The always irritating Tampa Bay Rays are coming to Buffalo.
The Rays are having an exciting season. They posted a losing record in April and did so again in June. In those two months they went 25-28 while scoring 237 runs and allowing 236. But in between came the merry month of May, during which they kicked sand in the face of everyone they saw: 22-6, while very nearly doubling the opposition's scoring (160-86.)
Who, one wonders, were they abusing during this wondrous hot streak? Everyone they saw, obviously. But who in particular?
Your Toronto Blue Jays, for starters, whom they beat four times in four tries. They inflicted the same punishment on the LA Angels. They also went 8-0 against the Mets, Orioles, and Phillies. So there's 16 wins with no defeats. It leaves the 12 games that they split, against Kansas City, Houston, Oakland, and the Yankees.
Which is how their season has gone. The Rays have run up their 47-34 record mainly by beating teams in the AL East and the National League. They've gone 21-11 in their own division and 8-4 against the other league. They've gone 18-19 against the AL West and Central. (The Red Sox have been proceeding in a similar fashion. This has worked out much better than what the Yankees have done, which has been to beat up on Central and Western teams, but lose in their own division.)
They come to town having dropped their last three games - since June 15, they've gone 4-10 and their three game cushion atop the AL East has become a three game deficit. They still have a comfortable grip on the second Wild Card spot, but I think they liked where they were two weeks ago much better.
It's a team with a decent enough offense, but what they're really good at is preventing the other team from scoring. Their bullpen is very good, the best in the American League, and as deep as the Marianas Trench. That said, the starting rotation doesn't strike a whole lot of fear in the hearts of men. Tyler Glasnow is on the shelf for at least two more months and southpaw Josh Fleming has joined him on the IL. The Rays talked about going with a four man rotation, but will instead recall Luis Patino from Durham, where he had been working on a streak of 17 scoreless innings. The Rays are still left with 41 year old Rich Hill as their ace starter. Hill has been an effective starting pitcher in the majors for most of this century - there can't be too many active players who pitched to Barry Bonds - but the last time Hill pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title was - wait for it - back in 2007. He was a young Cub then, and that was the only time in his 17 year career that he's pitched enough innings to qualify. So one wonders how much they expect from him in the second half.
The Blue Jays and their followers have moaned quite a bit about the injuries that have ravaged the pitching staff. The Rays can sing that song as well. They have no less than 12 pitchers on the IL themselves, most of whom are the 60 day list. Besides Glasnow, the most significant loss is closer Nick Anderson, who isn't expected to return until sometime in August. Bullpen depth pieces Chaz Roe and Cody Reed are gone for the season, but Ryan Thompson should be back in a week or so. The lineup has been healthy for the most part - Ji-Man Choi missed the first six weeks recovering from knee surgery, and another 10 day with a groin strain, but he's in the lineup now.
We shall get our first look at the Rays' 20 year old wunderkind, switch-hitting shortstop Wander Franco. He socked a double and a homer in his first game, but has been held to 4 singles in the seven games since. Baseball is hard. I'm sure he'll figure it all out, but it would be fine if that didn't happen until sometime next week.
And there be matchups....
Fri July 2 - Patino (1-1, 3.60) vs Manoah (1-0, 3.34)
Sat July 3 - McClanahan (3-2, 4.09) vs Stripling (3-4, 4.27)
Sun July 4 - Yarbrough (4-3, 4.48) vs Ray (6-3, 3.43)