Citrus Series Preview: Chat with Robbie Knopf of Rays Colored Glasses
By Ehsan Kassim
The Miami Marlins will continue their nine-game home stand with a series against their in-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays. The Marlins have did not have too much success against the Rays last season, going just 2-4, with three of those games being played in that pathetic June, of last season.
This series by no means will be an easy one for the Fish. The Rays are one of the elite teams in baseball, even though they come into this series as losers of seven of their past ten games. The series will be a low-scoring, good pitching series, and I for one am looking forward to that.
Per the usual, I had a chat with Robbie Knopf from Fansided’s Rays site, Rays Colored Glasses. Look for the game preview later tonight, right before the game. Here is the questions I answered for Robbie on his site. Here is a look at the chat I had with Robbie today:
Ehsan: What is the latest news on the Evan Longoria injury front? How has the Rays offense performed without him?
Robbie: Longoria has been taking batting practice and should start a rehab assignment soon. The Rays can’t wait to get him back Without Longoria, the Rays have gone 17-17 and are still tied for the first in the AL East, but that has a lot more to do with excellent pitching than hitting. The Rays have gotten inconsistent offensive production with Longoria out, basically depending on whichever is hot for any particular game to come through. There has been no constant performer, just a bunch of guys fading in and out.
Ehsan:The Rays have been one of the best drafting teams in all of baseball. How do you think the Rays fared this season in the draft?
Robbie: As I wrote this morning at RCG, this year’s draft was very strange for the Rays in that they drafted a higher percentage of college players than they ever have before, starting with first round pick Richie Shaffer, a power-hitting corner infielder out of Clemson. But what doing that does is give them a chance to sign all their picks because the college players will presumably sign for less. The Rays drafted some high-upside high school and junior college players and drafting the college players for less gives them a chance to sign them all. And even the college players feature nice upside and most of them were outstanding values for the Rays. It was an unorthodox draft for the Rays, but it features tons of upside, and while there is significant risk, some of these players will have to pan out. I think the Rays will be very happy in a few years when they begin to reap the rewards of this draft.
Ehsan: How competitive is the AL East this season? Would you still say it is the toughest division, or has the NL East taken that crown?
Robbie: The AL East is still the toughest division in baseball. Fact. That’s true historically, with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays in the forefront of picture in not just the division but in all of baseball and the Blue Jays always lurking. This year, the AL East’s five teams are separated by four games- despite the fact that the Rays and Orioles are among three teams tied for the best record in the AL and are just half a game back of the Rangers for first. And the games within the division are crazy. Every game has a playoff feel and after seeing the way 2011 finished for the Rays and Red Sox, everyone knows that every single game counts.
The NL East’s teams are separated by six games, a couple more than the AL East’s four. In terms of divisional strength, the Nats have sprung up but the Phillies have shot down while in the AL East, Boston has not played particularly well but still has the pieces to make a run (although Rays fans sure hope they don’t). And by the way, the AL East has a better winning percentage than the NL East, although it is awfully close: .5423 compared to .5420. Before or within a season, it makes no sense to suddenly proclaim a division the best in baseball because who knows what happens the rest of the season. Historically, the AL East are the best, and even this season they edge the NL East. Maybe we’ll change our minds in a few years… or maybe the Red Sox will reestablish themselves, the O’s and Jays will come on, and it will be even more clear to everyone.
Ehsan: Can you tell us what happened in that recent “brawl” between the Red Sox and Rays? What did it stem from?
Robbie: Luke Scott hates the Red Sox. The Red Sox hate Luke Scott. Scott called Fenway “a dump” and the Red Sawx fans “vulgar” and he might be the most hated man in Boston when he’s there. And matters were exacerbated when Dustin Pedroia was also hit in the game. Franklin Morales decided to take matters into his own hands and drill him Scott the knee and Scott is not a man to back down and started screaming at Morales and then the coaches ended up really getting into it. It was pretty darn crazy and it really shows how much the Rays-Red Sox rivalry has advanced over the years.
Ehsan: Can you give us a quick scouting report on the starting pitching the Marlins will see this series? Which pitching match-up are you most looking forward to seeing?
Robbie: On Friday, the pitching matchup is Jeremy Hellickson versus Ricky Nolasco. Hellickson gets great results with good movement on his low-90’s fastball, a big-time plus changeup, a curveball that has made huge strides in 2012, and great command. Hellickson has never been a groundball or a consistent strikeout guy, but he has a penchant for forcing weak contact. He has been a little homer prone this season, but he has improved his K and BB rates from his ROY-worthy 2011. Helly is one of the best number three starters in baseball.
Saturday we’ll see lefty Matt Moore take on Carlos Zambrano. Moore has been extremely inconsistent but he appears to have turned a corner over his last few starts. Moore throws a fastball that usually hits 95-96 MPH with great movement and he also throws two other pitches that are dominating at their best in his curveball and changeup. He has struggled when his release point and therefeore his control have wavered, but his repertoire is overbearing when he’s on.
And we close out this series with a matchup of James Shields and Anibal Sanchez. Shields had very good control and excellent durability and his best pitch is a true plus changeup. He has a bunch of good, not necessarily great pitches in his fastball (which he throws less than his changeup), his cutter, and his curveball. Shields can dominate when his changeup is on, and luckily for him that is the vast majority of the time these days, but if his changeup is off he can really struggle. If Shields has all his pitches working, he’s always a complete game threat.
Ehsan: What are your predictions for this series? Who will step up and have a big series? Who will regress and struggle this series?
I think the Rays take 2 out of 3, losing one of the games in a pitcher’s duel. The Rays’ offense has been extremely inconsistent sans Evan Longoira, and that should persist. A couple players who are hot are Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton, and I think them and Moore will have good series. Ben Zobrist is another guy who seems like he could break out. Carlos Pena looks lost right now and hopefully that stops, but I would say not yet, and Elliot Johnson has really been struggling and I would doubt that he even plays all 3 games this series.
Ehsan (Bonus):How many home runs will Giancarlo Stanton hit this series?
Robbie: I’ll play it safe and say 1.