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Series Preview: Rays vs Athletics

Can the Rays keep things going after a stellar Opening Weekend?

Oakland Athletics v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays were the only team to make it through the opening weekend undefeated. Their dominance over the Baltimore Orioles continued and now their sights are set on the Oakland Athletics.

Since 2018 the Athletics have been one of the best teams in baseball going a combined 317-232. That’s good for fifth-most wins over the time period behind the Los Angeles Dodgers (348), Houston Astros (337), New York Yankees (330), and Tampa Bay Rays (329).

However, this year’s team isn’t as strong as the recent versions. After the lockout ended the Athletics looked to trade everything with two or fewer seasons remaining. They traded Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Chris Bassitt, and Sean Manaea. Surprisingly they have kept their best starting pitcher in Frankie Montas. It’s unlikely he makes it to the end of the season in an Athletics uniform, but he’s there for now.

Schedule:

Monday 6:40 PM: Paul Blackburn vs Luis Patino
Tuesday 6:40 PM: Adam Oller vs Tommy Romero
Wednesday 6:40 PM: Frankie Montas vs Shane McClanahan
Thursday 1:10 PM: Cole Irvin vs Drew Rasmussen

Ryan Yarbrough was scheduled to make his first start of the season in game two. He’s already been placed on the Injured List. Tommy Romero is on the taxi squad with the expectation to be added to the 28 man roster prior to tomorrow’s game.

Paul Blackburn has been the sixth man in the rotation for the Athletics for the last five seasons. He’s never made more than ten starts. His career-high ten starts and 58.2 innings came in 2017. His career numbers aren’t great as he’s posted a 5.74 ERA/4.70 FIP/4.67 xFIP over 138.0 innings. He pitches to contact with a 12.8% strikeout rate and does a good job limiting walks with a 6.3% walk rate. Blackburn works off a 91.0 mph sinker that he pairs with an 87.0 mph cutter, 85.8 mph changeup, and 79.0 mph curveball. He’s willing to throw all pitches against batters that hit from both sides of the plate. He’s shown very little split, but that’s not great when hitters from both sides of the plate hit very well against you.

Adam Oller was one of the prospects that the Athletics received in the Chris Bassitt trade from the New York Mets. He will be making his MLB debut. Last year he split time between AA and AAA while posting a 3.45 ERA/3.51 FIP over 120.0 innings. He struck out 27.7% of the batters while walking 9.4% of the batters faced. Oller’s path to the majors is unique. He was a 20th round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2016 draft and was playing in an independent league by 2019. He was selected by the New York Mets in the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 draft before the 2021 season. Congratulations to Oller for becoming a major leaguer.

It is surprising that Frankie Montas made an appearance for the Athletics in 2022. After trading everything else that wasn’t nailed down it’s an odd choice to keep your best starting pitcher with only two years of team control remaining. Over 453.0 MLB innings, he’s posted a 3.91 ERA/3.79 FIP/3.93 xFIP. Health and a PED suspension have limited his innings on the mound, but when he’s been available to pitch he’s been very good. In his first start the Phillies put up five runs in 5.0 innings though Montas picked up six strikeouts and issued one walk. Montas doesn’t lean on any single pitch all that much. He throws a 96.2 mph sinker, 96.4 mph four-seam fastball that he throws nearly 30% of the time each. He adds an 87.5 mph split-finger changeup just over 20% of the time and is his putaway pitch. He will lean on the split-finger heavily against left-handed batters, but will still throw it nearly 15% of the time against right-handed batters. He adds an 88.9 mph slider almost 20% of the time to round out his repertoire. The slider isn’t used to get chases as frequently as most sliders.

Cole Irvin was a nice find by the Athletics front office. He was acquired for cash considerations prior to last season. In his first full MLB season, he put up a 4.24 ERA/4.30 FIP/4.82 xFIP over 178.1 innings. In his first start, he allowed four runs in 5.1 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies. Irvin works off a 90.8 mph four-seam fastball that he throws around 40% of the time. He adds a 90.5 mph sinker, 84.2 mph changeup, and 83.0 mph slider. He will very infrequently (3.3%) throw a 76.9 mph curveball. He rarely throws the changeup or sinker against left-handed batters.

Is the Oakland offense the worst in the American League?

Last year the Oakland offense was sneaky good. Now they are missing Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Mark Canha, and Starling Marte.

Sean Murphy is their best returning offensive player. Stephen Piscotty, Elvis Andrus, Stephen Vogt, and Jed Lowrie are major league veterans

Not sure there is all that much to be excited about on this side of the ball. In their opening series, they hit .202/.248/.333 and put up a 70 wRC+.

Last team with the 162-0 dream still alive!

We all know that it’s highly improbable any team could ever go 162-0, but it’s fun to dream. With three games in the books, the Rays still have it as a possible outcome. I have a better chance of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning, but you’re saying there’s a chance!