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The Tampa Bay Rays in 1,418 words: An Oakland A's series preview

The Rays are like the Athletics in that they have a billion injuries at one position where they're particularly shorthanded. While for the A's it's position players, for the Rays it's starting pitchers.

Kevin Kiermaier #39 of the Tampa Bay Rays makes a running catch during the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 20, 2015.
Kevin Kiermaier #39 of the Tampa Bay Rays makes a running catch during the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 20, 2015.
Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

The Oakland Athletics (14-28) visit St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field for a four-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays (22-19). The Rays enter this weekend's series tied atop the American League East with the New York Yankees.

A's fans should hardly be talking about other team's attendance figures, but Tampa has had a terribly difficult time drawing of late. For their last four-game mid-week set against the Yankees, the Rays failed to exceed 12,000 in any game. They have already twice reported attendance under 10,000, once against the Orioles* and once against the Rangers. Tampa Bay has not let the paucity of seats filled affect them too much it seems, they are 12-11 at home, compared to 10-8 on the road.

(*A reader points out that the Orioles game was one of the games moved from Orioles Park at short notice due to the civil unrest in Baltimore.)

Attendance should be helped on Saturday and Sunday by a couple of promotions. Saturday, "The Jacksons" (the former Jackson 5) perform a post-game concert. Sunday, children 14 and under receive a camo tank top and there is a post-game concert by Australian pop singer and actor Cody Simpson. You may know Simpson as a contestant on Season 18's "Dancing with the Stars."

Starting pitching

The Rays were hit particularly hard with the injury bug on the pitching side of the ledger. Tampa must do without Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Drew Smyly. Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi are the only holdovers from last year's rotation that pitched over 20 innings as a starter. Nathan Karns, Erasmo Ramirez, and Alex Colome will have to step up for the Rays this weekend. The great news for Oakland is that all four starters for Tampa are right-handed, and so the Green and Gold just might avoid their doldrums against lefties.

Thursday vs. Alex Colome
Jesse Chavez vs. Alex Colome
2.63 ERA 6.05
2.65 FIP 4.62
3.77 xFIP 3.22
22.7% K% 19.5%
1.05 GB/FB 1.39

The Rays signed Alex Colome as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2007, when he was 18. He entered this season as the #4 Rays prospect by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus.

He's made four starts for the Rays, getting called up on May 1, but has been lit up his last two. Against the Yankees on May 11, he gave up four home runs on the way to eight earned runs and 11 hits in six innings. He followed that up by only finishing 3⅓ innings against the Minnesota Twins on May 16, conceding three runs and six hits.

Colome has five pitches according to Brooks Baseball, a 95 mph fastball, cutter, curve, change, and slider. He has gone with the fastball frequently on the first pitch (66% usage to LHH, 59% to RH) and behind in the count (66% to LHH, 77% to right-handed).

Friday vs. Chris Archer
Scott Kazmir vs. Chris Archer
3.08 ERA 2.47
3.73 FIP 2.56
3.68 xFIP 2.71
23.7% K% 28.8%
1.36 GB/FB 2.18

Chris Archer is enjoying another excellent year thus far with a K% not seen since his cup of coffee call up in 2012. Not only that, fans are enjoying Chris Archer more because he's picked up his pace by 4.1 seconds, going from 25.2 seconds per pitch to 21.1 seconds, which now puts him just below the average starter's pace of 21.5 seconds per pitch. Archer fires in a 96 mph fastball only a little more often than his slider, and also throws a sinker and circle change, according to Brooks Baseball.

Archer is enjoying a second consecutive year of reverse splits, with left-handers managing just a .231 wOBA (.214/.250/.262 traditional line) and right-handers a .259 wOBA (.181/.280/.277).

Saturday vs. Nate Karns
Kendall Graveman vs. Nate Karns
8.27 ERA 3.77
6.86 FIP 4.43
6.00 xFIP 4.08
8.4% K% 23.3%
1.56 GB/FB 1.33

Right-handed rookie Nate Karns has done well in what is actually his third trip to the major leagues, enjoying a September call up last year with the Rays and three starts for the Washington Nationals in 2013. Through eight starts, Karns had thrown just two quality starts. In four starts he only came short of the innings requirement, and he's had only two games where he's given up more than three earned runs.

Karns is throwing a 93 mph fastball, single, curve, and changeup. The main thing that is keeping Karns from getting deep into games is the number of walks he is allowing, 21 through 45⅓ innings, against 44 strikeouts.

Sunday vs. Erasmo Ramirez
Sonny Gray vs. Erasmo Ramirez
1.92 ERA 6.44
2.67 FIP 3.84
3.56 xFIP 4.04
23.8% K% 19.8%
1.40 GB/FB 1.96

The Rays acquired Erasmo Ramirez from the Seattle Mariners for 25-year-old minor league left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery in the last offseason. Ramirez is having a career year, in that he started the year putting up career-worst figures by giving up 15 earned runs in his first two appearances to start the year with a 25.31 ERA. It's gone quite a bit more smoothly than that since then, however. He has since pitched 24 innings of 2.25 ERA baseball, making three starts and seven relief appearances for the Rays since then.

Ramirez throws a 92 mph fastball, changeup, occasional slider, and very occasional curve, according to Brooks Baseball. The changeup is one of the keys to his arsenal, as he throws it to left-handers ahead in the count 56% of the time. Overall, batters whiff at the pitch 23% of the time it's thrown this year.

At the plate and in the field

A's AL Ranks Rays
6th (4.40) RS/G 11th (3.95)
6th (103) wRC+ 8th (101)
8th (38) HR 9th (37)
5th (.257) AVG 10th (.243)
5th (.319) OBP 11th (.312)
8th (.396) SLG 10th (.387)
11th (.138) ISO 9th (.143)
6th (24) SB 9th (20)
15th (44) Errors 1st (15)
7th (1) DRS 4th (11)
15th (-17.9) UZR/150 2nd (13.8)
6th (.717) DE 3rd (.736)

The Rays have committed a league-best 15 errors and are top five in three different advanced defensive metrics: Defensive Runs SavedUltimate Zone Rating, and Defensive Efficiency. That helps a lot when their starting rotation owns very high ground ball percentages.

On offense, the Rays feel very much like the A's. Steven Souza leads the Rays in home runs with six, but six players have at least three, putting them on pace for over 10. The Rays have seven batters with at least 99 plate appearances that have a wRC+ above 100.

Sogard Line: The Rays have given 270 of 1,510 (17.8%) non-pitcher plate appearances to batters with a wRC+ below Eric Sogard's 65.


A's AL Ranks Rays
8th (128.1) IP 2nd (139.0)
15th (5.12) ERA 5th (3.17)
12th (4.34) FIP 7th (3.85)
14th (4.32) xFIP 9th (4.01)

There are three new relievers in the Tampa bullpen. Kevin Jepsen arrived in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels for Matt Joyce, Xavier Cedeno was purchased from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Ernesto Frieri was signed as a free agent in the offseason. Brad Boxberger serves as Tampa's closer, he is 11-for-11 in save opportunities this year.

2015 Stats Recent usage (pitch count from
Player Hand IP ERA K% GB% FB% 20-May 19-May 18-May 17-May 16-May 15-May 14-May
Brad Boxberger R 15.0 1.20 36.8% 33.3% 53.3% 15

Kevin Jepsen R 17.1 2.08 17.1% 52.8% 26.4% 24 18 5
Jake McGee L 2.0 0.00 57.1% 33.3% 33.3% 15 14
Ernesto Frieri R 18.0 5.00 21.1% 22.4% 67.3% 23 8
Xavier Cedeno L 11.0 1.64 26.1% 60.7% 21.4% 13 10 14
Brandon Gomes R 14.0 1.93 22.4% 37.5% 50.0% 2 11
Steven Geltz R 18.0 3.00 32.4% 44.7% 31.6% 26 5

The Games

The start times jump around for this series so watch the start time! Once the A's finish up in Florida, they return to the Coliseum for a late afternoon contest against the Detroit Tigers for Memorial Day Monday on ESPN.

Time (PT) Probable starters
Thursday 4:10 PM Jesse Chavez vs. Alex Colome
Friday 4:10 PM Scott Kazmir vs. Chris Archer
Saturday 1:10 PM Kendall Graveman vs. Nate Karns
Sunday 10:10 AM Sonny Gray vs. Erasmo Ramirez