Phillies vs. Rays: Big opportunity for Joe Girardi's Phils

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Big opportunity on the road this weekend for undermanned Phillies originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

They won’t be there long, but the Phillies are in Tampa for the second stop of their nine-game road trip.

They’ll take on a Rays team that leads the AL East and has won 13 of 14. The Rays have been consistently excellent over the last four seasons, going 257-178, a .591 winning percentage. That’s a 96-win pace over four years.

Tampa Bay hasn’t named a starter for Sunday’s game, but on Saturday the Phillies will see left-hander Ryan Yarbrough. He’s appeared in 10 games for the Rays, starting six. Even when he enters in relief, he gives Tampa length with an average of more than five innings per appearance.

In his last two starts, Yarbrough has allowed nine runs and six homers in 12 innings.

It’s a good thing the Phillies aren’t facing Tyler Glasnow because he might have set the single-game strikeout record against them. The Phils and Rays lead their respective leagues in offensive strikeouts. Glasnow has struck out 87 in 62 innings and has as many starts this season with double-digit strikeouts as single-digit strikeouts.

The Rays’ offense has not been great in 2021. They win with pitching, defense and consistent late-game execution. Their most dangerous hitters are Randy Arozarena from the right side and Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe from the left. Meadows and Lowe are both off to slow starts, hovering around the Mendoza line most of the year.

The Phillies have Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin going in the series so it’s a chance for a successful weekend, even against a top-tier opponent. Winning two in Tampa would be a big confidence-builder for a Phillies team that's been within two games of .500 after 39 of its last 40 games.

Wheeler (4-2, 2.38) has been one of MLB’s five best pitchers this season. In his last four starts, he has a 0.92 ERA with 37 strikeouts and two walks in 29⅓ innings. The Phillies have won all four.

Eflin is 2-4 with a 3.84 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 10 starts. He has the lowest walk rate in the majors at 1.0 per nine innings, and he’s struck out 63 in 63⅓ innings. The Phillies have lost three straight Eflin games and four of the last five despite his delivering four quality starts.

The Phillies will be without Bryce Harper (wrist/forearm) until at least Tuesday. Didi Gregorius is with them on the trip, and while the swelling in his right elbow has decreased, it sounds like he’ll need a brief rehab assignment before being activated. J.T. Realmuto (bruised left hand) is close to returning but it’s unclear whether he’ll be back for the series in Tampa. He seems to be moving in the right direction and manager Joe Girardi said Realmuto had a good day Thursday.

While the Phillies are dealing with the Rays this weekend, the Braves will be at Citi Field to face the Mets. The teams were rained out Friday. Atlanta follows with series against the Nationals and Dodgers before coming to Philly June 8-10.

The banged-up Mets head out west after the weekend with stops in Arizona and San Diego.

The Nationals host the Brewers, and the Marlins are in Boston.

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