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Two (and only two) in Tampa: Phillies vs. Rays series preview

An abbreviated series in one of the worst stadiums in the country

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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays
Behold the “Trop” in all its glory!
Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

As you may have noticed, the Phillies didn’t have a game on Friday night. Aside from opening week, this is an extremely rare occurrence during a baseball season, and I’m not entirely sure why it happened. Both teams were already in Florida, so travel wasn’t an issue.

At first, I thought maybe they wanted to have a three-game series which included the holiday on Monday. That would have made some sense. But no, the Phillies will still have to travel to a different city for an afternoon game on Monday.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 32-20 (First place in American League East)

The manager

By most metrics, Kevin Cash has been a successful manager for the Rays. He won the manager of the year award in 2020 for leading the Rays to the American League East title and went on to win the AL Pennant. Yet most people associate him with one controversial move: Removing starting pitcher Blake Snell from game six of the World Series.

Snell had been cruising for most of the game, but in the seventh, Cash felt he’d rather turn the game over to his bullpen than have Snell face the Dodgers’ lineup for a third time. (Yes, Phillies fans, if you thought Kapler pulling Aaron Nola on Opening Day was bad, you wouldn’t have liked this move). Naturally, the bullpen did not do its job, and the Rays went on to lose the game and series.

It’s a good sign you made a controversial decision when politicians start referencing it:

The last time they met

The Phillies and Rays met for the final three games of the 2020 regular season. The Rays had already wrapped up the division, and the Phillies desperately needed some wins in order to qualify for the postseason. As it turned out, just one win would have been enough to get them in. How many wins did they get? Obviously you already know the answer.

Getting them at the right time?

It might be an understatement to say the Rays have had a good month. They’re 19-6 in May, and recently had an eleven-game winning streak. That streak ended this week at the hands of the Royals, but the Rays went on to win the next two after that.

It wouldn’t seem ideal to take on a team that’s won thirteen of their last fourteen, but I’m confident that the Rays aren’t going to win games at a .928 pace all season. Maybe I’m being hopelessly optimistic, but it seems likely that the Rays will have to cool down a little at some point. Taking on an interleague opponent after an off day could be just the thing to halt their momentum.

Or maybe I’m just trying to talk myself into giving the Phillies a chance.

Quick look at the Rays’ scheduled starters

Ryan Yarborough has been used both as a starter and reliever this year, but the relief appearances have gone much better. In four of his six starts this season, he’s allowed 5+ runs, although in his defense, many of those runs were unearned. Still, there are some who believe the Rays would be best served using an “opener” when his turn comes in the rotation.

Similarly, Josh Fleming has bounced between a starter and relief role, but he’s been pretty good in both. He also started against the Phillies in that ill-fated 2020 series, shutting them out for six innings.

Walking their way to success

Here is how the Rays rank among AL teams in a some key offensive categories:

Batting average: 10th

On-base percentage: 5th

Home runs: 6th

Slugging percentage: 8th

OPS: 8th

Those numbers aren’t bad, but they wouldn’t lead you to think the Rays have scored the second most runs in the league either. None of their regulars have an OPS over .900, and the top batting average is third baseman Joey Wendle’s .303. So how are they doing it?

The key may be their league leading 202 walks. The good news for the Phillies is that they’re starting Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin, and both pitchers are generally stingy with the free passes they allow.

Welcome to the pleasure dome

It’s hard to get sports fans to agree on much, but just about anyone who follows baseball agrees that the Rays’ home stadium is one of the worst in baseball.

There’s talk of building a new stadium, but I’m not sure why. We have almost thirty years of evidence that a Major League Baseball team in the state of Florida will not draw fans no matter how good the team, or how new the stadium is. They built the new park in Miami, and - surprise! - the Marlins still can’t draw any fans.

If they do build a new stadium, I just hope they let the good people of New Era know exactly where it is located:

What to expect

  • J.T. Realmuto is back! His presence will surely boost the team both on offense and defense, and with him in the lineup, the Phillies will score at least four runs in one of the games.
  • Rhys Hoskins will serve as designated hitter on Saturday (hooray for American League rules!) - and possibly Sunday too - and not worrying about playing the field will help keep his bat hot. He’ll hit another long ball this series.
  • Zack Wheeler will unfortunately turn in his worst start of the season.

Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series

If the Phillies win both games, does that count as revenge for the Rays keeping them out of the playoffs last year? No, not really.