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AL East

Tampa Bay Rays Schedule Analysis

The 2020 Major League Baseball schedule was released on Monday night. We knew that each team would only play sixty games and now we know their exact opponents and location of games.

As expected, each team’s schedule will consist of games exclusively from the own division as well as their division’s geographic counterpart in order to decrease travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty of the games will be played against division rivals while the remaining twenty will be played against similarly located interleague opponents (i.e. AL East Vs. NL East, AL Central Vs. NL Central, and AL West Vs. NL West). Due to the logistics of this format, their are many instances in which home and road games will be unbalanced, especially within division rivalries.

The Tampa Bay Rays will play forty games against their intradivision rivals as well as twenty games against the National League East.

The total breakdown is as follows:

  • 10 Vs. New York Yankees (4 home, 6 road)
  • 10 Vs. Boston Red Sox (6 home, 4 road)
  • 10 Vs. Toronto Blue Jays (7 home, 3 road)
  • 10 Vs. Baltimore Orioles (3 home, 7 road)
  • 6 Vs. Miami Marlins (3 home, 3 road)
  • 4 Vs. Atlanta Braves (2 home, 2 road)
  • 4 Vs. Washington Nationals (2 home, 2 road)
  • 3 Vs. New York Mets (3 road)
  • 3 Vs. Philadelphia Phillies (3 home)

The Rays certainly have a tough schedule, including six out of ten games against the Yankees in the Bronx. They also have to battle a highly competitive NL East, which features the world champion Nationals and the immensely talented Braves. We’ll analyze some key takeaways from their schedule.

Fast Start Required

Tampa Bay will play its first ten games without an off day in between. A home series against a young and hopeful Toronto team will set the tone early as the Rays’ front three of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow look to dominate. That series will be followed by four games against Atlanta, two at Tropicana Field and two in Atlanta. The initial stretch will be capped by a three game series in Baltimore.

The Rays have to start fast. Games against lesser teams must be won much more often than not. Toronto and Baltimore certainly qualify. Winning most, if not all, series against bottom-feeding teams will be necessary for success. Baltimore shouldn’t give too much trouble, but Toronto could be troublesome considering their young rising stars such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The Braves will be a tough opponent. There is a legitimate question though of whether superstar first baseman Freddie Freeman will be ready to start the season after his positive COVID-19 test. Atlanta’s depth will be tested early.

The Rays need to win six or seven of their first ten to get off to a good start to the season. Luckily, Snell and Morton are likely to start the toughest games of the initial stretch, providing hope for the foundation of a postseason push.

Rivalry-Filled August

The Rays will play all but three of their games in August against division rivals. After an off day on August 3rd, they will enter a stretch that will likely determine their chances of winning the AL East. August will be highlighted by a brutal ten game road trip in the middle of the month. Following home series against the Red Sox and Yankees, Tampa Bay will make their only trips to Boston and Toronto. They will have an off day before a crucial three games series at Yankee Stadium that will set the tone for the rest of the season.

If the Rays don’t get too battered during that stretch, they will be able to capitalize on easier opponents for a bit. Their rivalry-filled August concludes with home series against Toronto and Baltimore and a trip to Miami to face the in-state rival Marlins. This is another stretch where the Rays must succeed. Anything less than six wins out of these ten games would endanger their playoff hopes.

An Unfamiliar September

A normal season would carry a September schedule that is littered with intradivision rivals. The Rays will endure quite the opposite this season. 13 of their final 21 games will be against the National League East. It will be interesting to see if the unfamiliarity with these teams will significantly affect the outcome of the games. The NL East figures to be competitive, with four of the five teams carrying legitimate playoff hopes.

A pair of two games series with the world champion Nationals figure to be important and entertaining. The Rays’ last road series of the season will be at Citi Field against the Mets, which could make or break either teams’ postseason hopes. The final series of the season is also unique as the Rays will host the Phillies.

The Rays won’t have many opportunities to make up ground if they fall behind the Yankees in the division. Their last game against the Bronx Bombers will be on September 2nd and New York has an extremely easy September schedule, consisting mostly of games against, Baltimore, Miami, and Toronto.

Star-Studded Pitching Matchups

The immediate thought that I had when judging the Rays’ matchups centered around the potentially tremendous pitching matchups we will see throughout the season. Think about the aforementioned front three of Tampa Bay’s starting rotation facing off against this group of starters:

There are several Cy Young award winners among that group. They will also face last year’s NL ERA champ in Hyun-Jin-Ryu and nineteen game winner Eduardo Rodriguez. Overall, they could face five of the top six pitchers in the 2019 NL Cy Young award voting. Cole nearly won the AL Cy Young himself last year, while the Rays’ own Morton finished third and Blake Snell won the award in 2018. Hamels offer a flashback as the 2008 World Series MVP. The road could have actually been more treacherous had Luis Severino (Yankees), Chris Sale (Red Sox), and Noah Syndergaard (Mets) not already been lost to season-ending elbow surgeries.

Final Take

The Rays have always had to earn their keep in the unrelenting AL East. This year, they will also play many crucial games against the highly competitive NL East. Eight of the ten teams in these two divisions could talk themselves into believing they will be in postseason contention. The margin of error will be thin and injuries, along with the potential for positive COVID-19 tests, could make depth a key component to the playoff race, which would give Tampa Bay an advantage.

Tense games against division rivals, along with terrific pitching matchups, will make for entertaining baseball. The road won’t be easy, but if the Rays can survive a particularly brutal August, they will find themselves among the best teams in the league.

 

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