The St. Louis Cardinals open a two-game set in St. Petersburg, FL this evening with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Cardinals are coming off back-to-back shutouts of the powerful Toronto Blue Jays, while the Rays were shut out on Sunday and Monday by the Seattle Mariners. The Rays have lost 13 of their last 14 games, and yesterday turned to a medicine man as a slump-breaker.
The Tampa Bay Rays have made the playoffs in four of the last six seasons, but they have the worst record in baseball today. They’ve thrived in the AL East with great defense, interchangeable and versatile players on the roster, and All-Star performances from their core of David Price, Alex Cobb, Evan Longoria, and Ben Zobrist. For it all to work, they need to avoid injuries and get better work from young players such as Wil Myers and Desmond Jennings.
The Rays have had difficulties on both fronts. Starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson is yet to take the field this season. Matt Moore is out for the year, having torn his ulnar collateral ligament in April. Centerpiece slugger Wil Myers is on the disabled list with a sore wrist. Putative center fielder Desmond Jennings is batting .235/.331/.376.
Ben Zobrist has not been as good as he has in the past. His line is .241/.323/.362. Others having off seasons are Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce. Things have gotten so bad that Sean Rodriguez is getting time in left field, though he is hitting .211. He has six home runs, however, second on the team to Longoria’s seven.
Bright spots have been the continued resurgence of first baseman James Loney, and the OBP and slugging of outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is playing some center field for the Rays. The Cardinals are likely to see a heavy lefty lineup against Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, as Jennings and Rodriguez, both right-handed swingers, fare poorly versus right-handed pitching. One interesting caveat: Manager Joe Maddon is known for avoiding stacking of lineups for matchups, meaning where he has a platoon option, he may not necessarily make his decision based on handedness.
The St. Louis Cardinals are coming off their first triple play in nine years, and two consecutive shutouts of a good AL East team. Their test with the notorious catwalk begins a little after 6 pm this evening.