Opening Series Preview: Citrus Series Clash

Photo credit: Will Vragovic, Kevin Sabitus

For baseball fans, Opening Day feels like a national holiday. Today, we’re on the eve of re-gaining that feeling.

If other Rays fans are like me, they are probably feeling excited to see how we bounce back after a World Series loss, but also nervous since the Rays lost some big names this off-season.

The Rays’ American League championship defense starts Thursday at 4:10 EST at the newly named loanDepot park in Miami as Tampa Bay takes on the Miami Marlins.

Tyler Glasnow will start his 2021 campaign vs. Sandy Alcantara in game one of the series. Alcantara is hoping to build off a solid 2020 campaign, posting a 3-2 record, 3.00 ERA and 42 innings pitched in seven starts.

Glasnow, with the trade of Blake Snell and departure of Charlie Morton, is now the expected ace of the rotation. He went 5-1 last season with a 4.08 ERA and 57.1 innings pitched in 11 starts.

A healthy Glasnow who can keep his pitch count down and throw more innings will be a big help to a Rays team now without star reliever Nick Anderson, who is out until at least after the All-Star break.

Rays’ Pitcher Tyler Glasnow pitches in spring training in a Rays’ win vs. his former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates (Photo credit: Will Vragovic, Kevin Sabitus)

The Marlins were baseball’s feel-good story during the 2020 season and are looking to build off that in a big way in 2021. According to TeamRankings, the Marlins were projected to finish last in the NL East with 24 wins, but instead, ended a 17-year playoff drought, finishing second in the division with a 31-29 record and a NL Wild Card berth.

Miami ended up riding the success train into the postseason, sweeping the Chicago Cubs in the NL Wild Card round before falling victim to the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.

The Marlins were a fun team to watch during the 2020 season, and if they keep up that success, it could fuel this Citrus Series rivalry they share with Tampa Bay.

Looking toward game two, the Rays will start Ryan Yarbrough for Friday’s game, facing off against Miami right-hander Pablo Lopez at 7:10 PM EST.

Like Glasnow, Yarbrough is expected to take a step forward this season and become a pitcher that the Rays can depend on to eat up innings and limit the stress on the bullpen. Yarbrough went 1-4 in 2020 with a 3.56 ERA in 11 starts and 55.2 innings pitched. Rays fans should be excited to see if the crafty southpaw can live up to his high expectations for this season.

Rays’ Pitcher Ryan Yarbrough pitches in a win during spring training vs. the Atlanta Braves (Photo credit: Will Vragovic, Kevin Sabitus)

Pablo Lopez is also looking to take his game to a new level after an average 2020 season. He went 6-4 record with a 3.61 ERA and 57.1 innings pitched in 11 games.

Lopez is trending in the right direction, a good sign for him and Miami, reaching career-best totals in wins and ERA last season. Given the fact that he’s 25-years-old, his ceiling his high in Miami’s rotation.

In game three against Miami on Saturday at 6:10 EST, Tampa Bay fans will get their first look at new signing Rich Hill. In February, the 41 year-old veteran signed with the Rays for one year, $2.5 million.

Think of Hill as a lower-velocity, left-handed version of Charlie Morton with a nasty curveball. He brings with him a veteran presence needed for a young rotation now without Ground Chuck, who took his talents to Atlanta in the offseason.

Rays’ Pitcher Rich Hill posted a scoreless three innings in spring training in a 1-0 loss to his former team, the Minnesota Twins (Photo credit: Will Vragovic, Kevin Sabitus)

During one year in Minnesota, Hill posted a 2-2 record, a 3.03 ERA, and 38.2 innings in eight games. If Hill could keep that ERA and eat up a couple more innings, that signing will definitely be worth it.

Miami’s game three starter is to be announced.

The Rays have won 9 out of their last ten games vs. the Marlins and they will look for that success to continue. Expect the rotation and bullpen to lean in Tampa’s favor and expect the Rays to win the series and start the season 2-1 or 3-0.