The New York Mets (34-49) return to Citi Field tonight to begin an 11-game home stand against the Tampa Bay Rays (43-43). The two teams are facing off for the first time since 2015, when the Rays took two out of three at Tropicana Field.
The Mets are 12-9 all-time against the Rays. The clubs have not played each other in New York since 2009, though Tampa Bay did serve as the home team in a three-game series last September with the New York Yankees at Citi Field after being relocated due to Hurricane Irma.
After falling into and climbing out of last place last week, the Mets ended their road trip by splitting two games with the Toronto Blue Jays. New York missed a golden opportunity to build on a July 1 victory by letting Tuesday night’s series opener slip away. After jumping out to a 6-1 lead behind home runs from Asdrubal Cabrera, Devin Mesoraco, and Wilmer Flores, the bullpen gave the game away and spoiled a solid Zack Wheeler start (6.1 innings pitched, three hits, two earned runs, five strikeouts). Anthony Swarzak and Robert Gsellman combined to allow four runs to score in the seventh before Tim Peterson served up a two-run home run to Lourdes Gurriel Jr., which sealed the 8-6 defeat.
The Mets were able to rebound on Wednesday night to back Corey Oswalt in his second major league start. While trailing 2-1, the offense erupted for five runs in the fifth, including a Todd Frazier two-run homer that put them ahead for good. The bullpen was able to hold this lead this time, as Seth Lugo, Jerry Blevins, Gsellman, and Jeurys Familia combined to allow just four hits and one earned run in five innings of work to close out the 6-3 victory.
Jose Bautista, who received a warm ovation from Blue Jays fans, has found himself in the lineup on a nightly basis while Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce recover from injuries and has excelled beyond anyone’s expectations. He currently leads the team with a .425 on-base percentage and ranks second behind Brandon Nimmo with a 146 wRC+ (minimum 120 plate appearances). In his past 15 games, he has posted a 1.007 OPS with three home runs and has moved around the lineup, even finding himself in the leadoff spot on one occasion.
As a whole, the offense has been better following a prolonged malaise. The Mets have scored 82 runs in their past 17 games (4.8 runs-per-game) after scoring just 42 in their previous 17 (2.5 runs-per-game). However, with the team sitting at 15 games under .500 and well out of the reach of a playoff spot, the focus will turn to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, as several players — including Familia and Cabrera — are expected to be moved. It will be worth watching the starting pitchers in particular, as rumors over the past few weeks have centered around trading any one of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, and Wheeler.
The Rays have made waves this season by experiments with using relief pitchers as starters while going with either a three-man or a four-man rotation. At one point, the club used veteran Sergio Romo to start back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Angels and used relievers to start all three games of a May series against the Baltimore Orioles.
The results have been fairly positive, with starters posting a 3.76 ERA and 3.93 FIP while striking out batters at a 23.3% clip and holding opposing hitters to a .219 average. This success has come despite ace Chris Archer landing on the disabled list on June 5 with a strained abdomen.
The bullpen has not appeared to suffer from the experiment, as their relief core has posted a 3.44 ERA and 3.79 FIP on the season. The Rays own a .500 record on the season despite trading away their long-time third baseman Evan Longoria, dealing outfielder Corey Dickerson and reliever Brad Boxberger, and losing starter Alex Cobb, among others, to free agency this past offseason.
Friday, July 6: Ryne Stanek vs. Jacob deGrom, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
Stanek (2018): 27.1 IP, 33 K, 14 BB, 2 HR, 1.98 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 0.99 WHIP
The Mets will get a first-hand look at the Rays’ reliever-turned-starter experiment tonight against Stanek. The former first round pick — 29th overall in the 2013 MLB draft — is starting his tenth game of the season to go along with 14 relief appearances. He has fared better as a starter, allowing just two earned runs in 12.2 innings pitched while holding opposing batters to a .116 average. He has not allowed a run in seven consecutive starts.
deGrom (2018): 107.1 IP, 134 K, 28 BB, 6 HR, 1.84 ERA, 2.23 FIP, 1.02 WHIP
deGrom has hit his first real “slump” of 2018 — if you consider six earned runs in 12 innings a slump — but remains the team’s best player and a safe bet to make the National League All-Star team. He continues to lead Major League Baseball with a 1.84 ERA and is third with a 2.23 FIP. Even more impressive are his numbers with runners in scoring position, where batters are hitting just .139 against him with 33 strikeouts in 72 at-bats, including 0-for-12 with the bases loaded. Despite his dominance, the team continues to struggle in his starts, scoring three runs or less in 11 of his 17 starts and winning only six times overall.
Saturday, July 7: Blake Snell vs. Steven Matz, 4:10 p.m. on SNY
Snell (2018): 108.2 IP, 123 K, 41 BB, 12 HR, 2.24 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 1.01 WHIP
Snell is putting together his best major league season after the Rays drafted him in the first round (52nd overall) in the 2011 MLB draft. The 25-year-old has allowed just two earned runs in his past three starts, spanning 24.1 innings, with two of those outings coming against the defending World Series champion Houston Astros. He has already established a career-high with 123 strikeouts in 2018, which includes ten punch outs in each of his last two starts against the Astros and the Washington Nationals.
Matz (2018): 83.1 IP, 76 K, 32 BB, 13 HR, 3.46 ERA, 4.71 FIP, 1.22 WHIP
Matz will look to continue his strong stretch of baseball that has seen the Long Island lefty stay healthy and pitch effectively. In his last outing against the Miami Marlins on July 1, he allowed no earned runs in 5.1 innings pitched while striking out six to help the Mets salvage the series finale. Since May 1, he has pitched to a sparkling 2.92 ERA. However, Citi Field has not been kind to him, as he has given up 22 earned runs (a 4.57 ERA) in eight home starts.
Sunday, July 8: Nathan Eovaldi vs. TBA, 4:10 p.m. on SNY
Eovaldi (2018): 41.1 IP, 35 K, 6 BB, 9 HR, 3.92 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 0.92 WHIP
Eovaldi made his Rays debut on May 30 after missing the entire 2017 season following Tommy John Surgery. He introduced himself in a big way, pitching six scoreless innings in a victory against the Oakland Athletics. In his last two appearances, he has surrendered just two earned runs while striking out 14 batters in 12 innings pitched.
The Mets have pushed Wheeler’s start back to Monday’s doubleheader with the Philadelphia Phillies. As a result, they are expected to call somebody up from the minor leagues to pitch Sunday’s matinee. The most likely options are Chris Flexen and P.J. Conlon, though no hints have been dropped as of this series preview being posted.
Prediction: The Rays will take two out of three
How will the Mets fare in their three-game series against the Rays?
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A sweep to start the home stand off right!
Mets take two from the Rays
Another series loss, but the Mets steal a game
Mets are feeling stung after a three-game sweep