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Friday, July 26, 2013
W2W4: Rays at Yankees (Friday)

By Mark Simon & Katie Sharp

Five things about the Tampa Bay Rays, other than their 19-3 record in the last 22 games, that turn this What2Watch4 into a What2Worry4.

Rays love lefties
The Tampa Bay Rays are 21-11 when the opposition starts a left-handed pitcher this season.

They lead the majors in batting average (.288), on-base percentage (.349) and slugging percentage (.437) against left-handed pitching this season. These are not in any way the Rays of 2012, who had a .238/.319/.385 average slashline. They’ve cut how often they miss on their swings from 25 percent to 21 percent.

Rays lefties are even hitting left-handed pitching. Last year, burdened with the bat of Carlos Pena, their lefties hit .176/.266/.290 against lefty pitching. This season, thanks largely to first baseman James Loney that line is .306/.356/.443.

Longoria vs Sabathia
Evan Longoria is due.

Longoria is in a nasty slump, with 11 hits and 22 strikeouts in his last 67 at-bats. He’s gone 18 straight games without a multi-hit game and has struck out in 15 straight games. He’s got a seven-game hitting streak, but is only hitting .259 in it.

Seeing Sabathia should make Longoria happy though. He’s 18-for-47 with 12 walks and six homers against Sabathia. He revels in seeing the Sabathia fastball-changeup combo, which has netted him 16 of those hits, eight of those walks, and five of those homers.

Hellickson rolling
Sabathia’s mound counterpart, Jeremy Hellickson, is 5-0 with a 2.19 ERA in his last six starts, a major turnaround from his first 14 starts, in which he posted a 5.67 ERA.

Hellickson has succeeded recently in an area that has given Sabathia major trouble—getting outs with runners on base.

Opponents hit .344 with men on base against Hellickson during that troublesome stretch. They’re at .176 (thanks to a 63 percent ground-ball rate) in his last six efforts.

Rookie sensation
The furor over Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig has cooled down a little bit of late, but it might be just beginning for Wil Myers, baseball’s best hitter over the last two weeks.

Myers is 18-for-36 (.500) with five extra-base hits in his last 9 games, having dramatically cut back on how much he was swinging-and-missing from the first three weeks of his career.

Myers was 5-for-13 with a grand slam (his first career homer) in his first trip to Yankee Stadium. We’ll see what he has in store this time around.

Secret weapon
Yankees fans are probably familiar with the back end of the Rays bullpen, where the likes of Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney have flourished the last couple of seasons.

But they might not be aware of the Rays secret weapon—lefty Alex Torres.

Torres has unbelievable numbers this season. In 30 1/3 innings, he’s allowed only one run and eight hits, and has allowed only two of 11 inherited runners to score.

Joe Maddon has gotten more comfortable with Torres to the point where he’s changed Torres’ role. In his first 10 games, he entered with the Rays tied or leading only twice (once they were up eight runs). The Rays have been tied or leading in six of his last eight appearances.

Expect to see him in key spots, perhaps as soon as tonight.