For all the hullabaloo made about the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry, the Rays and Yankees have a damn good one going themselves. The Red Sox have been off in their own corner jumping between last place and the World Series, but since 2010, the Yankees and Rays have finished no more than seven games apart in the standings. In fact, since the Rays ditched the “Devil” in 2008, the Yankees and Rays have compiled the highest and second-highest win totals in baseball. They’ve also compiled the exact same number of playoff appearances (four) and AL Pennants (one) as one another during that time (Yankees won World Series in 2009, Rays lost in 2008).
Sure, Rays vs. Yankees doesn’t hold a candle to the rich history and systemic hatred between Boston and New York. But in my estimation, the recent narrative for this rivalry has been just as compelling; Rays vs. Yankees is a study in contrasts. The Rays succeed with a small payroll, nearly no fans, and young, homegrown talent, the Yankees with all the money, all the fans, and every old veteran they could find.
For all the success these two teams had over the past seven years, both now find themselves in transitional periods. As I outlined in my introductory Bronx BP post, the Yankees are experiencing an inevitable downswing after 20+ years of unparalleled success. The Rays meanwhile operate like a small business. This past calendar year, that small business lost their CEO, CFO, and lead engineer: Andrew Friedman, Joe Maddon, and David Price. Under new management this year, they hope to maintain stability, though years of poor drafting makes their immediate future uncertain.
Friday we get the first taste of this rivalry in 2015 and there’s a whole bunch of new names to familiarize yourself with so buckle up.
Note: all stats from 2014 unless otherwise mentioned (next week I will begin to use 2015 stats)
At the Plate
|*With NYY only, **2013 Stats, ***With AZ, ****LOL|
Hey, there’s that offense we were all looking for! The bats finally perked up last Sunday and during the series in Baltimore. I told you it wasn’t the end of the world. We saw an A-Bomb, a few Tex-messages, and Stephen Drew going all STEPHEN DREW on the way to 14, 6, 3, and 5 runs over the last four games. But there’s still room for improvement and a few offensive issues in need of some attention.
- Carlos Beltrán? Still asleep. Somebody needs to wake that fool up.
- Score some runs early! The Yankees have been playing behind in almost every game and their starters might feel more comfortable pitching with a lead.
- What the hell is the Yankees batting order? The lineup looks different every day and yes there are a lot of old guys that need days off. But as an example of the inconsistency, A-Rod has hit everywhere between 2nd and 7th this year. Joe Girardi is still tinkering and dealing with injuries but it’d be a good thing if he came out of the weekend with a better idea of his daily lineup.
X-Factor: Brett Gardner
First things first, let’s make sure he’s healthy. Seeing Gardner play all weekend would be a positive for the Yankees. Secondly, his offensive and defensive skills translate the best to Tropicana field (as do Ellsbury’s but I chose Brett), with lots of space in the outfield. If his wrist is at full strength, there could be some extra-base hits and web gems in store from him this weekend.
|C||R||John Ryan Murphy||.284||.318||.370||.265||0.2|
|*With NYY only|
The positives: Chris Young is still crushing the ball. He’s a weapon off the bench and when he gets starts against lefties, though they see none this weekend.
Jack Ryan James Ryan John Ryan Murphy looks like he could be a great defensive catcher. He’s eviscerated the running game when he’s behind the dish and sooner or later we’ll have to check in on his framing stats.
The negatives: Gregorio Petit – he’s hitting .182 and making errors. The only thing going for him is he plays multiple positions but it remains to be seen how much longer that will keep him on the team. Garrett Jones is a DH-type on a team with 3 other DH-types. His experiment in the outfield last weekend didn’t go very well and Mark Teixeira has first base locked down.
Rays Scheduled Starters
|*With TBR AAA|
Jake Odorizzi is the ace of my fantasy baseball team so far, has a nasty split-change, and will be a handful for the Yankees to hit on Saturday. According to the Baseball Prospectus Annual, Nate Karns has some good raw stuff but lacks command. He got touched up for 8 runs in his first two starts and has already walked 6 on the year. Two of Matt Andriese’s best comparables are old friends David Phelps and Adam Warren so that gives you a good idea of what to expect from him. Best case scenario he ends up a fifth starter but more likely has a career bouncing around as a swingman.
The Rays are dealing with a number of injuries in their rotation right now and that’s why two of these starters look unfamiliar. Matt Moore had Tommy John surgery last summer and is expected back late this year. Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly are recovering from smaller injuries of their own and could be back soon. So I wouldn’t put too much credence into how the Yankees hit against Karns or Andriese. It’s the first time facing either and one or both may be out of the rotation the next time they face the Yankees.
|*With LAA, **With LAA/PIT, ***With LAD|
The Rays perennially turn water into wine in the bullpen. Brad Boxberger is like the 25th great reliever who got his start in San Diego. Grant Balfour continues to spit fire while spitting fire. Beliveau is a pretty decent second lefty in a bullpen, but with incumbent closer and main lefty Jake McGee injured right now, he’s shouldering a bigger load than usual. Kevin Jepsen is a setup man extraordinaire who took his talents from Los Angeles to Tampa this offseason. Frieri is on his second change-of-scenery stop and trying to remember how to pitch after forgetting last year, but so far it’s not going great. Knowing the Rays this will probably turn out to be a great bullpen but early in the season without Jake McGee they could be vulnerable. They also don’t create many matchup problems, dressing only one left-handed pitcher, while the Yankees start eight lefty hitters.
What I’ll be Looking for
The Yankees broke out last Sunday night against the Red Sox and hit pretty well in their three games with the Orioles. I already mentioned they need to score early in the game, but another key for the Yankees will be plating runs without the longball. Tropicana is a notoriously large field and the team shouldn’t count on well-timed, multi-run home runs to carry the offense all year. The Yankees would do well to manufacture some baserunners, improve their approach with men in scoring position, and create more run-scoring opportunities overall.
In the Field
Yankees Scheduled Starters
We’re nearly two turns through the Yankees rotation and so far I’d give it about a B-. Though he doesn’t look like he used to, I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Pineda through two starts. Tanaka’s first start was rough and in the second start he was pitching with a giant lead. I wouldn’t glean a whole lot from either and foresee a good old-fashioned duel between him and Odorizzi on Saturday. Adam Warren pitched the 19-inning hangover game and threw pretty well, but nobody was actually paying attention. This weekend he’ll have an actual major league lineup behind him which might give him a better shot to win and catch our collective eye.
|*With BAL only, **In AAA (Scranton) ***With NYY only|
The bullpen is the anchor for this team, but the problem entering Wednesday was getting a lead to hand off to the bullpen. Which made it all the more sad/hilarious when the Yankees finally got that lead for the bullpen on Wednesday and…they went full Ricky Bobby on it. But this is why we can’t have nice things. Apart from that outing and the 19-inning game, the bullpen has been as good as advertised. Latin pop superstar Esmil Rogers is my bullpen MVP for finishing the marathon game well after A-Rod’s bedtime. Miller has been great and Betances a little shaky so for now, the closer-by-committee is on hold. But I hold out hope that Girardi will return to the original plan once Betances figures out his release point. Overall though, this bullpen can matchup with any lineup and the Rays are no different.
|*With WAS AAA, **With WAS, ***With TBR AAA, ****With SDP|
Rays lineups always have a certain peculiarity to them, but this one feels even more Rays-y than usual. It has an unconventional leadoff hitter, a guy who hit .229 last year in the 3-hole, and a slightly younger version of Jose Molina hitting ninth. The rest of the lineup is filled with Evan Longoria and some interesting young talent. And…umm…Logan Forsythe? Playing in Tropicana field, the Rays put a premium on defense so many of these players are valued more for their glove than their bat. That said, they can also be pretty pesky; Asdrubal Cabrera is annoyingly good at hitting sometimes, David DeJesus always seem to get on base, and Desmond Jennings is a pest when he does get on. The Rays want to play low-scoring games and their offense reflects that fact.
X-Factor: Steven Souza
The dude has been hitting some massive bombs. Enough said.
|*With AZ AAA, **With TBR AAA|
Nothing special on the bench. Bobby Wilson is a defense-first catcher. Tim Beckham is on the roster to prove once and for all that he is the draft bust everyone thinks he is. Brandon Guyer and Mikie Mahtook are pretty solid all-around extra outfielders, a fixture on every Rays roster. Mikie Mahtook has also taken his spot atop my “Current Favorite Big League Name List” because Chasen Shreve was disqualified upon his demotion to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (NYY AAA team).
What I’ll be Looking for
Joe Maddon caused quite a ruckus this offseason; he joined the Cubs and might have accidentally created a groundswirl of hope for their fans. Acquiring one of the best tacticians and player managers was a franchise-transforming move for Chicago. On the flip side of that coin, the Rays lost one of the best managers in the game and replaced him with former Indians bullpen coach, Kevin Cash. The Rays are one of the smartest organizations around so I wouldn’t doubt that this was a good hire. But this weekend we’ll get our first taste of the other Cash-man in the Rays dugout and a good chance to see what’s in store during his tenure.
I think the Yankees take this series 2-1. They’ll be facing two of the weakest links in the Rays rotation (Karns and Andriese) and should be able to get a few wins down in the Penis of America. In case you were wondering, so far I’m batting 1.000 on my series predictions so you can take this one to the bank, Las Vegas, or wherever you prefer they print your money.