MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Tampa Bay Rays at Philadelphia Phillies

Date/Time: July 21, 7:10 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Nathan Karns (4-5, 3.63) vs. Aaron Nola (MLB debut)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Tampa Bay -125

Total: 8

Philadelphia Phillies, fans or the front office, haven’t had a lot to get excited about this season. On Tuesday, the team will get a glimpse into the future with the debut of Aaron Nola. Nola, the team’s first-round pick in 2014, will make his much anticipated first start against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays will counter with Nate Karns, who has had a solid first full season in the Major Leagues.

Even though the Rays are just a .500 team this season, they have been a pleasant surprise in some respects. Rookie manager Kevin Cash has done an excellent job of navigating the team through a lot of starting pitcher injuries and a lack of offense. Only the Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners score fewer runs per game than the Rays among American League teams. The Phillies have the worst offense in the National League and the worst record in all of baseball. Former manager Ryne Sandberg resigned before the Phillies could fire him. Hope is on the horizon with the addition of Andy MacPhail to the front office and the impending firing of Ruben Amaro Jr.

July will be a tough month for the Phillies. Cole Hamels is very much on the trade market, along with Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Howard. Chase Utley’s season-long struggles and current injury problems have rendered him basically untradeable in the final year of his contract. The Phillies have given up 5.1 runs per game, more than the Colorado Rockies, who play their home games at Coors Field. That’s why Aaron Nola’s debut is such a big moment for the organization.

Nola’s opponent, Nate Karns, doesn’t have nearly the same fanfare, but he has put together a very good season for the Rays this season.  Over 18 starts, Karns only has four wins and five losses, but he has a 3.63 ERA with a 3.71 FIP and a 3.73 xFIP. He has struck out 22.6 percent of opposing batters and has walked 8.7 percent. The strikeout rate is definitely above average, with a slightly below average walk rate, but Karns has done a good job of keeping the ball in the park with 11 home runs allowed in 104 innings of work.

Something that has to be considered in every Tampa Bay game is bullpen usage. Entering play on Monday, Rays starters were only averaging 5.2 innings per start. Rookie manager Kevin Cash has shown a reluctance to allow his starters to face the opposition’s heart of the order too many times, which is why the Rays bullpen has the most innings of any in the American League. Karns has a three-pitch mix with mostly a fastball-curve arsenal, so he is definitely one that has gotten a quicker hook in some of his starts.

Aaron Nola, arguably the top college arm on the board during the 2014 MLB Draft, makes his debut with 30 minor league games under his belt. He struggled a bit with his command last year after leaving LSU for pro ball, but this season has been a different story. Nola has 92 strikeouts over 109.1 innings of work between Double-A and Triple-A. He showcases the potential for three plus pitches, with a good fastball, a quality changeup, and a curveball that could turn into a dynamic weapon. His command may be a work in progress at the big league level, especially in a good hitter’s park like Citizens Bank Park, but this is easily the most exciting thing of the season for the Phillies.

MLB Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies

There should be a buzz in the ballpark when Aaron Nola takes the hill to begin his Major League career. Nate Karns is a tough customer in his own right and the Phillies offense isn’t very good. But, the Rays are in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories and lose a hitter playing in the NL park. Expect Nola to be a polished pitcher after three years at LSU and basically a full calendar year in the minor leagues.