It’s that time of the baseball when baseball purists tend to walk away because of Interleague Play – the time when American and National League play against one another in a league setting.
Tonight (Friday) begins the 15th season of Interleague play gets underway and for the Rays and Marlins; it’s the first meeting of two three-game series. This is the 26th series between the two teams and is the fourth time that they will enter the series with both teams having winning records.
The Rays (25-19) come into Sun Life Stadium for the last time (the Marlins will be playing in a new stadium beginning next year) to play this Citrus Series with the 4th best record in the majors despite having dropped four of six games since winning three straight and seven of eight. They split their two game series in Toronto (won 6-5 on Wednesday) and suffered a 3-2 loss on Thursday despite home runs from B.J. Upton and Kelly Shoppach.
Florida (24-18) enters tonight’s contest with the majors 3rd best record despite having been swept in a two-game series against the Chicago Cubs and has lost three of its last four games, including Thursday’s 5-1 loss. Chris Volstad gave up three runs on four hits and reliever Burke Badenhop gave up two more runs. Mike Stanton’s home run in the eighth accounted for the Marlin’s lone run.
In Interleague play against the Marlins, the Rays are slowly closing the gap. The Marlins lead the all-time series 40-33, but under Joe Maddon they’re 18-12. In 2010, the Marlin won the Citrus Series, winning four of six contests.
Interesting fact – the Marlins own the highest winning percentage (.543) in Interleague play among the National League teams with a 127-107 record. Last year though, they were 7-8 against the American League. The New York Yankees own the highest winning percentage (.585) and record (144-102) in Interleague play.
Anibal Sanchez will toe the rubber for the Marlins in the opener. Sanchez (3-1, 2.90) has won his last two starts, both coming against the Washington Nationals where he allowed just five hits while striking out 20 in 15 scoreless innings. He’s 3-0 with a 1.62 ERA and 35 strikeouts over his last five starts and hasn’t lost since April 10.
Sanchez beat the Rays 14-9 last June 11 in his only career start against them, giving up four runs in seven innings.
The Rays will counter with Andy Sonnanstine (0-1, 3.92), making his third start of the season for the injured Jeff Niemann. Sonnanstine has struggled in his two prior starts and is coming off a loss to Baltimore where he allowed four runs and eight hits in five innings of a 9-3 loss last Sunday.
Sonnanstine though has had success against the Marlins – four starts versus Florida from 2007-2009, he went 3-0 with a 3.09 ERA and 22 strikeouts and last season as a reliever in three appearances, he recorded a save with eight strikeouts and a 3.86 ERA in 9.1 innings pitched – he also added a save.
Against the Marlins, B.J. Upton, is hitting .247 with six doubles, a triple, homer and 14 RBIs all-time. Evan Longoria is batting .243 in 74 at-bats, with two homers and 13 RBIs.
Given that this series is being played against a National League team in their home park, there will be no designated hitter – meaning the pitchers will get a rare opportunity to hit. Andy Sonnanstine leads the pitching staff with a .318 average.
The no DH also means that Joe Maddon will be doing a bit of tinkering with the lineup. Johnny Damon was originally slated to make the start in leftfield, but with the addition of Justin Ruggiano Maddon may make a late change. What is a given is that Sam Fuld will get another day.
Fuld started the season on a tear, hitting .289 in April with a home run, eight RBIs and 10 stolen bases. But he’s been in a funk since the start of the month, hitting just .152 in May.
Maddon said playing in NL parks puts AL teams at a disadvantage. “When the National League comes to an American League park that’s a much more easier transition to make. Just put one more hitter in the lineup and rock and roll.”
Maddon has voiced his displeasure over Interleague play in recent days (Detroit manager Jim Leyland as well) and would prefer that Interleague play be discontinued and instead having a more balanced schedule in the AL.
“Never been a big fan of it. I’m not,” Maddon said. “I’d rather a balanced scheduled in the American League and just have us play in a more balanced way as opposed to playing the Yankees two games at night, flying up to Toronto for two games, flying back to Miami for three and flying back up to Detroit and then flying back to Tampa Bay. I’m certain interleague play has a lot to do with that scheduling, too.”
1. Jaso, C
2. Zobrist, 2B
3. Damon, LF
4. Longoria, 3B
5. Joyce, RF
6. Upton, CF
7. Kotchman, 1B
8. Johnson, SS
9. Sonnanstine, P
1. Coghlan, CF
2. Ramirez, SS
3. Morrison, LF
4. Sanchez, 1B
5. Dobbs, 3B
6. Stanton, RF
7. Buck, C
8. Infante, 2B
9. Sanchez, P
- This year’s Interleague schedule for the Rays has them facing-off against the National League Central, which means they’ll see Prince Fielder and the Milwaukee Brewers, Brett Myers with the Houston Astros, former Ray Jonny Gomes and 2010 MVP Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals and Albert Pujols.
- J.P. Howell was active off the DL earlier today and in a corresponding move optioned Rob Delaney to Triple-A Durham. In another move, the Rays called-up outfielder Justin Ruggiano adding him to the 40-man roster and thus designated Dan Johnson for assignment. The Rays have 10 days to trade, release him or pass him through waivers.
- After a 2-for-4 night in Thursday’s game against the Blue Jays with a home run, B.J. Upton is now batting .333 (15-for-45) with three home runs and 13 RBIs in his last 11 games.
- The Citrus Series heads back to Tropicana Field June 17th-19th, where the Marlins are 17-18 lifetime. In 2007, the Marlins swept three games at Tampa Bay. But they have won only three total games at the Trop the past three seasons combined.
Upcoming Pitching Probables
Saturday: Rays: David Price (5-3, 3.59) vs. Marlins: Javier Vazquez (2-4, 7.55)
Sunday: Rays: James Shields (4-2, 2.26) vs. Marlins: Josh Johnson (3-1, 1.64)
5/21/2011 @ Florida Marlins – 7:10 PM SUN (HD)
5/22/2011 @ Florida Marlins – 4:10 PM SUN (HD)
For more info: Tampa Bay Rays, Florida Marlins
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