t nearly what it was just a couple seasons ago. Even from his first taste in the majors his four-seam fastball velocity has dropped from 92.8 mph to 91.6 mph. His 78.8 mph curveball is used mostly against left handed batters while he leans on a 86.4 mph slider against right handed batters. He will occasionally throw these pitches to batters from the other side of the plate but not frequently. He will sprinkle in a 86.0 mph changeup mostly to left handed batters but only comprises 2% of his pitch usage.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Houston Astros
Jose Ramirez steals second base
Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland offense is better than the sum of their parts.

The Cleveland offense has put up a .230/.298/.397 line and 88 wRC+ this year. They have been held hitless three times this year including a seven inning notable achievement by the Rays. Despite the lackluster offensive production they have been middle of the pack with 4.31 runs per game.

Jose Ramirez is their remaining star after they traded Francisco Lindor to the New York Mets this winter. He has hit .254/.341/.505 and put up a 124 wRC+. This has been a lackluster season by Ramirez’s standard but he leads the way with 19 homers. As a longtime mentor to Tampa Bay’s uberprospect Wander Franco, this will be a nice reunion for the pair, and an opportunity for the Rays to get another up close look at a player who could be an incredible trade acquisition... just saying!

Franmil Reyes is a large dude who can hit the ball a long way as the Rays saw first hand a couple weeks ago. He’s hitting .265/.319/.582 and putting up a 136 wRC+. He’s hit 16 homers despite missing significant time due to injuries. Bobby Bradley has hit for monster power numbers as well since being called up. He has 10 homers in 141 plate appearances and has put up a 124 wRC+.

Harold Ramirez (107 wRC+), Bradley Zimmer (99 wRC+), Cesar Hernandez (95 wRC+), and Amed Rosario (85 wRC+) have provided solid support, but injuries have left them scrambling for answers, and the minor leagues haven’t provided very many sufficient answers.

Defensively Cleveland has been fine. They have put up -3 DRS and +3.6 UZR putting them somewhere in the middle of the league by either metric.

Just over a week to go to the trade deadline.

The Rays have put themselves right where they wanted to be. They have separated themselves to the point that making it as a Wild Card would be disappointing but a fine consolation prize.

The Rays have the opportunity to add reinforcements via trade to a team that is already very good. It will be interesting to find what they find available what would both be an upgrade and worth spending some of their prospect capital on.