The Tampa Bay Rays play host to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night in the series opener from Tropicana Field. These two haven't met since all the way back in 2017, when the Pirates took two of three, while they've only played six times since the end start of the 2009 season. The Rays have struggled of late and know they'll need this weekend to turn things around. For the Pirates, they've struggled themselves but still find themselves right in the middle of the NL Central standings. Even though the Rays will be favored, given the inexperience on both sides against each other, this opener could certainly be interesting.
Pirates Look To Spring UpsetPittsburgh has continued to struggle over the last few seasons but it has been nice in 2022 to see some fellow NL Central rivals fall off as well. The Pirates enter the weekend in third place in the divisional standings, while remaining single digits behind the Brewers and Cardinals ahead of them. While the playoffs seem like a stretch for this group, having gone 5-5 in their last ten games gives them some confidence that they can stay competitive going forward. A 12-20 record on the road is problematic, though taking on the Rays, who have far from the most hostile home advantage, shouldn't pose too much of a problem heading into Friday's opener.
Injuries have been an issue for the Pirates all season long and those woes continue into the weekend. For position players, they continue to be without Jake Marisnick (thumb), Ben Gamel (hamstring), and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (back), while Kevin Newman (groin) and Ke'Bryan Hayes (shoulder) both remain questionable. Adding in two starters and three relievers being ruled out, the depth woes could continue.
According to MLB.com, the Pirates will lean on Mitch Keller to lead the way and open the weekend with a bang. The righty has been hot and cold over the last few seasons and 2022 has been filled with struggles so far. He comes into this one with a 2-5 record and 4.72 ERA, though has been much better of late. He hasn't allowed more than two runs in any of his last six starts, as he carries quite a bit of momentum into this one.
The offensive side of things has been the biggest hurdle to overcome for the Pirates this season. They rank in the bottom five of baseball in nearly every offensive category, with their home run production being the lone item keeping them afloat. Potentially being without Hayes (.264 average) could hurt but this lineup does have some depth that it hasn't had in past seasons. Bryan Reynolds (12 HRs) and Michael Chavis (24 RBI) have both added production and this lineup has the players to get going if given the opportunity.
Rays Look To Turn Things AroundFor Tampa Bay, a rough few weeks has given way to them dropping further and further back in the AL East standings. They've only gone 3-7 in their last ten games and now find themselves in fourth place in the AL East standings. Having gone 22-15 at home this season, this group is hoping that they can get the weekend going with a win and start to rebuild the confidence that has made them so dangerous over the last few seasons. Pittsburgh won't go down easily though and while the rays will be heavy favorites, they will need to make sure that they're sharp on both ends if they want to start to string together some wins.
Much like their opponent for the weekend, the Rays have a lengthy injury list themselves. For position players, they continue to be without Manuel Margot (knee), Kevin Kiermaier (hip), Brandon Lowe (back), and Mike Zunino (shoulder), while Wander Franco (quadriceps) is questionable. Adding in four starters and six relievers being ruled out, the hope is that their depth can be an advantage in this one.
lol Isaac hit another home run pic.twitter.com/GpoPg3wS0O— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) June 22, 2022
According to MLB.com, the Rays will hand things off to Jeffrey Springs in an effort to come away with the win in this one. He enters Friday night having impressed so far this season and is sitting with a 3-2 record and 2.00 ERA. The last time out against the Orioles, he allowed four runs though and while he's been untouchable at times, it remains to be seen which version of the lefty fans can expect in this one.
The Rays have seen their lineup take a massive step back from a production standpoint this season and even against the Pirates, they'll need to find some improvement. They too rank near the bottom of baseball in most offensive categories, though their ability to avoid striking out has helped. Yandy Diaz (.263 average, .386 OBP) has been strong, though the lack of power, with Isaac Paredes (9 HRs) leading the way, continues to be a problem.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Even though the Rays have been struggling of late, their ability to be back at home will be enough to see them grabbing the win. The Pirates have been stronger than in the past but the Rays are still a group that has found themselves in the playoffs over the last few seasons and will rely on that experience and confidence to grab a game that they'll be expected to win. Springs has been strong more often than not and his ability to lean on one of baseball's best offenses will be crucial. Additionally, according to covers.com, the Pirates ate 0-8 in their last seven Friday games and 0-7 in their last seven interleague road games against a left-handed starter.
Full-Game Total Pick
This one is expected to be one of the lowest-scoring games of Friday's slate of games and with two of baseball's worst offenses facing off, there won't be many runs. Springs has been solid on the mound for the Rays, while Keller has been elite over his last handful of starts, as both will be expected to dominate. Both offenses rank in the bottom five of baseball in most offensive categories and with those struggles evident, they don't expect to see those fortunes change. Additionally, according to covers.com, the under is 4-0 in Pittsburgh's last four games on astroturf. For the Rays, the under is 4-0 in both of Springs' last four starts on astroturf and 4-0 in his last four home starts.