Rays Colored Glasses: Rays versus White Sox Preview

The AL East is upside down with Boston 0-4 going into tonight’s game against Cleveland and the Rays at 0-5 after dropping all five in their first home stand. While Boston could be an aberration, the loss of Evan Longoria for a few weeks makes an ugly situation look worse. The Rays are licking their wounds but may need to bring a triage unit with them as they go up against the potent offense of the Chicago White Sox. This week I teamed up with Travis Miller from Southside Showdown, to review the up-coming series against Chicago.

Rays Probable Starters

Thurs. April 7:
David Price (0-1, 5.14 ERA) vs Edwin Jackson (1-0, 3.00 ERA) – Price didn’t start the season of the way most expected, and if history is served his job won’t get easier. He is 0-3 with a 5.00 ERA against the White Sox while Jackson is 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA against his former team, which includes a no-hitter last year.

Fri. April 8:
James Shields (0-1, 2.45 ERA) vs John Danks (0-1, 3.00 ERA) – If ever there was a time for “Big Game James” to re-appear this would be the series. Shields’ ERA isn’t much better than Price’s against the White Sox at 5.05 but he is 2-2 in his career against them.

Sat. April 9:
Wade Davis – (0-1, 5.684 ERA) vs Phil Humber (0-0, INF ERA) – Davis looked good in his start against the Orioles until the 7th inning when the loss of Evan Longoria became most evident. Two plays got through Sean Rodriguez, subbing for the Gold Glove third baseman as Baltimore piled it on to hammer the Rays 5-1. Davis sports a 2-0, 2.19 ERA record against the Southsiders and will need both the defense and the bats to step up if he is going to keep his unbeaten streak against Chicago intact.

Sun. April 10:
Jeff Niemann (0-1, 7.50 ERA) vs Gavin Floyd (0-0, 5.14 ERA) – Niemann looked nothing like the crisp pitcher of spring training, allowing five runs in his first start against the Los Angeles Angels, including dishing up the first home run of C Hank Conger’s career. He’ll need to get back into the groove quickly against the White Sox’ potent bats.

Travis and I exchanged three questions each in our Six Pack Preview:

Travis: How can the Tampa Bay pitching staff contain the White Sox offense, especially at U.S. Cellular Field?
Ben: Had this question been asked prior to the 0-5 start I’d have answered differently, but the fact is what was supposed to be the most stable aspect of the team has so far been a glaring problem. The starters are better than they’ve shown early on and this is a team (Chicago) that they’ll need to be at their best, especially in the hitter-friendly confines of U.S. Cellular Field.

Travis: Will the Rays be able to break through against their former starter, Jackson, who threw a no-hitter against them last June?
Ben: Both sides should be motivated, and the Rays certainly should be up for this game. Hitting so far has not been a strength, and they’ll need the bats to get hot against Jackson. Jackson is 2-0 against the Rays, and as it stands now will likely be 3-0 when the dust settles.

Travis: With Evan Longoria out of an already struggling lineup, where will the Rays generate enough offense to win games?
Ben: The Rays look pitiful this year. After the first five games they are sporting a sub-Mendoza line .136 BA, worst in the Majors. Numbers being the way they are that is going to change, and the Rays are going to have to figure something out in a hurry. Right now they look lost. They did play well on the road last year however, and you can guarantee Joe Maddon is going to work his lineups to find a solution.

Ben: Which Carlos Quentin do you expect to see this year? The 36 HR, 100 RBI, .287 BA 2008 version, or the 21/56/.236 2009 edition? How important is he to success of the team this year?
Travis: I am completely confident when I say that 2011 Carlos Quentin will produce numbers much similar to his 2008 output. He came into camp with a positive outlook on things and has open communication lines with the veterans in the clubhouse like Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, so the moment he hits a slump, he’ll at least have support to help him keep his head on his shoulders – the big roadblock in his career.

His teammates need to be there for him because he is one of several crucial elements to the offense. As the No. 6 hitter, he is the difference between a tough lineup and a scary lineup. He tore the cover off the ball in spring training and it’s bleeding over into April. Confidence can help Quentin achieve some…most valuable things.

Ben: Will a closer emerge for the Southsiders, or is it destined to be a CBC?
TM: Matt Thornton is Ozzie Guillen’s closer. There is no question about it. Even before he signed the big contract extension last month, he had earned it with his service. In his sixth season with the Sox, he’s got a 3.18 earned run average in a White Sox uniform to go with a 10.1 k/9 rate.
Travis: Until Thornton gives Ozzie a reason to find a new closer, he’s the guy. But remember, Guillen has dealt with BOBBY JENKS. It’s going to take a lot for Thornton to lose his job. With a bullpen full of potential closers, Sergio Santos may become the No. 2 option to shake hands after the game – he hasn’t allowed a run in 2011 (spring training included). He and Thornton are about the only shutdown guys right now.

Ben: What will the White Sox need to do to win the AL Central in 2011?
Travis: What every team needs – pitching. Healthy Jake Peavy is a start. Floyd needs to be better than a .500 starter, Jackson needs to be a 14 or 15-win guy, Buehrle needs to be good Buehrle more often than not. If Danks keeps the ball in the park, he’s a dark horse for the Cy Young.

Ample runs will cross the board if Gordon Beckham and Quentin come as advertised. Juan Pierre is the hardest worker in the clubhouse, so unless injuries ravage the team, I expect good things from him, Paul Konerko and Dunn. If they stay healthy, they’re division champs.

Final Thoughts
It certainly feels like White Sox fans have more reason for optimism than Rays fans do but it is still early. While I wouldn’t call this series a “must win” for the Rays, I’d certainly call it a “Can’t lose or else” one.

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Tuesday, Sep 2323 Sep7:10at Boston Red SoxBuy Tickets

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