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Series Preview: Mariners (25-30) vs. Rays (29-27)

The bizzaro Mariners (the Rays) return home to face the actual Mariners.

Tampa Bay Rays v Texas Rangers Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

At a Glance

Rays Mariners
Rays Mariners
Game 1 Friday, June 2 | 7:10 pm
RHP Jake Odorizzi RHP Christian Bergman
51% 49%
Game 2 Saturday, June 3 | 7:10 pm
RHP Alex Cobb RHP Sam Gaviglio
48% 52%
Game 3 Sunday, June 4 | 1:10 pm
RHP Erasmo Ramirez LHP Ariel Miranda
46% 54%

Team Overview

Overview Rays Mariners Edge
Overview Rays Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 109 (3rd in AL) 103 (4th in AL) Rays
Fielding (UZR) 1.8 (6th) 8.4 (4th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 99 (6th) 116 (14th) Rays
Bullpen (FIP-) 96 (9th) 108 (13th) Rays

That four-game winning streak was a nice way to end May but June started off with some more bad news. Losing Jean Segura and/or Nelson Cruz for any extended amount of time makes this team far less watchable (not to mention the already dwindling playoff hopes). It’s really quite unfortunate because the Mariners spend basically all of June playing at home (20 of 27 games). While they haven’t played extraordinarily well at home, they’ve been far better than on the road. You could sort of see how stringing together a few series wins at home could push them back into the playoff race but the Mariners simply can’t have nice things.

The Rays:

The Rays have managed to hang around .500 the entire season with some good pitching and a surprisingly powerful offense. Their offense leads the American League in home runs and in strikeout rate. This all or nothing approach has really worked out well, especially on the road in the band boxes of the AL East. The Rays pitching staff has also become known for high strikeout rates coupled with high home run rates. This year, however, they’ve actually allowed the second lowest home run per fly ball rate in the American League. That’s helped them limit the amount of runs allowed, pushing their run differential to +26. This series is the last stop on a long road trip where they’ve gone 4-2 against the Twins and the Rangers.

Key Players

DH Corey DickersonAn injury in 2015 hindered Cory Dickerson from building off his breakout 2014, in which he posted a 140 wRC+; however, through 52 games in 2017, Dickerson has finally returned to, and exceeded, his 2014 form. He’s currently striking out at a 20.4% clip, his lowest rate since his rookie season in 2013. His ISO is also at a career high of .266. He’s currently running his second highest fly ball rate of his career, which could explain the increase in power. He doesn’t walk a lot, evidenced by his 5.2% walk rate to this point in the season, but his power and his ability to hit for average have led to a 168 wRC+ for the year.

3B Evan LongoriaEvan Longoria, who was drafted by the Rays in first round of 2006, has accumulated 48.5 WAR during his time in Tampa. Not only is he a potent power hitter, with a career .217 ISO, but he also is a great defensive third baseman, maintaining a 13.0 UZR/150 over the course of his career. This year has started off slowly for Longoria, who has a 98 wRC+ through 244 plate appearances. His strikeout rate is currently at a career low of 18.0%, but his BABIP and ISO are both well below his career averages. Interestingly, his hard contact rate is above his career average so far this season, but his ground ball rate is higher than any other point in his career. His May marked the beginning of a turnaround, though, as e slashed .272/.333/.546 for a 114 wRC+. He’s proven year in and year out that he can get it done at the plate, and is on his way to returning to form.

RF Steven Souza Jr.Through just 216 plate appearances in 2017, Steven Souza Jr. has already posted the highest WAR of his career. His strikeout rate is down to 28.2% this year, over 4% lower than his career average. He’s o-swing (measuring the percentage of pitches he chases out of the zone) plummeted from 30.6% last year to 23.5% this year, while his contact rate is currently above his career average. Additionally, he’s hitting for more power, evidenced by his .231 ISO. Interestingly, his fly ball rate is at a career low of 33.1%, however he’s getting a lot of bang for his buck on fly balls, running a 25% HR/FB ratio. Souza has also been impressive in the field this year, earning a 8.0 UZR/150 in right field for the season. The Everett, Washington product is in the middle of a breakout season.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays

RHP Jake Odorizzi

48 2/3 21.0% 7.2% 16.1% 33.3% 3.14 4.68

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.0 46.6% 221 52 165
Cutter 87.1 13.6% 104 34 81
Splitter 84.2 28.3% 32 81 48
Slider 80.8 6.7% - - -
Curveball 72.0 4.7% - - -
*Odorizzi’s slider and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

Jake Odorizzi is the perfect example of the Rays staff-wide approach to pitching. He leans on an excellent four-seam fastball with some of the highest “rise” in the majors. He rarely throws his fastball down in the zone and that’s helped him generate the ninth highest fastball whiff rate among qualified pitchers. All those high fastballs also have an unfortunate side effect—lots of home runs. His raw total of home runs allowed is 14th highest in the majors since 2014, but because his batted ball profile skews heavily towards fly balls, his home run per fly ball rate in that time is actually fairly low. Odorizzi’s other problem is a lack of a breaking ball. He’s recently adopted a split-change from his teammate Alex Cobb and is throwing a hard cutter much more often this year but he’s all but abandoned his true slider and his curveball. Without those breaking balls to keep right-handed batters honest, he’s run a pretty significant reverse split throughout his career.

RHP Alex Cobb

68 2/3 17.0% 6.9% 12.3% 47.9% 3.67 4.13

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 91.6 10.6% 59 115 78
Sinker 91.5 38.1% 46 112 68
Splitter 85.5 15.2% 20 71 37
Curveball 80.3 36.2% 119 128 122

A long recovery from Tommy John surgery kept Alex Cobb out for all of 2015 and most of 2016. Unlike the other pitchers on the Rays, Cobb utilizes a sinker as his primary fastball rather than a “rising” four-seamer. He still hasn’t regained the 92-94 mph fastball velocity he enjoyed before his injury and that’s heavily affected his strikeout rate. His only pitch with an above average whiff rate is his curveball as his once excellent split-change has seen a significant loss of effectiveness. That pitch just isn’t falling off the table like it used to. It’s vertical movement far closer to his sinker this year and about five inches more than what it was in 2014. That’s led to a much lower ground ball rate—though it’s still barely above average.

RHP Erasmo Ramirez

39 1/3 18.5% 4.6% 13.5% 51.8% 3.66 3.80
*Ramirez has made 4 starts and 12 relief appearances in 2017.

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.5 7.3% - - -
Sinker 91.5 33.3% 51 173 92
Cutter 89.2 24.7% 68 17 51
Changeup 83.6 23.6% 94 101 96
Slider 83.8 9.9% - - -
*Ramirez’s four-seam and slider do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

Just like with the Mariners, Erasmo Ramirez has bounced between the starting rotation and the bullpen with the Rays. He had a very successful year in the rotation in 2015, spent almost all of his time in the bullpen last year, and will be making his fifth start this year on Sunday. That sort of flexibility is probably more valuable than what Ramirez brings on the field. Overall, nothing much has really changed since leaving the Mariners. He’s still running an okay strikeout rate coupled with a decent walk rate, and he’s still prone to the long ball. But despite everything looking similar on the surface, he’s tinkered with his repertoire in Tampa. He’s still throwing his changeup but he’s using a sinker and a cutter rather than the four-seamer and his unreliable slider these days.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 38-16 0.704 -- W-W-W-W-W
Angels 28-29 0.491 11.5 L-L-W-W-L
Rangers 26-28 0.481 12.0 L-W-L-W-L
Mariners 25-30 0.455 13.5 W-W-W-W-L
Athletics 23-30 0.434 14.5 L-L-L-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 29-24 0.547 +0.5 L-L-W-W-L
Orioles 28-24 0.538 -- L-W-L-W-W
Indians 28-24 0.538 -- W-W-W-L-W
Rays 29-27 0.518 1.0 L-W-W-L-W
Angels 28-29 0.491 2.5 L-L-W-W-L

The Astros just continue to roll through the American League, this time dismantling the AL Central leading Twins in three games. Houston scored 40 runs in Minnesota, including an 11-run eighth inning on Monday and a 17-run drubbing on Wednesday. The Astros take on their interstate rival in Arlington this weekend. The Twins bounced back with a win against the Angels last night; they’ll wrap up that four-game series this weekend. The Orioles finally got their issues figured out as they won two of three from the Yankees earlier this week. They began a four-game series against the Red Sox last night with another win.