Series Preview: Cardinals at Rays 6/10-6/11

It's been a Longo season - Jared Wickerham

A few things to consider as the 33-31 Cardinals head to Tampa for a pair of games against the 24-40 Rays.

The Schedule

Mise-en-scene

The Cardinals are coming off two good wins. Necessary wins. Heartening wins. To start counting the last two wins of any kind for the Rays, you'd have to start counting May 25th. Since that date, the Rays have been swept by the Jays, swept by the Red Sox, swept at home in a four game series by the Marlins, and lost three of four to the Mariners. 24-40 is the worst record in baseball, and coolstandings has the Rays at a .5% chance to win the division and a 1.0% chance to earn a wild card ticket.

Rumors are already percolating about Tampa trading away former Cy winner David Price for prospects. Price has a year left before free agency and will likely fetch a haul of cost-controlled players for the payroll challenged Rays, but I don't expect him to be traded just yet. After the Redbirds leave town, the Rays have seven games against the Astros, six against the Orioles, and four against the Pirates remaining in June. This stretch of soft schedule, mostly in Tampa, will either bring the Rays back into the picture or, failing that, allow the Rays front office a clearer conscience in shipping away their star pitcher.

So how did the Rays fall so quickly? This is a franchise that hasn't had a losing record since 2007 and has only failed to reach 90 wins once in that period. It's not some horrible stretch of bad luck. Their Pythagorean record sits just two games better than their actual record. In fact, this 24-40 team actually has a winning 9-8 mark in 1-run games. The simple answer is the correct one: their usually (formerly?) good hitters have been mediocre to bad. David Dejesus somehow has a 129 wRC+ (surprise! it's not a BABIP artifact), but nobody else on the team is producing much better than average. Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings have been ok, but Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Wil Myers have combined for a .308 wOBA. Ryan Hanigan's .289 wOBA is positively scorching compared to his partner catcher Jose Molina's .148. Add it all together and only three NL teams have scored fewer runs than the DH-wielding Rays, easily the worst offense in the AL. Myers is now out with a wrist injury for at least two months, so he won't be contributing to any quick turnaround.

The pitching hasn't been as poor, but it hasn't been great, either. David Price has been outstanding. His 2.4% BB rate is low enough to make Adam Wainwright jealous, and his K% is tops for his career. Somehow the guy has an ERA near four, but that will drop quickly if he keeps pitching as he has. Chris Archer has been good, and has a fair 3.42 ERA to show for it, but  Alex Cobb (4.39) and especially Jake Odorizzi (5.31) have allowed a lot of runs, though Odorizzi's peripherals are promising. Finally, Tampa is counting on Erik Bedard in the wake of Matt Moore's season-ending Tommy John surgery. It's certainly not a bad rotation, but neither is it good enough to carry a team hitting this poorly.

What to watch for

Kolten Wong is due back after missing the Toronto series with a minor shoulder injury. He hurt the shoulder June 3rd diving in the outfield, and aggravated it with an aggressive swing on June 5th. Shoulder injuries can linger, so it would be a relief to see him swinging fully today.

The Cardinals are throwing their best two starters against a bad offense. Tampa is pitching the back of their rotation. There's certainly a greater than average opportunity for the Cardinals to pick up where they left off in Toronto, but, well, baseball.

Evan Longoria has to be better for the Rays to have a chance at resuscitating their season. He has two doubles and two homers in the last five games, so there's a glimmer of hope.

Rays reliever Jake McGee has been absurdly good. He currently sports a 1.59 ERA, which is .10 higher than his FIP.

Who the hell is that?

That's Kevin Kiermaier! He's filling in for Wil Myers, and doing a damn fine job of it so far (216 wRC+ in 16 games). There's nothing in the 24-year-old's minor league numbers or evaluations to suggest his offensive tear is going to continue, but he appears to be a major league quality player, especially with the glove. Here's his Jay-Z impression. Here's an inside-the-park homerun off of Jackie Bradley, Jr.'s nose (he was not seriously injured). And here's that aforementioned glove.

Notes

Jake Odorizzi grew up a Cards fan in Highland, IL. Read about it here.

This is the Cardinals' third trip to the Trop. They last played in Tampa July 1-3 of 2011. Lance Berkman hit two homers that series, and Colby Rasmus hit one. It was the start of his final month as a Cardinal.

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