Tonight the Yankees begin the toughest part of their 2022 schedule to date (it may turn out to be the toughest 13-game stretch of the season) when they take on their division rivals from the Sunshine State. Beginning tonight, the Yankees’ next 13 games are against the Rays, the Blue Jays, and the Astros – the teams with the three best records in the AL after New York.
The Rays are currently 35-25 which is good for third place in the AL East, nine games behind the Yanks. Although when we dig a little deeper, we see a run differential and a strength of schedule that indicates that perhaps they haven’t performed quite as well as the record indicates.
In their defense, they’ve been ravaged by injuries in 2022, and the players they’ve lost to the injury bug haven’t been insignificant. Tampa recently learned that their All-Star closer Andrew Kittredge* will need to undergo Tommy John surgery and is lost for the rest of this season, at least. Kittredge joins Tampa Bay’s best two position players (Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe), catcher Mike Zunino, reliever J.P. Feveresien and starter Luis Patiño on the IL, among others.
(*More on the Rays’ bullpen in a moment.)
Of course, as the Rays have demonstrated for the better part of 15 years, they don’t go away. The offense ranks 19th in MLB in runs per game, but that’s a little deceiving as the mausoleum in which they play their home games is one of the hardest in baseball in which to hit. When we look at their team OPS+ (which is park-adjusted), they’ve been exactly league average in the batter’s box this season.
Of note, the Rays’ baserunners haven’t been much of a help to the hitters in 2022, as they’ve shown a proclivity for getting thrown out on the bases a lot. As a team, the Rays lead MLB in both outs made on the bases and in times caught stealing. And with a stolen base success rate and an extra-base taken rate that are both below league average, their successes on the base paths have been outnumbered by the times they’ve run themselves out of innings.
Making up for the average offensive output has been a very good run prevention side. With a defense that ranks fifth in Defensive Runs Above Average and a pitching staff that’s in the top five in both K-BB% and SIERA, the Rays have allowed the sixth-fewest runs per game in MLB. And tonight, they’ll run a familiar face out to the mound to try to silence the Bombers.
Corey Kluber will make his 12th start of the season tonight in the Bronx. On one hand, Kluber ranks in the bottom third of the league in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA so he’s given up plenty of hard contact. On the other hand, he got off to a sluggish start in 2022 and had an awful outing against the Angels on May 10th, but over the last five weeks, he’s been very good. Not counting the three-inning, eight-run beating he took from Los Angeles a month ago, over his last seven starts Kluber has thrown 38 innings, allowed only 26 hits, and struck out 37 batters to only four walks. And with a 93rd percentile ranking in walk rate, the Yankees should get in the box with the expectation of swinging.
Also of note, given the injury to Kittredge, look for Jason Adam to get moved up the Rays’ bullpen hierarchy. Adam, who the Rays signed as a Free Agent prior to the season, has quietly been one of the best relievers in baseball in ’22, pitching mostly in the middle innings. In 25 innings, he’s allowed only eight hits, and struck out 30 against eight walks. He ranks above the 94th percentile league-wide in K%, xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA so good at-bats against him have been few and far between this season. He features a four-seamer that will hit 94 on the gun but his out pitch is a change-up with elite movement – keep an eye out for him in at least one big spot this series.
Cue Kenny Loggins, because the Yanks “Top Gun” will be opposing Kluber and the Rays tonight in the Boogie Down. Gerrit Cole, after a torrid stretch in which he averaged a Game Score of 67 over eight starts, looks to bounce back from his worst start of the season. The Yankees eventually won last Thursday’s game in Minnesota, but Cole’s seven earned runs in 2.1 innings sure didn’t make it easy.
Cole’s first pitch from Yankee Stadium will be at 7:05 PM. You can watch it on the YES and TBS Networks, and it can be streamed on MLB.tv. John and Suzyn will have the radio call on WFAN 101.9/660 and as always, follow along with me @mybaseballpage1 on Twitter and on the “My Baseball Page” on Facebook.
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