The Tampa Bay Rays welcome the Minnesota Twins to Tropicana Field for a three game series beginning tonight. The Twins enter the series with a 9-9 record and are currently a game behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central. The Rays split their weekend series against their AL East divisional rival the New York Yankees, losing the bookends on Thursday and Sunday. The series got off to a rough start, with the Yankees taking Game 1 by a score of 10-2, beating David Price to extend the Rays losing streak to four games. In a turn of good fortune, the offense exploded over the next two games, outscoring the Bronx Bombers by a combined score of 27-6. These two games served as a glimer of hope that the offense could snap out of the early season slump and begin producing on a regular basis. Alas, Sunday’s finale went into extra innings, tied at 1, before a few ill-timed walks led to the Rays eventual downfall.
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Erik Bedard didn’t fare very well in his first attempt to help fill the void in the Rays’ starting rotation, lasting only 3.2 innings. However, Chris Archer returned to form and pitched a gem on Saturday, allowing only 1 ER on 3 hits across 6.2 innings in the rout. The bullpen did a valiant job of eating up innings throughout the series, though the presence of Josh Lueke remains a mystery. On the flip side, Brad Boxberger was a bright spot and did not allow a hit in the two innings pitched against the Yankees on Friday.
Game 1: Minnesota Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays
Thursday, April 22nd @ 7:10 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports
Radio: WDAE 620 AM /95.3 FM, WGES 680 (Sp.)
David Price (2-1, 4.39 ERA/3.34 FIP) vs. Kyle Gibson (3-0, 0.93 ERA/3.40 FIP )
David Price got lit up by the Yankees’ offense last Thursday, raising his season ERA from 2.91 to 4.39. His advanced peripheral stats suggest that his last outing was an anomaly, as he has a BABIP of .333, well above his .281 career average. He is still averaging over 9 strikeouts per 9 innings, and he should be able to dominate a relatively mediocre Twins lineup. Price’s opponent, Kyle Gibson, has been on fire to start the season. He’s allowed only 2 earned runs across 19.1 innings, holding opponents to a .179 batting average. In his last start against a potent Toronto Blue Jay offense, he pitched 8 innings, allowing only four hits and zero runs. He is not a big strikeout pitcher, with a K/9 under 5, but don’t be surprised if he gives the struggling Rays offense some trouble–Tampa Bay has been known to make young, untested pitchers look like Hall of Famers.
Prediction: Ben Zobrist is the difference in the game–Rays win the opener.
Game 2: Minnesota Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays
Friday, April 23rd @ 7:10 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports, MLBN
Radio: WDAE 620 AM /95.3 FM, WGES 680 (Sp.)
Jake Odorizzi (1-2, 5.63 ERA/3.67 FIP) vs. Mike Pelfrey (0-2, 7.98 ERA/9.18 FIP )
Jake Odorizzi returns to the comfortable confines of Tropicana Field, where he opened his season with a gem against the Texas Rangers (6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER). However, he has given up 10 ER in his last two starts in Kansas City and Baltimore. His ERA is inflated when compared to his fielding independent metrics, and thus it would seem that he is pitching better than the traditional stats would indicate. Through three starts, he has relied more heavily on his changeup, throwing the pitch over 30% of the time and this is something to keep an eye on as he continues to develop as a pitcher. The Rays have had a history of developing their pitchers’ changeups (especially when James Shields was on the staff) so this should not come as a huge surprise. Mike Pelfrey is pitching terribly–with an ERA just under 8, he is actually outperforming his advanced metrics. His HR/FB ratio is just under 20%, which is cause for concern, but should come back down to Earth as the sample size grows. But another thing to consider is that his BABIP is well below his career average (80 points).
Prediction: This is a game the Rays should win, and they will win.
Game 3: Minnesota Twins @ Tampa Bay Rays
Saturday, April 24th @ 1:10 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports
Radio: WDAE 620 AM /95.3 FM
Erik Bedard (0-0, 6.35 ERA/3.04 FIP) vs. Ricky Nolasco (1-2, 6.08 ERA/5.11 FIP )
Erik Bedard looks to recover from his first start of the season, when he lasted only 3.2 innings and surrendered 4 earned runs. The Rays offense bailed him out with a surprise showing of run support and the bullpen was able to stop the bleeding to help earn the Rays a victory. Bedard has only thrown 5.2 innings on the season, so his statistics are a bit variable given the small sample size. The main goal for this outing will be to eat innings and keep the bullpen fresh, given the early afternoon start time. With the Rays only have 2 off days over the next 35 games, keeping the arms fresh will be critical to their success. Nolasco has struggled so far this season, producing 3 less strikeouts per nine than his career average. He is also getting BABIP’d (.345) and opponents are hitting .333 against the right-hander. He’s given up 4 home runs in only 23.2 innings after giving up on 17 HR total in almost 200 innings last season. The Twins are hoping he turns the corner soon in the hopes of justifying the $12M salary Ricky is earning in 2014.
Prediction: Get the brooms out–Rays sweep.
Players to Watch:Apr 19, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Wil Myers (9) hits a 3-run home run during the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Wil Myers, RF: Wil Myers hit his first two home runs of the season in Saturday’s rout of the Yankees, though he still has an OPS under .700. Let’s hope he can keep the momentum moving and have a strong series against the Twins.
Chris Colabello, DH/1B: Colabello has been the early surprise of 2014–the 30 year old rookie is slashing .353/.397/.529 with a wOBA of .406. He has 9 doubles already and is first in the American League with 20 RBIs. It’ll be interesting to see how long he can keep it going.