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Series Preview #36: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Tonight, on a very special episode of Series Previews...

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you're like me, you're probably wondering why the Diamondbacks are playing a random team from the other league who they hadn't played since 2010 but now will see for a second two-game series in less than a week. And if you weren't before, you presumably are now, unless you are Bud Selig.

The new interleague play schedule only evens out if each team plays one team from another league twice at home and twice on the road. Still, playing one series almost right after the other feels makes it feel that much more like an ill-advised sequel to a movie that wasn't that good in the first place, or a particularly redundant quest in a poorly written RPG. Or a fever dream.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):

Tampa Bay
Hitting (wRC+): 90 111 Still Tampa Bay
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
96/101 98/98 Still Too Close to Call!
Fielding (UZR):
35.7 33.4

Still Arizona

So this is a repeat opponent, and with repeat opponents one possible angle would be to update you on how the team has been doing since the last series. So I'll do that.

Since we last saw the Rays, they played exactly one three-game at home against the San Francisco Giants. After losing the first game of that series, they bounced back to win the second two games. The Rays were a very good team when we last saw them, and we can say very slightly more conclusively that they are a good team now. Also, haha Giants: you are terrible. This has been your Rays update.

As for the chart, nothing of note has changed here, other than that the Diamondbacks' record has gotten slightly more mediocre, and that shouldn't surprise anyone. Also, the Rays are no longer in first, but that's a fair bit to do with the Diamondbacks losing a series to their main rival.

Starting Lineups

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. AJ Pollock, CF
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Martin Prado, 3B
5. Cody Ross, LF
6. Gerardo Parra, RF
7.Wil Nieves, C
8. Didi Gregorius, SS

Tampa Bay Rays

1. Ben Zobrist, 2B
2. Evan Longoria, 3B
3. Wil Myers, LF
4. Matt Joyce, RF
5. James Loney, 1B
6. Yunel Escobar, SS
7. Jose Lobaton, C
8. Sam Fuld, CF

Desmond Jennings is on the DL with a fractured finger, so expect to see more Sam Fuld in his place. But otherwise, this lineup looks pretty familiar.

For those of you who didn't read the last version of this, where I gave actual insight about the Rays, here goes the TL;DR version:

Zobrist is pretty good and Longoria has been struggling a bit lately but even still he's pretty and the Rays fleeced the Royals by getting a 21-year-old Wil Myers who's already pretty good, and James Loney is pretty good after not being very good for a long time, and Escobar and Lobaton are below average on offense but even still their defense makes them pretty good.

Overall, I guess the general motif that I'm trying to convey is that the Rays are, on the whole, pretty good.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: Wade Miley (8-8, 3.68) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (10-4, 4.60)

Insightful Commentary: More reruns. Miley's last start against Tampa was another in a string of good starts with sub-optimal peripherals. He went 6.1 scoreless innings and he looked to have good stuff throughout the game, but the five walks he allowed were the second-highest of his career. Most of us have made our peace with the fact that Miley's walk rate will likely never be as low as it was in 2012, and the major uptick in Miley's Ground Ball rate has shown that he can be successful with more walks, but it's still a bit startling to see from him.

As far as I can tell, games like his last start against Arizona have been the rule rather than the exception for Hellickson this year. He has pretty good stuff, including what looked like a very good change-up. Yet, he labored throughout the game and threw 91 pitches through just 4.1 innings before getting chased. As a general rule, if the 2013 Diamondbacks are able to make a pitcher work, odds are that that pitcher has some larger issues in play.

Wednesday: Randall Delgado (4-3, 3.17) vs. Chris Archer (6-4, 2.65)

Inisightful Commentary: Baseball is so rarely predictable in a micro sense that seeing Delgado have his worst start of the season against the Red Sox at Fenway was sort of refreshing, really. Delgado, even as he's pitched well this year, has struggled with home runs, so playing a team with a lot of power in a stadium that gives up a lot of homers seems conducive to some struggles. And so it was: six innings, six runs, two home runs. But given the circumstances, so I'm inclined to dismiss it the result as a tough road draw and not worry much about it.

It's hard to know exactly what the Rays have in Chris Archer. On the one hand, he has a power fastball, a good slider, and an ERA that looks pretty good on first inspection. But on the other, that ERA belies a FIP of 4.22 thanks to a surprisingly low strikeout rate, and he never truly became a standout prospect until his second stint at Triple-A last year. He'll be 25 by the end of the season, so he's not young as prospects go, but his stuff suggests that he can be a solid mid-rotation starter.

Two Pressing Questions:

How's Ryan Roberts? With all the attention on Kelly Johnson, I neglected to give due diligence to everyone's favorite 2011 Diamondbacks Third Baseman. The Dread Pirate has hit .250/.297/.385 as he's bounced between Durham and the majors. While he's had just 158 Plate Appearances so far, Roberts' wRC+ of 93 is very slightly higher than Prado's (92) for you bitter, bitter readers.

Are the Rays going to the playoffs? Signs point to yes. If you didn't follow the link, Cool Standings gives the Rays a 89% chance of making the playoffs. However, the Rays have a much worse chance of winning the division, so a large portion of that involves the Wild Card play-in game, which I refuse to count as real playoffs. The Rays are probably one of the three best teams in baseball, but they have a very real chance of not making it to an ALDS. It should be a fun stretch run in the AL East, if nowhere else.

The Diamondbacks are at 25.5%, by the way. Flip a coin twice. The Diamondbacks have the same likelihood of grabbing even a Wild Card spot as the coin has of coming up heads both times.

Rays Blog: DRays Bay

(All stats from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs unless otherwise indicated.)