The Rays were poised to sweep their struggling rival Red Sox last night, but the rains had other plans. Consequently, Tampa Bay will move their starting pitching back one day as they prepare for a four game set against the Minnesota Twins at the Trop.
Game One will feature James Shields against Carl Pavano, pitching Tampa's former ace against Minnesota's. Both men are right handed change-up pitchers. Pavano's weaknesses are in his secondary pitches when facing lefties, so expect Maddon to bring in as many into the lineup as possible. The Twins have yet to score more than 5 runs in the game, a problem Tampa Bay had until their huge win in Fenway thanks to the aging Dice-K and Wakefield. Facing another aging pitcher may be an advantage for Tampa Bay.
The next two games will be started by RHP's as well, so the Rays will likely feature a lot of left handed hitters. This will be an advantage in the outfield: Johnny Damon, Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce are all leftys, the latter two hoping to prove consistency in the starting line up. Given Sam Fuld's Legendary defense, LF Damon or RF Joyce will serve as the designated hitter, depending on when Maddon wants Fuld's glove in left or right field. With his defense, speed and high on-base percentage, Fuld has essentially replaced the retired Manny Ramirez.
Catcher John Jaso will likely get the nod for at least two games as he hopes to improve on making contact, as will short stop Reid Brignac. Both first basemen on the Rays roster are lefty as well, so Dan Johnson or Casey Kotchman are fair game. The difference: Dan has the bat and Casey has the glove. Kotchman's recent call up from the minors shows that management has faith in his ability. If the Twins use a line-up that would demand a lot from the first base position, Kotchman could get the start. On the other hand, Johnson has shown great improvement with a few diving stops over the last week, so he will likely keep his role for now.
Right-handed batters that will likely see action include Sean Rodriguez, who has been subbing for Evan Longoria at third, and B.J. Upton at center. For second base, the switch hitting Ben Zobrist is sure to see action regardless of who is on the mound. Backup infielders Felipe Lopez and Elliot Johnson are also switch hitters, so either man could take Rodriguez's role at third, but this seems unlikely given S-Rod's platoon advantage and need for playing time. If the DH position needs rest, expect Zobrist to step in and allow one of the back ups to play second.