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Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays vs. San Diego Padres

The Rays find themselves out of first place in the AL East for the first time since 4/22 when they meet the NL West leading San Diego Padres at home for a three game series.

The Rays well take an off day on Monday before trying to regroup from a less-than-stellar 2-4 NLroad trip against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday in the first of a 3-game series.  Many Rays fans may be unfamiliar withthe Padres since they play 3-hours behindus on the Senior Circuit.  Allow my to familiarize you with them.


San Diego is currently 40-29 and sits atop the NL West standings, 1.5 games up on the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Fransisco Giants.  They currently sport a 58.9% chance of making the playoffs according to The Padres have, for the most part flown under the radar this season as no one expected them to be competitive and the biggest talk of the year had/has been when and where might they deal uber-slugging first-baseman Adrian Gonzalez to.

However, the Padres have combined a young talented pitching staff (Jon Garlandis currently their version of James Shields--the old man of the group at 30 years of age), with a very good defense and just enough hitting (26th in MLB in runs and OPS) to make it in the NL.  This combined with the relatively weak NLWest Division has allowed the Padres to surprise many with their current .579 winning percentage.

San Diego's infield features the aforementioned Gonzalez at first , David Eckstien at 2nd, Chase Headleyat third, and Jerry Hairston at shortstop.  Gonzalez is currently hitting .302 with 15 Home Runs and46 RBI.  What I find even more amazing is that he has been intentionally walked almost as many times as he has left the yard (13).  When I said the Padres had just enough hitting to get by, I meant this guy right here and the rest of baseball knows it and try to not let Mr. Gonzo beat them. Eckstein is 35 now andprovides the team with their requisite grittiness.  But in addition to that he has also provided a weak bat with a tremendous glove this year.  Fangraphs has his UZR150 this year at a stellar 22.0.  For those of you unfamiliar with UZR please read this.  Headley has also been a good glove withan average bat this year, while Jerry Hairston has had a poor bat (.243/.288/.339) with decent glove work at Short.  It should be mentioned that you shouldn't be surprised if this Hairston is spotted in this series in a place other than Short.  He has logged 5 starts this year at 2nd, 1 in Left, 1 at 3rd, and 3 in Right in addition to the 41 he has started at short.

In the Outfield the Padres feature Tony Gwynn Jr., Will Venable, and Scott Hairston.  Gwynn is walking at an impressive rate this year, helping to make up for his sagging .231 batting average, all while playing stellar defenxe in Centerfield.  Venable has had a similar (to a lesser degree) season in Right Field, and Hairston in Left and Center.

The entirety of the Padres success though can be attributed to their pitching staff.  Their rotation currently sports a 3.42 ERA, andtheir bullpen has been even better with a 2.33 ERA.  Those two numbers combine to create a league-leading 3.08 mark.  And their ERA'saren't just a product of a great defense behind them.  If you look at their controllable factors through FIP(Fielding Independent Pitching) you find that San Diego leads all of MLB with a sparkling 3.58.



Tuesday- Matt Latos (7-4, 3.19) vs. Wade Davis (5-7, 4.94)

Latosfeatures a 93-95 mph fast ball that can reach 98, along with a slider and a change-up.  He uses the slider as his primary 2nd pitch and the change-up sparingly.  Latosalso mixed in a curve last year but seemingly has all but done away with it this year.

Wednesday- Kevin Correia (5-5, 5.27) vs. James Shields (6-6, 4.50)

Correiais, right now the weak link on the Padres Staff.  He sports a fastball that sits right around 90 andcompliments it with an 88 mph cutter, a slider, a curve, and a changeup.

Thursday- Wade LeBlanc (4-4, 2.88) vs. Matt Garza (7-5, 4.16)

LeBlancfeatures an 86 mph fastball with a cutter, curve, change support system.  Given the Cutter/Change reportoire LeBlanc is actually tougher against lefties than he is righties, mostly due to the fact that his strike-out-to-walk ratio goes up almost over 2.5 against lefties.

Things to look for: How will Shields do after his emergency appearance in Saturday night's win.  I know it was his 'throw day', but I am thinking the pitches he made during the game were just a bit more effort-filled than what he had anticipated making during his throwing session.

Given the bullpen usage during the Marlins series (13 relievers used, including one starter, 13.2 IP, 232 pitches thrown), how big was this day off?

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.