Texas Rangers vs Tampa Bay Rays Preview: 7 questions with the Rays beat writer

Minnesota Twins v Tampa Bay Rays
Minnesota Twins v Tampa Bay Rays / Julio Aguilar/GettyImages

The Texas Rangers are about to start their most difficult series of the season on Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays. These two teams are by the numbers, by record, and by run differential the top two teams in all of Major League Baseball. They will play two series against each other and this first series will take place in Tampa this weekend. It is a true measuring stick series for the Rangers. Tampa has become a perennial contender for the playoffs and World Series, while the Rangers are the surprise leader of the AL West. Today, I decided to get some perspective from our Tampa Bay Rays Fansided contributor Jameus Mooney. The Rays site is called Rays Colored Glasses. You can click on this link and get content from Jameus and other Rays contributors as well. If you want to read our preview of the series, West Jones has written that and it can be found here.

Jameus gives good insight into what has made Tampa so successful over the last several seasons, and gives an update on any injury concerns, and players to be on the lookout for as these two teams play this weekend. Thank you to Jameus for taking time out of his day to answer my questions and without further ado I present my Q and A with Jameus Mooney

Tyler Glasnow will be starting the first game of the series. How has he looked in his first two starts since coming off the IL?

Jameus: Tyler’s looked solid relative to what he’s come back from. There’s still a few kinks in the game that need to be adjusted. A lot of it boils down to efficiency in how he puts batters away, which may always be an issue for a guy who misses as many bats as he does. As he eases back in, his stuff is playing better than the numbers may suggest at times.

We all know about Jacob deGrom now being out for the season, is there any injury concerns for Tampa heading into this series?

Jameus: There are quite a few injury concerns to keep tabs on. (Yandy) Diaz hasn’t played in a few days, so while he isn’t placed on the IL, there might be a lingering concern there. Diaz is citing issues with his left hip, but does anticipate leading off for the Rays on Friday. (Calvin) Faucher will not play at any point due to right elbow inflammation. All-Star second baseman Brandon Lowe is still dealing with his back issues and the Rays will look toward a combination of Vidal Brujan, Isaac Parades and Taylor Walls to get through for the time being. With Parades and Walls comfortability at the dish compared to years past and the positional flexibility all three players offer, it looks to be business as usual, however.

What do you think has been more important to the Rays success their pitching or their lineup?

Jameus: It’s hard to quantify which is more important to the team. The pitching is historically the strong point, especially with this core. Last year, it was evident that the Rays needed a different approach at the dish. They’ve answered the challenge, though the new rules benefit a team as athletic as the Rays. They’re young, they’re fast and they’re aggressive. Yet, it’s the hard contact up-and-down the lineup that’s made the most difference.

Take Randy Arozarena, whose personality made him become an international sensation during his World Baseball Classic exploits, his flyball percentage, hard hit percentage and walk percentage are all at least 6% higher than his previous career highs. Since 2020, Randy’s been the straw that stirs the drink and the offense goes as Randy goes.

Yandy Diaz sets the table, and one of my first articles for my beat I wrote that if Diaz elevated the ball more and found barrels he’d immediately be among the short list of best hitters in the league while I broke down his approach and how the underlying metrics didn’t reflect his success at the plate. He wasn’t bad before—and now he’s great. He’s barreling the ball. He doesn’t expand the zone, he’s elevating, and due to the shift rule, the line drives he sprays across the field almost always find turf.

Wander Franco has the tools and he’s finally seasoned and healthy, so he’s leading MLB in fWAR. That doesn’t explain the success of Harold Ramirez’s hard contact, Jose Siri’s re-invented swing that launches baseballs and creates a lethal dynamic with a newfound power/speed combination, some savvy under-the-radar pickups a la Luke Raley, or the long-awaited breakout season of Josh Lowe. The Rays offense sparks a fire, but they also don’t face pressure often. The offense is relaxed because they know they don’t need to score ten a night, which often in baseball helps you score ten a night.

If Shane McClanahan is on the bump? The opposing opposition has to guess between a plus fastball, a plus curveball, a plus changeup, and a plus slider at any time. He’s confident and poised in every pitch, and he’ll commit baseball sacrilege by throwing them anywhere. 3-2 count? Getting frozen on a full count changeup at the top of the zone isn’t out of the question while you’re sitting on a 12-6 curve with high velocity. Zach Eflin has lived up to his end of the bargain after inking the largest free agent deal in Rays history. Teams haven’t seen much of Taj Bradley, seeing an unpredictability factor. The Rays have one of the best starting rotations in the game, which as we’ve seen in previous years, can carry them to the postseason in any given year. I don’t think it’s fair to them to say that the lineup is more important because of a 65-game sample.

What is one area of weakness with Tampa that you think Texas can expose?

Jameus: While the starting pitching may frustrate hitters, the Rays' weakness has surprisingly been its bullpen. With former All-Star Andrew Kittredge still on his way back from Tommy John surgery and Pete Fairbanks' injury concerns, there’s not an experienced closer in the bullpen. The depth was already tested, but as they give valuable innings to players such as Calvin Faucher and Kevin Kelly, the bullpen woes are only exacerbated by the injuries to the rotation. Injuries to Jeff Springs and Drew Rasmussen have only amplified the need for a strong bullpen nucleus because there are more innings to go around. They’ve begun to give opportunities to fringe veteran arms like Robert Stephenson and old Rangers relief arm Jake Diekman, but there’s a reason why those players were available in the first place.

Who is the one player that Rangers fan may not know about that you think will have a big impact on this series?

Jameus: Predicting an under-the-radar player for the Rays to have a big series can often be a difficult task because of how they match up with everybody. Other than Franco, whose switch-hitting prowess makes him one of the game's most potent young stars, there’s not a player who plays every day. With the Rays' brand of baseball, it’s not about a singular player having a big day at the plate. If Christian Bethancourt or Francisco Mejia call a good game, then it’s considered that they had a big night. A lot of things that look routine in the scorebook with this team are big. Heading into Wednesday night's walkoff by Arozarena against the Twins, for example, is one of the most incredible double plays you’d ever see turned and it reads as a simple 5-4-3 double play. (Jose) Siri makes highlight reel catches look routine.

You mentioned Taj Bradley earlier another Rays homegrown pitcher who will be starting in this series. How do the Rays continue to excel at developing homegrown pitching?

Jameus: The Rays do a couple of things really well with the pitching staff, especially in terms of how they assess pitching development. Philosophically, they do an excellent job at letting expected results even out over a 162-pace. They have a terrific grasp on spin rate and a deeper understanding on the nuance behind the science of throwing a baseball. But they also offer something different in each arm. We’ll use Jason Adam, for example. While for a starting pitcher it’s very important to be able to mix pitches, it’s not necessarily true in terms of relievers. Adam struggled mightily mixing four pitches in the Cubs bullpen in 2021, but in 2022 the Rays told him to stop using his slider. It was his most frequented pitch and it was frequently hit well. They further developed a changeup that had sensational potential, and that’s now his main pitch. His change of speed is actually adding velocity on, not taking it off. It’s a simple change and adjustment, but it’s also knowing a players role and sometimes less can be more. Everybody knows their role, but everybody also offers different arm slots and very distinct stuff. Most organizations develop a mold of similar pitchers, but the Rays don’t—and that’s what makes them hard to guess. If they see something they like, they will find you and try to bring it out of you.

What are your predictions for this series between the top 2 teams in the American League?

Jameus: I don’t expect anything in this point at baseball. I think the unpredictability on any given day is what makes it such a fascinating sport.

Texas Rangers vs Tampa Game 1 Pitching Matchup

Tampa Bay and Texas kick off their series tonight at 5:40 pm local time. It will be Andrew Heaney facing the aforementioned Tyler Glasnow in game one of the series.

Andrew Heaney is coming off a rough start against the Mariners. He walked four and only pitched three innings and was removed in the fourth. Prior to that start he had four quality starts in a row. He will be looking to bounce back on Friday.

Tyler Glasnow will be making his third start of the season on Friday. He missed all of April and most of May with a left oblique strain. In his first start against the LA Dodgers he pitched 4 1/3 innings, striking out eight, walking one, and gave up three runs. In his second start he pitched 5 1/3 innings against the Red Sox giving up just one run, striking out six, and walking three.

The game time is 5:40pm and it will be broadcast on Bally Sports Southwest.