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Series Preview: Mariners (20-23) at Rays (24-21)

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The Mariners wrap up their road trip with three-game series against the Rays.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Monday, May 25

4:10 pm

Mariners

LHP Roenis Elias

Rays

RHP Jake Odorizzi

Tuesday, May 26

4:10 pm

Mariners

LHP J.A. Happ

Rays

RHP Alex Colome

Wednesday, May 27

10:10 am

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Rays

RHP Chris Archer

Mariners

Rays

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

99 (9th in AL)

102 (6th in AL)

Rays

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-17.4 (13th)

12.6 (3rd)

Rays

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

109 (14th)

91 (3rd)

Rays

Bullpen (FIP-)

101 (11th)

97 (7th)

Rays

The long, nine-game road trip comes to a close with three games in St. Petersburg. It’s odd that the schedule makers had Florida as the last stop on this East Coast tour. The flight back to Seattle is the longest flight from another MLB city (2,510 miles) and they have to make that trek without the benefit of a travel day. Instead, they’ll play Wednesday’s game early and play the Indians in Seattle the very next day.

The Tampa Bay Rays had a transformational offseason as their front office leader, Executive VP Andrew Friedman, and their clubhouse leader, Manager Joe Maddon, both departed. Into these huge shoes step longtime team executive Matt Silverman and the youngest manager in the Majors, Kevin Cash. Under their new leadership, the Rays shipped off a number of important pieces from the roster including Ben Zobrist, Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, and Matt Joyce. Many of those moves were in an effort to restock a depleted farm system. Heedless of what might have seemed like a rebuilding effort during the winter, the Rays find themselves in first place in the AL East on the shoulders of an excellent pitching staff and some surprising contributions from their position players.

The Rays:

The Rays’ pitching staff has carried the team in spite of some poor injury luck this year. Two of their top starters, Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly, suffered serious injuries early this year; Cobb was lost for the year with Tommy John surgery and Smyly’s shoulder could require season-ending surgery as well. Their rotation is being led by Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi and they’ve been able to patch together the three other spots. Matt Moore should return from his own Tommy John surgery soon and should provide more stability to the middle of the rotation. The Rays just recently split a four-game series with the Angels and have gone 5-5 over their last ten games.

Key Players

3B Evan Longoria Evan Longoria suffered through his worst year as a professional last year. The power was sapped from his bat, his plate discipline deteriorated, and his once elite defense was merely average. His plate discipline might have been the most concerning change. Last year, he expanded the strike zone by swinging at pitches outside the zone more often than ever. While that didn’t affect his strikeout rate or his contact rate much, he was making much softer contact leading to lower power numbers. This year, his plate discipline numbers have returned to his career norms and his walk rate has rebounded but his power hasn’t returned.

2B Logan Forsythe After the Rays traded away Ben Zobrist, many assumed that there was no way they would be able to replace him. Well, it looks like the Rays have found their new Ben Zobrist. Logan Forsythe has seemingly come out of nowhere to post the highest fWAR total on the Rays this year. His 142 wRC+ ranks just outside the top 20 in baseball and he’s played three different positions for the Rays this year. He’s been able to find success by swinging at pitches outside the zone less often but making more contact on those that he does swing at. More contact has led to a lower whiff rate and a lower strikeout rate.

RF Steven Souza – If you play fantasy baseball, Steven Souza seemed to be everyone’s favorite sleeper this year. His skillset features the always intriguing power/speed combo and many of the projection systems liked what they saw. Still, he made his Major League debut at the advanced age of 25 and was bounced from the middle infield to the corner outfield during his minor league development. In his first full year in the Majors he hasn’t disappointed; he’s launched seven dingers and swiped seven bases putting him on pace to reach the vaunted 20-20 plateau. His biggest flaw his is poor contact rate which has led to the highest strikeout rate among qualified batters in the Majors.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Jake Odorizzi

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

59 1/3

19.6%

4.3%

3.0%

40.1%

2.43

2.57

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Splitter

Curveball

91.9 mph;

39.4%

91.3 mph;

4.2%

87.1 mph;

19.6%

85.3 mph;

32.7%

70.7 mph;

4.1%

Odorizzi_PA

After a breakout year last year, Jake Odorizzi is finding success in a very different way this year. His strikeout rate has dropped significantly but so has his walk rate. He’s also transformed his batted ball profile from an extreme fly baller (his ground ball rate was the second lowest in the Majors last year, ahead of only Chris Young) to something much more balanced. That transformation has helped him post the sixth highest FIP in baseball this year. Much of this change is the result of a very different pitch arsenal. Odorizzi decided to completely scrap his slider and is throwing his cutter much more often. He’s also throwing his splitter more often which one of the main reasons why he’s inducing more grounders.

RHP Alex Colome

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

24 1/3

18.6%

2.9%

16.0%

41.8%

4.81

4.20

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

95.0 mph;

55.5%

85.6 mph;

10.4%

88.3 mph;

25.5%

79.4 mph;

8.3%

Colome_PA

Alex Colome’s development process has been long but after seven years in the Rays’ minor league system, he finally has claimed a spot in the rotation. His lack of command has been the primary reason why he’s spent so long in the minors so it’s encouraging to see his walk rate so low this year. That low walk rate has come at the expense of some strikeouts but I think he’s satisfied with the exchange. He throws a fastball that can hit 97 mph and mixes in a decent changeup, a hard slider, and an occasional curveball. His changeup will be the key to staying in the rotation. Right now, it’s not good enough to keep lefties honest and his platoon splits reflect that.

RHP Chris Archer

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

60

29.1%

8.3%

10.5%

54.1%

2.40

2.76

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

96.2 mph;

44.8%

95.9 mph;

9.8%

87.1 mph;

7.3%

88.7 mph;

38.1%

Archer_PA

Chris Archer has been one of my favorite, non-Mariner pitchers to watch over the last few years. This year, he’s taken his success to a whole new level and it all begins with his slider. He’s always had a good slider but it’s now one of the hardest sliders in the game; it has the sixth highest average velocity of all sliders that have been thrown at least 100 times. His whiff rate on that pitch hasn’t changed—it’s still elite—but the added velocity has changed his batted ball profile. He’s now one of the league leaders in groundball rate which just makes him that much more effective. He also isn’t afraid to use his slider against both righties and lefties giving him three elite pitches to throw to any batter.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

29-16

.644

-

W-L-L-W-W

Angels

22-22

.500

6.5

W-L-W-L-L

Rangers

21-23

.477

7.5

W-W-W-W-W

Mariners

20-23

.465

8.0

W-L-W-W-L

Athletics

16-30

.348

13.5

L-L-L-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Twins

25-18

.581

-

W-W-L-W-W

Tigers

26-19

.578

-

W-W-W-L-L

Angels

22-22

.500

3.5

W-L-W-L-L

Yankees

22-22

.500

3.5

L-L-L-L-L

Red Sox

21-23

.477

4.5

L-L-L-W-W

The Rangers completed a three-game sweep of the Yankees in New York and have now won five straight; they travel to Cleveland to take on the surging Indians who have won six straight. The Astros travel to Baltimore and the Angels host the Padres. Yes, those Wild Card standings are correct; the Twins have continued to play well and now sit in second place in the AL Central and first place in the Wild Card race.