Series Preview: Tampa Bay (July 5-8)

HOUSTON - MAY 21: Ben Zobrist #18 of the Tampa Bay Rays doubles to right field in the fifth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on May 21, 2010 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

This Series Preview brought to you by TiqIQ. If you're heading down to Progressive Field for the series and don't yet have tickets, be sure to check them out.

The Indians will end the first half of the season with their first look at Tampa Bay in 2012.

Team in a Box (click to enlarge)

Tampa_bay_july_5-8_medium

The Rays have stuck around thanks largely due to their pitching staff. They're still a running team, but right now they aren't hitting much at all. They also rank towards the bottom of the league both in traditional (Fielding Percentage) and Non-Traditional (Defensive Efficiency) team defense ratings.

Typical Lineup...

Pos. Player BA OBP SLG OPS+ PA
LF Desmond Jennings .235 .304 .364 89 240
1B Carlos Pena .197 .334 .359 98 344
CF BJ Upton .248 .301 .374 91 284
DH Luke Scott .201 .262 .387 81 214
RF Ben Zobrist .254 .375 .456 135 328
3B Jeff Keppinger
.317 .356 .423 121 132
C Jose Molina .200 .268 .338 71 142
SS Elliot Johnson .263 .330 .379 101 212
2B Sean Rodriguez
.221 .272 .351 76 256

..if such a thing existed with the Rays. It's likely that the lineup Joe Madden pens tonight will look nothing like this, since one Rays lineup usually has little resemblance to another. Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce are both missing, which leaves whatever lineup Maddon does put out there without much power. Ben Zobrist is by far the best healthy position player on the club, and has been for years one of baseball's most anonymous stars; with all the outfield injuries, he's played more right field than second base.

B.J. Upton really struggled in June, hitting .208/.261/.297, as did Desmond Jennings (.213/.267/.340). Jeff Keppinger, who has bounced around quite a bit, has provided an offensive boost since returning from the DL in late June, and has taken playing time away from Will Rhymes, who has been awful at second base.

Probable Starters

Date Pitcher ERA Innings SO/9 BB/9 H/9
July 5 Jeremy Hellickson 3.44 81.0 5.9 3.4 8.8
July 6 Alex Cobb 4.94 51.0 6.4 2.5 9.4
July 7 Matt Moore 4.17 95.0 8.8 4.3 8.5
July 8 James Shields 4.11 111.2 8.4 2.6 10.1

Starting pitching is the strength of the Tampa Bay organization, both in quality and in depth, and it's the reason why they're still in contention despite the injuries and struggles of their offense.

The Indians will thankfully miss David Price, but the rest of Tampa's rotation isn't exactly chopped liver. James Shields (age 30) has struggled lately, but he's still one of the best inning eaters in baseball, usually going at least 7 innings in a start. Alex Cobb (age 24) is breaking into the majors after a distinguished minor-league career, and Jeremy Hellickson (age 25) hasn't skipped a beat after winning the AL Rookie of the Year in 2011. Matt Moore (age 23) is youngest of this bunch, and was ranked the second-best prospect in baseball going into this season by Baseball America.

Key Relievers

Throws Pitcher ERA Innings SO/9 BB/9 H/9
Right Fernando Rodney 0.96 37.2 9.1 1.2 5.3
Right Burke Badenhop 3.74 33.2 7.2 2.4 10.2
Right Joel Peralta 4.68 32.2 10.5 2.2 6.9

It's become a recent tradition for Tampa Bay to come up with a new retread to save games, and save them effectively. This year that guy is Fernando Rodney, who last year bombed out with the Angels. But he's pitching the best ball of his career in 2012, which is important given how slim the leads he's given usually are. Badenhop came from the Marlins a deal last winter; he's also a former Tiger prospect, dealt to the Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera deal. Joel Peralta is back from his "foreign substance" suspension.

On the Shelf

  • C Robinson Chirinos (concussion) - 60-day DL
  • LF Sam Fuld (wrist) - 60-day DL
  • RF Brandon Guyer (shoulder) - out for the season
  • RHP Jeremy Hellickson (shin) - day-to-day
  • OF Matt Joyce (oblique) - 15-day DL
  • IF Jeff Keppinger (triceps) - day-to-day
  • 3B Evan Longoria (hamstring) - 15-day DL
  • DH Hideki Matsui (hamstring) - day-to-day
  • RHP Jeff Niemann (fibula) - 60-day DL

There's several key injuries here. Longoria tops the list, but the Rays are also missing Joyce's bat in the lineup. Sam Fuld has also been missing; he played a key role on the 2011 club as a left fielder. Keppinger and Matsui aren't on the DL, but they were both injured in Tampa Bay's recent series with the Yankees.

talonk's Almanac

All-Time Record 69-42 (.622)
Runs Scored/Allowed 616 468
Pythagorean Win % .623
Best Record 8-2 2000/2007
Worst Record 2-7 2010
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