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Series Preview: Seattle Mariners @ Tampa Bay Rays

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Seattle: 2-5
Tampa: 3-3

GAMES

Game 1: Erik Bedard* vs Matt Garza
Game 2: Jarrod Washburn* vs Andy Sonnanstine
Game 3: Miguel Batista vs Edwin Jackson

No lefties, yay for small favors.

It's hard to figure out exactly what kind of batted ball profile Garza yields given multiple small and disparate sample sizes the last few years between Triple-A and the majors. The only legitimate conclusion to come to is that Garza is neither an extreme flyball or groundball pitcher. He is though a pitcher who misses a healthy percentage of bats and avoids missing the strike zone a good amount of the time.

Andy Sonnanstine was tops amongst Tampa pitchers we hoped to acquire should our trading have led us there instead of to colder, more hostile environments up north. Sonnanstine shows consistently average groundball rates, but has even better strikeout and walk trends than Garza. Sonnanstine however was plagued by the little league defense that Tampa fielded last season which lead to a BABIP above normal rates and a LOB% of just 60.6%. Those numbers scream regression and it's a fair bet to predict Sonnanstine to be among the top half of AL starting pitchers this season.

Edwin Jackson was the poor man's version of Sonnanstine in our trade mongering, people sometimes advocating him as more realistic of a target. Jackson's always had immense talent, reaching the bigs at just 21. He, like the two above, is an exactly average groundball pitcher, but Jackson's weakness lies in his lack of control. That would be one thing if he could miss more bats than either Garza or Sonnanstine, but in fact he misses less. To put it in more familiar terms, Jackson is sort of a combination of Gil Meche circa-Seattle and Brandon Morrow should he be thrust into the rotation this season.

Likely Starters:
C Shawn Riggans
1 Carlos Pena
2 Akinori Iwamura
3 Willy Aybar
S Jason Bartlett
L Carl Crawford
C B.J. Upton
R Nathan Haynes/Eric Hinske
D Cliff Floyd

Tampa's more egregious affront to baseball last year, their defense, is much improved for 2008. Upton is firmly entrenched in center instead of 2B and Jason Bartlett is an asset with the glove at short over Brendan Harris who is not. These changes and others will help serve to make Tampa's pitching staff return look much improved when in reality they'll just be feeling the effects of regression and not having 7 men behind them do a Keystone Cops routine on every ball in play.

Offensively, there's some things to like and notably not much to hate. Riggans, filling in for the injured Navarro hasn't had any big league success yet, but has a fine minor league track record. Carlos Pena obviously had the breakout year last year, but he's always had the talent. Iwamura is an asset at second. Bartlett and Aybar are around for their defense, but both also should be able to avoid being a black hole on offense. Crawford and Upton are good bats and while the RF platoon isn't, at least it keeps Cliff Floyd off the field which should help him provide good power and help his longevity.

Up and down it's a solid lineup, but no one in particular jumps out as a concern for opposing pitchers. It's not a patient lineup, but they have some power potential sprinkled amongst them and those that don't do a good job of hitting the ball on the ground for those annoyingly scrappy singles. In short, it's like a better-constructed Mariner team.

CONTEXT

So much for seizing the opportunity. Two series; two blown saves by the Ms pen. Of all the possible doom to boom scenarios we considered over the offseason, this likely was not among them. For two years now we've been spoiled by having baseball reduced to an 8-inning game. No longer so, at least for the short-term, and it's going to take some getting used to because for now it just feels like repeatedly getting smacked in the face with a hedgehog.

It's funny to me that when mainstream announcers extol the virtues of players who perform "in the clutch" during September stretch drives, a favorite stat line to fall back on is, "A win in April is worth the same as a win in September," or some derivation thereof. It's humorous to me because given this seven-game stretch in September, we'd be freaking out as well, assuming we were anywhere near a playoff spot, and we are obviously freaking out now, but if this happened in June, we'd be pissed but quickly shrug it off. If there was some sort of measure for post-Game Thread Emotion, games at the start and end of the season would rate highly, while the "dog days" of summer free us both from small sample sizes and the crunch of the deciding games.

We spent all winter alternating between bemoaning our piss-poor offense and luck-filled 2007 season and optimistic hopes of a Bedard-Felix Cy Young combo and another magical year of staving off any further veteran decline. We're far too eager to read far too much into these early samples, both good and bad. It's understandable, just acknowledge that the reason is insanely early. Yes, these losses hurt; they hurt a lot, but the season isn't over, yet.

THIS SERIES BROUGHT TO YOU BY:

Tampa Bay Burning Bunny
Tampa Bay Brewing Company. Tampa, FL

Smoked beers a.k.a. Rauchbiers for those in the know, aren't the most popular in the states with the closest you can usually find being smoked porters, which aren't quite the same thing. This beer pours a dark brown and on first whiff you can tell where the genre label comes from as there's no better way to describe it as smoky. It's not a bad smoke, but rather pleasant and as you get used to it, a maltiness is present as well. The taste matches the smell with some smokiness and malt obviously present and matched alongside with a little chocolate and a lingering finish of bitters and coffee. It's a solid overall beer, though one that doesn't particularly stand out in its genre. What can I say, Tampa is not exactly a hotbed of brewing.