These aren't your father's Tampa Bay Rays. Of course, the Rays weren't around during dad's heyday, so "older brother's Tampa Bay Rays" might be a more apt description. Either way, these boys can hit.
The Rays currently sit fourth in the American League with a 104 wRC+ as a team, and lead the league with 58 home runs and a .196 isolated power (ISO). While their raw statistics won't wow anyone, most of this is due to playing in one of the league's stingiest ballparks; away from home, they are hitting a robust .258/.329/.484 as a team. The white-hot Logan Forsythe (160 wRC+) will miss the series after being placed on the disabled list earlier this week, but Steve Pearce (164 wRC+), Brandon Guyer (155 wRC+), and Steven Souza Jr. (eight home runs) are all on board.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way, though. The Rays were projected to have one of the worst offenses in baseball despite returning several players from a team that posted the seventh-highest wRC+ in the game last year. Offseason losses included James Loney, Asdrubal Cabrera, and John Jaso. In their place? Heavy hitters like Pearce and Corey Dickerson.
The Rays did a number on Tigers pitching last season, scoring 35 runs in six games. With so much going right for their offense in 2016, it will once again be up to the Tigers' staff to keep the swingin' Rays at bay. First up: Anibal Sanchez.
Tampa Bay Rays (19-19) at Detroit Tigers (19-21)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Matt Andriese (2-0, 0.56 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-4, 5.91 ERA)
What was originally an under-the-radar January 2014 trade between a pair of small market clubs has quickly become a major coup for the Rays. Pitchers Jesse Hahn and Alex Torres were sent to San Diego in exchange for a bevy of players, including Logan Forsythe, Brad Boxberger, and Matt Andriese. Hahn and Torres put up 1.1 fWAR for the Padres before moving onto other teams, while Forsythe alone has been worth 5.2 WAR in the past two-plus seasons. Boxberger stepped in for an injured Jake McGee last season and led the American League with 41 saves.
Oh, and Andriese just threw a shutout six days ago. The 26-year-old righthander was a third round pick back in 2011 and rocketed through the Padres' farm system, reaching Triple-A by 2013. He spent most of the 2014 and 2015 seasons there as well, but also worked 65 2/3 innings at the major league level in 2015. Andriese's numbers were fairly unassuming last year -- he posted a 4.11 ERA and FIP, along with a 2.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- but he has gotten off to a great start in 2016, allowing just one run in 16 innings of work. However, those numbers come with a grain of salt, as Andriese has faced two of the league's worst offenses in the Angels and Athletics.
That's not to say that Andriese isn't a capable starter, though. He features four pitches, including a fastball that averages 91-92 miles per hour. He throws the heater just under 50 percent of the time, and has adopted the Rays' fascination with high fastballs. He also features his mid-80s cutter quite a bit, but relies heavily on a curveball and changeup as well. The cutter and change are his out pitches against right-handed batters, while he uses the curve nearly one-third of the time when ahead against lefties.
Surprisingly, Andriese's cross-body pitching motion hasn't resulted in any significant platoon splits. He has a higher walk rate against lefties, but has limited them to a .695 OPS, while righties are hitting .244/.282/.348. Both righties and lefties have jumped on the fastball more than his offspeed stuff, but neither side has hit for much power in his 81 2/3 career major league innings.
Hitter to fear: Evan Longoria (.308/.400/.538 in 15 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Desmond Jennings (.111/.250/.111 in 12 plate appearances)
To no one's surprise, there are a bunch of players on the Rays roster that you didn't realize played for the Tampa Bay Rays. Brad Miller and Corey Dickerson were both part of trades that sent Baseball Twitter ablaze during the offseason, but lesser knowns like Logan Morrison and Steve Pearce are also in the fold. Pearce is currently having a monster season, while Morrison finally collected an RBI -- yes, his first of the season -- on Tuesday. Only Longoria and Jennings have faced Sanchez more than a half-dozen times.
Sometimes, identifying the key to a baseball game (besides "hit the dang ball") can be difficult. This game is not like that. Anibal Sanchez has had difficulty with the home run ball in his last year-plus with the Tigers. The Rays, odd as it may seem, lead all of baseball with 58 home runs. Only two of Sanchez's eight starts have been dinger-free, and he has given up a long ball in each of his three home starts this year. The odds are stacked against him, but if he can somehow keep the ball in the yard, the Tigers have a chance.
Sanchez faces one batter too many and the Tigers' winning streak ends.
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