Hey! I can see first place from up here!
Interleague play returns for 2012 and the first-place Braves will kick it off against the 24-15 Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays sit one game out of first place in what has proven to be a tough AL East. They have 14 home wins, the most of anyone in the AL, among those a 10-game winning streak. The Braves, on the other hand, have the most road wins in the NL thanks to a recent 7-2 road trip. This could turn out to be a fun series to watch.
The Rays have been winning despite a parade of walking wounded involving some of their most important contributors, most importantly Evan Longoria. The All-Star third baseman tore his left hamstring April 30 against Seattle and was hitting .329 at the time of the injury. Fortunately for the Rays, they have four other infielders that have played third base this season. Also among the injured are Kyle Farnsworth (elbow strain), Desmond Jennings (knee strain) and Jeff Niemann (fractured leg), who was to be Saturday's scheduled starter.
With Longoria out of commission, Matt Joyce now leads the team with a .283 avg. and is tied with free-agent pickup Luke Scott for the team lead in home runs with seven. Scott also leads the team with 27 RBI and has been the team's primary DH. Jennings is Tampa Bay's stolen base leader with eight, but with him out of the lineup, Elliot Johnson and B.J. Upton have picked up the slack, combining for 12 stolen bases between them. Carlos Pena returned to the team after a year's absence and is hitting .225 with five HR. The offense as a whole is hitting .248, good for ninth in the AL although its .331 OBP ranks fifth. The avg. drops to .226 with RISP.
As for the pitching, the staff ERA of 3.66 is fifth in the AL and its 300 strikeouts rank fourth. The duo of James Shields and David Price have combined for 12 of Tampa Bay's 24 wins while 2011 AL ROY Jeremy Hellickson continues to impress, leading the staff with a 2.77 ERA and a 4-0 record in eight starts. Free agent reliever Fernando Rodney is having a spectacular season to this point: 12 saves with a 0.48 ERA.
Pitching matchups and Rays roster after the jump.
Friday May 18, 7:10 p.m. ET
#48 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves
Aug 28, 1986
|2012 - Tommy Hanson||4-3||8||8||0||0||0||0||44.2||44||18||17||5||19||43||3.43||1.41|
#33 / Pitcher / Tampa Bay Rays
Dec 20, 1981
|2012 - James Shields||6-1||8||8||0||0||0||0||53.2||50||26||21||8||17||48||3.52||1.25|
Saturday May 19, 4:10 p.m. ET
#40 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves
Feb 09, 1990
|2012 - Randall Delgado||2-3||7||7||0||0||0||0||40.1||36||18||17||3||18||35||3.79||1.34|
Sunday May 20, 1:40 p.m. ET
#15 / Pitcher / Atlanta Braves
Jul 14, 1975
|2012 - Tim Hudson||2-1||4||4||0||0||0||0||25.0||26||12||11||1||7||16||3.96||1.32|
#14 / Pitcher / Tampa Bay Rays
Aug 26, 1985
|2012 - David Price||6-2||8||8||1||1||0||0||52.1||48||18||18||4||15||45||3.10||1.20|
Atlanta's interleague record is 115-96, while Tampa Bay's is 99-115; the Rays are 40-28 vs. the NL since 2008.
L - Luke Scott
Without Niemann, the Rays must either start one of their relievers or bring up a pitcher from the minors. Davis has the most starting experience of anyone in the bullpen, having made 64 starts before this year. The Rays have three starting options on the 40-man roster: Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Alex Torres. Cobb has the most major-league experience of the three, having made nine starts in 2011. Vogt also serves as the team's third catcher.
EDIT: The Rays have announced Alex Cobb as Saturday's starter. To make room for Cobb, Brandon Allen was sent to minors rehab. Cobb is 1-4 with a 4.14 ERA in eight starts for AAA-Durham this year. He has 44 strikeouts against 18 walks in 41.1 innings.