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Rays Series Preview: Tigers? As in, plural?

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Just one tiger seems like it’d be a lot.

Tigers rescued from Joe Exotic aka The Tiger King Joe Photo by Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays return home after a disappointing road trip. The good news is that none of the teams in the division really have made a move with 16 games remaining the Rays hold a significant lead and their magic number has fallen to 9.

The Rays hold a 8.0 game lead in the division ahead of the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, and Boston Red Sox that are all tied for second place and the two Wild Cards in the American League. Baltimore has fallen 43.5 games off the pace.

Matchups:

Thursday 7:10 PM: Tyler Alexander vs Louis Head (Dietrich Enns to follow)
Friday 7:10 PM: Casey Mize vs TBA
Saturday 4:10 PM: Tarik Skubal vs TBA
Sunday 1:10 PM: Wily Peralta vs TBA

The Rays six-man rotation has been complicated by injury, with Shane McClanahan and Chris Archer taking trips to the Injured List in the last week, where Archer’s is considered more severe. Louis Patiño and Ryan Yarbrough will likely slot into two of the three pitching slots in the coming series, while the remaining game is truly to be determined.

Tyler Alexander has stepped into a starting role after pitching mostly as a multi inning reliever in his past MLB experience. Over 83.2 innings he’s put up a 4.09 ERA/4.50 FIP/4.78 xFIP. He has posted a below average 19.9% strikeout rate but he has posted a very good 5.9% walk rate. In his last start he held the Rays to one run in 4.1 innings. Since moving to the rotation he has mostly been expected to cover 3-5 innings. Alexander’s primary pitch is a 86.5 mph cutter, which he throws nearly 40% of the time. He’ll mix the remaining pitches between a 90.6 mph sinker, 90.6 mph four-seam fastball, 83.9 mph changeup, and 82.7 mph slider.

Casey Mize was the number one overall pick out of Auburn University in 2018. His MLB results outside of ERA have been underwhelming. He’s put up a respectable 3.66 ERA/4.85 FIP/4.44 xFIP over 140.1 innings in his first full season in the majors. Strikeouts have been infrequent (18.5%) and he posts a good walk rate (7.0%). He’s done a great job keeping the ball on the ground but when players do get the ball airborne it’s gone over the fence frequently. The Rays put up three runs in 2.0 innings in his last outing. The Tigers are limiting innings with their top young arms as the season winds down, so the it would be surprising to see him pitch much more than one time through the order. Mize uses three pitches equally for the bulk of his pitch usage. They are a 93.8 mph four-seam fastball, 93.2 mph sinker, and 86.1 mph slider. He’ll mix in a 85.8 mph split finger changeup and a 81.3 mph curveball.

Tarik Skubal is another promising young pitcher for the Tigers. He has put up a 4.21 ERA/4.89 FIP/4.00 xFIP in his first full season in the majors. Unlike Mize he put up good 27.0% strikeout rate and 7.8% walk rate. The main problem has been homers. He’s allowed 31 on the season and 2.01 HR/9. He held the Rays scoreless through 3.0 innings. His last two outings haven’t lasted more then 3.0 innings and he’s faced a maximum of 13 batters. I expect the same this weekend. Skubal works off a 94.3 mph four-seam fastball that he throws just under half the time. His breaking ball of choice is a 86.4 mph slider. He’ll mix in a 94.5 mph sinker and 82.0 mph changeup. He very rarely throws the changeup versus left handed batters. He will add in a low frequency 73.8 mph curveball to try to steal a strike.

Wily Peralta has been an up and down starting pitcher going back to 2012. He’s been a solid MLB starter putting up a 4.41 ERA/4.55 FIP/4.28 xFIP over 855.1 innings. He strikes out very few batters (15.3% strikeout rate) while walking more than you would like (9.1% walk rate). Peralta throws a 94.0 mph sinker, 93.6 mph four-seam fastball, 82.2 mph slider, and 81.3 mph split finger changeup as a part of his four pitch mix. He throws all four pitch with similar frequencies. Right handed batters can discount the split finger changeup and left handers can discount the slider but he is willing to throw the pitch at a lower frequency.

The Tigers are going to ask their bullpen to handle most of the innings during this four game series. The Tigers bullpen hasn’t been up to the task this year. They’ve put up a 4.58 ERA/4.53 FIP/4.63 xFIP. All three numbers rank in the bottom ten of the majors.

Tigers rescued from Joe Exotic aka The Tiger King Joe Photo by Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Tigers haven’t found many answers on the offensive side of the ball.

The Tigers have hit .242/.307/.403 and put up a 92 wRC+. That’s far from the worst offensive production (21st by wRC+) but their combined 7.4 fWAR ranks last in the majors. The Tigers rank last in DRS (-58) and UZR (-32.5), so their defense has been one of the major reasons they have been that bad.

Jeimer Candelario (117 wRC+), Robbie Grossman (116 wRC+), Akil Baddoo (108 wRC+), and Jonathan Schoop (103 wRC+) have been the most effect batters.

Miguel Cabrera is an all time great hitter but his .261/.325/.400 line and 98 wRC+ has put him at -0.1 fWAR thanks to being a first baseman that hasn’t graded out well. Despite that he recently hit his 500th career homer and is on the doorstep of reaching 3,000 hits. He is 24 hits away. He likely won’t hit it this year, but should be accomplished in early 2022.

The Rays have hit a skid after playing great heading into September.

The Rays have been one of the hottest teams in baseball since the All-Star break going 37-19. However they have gone 6-8 in the month of September.

Fortunately, the Rays put themselves in a spot where a little slide hasn’t meant much in the standings. The Rays are in position to win the American League East, but over the next couple of weeks fans would like to see them peaking as the playoffs start. How they are playing 2-3 weeks from now means much more than how they are playing right now.