June 6, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; Tampa Bay Rays center fielder B.J. Upton (2) makes a catch against the New York Yankees during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. Yankees won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Series Preview: Mets @ Rays


The Mets and Rays will be meeting at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay for a three-game set starting tonight, with both teams coming from completely different directions. This will be another tough road test for the Mets, as they not only face off against one of the best teams in the American League, but try and bounce back from a rough series in the Bronx.

New York is in the middle of their toughest eight-series stretch of the season, and they’ve been struggling of late. Terry Collins’ squad is a season-high 5 games out of first (32-29), thanks to getting swept by the Yankees. The Mets are 4-6 in their last 10 games, and if R.A. Dickey didn’t pull out a win against the Nationals Thursday, New York would be staring at a seven-game losing streak.

The Rays are also coming off a sweep, but one that they handed to the Marlins. The top three spots in the AL East continue to stay tight, but the Rays are tied for first with the Yankees, sporting a 35-25 record. They have won four in a row and are 6-4 in their last 10 games.

How they’re performing:

The Mets have been able to negate the lack of power in their lineup with their ability to hit for a high average and get on base with the best in the league, but as their recent slide has progressively gotten worse, so have those main statistics:

June 10, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Mets center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis (left) and third baseman David Wright (5) in the dugout before the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Mets Offense

Avg. OBP% Slug% Runs

HR

Statistic .254

.328

.388

262

47

MLB Rank 15th

8th

21st

13th T-24th

David Wright continues to lead the Met offense in multiple categories, most notably in batting average (.354), OBP (.455), and runs scored (40). The offense is definitely missing the bats of Mike Baxter (.323) and Ruben Tejada (.305), as they’re both on the DL, but Omar Quintanilla (.314), Scott Hairston (.288), and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (.286) are trying to give Wright some support. Lucas Duda holds a slim lead in the power department, as he has 10 homers and 36 RBI. Wright is hot on his trail with 8 bombs and 34 RBI, with Hairston (8 HR/24 RBI) coming in third.

While New York was playing well at home against the Cardinals, it was dominant starting pitching that was the key, with Johan Santana‘s no-hitter taking the lead. However, a 5.59 ERA out of the bullpen has brought down the rest of the staff during their struggles:

Mets Pitching ERA WHIP Saves

K’s

OP BA
Statistic 4.27 1.34

17

487

.259

MLB Rank 22nd 20th T-8th T-6th

23rd

Even though he gave up six runs on four homers Friday, Santana’s 2.96 ERA is still among the best on the staff, while Dickey’s 2.44 mark being the lowest of all. Dillon Gee and Jonathon Niese both pitched well to a tough Yankee lineup, making few mistakes, but the defense hasn’t helped the bullpen, who have blown 13 save opportunities to date.

By looking at their team statistics, it is clear to see that the Rays are not a very strong offensive team. They use the home run to get runs in a hurry when they need them, but they are a team that is pitching-rich:

Rays Offense Avg. OBP% Slug%

Runs

HR

Statistic .237

.321

.390

260

64

MLB Rank 26th

14th

20th

17th

11th

Despite only playing in about half of Tampa’s games due to injury, both Evan Longoria (.329) and Jeff Keppinger (.295) have been leading the team in hitting. Also, Matt Joyce and B.J. Upton, both hitting .282, are also helping solidify the offense by being in the lineup more often. In the power department, Joyce leads the team in home runs with 11, but comes in second when it comes to RBI, with Luke Scott driving in 35 so far this season.

How are the Rays in first place with solid offensive teams like the Orioles, Yankees, and Blue Jays also in their division? When you take a look at what they do night-in and night-out on the mound, it’s easy to see why this is an elite team:

Rays Pitching ERA WHIP Saves

K’s

OP BA
Statistic 3.40 1.26

20

487

.237

MLB Rank 5th

9th

7th

T-6th

5th

Fernando Rodney has been a great pick up for Tampa, converting 18 of his 19 save opportunities and posting a 0.94 ERA. David Price and Jeremy Hellickson, both of whom the Mets will be facing this week, have been leading the starting staff with their consistent performances. The workhorse of the staff is James Shields, who leads the staff with 81 strikeouts and 84.1 innings pitched.

Probable pitching match-ups:

Chris Young (NYM) 0-0, 3.60 ERA vs. Alex Cobb (TB) 2-2, 4.13 ERA

R.A. Dickey (NYM) 9-1, 2.44 ERA vs. David Price (TB) 8-3, 2.40 ERA

Johan Santana (NYM) 3-3, 2.96 ERA vs. Jeremy Hellickson (TB) 4-2, 2.65 ERA

Both teams are running out some of their top starting pitchers in this series, but the match-up that intrigues me most is Dickey-Price tomorrow night. Dickey is coming into this start with 38 K’s in his last four starts and a 24.2 inning scoreless streak. Can he continue the magic he’s created all the way to an All-Star start? We’ll see. Price is coming off a win against the Yankees, but threw less than 6 innings for only the second time since April 18th.

Recent head-to-head results:

In their short franchise history, the Mets and Rays have only met a total of 15 times with New York holding an 8-7 edge. In these 15 contests, the teams have been evenly matched, as Tampa Bay has only outscored the Amazins by one run. The Mets hold the

advantage of games played in Flushing (5-4), but have split even on the road (3-3). So, we’ll see this week if the Rays can continue their 2012 dominance at home (19-11).

These two teams met four times between 1998 and 2001, but since 2001, they have only been matched up against each other once. So, for the sake of staying somewhat current, we’ll just take a look back at the three-game set that took place in the middle of June in 2009 at the then brand new, Citi Field.

A year after the Rays surprised the entire baseball world with their trip to the World Series, everyone was curious as to whether they could continue to repeat the magic. Although they didn’t return to the playoffs, they did post their second straight winning season, at 84-79. Despite going 32-49 on the road that year, Joe Maddon and his club traveled to Flushing and took two of three from the Mets. Fernando Nieve (remember him?) continued his early season success in the opening game of this series, helping guide the Mets to a 5-3 win, a game saved by Francisco Rodriguez. After that, it was all Rays.

In the second game of the series, James Shields out-dueled Johan Santana in a 3-1 game that was saved by J.P. Howell. Then, Bobby Parnell took the loss in the finale as Joe Nelson helped the Rays secure their first series win since their last meeting in 2001.

What to watch for:

For Tampa Bay, it will be fun to watch B.J. Upton hit. After some disappointing years, Upton has turned things around and has had a solid overall season. It’s unfortunate that we won’t be able to watch Longoria go head-to-head with Wright at third base. Since the Mets don’t have the opportunity to play the Rays every year, this is a great chance to see some of Tampa’s brightest starts. I’m also looking forward to watching Joe Maddon manage; he’s one of the most creative and well-liked skippers in the game today.

For the Mets, I’m interested to see how the starting pitching fares; Chris Young is making his second MLB start since returning from shoulder capsule surgery, Santana is looking to bounce back on regular rest, and Dickey is trying to continue his domination. Also, with Jason Bay in the lineup, I’m hoping that we can see some sort of resurgence to make his presence worthwhile.

Enjoy this unique inter-league series, and Let’s go Mets!

Tags: Chris Young David Price David Wright Evan Longoria Interleague Jason Bay Jeremy Hellickson Johan Santana Kirk Nieuwenhuis Luke Scott Matt Joyce Matt Musico Mets @ Rays New York Mets Omar Quintanilla R.A. Dickey Rising Apple Ruben Tejada Scott Hairston Series Preview Tampa Bay Rays