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Series Preview: Rays vs Marlins

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MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays took care of business in a series victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. As the season winds down the Rays have one more thing to take care of: clinching the American League East title for the second year in a row. And not getting injured. So maybe that’s two things.

With nine games remaining in the season the Rays have a 6.0 game lead on the Boston Red Sox, 8.0 game lead on the New York Yankees, 9.0 game lead on the Toronto Blue Jays, and 45.0 game lead on the Baltimore Orioles. The magic number to clinch the division is down to four over Boston, two over New York, and one over Toronto. 4-5 is enough to clinch the division no matter what any other team does. Eyes will be on the big matchups between the Yankees and Red Sox this weekend and the Yankees and Blue Jays early next week to determine who will win the two wild cards.

Matchups:

Friday 7:10 PM: Edward Cabrera vs David Robertson (Ryan Yarbrough to follow)
Saturday 6:10 PM: Sandy Alcantara vs Shane McClanahan
Sunday 1:10 PM: Jesus Luzardo vs Shane Baz

The Miami Marlins send out a trio of young, promising arms with Edward Cabrera getting the call in game one. Cabrera is ranked #54 on the current Baseball America Top 100, but has had a rough introduction to the majors. In 20.1 innings he’s posted a 5.31 ERA/7.30 FIP/5.67 xFIP. His strikeout rate is far lower than one would expect at 17.4% and his command has been terrible with a 14.1% walk rate. Cabrera doesn’t lean on one pitch for a majority of his use. His most frequently used pitch is a 96.8 mph four-seam fastball that he throws 36.0% of the time. He adds a 92.0 mph changeup and 87.7 mph slider nearly 25% of the time each. He will throw the occasional 83.1 mph curveball to complete his repertoire.

Sandy Alcantara has been one of the best pitchers in baseball, but gets very little attention because the team he plays on isn’t getting the spotlight. Over 194.2 innings he’s put up a 3.05 ERA/3.37 FIP/3.46 xFIP. On Opening Day he held the Rays scoreless through 6.0 innings before the Marlins ultimately fell 1-0. He’s allowed more than two runs only once in his last eight starts. Alcantara splits his fastball use between a 97.6 mph sinker and 98.0 mph four-seam fastball. He mixes in a 90.4 mph slider and 91.8 mph changeup as his breaking ball and offspeed weapons of choice.

Jesus Luzardo was part of the Sterling Marte trade with the Oakland Athletics at the trade deadline. Earlier this year Luzardo suffered a broken hand due to frustration with MLB The Show that many of us who play the game are familiar with. Luzardo was once a highly regarded prospect but has had a bumpy transition to the majors. In 2021 he’s put up a 7.01 ERA/6.02 FIP/5.19 xFIP over 86.0 innings. It hasn’t really been better since coming home for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Parkland, Florida) graduate. He’s posted a mediocre 20.6% strikeout rate but the bigger problem has been the 11.5% walk rate. Luzardo works off a four pitch mix that he mixes equally. He uses a 95.9 mph four-seam fastball, 95.1 mph sinker, 86.5 mph changeup, and 83.4 mph curveball. The curveball is his go to pitch to get strikeouts.

The Marlins bullpen has been very effective putting up a 3.71 ERA/3.76 FIP/4.27 xFIP. Their ERA ranks seventh and their FIP ranks third in the majors. Their xFIP comes in 15th. Former Ray Dylan Floro has been their most effective reliever picking up twelve saves with a 3.05 ERA/2.91 FIP/4.03 xFIP. They traded away some of their top performers like John Curtiss, Adam Cimber, and Yimi Garcia at the trade deadline.

The Marlins offense hasn’t provided enough support.

The Marlins pitching staff has been great, but the offense has been lacking. The Marlins 3.95 runs per game are tied for the third lowest in the majors and are one of only four teams that have failed to crack the 4.00 runs per game barrier.

As a team the Marlins have hit .234/.300/.376 and put up a 86 wRC+. The 86 wRC+ ranks fifth lowest. Their .142 ISO ranks third lowest. Their .300 OBP ranks second worst. There isn’t much to be optimistic about offensively.

Starling Marte (138 wRC+), Garrett Cooper (134 wRC+), and Adam Duvall (102 wRC+) were three of their best performers but they traded Marte and Duvall. Cooper underwent surgery to repair a partial UCL tear after a collision at first base just days before the trade deadline.

The two best remaining performers are former Rays prospect Jesus Sanchez (114 wRC+) and former Ray Jesus Aguilar (112 wRC+).

Jazz Chisholm (100 wRC+) is a very exciting young player that bring power and speed to the game but is in middle of transitioning to an everyday MLB player.

Miguel Rojas (100 wRC+) and Brian Anderson (100 wRC+) are solid everyday players.

The Marlins are giving a chance to a lot of their young guys to see what sticks.

Can the Rays clinch at home?

The Rays have already clinched a playoff spot but their main focus is winning the division so they won’t be relegated to a one and done shot at making the division series. Their magic number is four over the Red Sox so they would need some help to get it done this weekend. It’s always hard to get a sweep, but it’s not crazy to think some combo of Rays wins and Red Sox losses could allow the team to clinch this weekend. Having Wander Franco back in the lineup will certainly help. Since the Yankees vs Red Sox game is the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game players and fans could go home on Sunday afternoon with some uncertainty.