The 2017 Major League Baseball season’s first pitch will be from St. Petersburg, Fla., on Sunday around 1:05 p.m. ET (ESPN) when the Tampa Bay Rays host the New York Yankees. Let’s preview that AL East series.
One issue in baseball’s first couple of weeks is weather on the East Coast as you often can see some postponed games. That won’t be an issue in the Tampa Bay area as the Rays play inside the Tropicana Field dome – probably the worst and most outdated stadium in the majors. The Yankees won’t technically even have to break spring camp to open the season as they train across the bay from St. Petersburg in Tampa.
For the most part, spring training records simply don’t matter when the regular season begins. This will be an interesting test to that, however, as the Yankees were the best team in the Grapefruit League and were hammering the ball all spring. The Rays, meanwhile, were below .500.
Few experts expect either of these teams to make the playoffs. New York finished fourth in the AL East last year at 84-78, missing the postseason for the third time in four seasons. Does that put Manager Joe Girardi on the hot seat? The Bombers have a 2017 wins total of 82.5 on BetOnline MLB odds, with the ‘over’ a slight -130 favorite. Tampa Bay was last in the AL East in 2016 at 68-94 and has a wins projection this year of 78.5, with the ‘over’ a slight favorite.
These teams are very different in one regard: the Yankees look loaded on offense but their rotation is a major question mark other than Masahiro Tanaka. He’s also a Tommy John risk every time he takes the mound. New York’s bullpen should be excellent with Aroldis Chapman back in the closing role, though. The Rays, meanwhile, appear to have one of the best young rotations in the American League, but their offense leaves much to be desired. Tampa was 14th in the AL last year in runs.
Both clubs enter with injury issues. Yankees starting shortstop Didi Gregorius is likely out until May with a shoulder strain suffered in the World Baseball Classic. Gregorius had his best season in 2016, hitting .276 with 20 homers and 70 RBIs. Ronald Torreyes, 24, is expected to be his primary replacement.
The Bombers will have a young lineup this year. No more Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira or Carlos Beltran. On Opening Day, the team will be starting kids in Gary Sanchez at catcher, Greg Bird at first base and Aaron Judge in right field. Sanchez was a marvel as a rookie last year in hitting .299 with 20 homers and 42 RBIs in just 53 late-season games. He was the fastest player ever to 20 homers to start a career. This is Sanchez’s team now. He is given a total of 26.5 homers this year in MLB betting. Bird missed last season injured but tore it up this spring. Judge beat out Aaron Hicks for the right-field job.
The Rays will start the season without four key players: shortstop Matt Duffy (heel), left fielder Colby Rasmus (core muscle), catcher Wilson Ramos (knee) and set-up man Brad Boxberger (lat strain). Ramos was signed as a free agent this offseason from Washington. He had a career year in 2016 but tore his ACL in September. The Rays knew he wouldn’t be available until midseason. Tampa recently signed Derek Norris to be the No. 1 catcher; he was released by Washington earlier this spring.
Yankees-Rays Series Probable Pitchers
Sunday: Yankees RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. Rays RHP Chris Archer. It’s ace vs. ace to begin the 2017 season in the matinee. Tanaka was 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 31 starts last year, setting career highs in wins, innings (199 2/3), starts, strikeouts (165) and quality starts (19). He was 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA in five starts against the Rays. Archer was one of the AL’s best pitchers in 2015 but slumped to 9-19 with a 4.02 ERA last year. He was 0-3 with a 3.86 ERA in three starts vs. the Yankees. Oddsmakers still believe in him as Archer is a sixth-favorite on MLB picks to win the Cy Young at +1400. He was dominant this spring.
Tuesday: Yankees LHP CC Sabathia vs. Rays RHP Jake Odorizzi. The big lefty Sabathia looked done in 2015 but bounced back with a solid 3.91 ERA last year along with a 9-12 record in 30 starts. This will be his 18th big-league season. Sabathia was 1-0 with a 5.52 ERA in three starts last year vs. the Rays. Odorizzi was 10-6 with a 3.69 ERA in 2016 and has been mentioned in trade rumors because the 27-year-old is coveted around baseball. He was 2-1 with 2.29 ERA vs. the Yankees in three starts.
Wednesday: Yankees RHP Michael Pineda vs. Rays RHP Alex Cobb. Pineda can dominate one game and the get lit up the next. He was 6-12 with a 4.82 ERA last year and allowed 27 home runs in his 32 starts. Pineda was an ugly 0-3 with a 7.30 ERA in five starts vs. the Rays. Cobb was 1-2 with an 8.59 ERA in five September 2016 starts as he returned from Tommy John surgery. Cobb was terrific in 2013-14 before getting injured.
The Yankees were 11-9 vs. Tampa last year but 4-5 at Tropicana Field.MLB Series Prediction: Rays Win 2-1