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Series Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. Tampa Bay Rays

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How much worse can it get? We’ll soon find out.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sweeps are bound to happen over the course of a 162-game season, both by your team’s hand and against them. But you hope that if it’s the latter, the team at least looks good in the process of the sweep. The Indians are no such team right now. After looking good and beating up on the hapless Orioles, the Tribe was blindsided by the A’s and lost in all three games. But now things get easier with the arrival of the...*checks notes*...28-18 Tampa Bay Rays?

This isn’t going to be fun, is it?

Team in a box

2019 Tampa Bay Rays

Record 28-18
Record 28-18
Runs Scored 206
Runs Allowed 149
Run Differential +57
Streak W1
AVG .252
OBP .331
SLG .430
OPS .761
wRC+ 106
K/9 9.82
BB/9 2.90

The Rays have the audacity to have good pitching and good hitting. What a luxury that must be. The Rays are 9th in baseball in terms of wRC+ at 106 (the Indians are at #26 with a wRC+ of 78). But their strength is in their pitching staff; as a team, the Rays rank 1st with an ERA+ of 145 (the Indians are tied for second at 127 with two other teams). In short, the Rays come into town with arguably the best complete pitching staff (starters and relievers) in all of baseball and the Indians can’t hit against anyone. You see why I’ve tempered my unbridled optimism for this one.

Projected starters

Thursday, May 23 6:10 p.m. ET: TBD (v. Adam Plutko)

FanGraphs is weird this morning. They believe that Ryne Stanek will be pitching this game despite pitching last night. At least, this was my thought at first. But then I remembered that the Rays have been employing Matt Schlichting’s opener strategy this season, and unless Stanek is just continuously getting injured and taken out early in games, it would appear that he’s the opener for the Rays. And Stanek pitching two days in a row is not unheard of since he’s already done it this season.

Stanek has appeared in 20 games this season, and he’s opened 13 of them. He’s only pitched 26.0 innings, however, so he truly is only going an inning or two at a time. He’s been effective, too. Across those 26.0 innings, Stanek has allowed 10 earned runs while walking 9 and striking out 27 (ERA+ 126). He succeeds with his blazing fourseam (98 mph) that consistently gets hitters to whiff, his splitter (89 mph) that also generates a lot of swings and misses, and his slider (90 mph) that, you guessed it, generates a lot of whiffs. Like I mentioned above, he opened against the Dodgers last night and went 1.2 innings and allowed no runs on 1 hit while walking 1 and striking out 2.

Friday, May 24 7:10 p.m. ET: LHP Blake Snell (v. Shane Bieber)

Back to your regularly scheduled starting pitcher.

Blake Snell is the reigning AL Cy Young winner, and for good reason. He was absolutely dominant in 2018. This season, he’s been good but not Cy Young good. In his 49.0 innings of work this year, Snell has allowed 18 earned runs while walking 12 and striking out 71 (ERA+ 131). Your brain didn’t short-circuit for a moment, he really has struck out 71 hitters and currently has a K/9 of 13.04; this is an improvement from his 2018 campaign when he ended the year with a K/9 of 11.01. All of his pitches generate swings and misses, we’ll just get that out of the way now. He’s got a fourseam (96 mph), a curve (82 mph), a change (87 mph), and a slider (88 mph). His most recent start came against the New York Yankees on May 18; in that game, Snell went 6.0 innings and allowed 1 earned run on 6 hits while walking 1 and striking out 9.

Saturday, May 25 4:10 p.m. ET: RHP Charlie Morton (v. Carlos Carrasco)

Charlie Morton has been a great starter for the last two seasons, and after getting to his first All-Star game last year at the age of 34, he’s back for more in 2019 and he looks fantastic. Across 54.1 innings of work this year, Morton has allowed just 16 earned runs while walking 25 and striking out 67 (his K/9 is only 11.1) (ERA+ 163). He now could be considered the best starter (right now) in the Rays rotation with the injury to Tyler Glasnow (who’s somehow been better than both Morton and Snell this year). Morton has several pitches to choose from, but he relies mostly on his knuckle curve (79 mph), sinker (94 mph), fourseam (95 mph), and slider (86 mph). You won’t be surprised to know that basically all of his pitches cause hitters to swing and miss. His most recent start came on May 19 against the Yankees; in that game, Morton went 4.0 innings and allowed 3 earned runs on 4 hits while walking 4 and striking out 6.

Sunday, May 26 1:10 p.m. ET: TBD (v. TBD)

If FanGraphs is to be believed, Ryne Stanek will open up this game for the Rays as well. The concept of an opener definitely takes some getting used to as a spectator, but it’s hard to argue with the results that the Rays are getting. You wouldn’t bat an eye if a reliever made 2 appearances in a 4-game series, so having Stanek “open” two games really shouldn’t be a big deal either.

Lineup highlights

  • 2B Brandon Lowe: His walks are down and his strikeouts are up to an unsightly 34.9%, but Brandon Lowe continues to be productive at the plate despite these shortcomings. Across 169 plate appearances this season, Lowe is slashing .288/.337/.551 (wRC+ 136). This is helped largely by his team-leading 10 home runs. Lowe only played in 43 major league games in 2018 (he spent most of his time between double-A and triple-A), but now he’s poised to stick with the Rays. And if he keeps hitting the way he has, there’s no reason to think he won’t.
  • LF Tommy Pham: This is Tommy Pham’s first full season with the Rays, and he’s been on fire so far. In 206 plate appearances, Pham is slashing .279/.393/.436 (wRC+ 129). His BB% is up a couple ticks from last year and his K% has dropped a full 6.5%. Last year between St. Louis and Tampa, Pham had a wRC+ of 129, so this production is picking up right where he left off a year ago.
  • RF Avisail Garcia: Hey, it’s our old AL Central friend, Avisail Garcia! Since coming over from Chicago last season, Garcia has been great after a disappointing 2018. This year, across 166 plate appearances so far, Garcia is slashing .283/.343/.507 (wRC+ 126). His K% (24.1%) and BB% (6.6%) are right around where he’s been his entire career, so he isn’t doing anything drastically different at the plate. His BABIP is also right in line with his career average. His ISO is up significantly, however, so that may explain the sudden run of success that Garcia is experiencing this season.

Tampa Bay roster

FanGraphs

Poll

How many games will the Indians win against the Rays?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    4
    (6 votes)
  • 5%
    3
    (6 votes)
  • 17%
    2
    (20 votes)
  • 42%
    1
    (48 votes)
  • 28%
    0
    (32 votes)
112 votes total Vote Now