Series Preview: Twins vs. Tampa Bay

There are three things we all should know about Tampa Bay:

  1. The last time most of us thought about them, they were good. When we left our story, the Rays were busy losing the World Series to Philadelphia.
  2. They are no longer called the "Devil" Rays.
  3. Thus far in 2009, they sure look like the same 'ol Devil Rays, not the new-look Rays.

We start with the following fact, to help explain why the Rays are 7-12 and last in the AL East:

Jason Bartlett is leading the Rays in hitting.

That must be terrifying enough for Rays fans, right there.

The Rays are fifteenth in the majors in runs scored (83) and thirteenth in runs allowed (83 as well), which theoretically should make them an average team, but they've done a lot of winning 9-3 while losing 3-2 and such. As a matter of fact, they've scored four or more runs in only eight of their nineteen matchups.  And so here's the second fact that helps explain the Rays' struggles:

When scoring four or more runs, the Rays are 7-1.  When scoring three or fewer, Tampa is 0-11.

The problem seems to be a lineup problem.  Bartlett, Evan Longoria, and Akinori Iwamura are all hitting over .300, and Carl Crawford is hitting a lot of singles, but the four are spread out throughout the order.  BJ Upton, the leadoff hitter, has a .208 on-base percentage.  After Crawford and Longoria is cleanup hitter Carlos Pena and DH Pat Burrell, who are hitting a combined .240.  And then before Iwamura and Bartlett are Ben Zobrist (.256) and catcher Dioner Navarro, who at .186 is tied with Alexi Casilla for the 15th-worst average in the majors this year.

This is how the Rays, seventh in the AL in OPS, are tenth in runs and have scored three or fewer runs in eleven out of nineteen games.

+ Pitching Matchups

Friday: Jeff Niemann vs. Scott Baker

Niemann, who's in his first (presumably) full major league season, is 1-2 this year but has pitched okay.  You will not miss him; he will fill most of your TV screen, at 6'9", 260. He gave up five runs in his first inning of the year, including a Melvin Mora grand slam, but apart from that has a 2.87 ERA this season.

Saturday: James Shields vs. Francisco Liriano

Shields is 2-2 with a 3.40 ERA, including a 1-0 loss to Seattle last week. He's gone at least seven innings in each of his last three starts, giving up zero, one, and five runs in those games.  On the other side, though, the Rays are just 1-6 against left-handed pitchers this year, which augurs well for Francisco Liriano.

Sunday: Scott Kazmir vs. Nick Blackburn

Kazmir has benefited from most of Tampa's runs; they've scored 33 in his four starts, and he's 3-1.  He still walks too many guys (just over one every two innings), but the league is hitting just .220 against him.

+ Quotes

"It's an embarrassing start." - Tampa Bay SP Andy Sonnanstine, on his 0-3 beginning to the year

"Usually you build a park to benefit your team, the home team. But that's just going to hurt, because they're going to have to pitch more in the cold than anyone else." - Matt Garza, on Minnesota's decision to build an outdoor park

"Good riddance." - Garza on the Dome, where he's 1-10 career.

"It was great. Couldn't have it any better, could we? I was very happy with how everything worked out." -- Carlos Pena, speaking far too soon following a players-only meeting in Seattle

[Quote source: The St. Petersburg Times]

+ Schedule

Easy, really: All three games are at 7:10, on Fox Sports Net (HD) in the Twin Cities, and on the Twins Radio Network.


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