This is a really interesting series to me. The Brewers definitely want to keep winning and hopefully gain more ground on their division rivals. The Rays want to win too but they're in a much different position and are walking the fine line between competing, or calling it a season and shipping David Price as well as Ben Zobrist. The Rays lost yesterday but have been on a tear lately winning 9 of their last 10 games. They're 6.5 games back of first place in the AL East, but are only 4.5 games back of the 2nd Wild Card spot.
The Cardinals have often been mentioned as the favorites to get Price (if they want to) and the Reds really could use Ben Zobrist to fill in for the injured Brandon Phillips. It would be best for the Brewers if the Rays don't sell. Theoretically speaking, if the Brewers were to sweep the Rays, they could find themselves 7.5 games back of the 2nd Wild Card spot. Would that be enough to convince Tampa Bay's front office to sell? I really have no idea, but it's on my mind. Fortunately(?) for the Brewers there is almost no chance they sweep a series in which David Price starts a game and so the Rays might only lose 1 game in the standings which would likely equate to them keeping their players.
Offensively the Brewers and Rays have been somewhat similar. Taking out pitchers (because this game is in the AL) the Brewers have had a 108 wRC+, the Rays have had a 105 wRC+. The difference here is that the Rays play with a DH in most of their games and the Brewers don't. What I'm saying is the Rays 105 is more representative of the Rays offense than the Brewers 108 wRC+.
I think having adding the DH to the Brewers lineup helps the Brewers offense more than it hurts the Brewers pitching staff. Ron Roenicke said he wants to DH Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, and either Carlos Gomez or Ryan Braun. So basically, they're adding Lyle Overbay (82 wRC+) in place of Kyle Lohse (-11 wRC+), Martin Maldonado (101 wRC+) in place of Matt Garza (-70 wRC+), and probably Logan Schafer (54 wRC+) in place of Yovani Gallardo (-18 wRC+). Even though Overbay and Schafer are marginal major league bats they're clearly significant upgrades from any of the starting pitchers.
I should mention that the Rays have been more dangerous offensively as of late. In fact, in the last 30 days their 124 wRC+ is the highest in baseball by quite a bit. One guy we should hope doesn't play all three games is Kevin Kiermaier. He's splitting time in the right and center fields and is absolutely killing right-handed pitching to the tune of a 186 wRC+. Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce has been solid as well.
James Loney was always a pretty marginal first baseman. He was good defensively and okay offensively. While he's been about league average offensively (107 wRC+) his defense has been rated as poor. Ben Zobrist has been getting the majority of his starts at second base and has been pretty good. He has a 122 wRC+ however he's much better against LHP than RHP. We might see Sean Rodriguez a lot because he's one of the better infielders vs RHP. Over at third base Evan Longoria has traditionally been one of the Rays heavy hitters. However this year he only has 12 home runs and a 107 wRC+. Shortstop Yunel Escobar has been exactly replacement level (0.0 fWAR). Like most everyone else in the infield Escobar is worse against RHP.
Half of their catching duo should be familiar to Brewers fans. Former Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan has been catching roughly half of the innings for the Rays. His defense is solid and I think I remember he's good at pitch framing. His offense is less good. In fact you could say it's bad (88 wRC+). The other half of the catching duo is Jose Molina who less good defensively than Hanigan and horrible offensively (33 wRC+). Molina is the pitch framing master though. Apparently the Rays really value that ability.
The Rays closer is Jake McGee. I really like him. He strikes out a ton of batters, doesn't walk a lot, and has yet to give up a home run. This guy is tough. Brad Boxberger has been really good too, though he's had a bit of a home run issue which holds him back from being great. When Grant Balfour was with the Brewers my friends and I used to make the "more like Ball Four" joke a lot. We were totally super clever blokes. Well, he's really living up that dumb nickname with a 17% walk rate. His K% is at a career low as well. Cesar Ramos and Kirby Yates are adequate relievers. Jeff Beliveau is likely filling in for the injured Joel Peralta. He hasn't spent a lot time at the MLB level, but he's had a really good K rate in the minors. He could be good, but he sometimes has issues with issuing walks. Maybe he gets too wild? Erik Bedard is the Rays version of Marco Estrada. Instead of giving up a bunch of home runs as a starter he just gave up a ton of hits in general. We likely don't see him unless the Brewers are killing a starter.
Monday July 28th, 6:10 pm CT: Kyle Lohse vs Jake Odorizzi
At one point both Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi were in the Brewers minor league system. They were both part of the deal that brought in Yuniesky Betancourt and some pitcher from Kansas City. Now Jeffress is back with the Brewers and Odorizzi is in the middle of the Rays Rotation. Trades are fun.
Odorizzi's 26.9 K% is pretty excellent but his WHIP is pretty high at 1.34. I think it's due to his near league average .242 BAA and poor 9.1 BB%. His .319 BABIP is higher than league average, but it doesn't strike me as something that's unsustainably high. His ERA sits at 3.97. I think by season's end that goes down, but at this point in his career I think it's close to his true talent level. The Brewers should be able to get to him. Odorizzi doesn't have huge splits, but LHH have a higher batting average and slugging against him. This is the game should Ramirez hit in the DH spot, which is nice because it'll be good to have both Scooter Gennett and Overbay hitting.
Tuesday July 29th, 6:10 pm CT: Matt Garza vs Alex Cobb
Alex Cobb could be tough for the Brewers. His strikeout and walk rates are close to league average and his BAA and WHIP are slightly better than average. His 58.0% ground ball rate is really excellent (and pretty close to his career average of 57%). He's been good against RHH, but this year he's killing lefties. This should be a game where Overbay sits. Since he's likely to play on Monday there's a good chance that happens. Logan Schafer is almost always awful, so hopefully this is the game where Lucroy DHs and Martin Maldonado catches.
Wednesday July 30th, 11:10 pm CT: Yovani Gallardo vs David Price
David Price is a beast. He's been one of the best pitchers every season since he's been called up and he is probably having his best season ever. He's sporting career best strikeout rates (27.8%) and walk rates (3.2%). Add that to his below league average .234 BAA and his WHIP is an incredible 1.04! That's also a career best. I was sort of surprised to see that lefties had a better wOBA against Price than righties. Then I realized why. Teams are hiding their LHH from Price. He's only pitched 40.1 innings to LHH and 123.1 innings to RHH. The Brewers are going to have a hard time against Price, but the guy isn't untouchable. He's giving up 3 or more runs in 11 games this year including 1 in which he gave up 5 and two where he gave up 6. That kind of makes it all the more incredible that his ERA is only 3.08.
The Cardinals are now 2 games back of the Brewers. They also play on Thursday when the Brewers have off. The Brewers play the Cardinals next. There are still two months left, but it's getting to the point where every series seems like a must win. Still, if the Brewers were to lose a couple of games it might be okay if it means the Rays hold onto their players. That's going to be the silver lining because I think it's very possible the Brewers lose two of these games.
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Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs