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Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays @ Seattle Mariners

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Seattle: 56-52
Tampa Bay: 60-48


-61.5 (27th)
57.3 (3rd) TBA
44.4 (2nd)
38.8 (3rd) SEA
-18.0 (23rd)
-15.9 (22nd) TBA
-23.0 (27th) 3.1 (10th) TBA
-58.1 83.3 Tampa Bay

Beatdown yesterday aside (Jason Vargas threw seven innings? Really? How odd.) we did take the series. I know that is not much of an accomplishment against arguably the worst franchise in baseball, but well, relativity be damned. Winning is good. And the offense showed up a touch which was nice and hey, Adrian! Woot! Adrian! (Sorry, Hanners).

How is there only four games separating these two teams? A less informed fan would see this as a battle of teams on the edges of the playoff race. In reality, we are Germany, Tampa is the Allies, and it is December of 1944. We are still somewhat dangerous, but our actual punch is outweighed by our reputation based on past events and once our lines falter... oh god, oh god, the pillaging.

If somebody is going to break us, I guess I would prefer it to be the Allies than the damn Reds.


Game 1: Felix Hernandez vs. Jeff Niemann
Game 2: Ian Snell vs. James Shields
Game 3: Ryan Rowland-Smith* vs. Scott Kazmir*

Niemann was on the verge of losing out on a job this season with Tampa as he is out of options and had yet to establish himself in Tampa's rotation. Niemann has taken hold of a rotation slot and interestingly enough, reduced his walk rates from the minor leagues, but has seen his strikeouts drop to roughly 65% of his Triple-A level. Niemann pipes in a lot of his low 90s fastballs, located centrally on average, and mixes in a low 80s slider and mid 70s curve as well.

Shields' strikeouts are down this year, but aside from that and a slight dip in ground balls, his numbers look spot on with his previous seasons. His pitches are a touch more difficult to pin down, alternating between fastballs and cutters is also tough to separate out. His stuff comes in at the high 80s and he appears to toss in some change ups and curves as well.

Scott Kazmir has a three-pitch repertoire: fastball, change and slider. What will be important to watch is his velocity as his overall numbers are down this year tied with some injury concerns. He used to sit right at 92 on average with his fastball, but it has slipped close to 90 this season. By start:

2009-04-08 91.19 93.8
2009-04-13 90.19 92.1
2009-04-18 88.32 90.7
2009-04-24 89.32 91.8
2009-04-29 90.86 93.0
2009-05-04 89.04 90.7
2009-05-09 89.79 92.0
2009-05-15 88.87 90.7
2009-05-20 89.67 92.1
2009-06-27 91.24 93.1
2009-07-03 90.74 91.8
2009-07-08 90.50 92.1
2009-07-18 93.37 95.2
2009-07-23 90.79 94.9
2009-07-28 91.14 92.9
2009-08-03 90.22 91.6

You can see the velocity is up a bit from the lower points in April and May and his max readings came back up to where we would expect in early July, but Kazmir has since slipped in his last two outings and has still been below his previous normal readings.