The Pirates meet the defending AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on Saturday, and it’s surprisingly the Pirates who have been playing better lately. Pittsburgh just took three out of four from the Cubs, and they entered this series 5-5 over their last 10 games. The Rays have hit a rough patch, dropping out of a postseason spot after four consecutive series losses. Tampa is also dealing with a multitude of key injuries, including Wander Franco, Brandon Lowe, and Manuel Margot.
Let’s take a look at starting lineups, betting odds, and predictions for Saturday’s matchup.
Pittsburgh Pirates Vs. Tampa Bay Rays Betting Odds
The Rays are slight favorites at -135 on the money line, and the over/under is set low at 7 runs. Tampa is the natural choice with veteran starter Corey Kluber on the mound. Facing a Pirates team still 11 games under .500, this is a perfect opportunity for the Rays to get back on track in their home ballpark. The Pirates have proven this week that beating them won’t come as easy as it once did, however, and the arrival of top prospect Oneil Cruz along with the Rays’ injuries is what keeps this line so narrow.
Pittsburgh Pirates Starting Lineup
3B K. Hayes R
CF B. Reynolds S
LF J. Suwinski L
DH D. Vogelbach L
1B M. Chavis R
SS O. Cruz L
RF B. Madris L
C M. Perez L
2B H. Park L
Pittsburgh Pirates Vs. Corey Kluber
2-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber has mostly been what the Rays hoped they were getting when they gave him a 1-year deal in November. He’s stayed healthy, bouncing back from three years marred by injury, and has a 3.46 ERA over 13 starts (67.2 IP). Kluber has a strong 3.61 FIP and 1.09 WHIP, with 60 strikeouts and just 11 walks. The former Cleveland ace has evolved as a pitcher and relies less on strikeouts than he once did – Kluber is averaging 8.0 K/9, his lowest mark since his rookie season – and that evolution could help him extend his career a few more years.
Kluber has given the Rays six strong innings in four of his last five starts, so this could be an uphill battle for a Pirates team that ranks last in the NL with 3.67 runs/game. Pittsburgh has been hitting the ball extremely well lately, though, and some of that is due to rookie success. Jack Suwinski, acquired in last year’s Adam Frazier trade, hit 3 home runs in a game last Sunday, while recent call-up Bligh Madris is hitting .294 to start his career. If any player is worth watching in this series, it’s Oneil Cruz, who was brought back to the majors earlier this week. Cruz is 6’7”, has a rocket of an arm at shortstop, and has already added a jolt to the Pirates’ lineup.
Tampa Bay Rays Starting Lineup
SS T. Walls S
3B Y. Diaz R
1B J. Choi L
RF R. Arozarena R
DH H. Ramirez R
CF B. Phillips L
2B V. Brujan S
LF J. Lowe L
C F. Mejia S
Tampa Bay Rays Vs. JT Brubaker
JT Brubaker struggled mightily over 24 starts for the Pirates last season, posting a 5.36 ERA and 5.16 FIP, but he’s shown signs of progress this year. Brubaker has a 4.11 ERA over 14 starts (70 IP), with a 4.30 FIP, but control has been a major issue. His walk rate is up from 2.8 to 4.0 per nine, pushing his WHIP from 1.30 to 1.43. On the other hand, Brubaker has limited the home runs, cutting his HR rate down from 2.0 per nine to 1.2. Though he’s issued 2+ walks in eight of his last nine starts, Brubaker is coming off six shutout innings against the Cubs and has a 2.65 ERA over his last six outings.
The Rays are in dire straits offensively right now. Kevin Cash’s group averaged 2.6 runs over their last nine games before this series, and they’re grappling with five major contributors currently on the IL: Franco, Lowe, Margot, Mike Zunino, and Kevin Kiermaier. A totally depleted lineup has been kept afloat by a couple of unlikely sources: Isaac Paredes and Harold Ramirez. Paredes hit 4 home runs over the final two games of Tampa’s series against the Yankees, and Ramirez entered this series with a 1.224 OPS over his last seven games. None of this seems sustainable, but Brubaker puts guys on base at least gives them a chance to keep this momentum going.
Pittsburgh Pirates Vs. Tampa Bay Rays Picks & Prediction
My pick: Oneil Cruz to Record an RBI (+210)
Cruz has 10 RBI through his first six major league games and at least 1 RBI in all four of his games this week. The Pirates’ unreliable offense may give you pause, but Cruz is immensely talented and has found ways to drive in runs even when he’s not getting on base. He’s bounced between sixth and leadoff in Derek Shelton’s lineups this week, so lineup placement may affect Cruz’s RBI chances.
I like the Rays to bounce back this weekend after playing the Yankees well. Kluber has been rock solid of late, and Tampa might’ve found something in Isaac Paredes. Just be aware of surprise hitters making an impact for the Pirates. If Jack Suwinski can dominate the Giants and Bligh Madris can help take down the Cubs, anything can happen in Tampa.