Rays vs Yankees Prediction Today | MLB Odds, Picks for Wednesday, August 2
Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images. Pictured: Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole
Rays vs Yankees Odds
-104 / -118
-104 / -118
Despite being positioned outside the AL Wild Card and currently dead last in the AL East, the Yankees had one of the quietest trade deadlines in all of baseball on Tuesday.
They made just one addition to the MLB roster — White Sox middle reliever Keynan Middleton — and don't appear to be playoff bound this season despite entering the year as the second favorite in the American League betting odds behind Houston.
Tampa Bay comfortably won the first game of this series, 5-2, behind a dominant start from Zach Eflin. The Rays were forced to use closer Pete Fairbanks in the win as the Yankees threatened in the ninth inning, but the pitching advantage flips to New York now that Gerrit Cole takes the mound Wednesday night in the Bronx.
Shane McClanahan has maintained an elite 3.00 ERA, but it's not really backed up when you look at his underlying numbers decline relative to last season.
The same could be said (to a lesser extent) of the decrease in Cole's strikeout rate, which makes both ace-level pitchers a bit vulnerable on Wednesday.
McClanahan peaked as the midseason Cy Young favorite and All-Star Game starter in 2022, but the numbers have not been nearly as good since.
His strikeout rate dropped from 30.3% last season to 26.1% this year. That's still an above-average strikeout rate, but hitters have put more balls in play against him.
Another reason for the decline in the strikeout rate is the increase in walks from 5.8% in 2022 to 9.1% this year.
There's been a lot more traffic on the bases this year against McClanahan, and the projection systems do not think he will maintain his 83.3% strand rate. That's solidly above his career average and the rest-of-season projections expect that number to be between 74-75%.
The chart below from FanGraphs demonstrates the decline for McClanahan, and while he still has elite stuff and swinging strike rates, he can't be priced as the same ace he has been in the past.
Gerrit Cole has seen a solid decline in his strikeout rate as well, but it's also been accompanied by the lowest HR/9 he's allowed since 2018.
The question is whether or not this is a conscious decision from Cole to sacrifice some strikeouts to also try to limit the big barrels and long balls that have plagued him in parts of his career with the Astros and Yankees.
It's possible that Cole has just been lucky from a home run perspective, especially when you look at his average HR/FB rates. Cole hasn't generated more ground balls in 2023. In fact, he's allowed fewer percentage-wise. His HR/FB rate has dropped from 16.8% last year (and 13.5% in 2021) all the way down to 9.6%.
Cole hasn't seen numbers that low since his days in Pittsburgh as more of a sinker-ball pitcher.
It's not really obvious how Cole has changed his pitch mix or locations either. He's upped the fastball usage by 4% this year and it's not getting hit as hard, but the swinging strike rate is down 2.5%, the contact rates have jumped, and regression looms for Cole as a result.
The graph below from FanGraphs indicates just how much Cole has seen a decline in his ability to miss bats this season.
Rays vs Yankees Betting Pick
The Yankees offense has been a bottom-five unit since June started, and even bringing Aaron Judge back into the group isn't going to save them. But the rest-of-season projections don't think the Yankees will continue to stay this bad.
There eventually has to be a dead cat bounce for this group, and there has been a solid platoon split for New York this year. The Yankees have a 107 wRC+ against southpaws, compared to just 90 against righties.
Tampa Bay has been the league's worst offense against left-handed pitching in the last two months — it's a large part of its regression offensively as a whole — but the offense remains great against righties.
Maybe Tampa is finally seeing two of its best hitters pull themselves out of slumps with Randy Arozarena and Wander Franco homering on consecutive days. The Rays offense goes as far as those two and Yandy Diaz will take it.
McClanahan and Cole are two big-name pitchers with excellent track records, but neither is pitching up to that market standard right now. I'd bet the first five over 4 and full game over 7.5 at -115 or better.