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Series Preview: Mariners (61-61) at Rays (60-63)

The Mariners travel across the country to take on the sinking Rays.

Tampa Bay Rays v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

At a Glance

Mariners Rays
Mariners Rays
Game 1 Friday, August 18 | 4:10 pm
RHP Erasmo Ramirez RHP Austin Pruitt
49% 51%
Game 2 Saturday, August 19 | 3:10 pm
LHP Ariel Miranda RHP Jake Odorizzi
50% 50%
Game 3 Sunday, August 20 | 10:10 pm
RHP Yovani Gallardo LHP Blake Snell
47% 53%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Rays Edge
Overview Mariners Rays Edge
Batting (wRC+) 102 (4th in AL) 99 (7th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 16.0 (3rd) 0.2 (9th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 120 (14th) 101 (5th) Rays
Bullpen (FIP-) 99 (12th) 96 (8th) Rays

The Mariners got their much needed series win against the Orioles before their longest road trip of the season. They’ll play 12 games on the East Coast in the next two weeks, with three series against Wild Card rivals. With series in Atlanta, New York, and Baltimore, the Mariners will visit some offensive havens. That’s good because the Mariners have won just five games when they’ve scored three or fewer runs (5-42). Considering the state of the starting rotation, it seems like every game from here on out will be a race to get to five or six runs. Winning three of these four series would be ideal and probably the best we could hope for. Even going .500 during this stretch would be alright. The Mariners just need to survive until September when rosters expand and their schedule gets a lot more favorable.

The Rays:

The All-Star break, the Rays have been in a slow downward spiral. They have the second worst record in the American League in the second half and have really struggled to score runs. Their offense was leading the American League in home runs the last time these two teams met. All that power has dried up since but they’re still leading the league in strikeout rate. That combination has led to just 100 runs scored in the second half, just 3.03 runs per game.

Key Players

1B Logan MorrisonA familiar face for Mariners fans, Logan Morrison is having a career year for the Rays. Interestingly, his strikeout rate is higher than his career average, but his quality of contact stats are at career highs. An 8% jump in fly ball rate and a career best 36.3% hard contact rate have yielded 28 home runs in 472 plate appearances. The 29-year-old former Mariner is running an impressive 27.3% o-swing%, his lowest since 2012. He's also having his best defensive season with a 5.9 UZR/150 at first base.

CF Mallex SmithMariner legend Mallex Smith has made a solid impact for the Rays this season, posting a 0.7 WAR in 241 plate appearances. He hits a lot of grounders, and runs a slightly above league average line drive rate. The speedy outfielder’s wheels encourage a high BABIP, which sits at .360 currently. He doesn't hit for a ton of power, but is a threat on the base paths with 16 steals in the majors this season. Defensively, he's played both center and left field. His athleticism translates to great range in both spots.

DH Corey DickersonAfter an impressive first half of the season, Corey Dickerson’s offensive firepower has all but dried up. He posted a 140 wRC+ before the All-Star game, launching seventeen home runs and slashing .312/.355/.548. But it’s been a night and day difference for him in the second half. His power has evaporate, he can’t buy a hit, and he’s striking out almost 30% of the time he’s at the plate. He’s posting an anemic .214/.254/.359 slash line and his struggles are a big reason why the Rays had big problems scoring runs recently.

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 started off slowly for Longoria, but he’s hit a lot better recently. His strikeout rate is currently at a career low of 16.6%, 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.

RF Steven Souza Jr.A year after everyone thought he was going to break out, Steven Souza Jr. is finally tapping into that potential he showed the last few years. His strikeout rate is down to 28.8% this year, more than five points lower than it was last year. His o-swing (measuring the percentage of pitches he chases out of the zone) plummeted from 33.0% last year to 26.2% this year, while his contact rate is currently above his career average. Additionally, he’s hitting for more power, evidenced by his .238 ISO. Interestingly, his fly ball rate is right in line with his career norms, however he’s getting a lot of bang for his buck on fly balls, running a 27.2% HR/FB ratio.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Austin Pruitt

55 18.4% 5.3% 10.5% 47.5% 5.07 3.79

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 91.9 35.6% 82 88 84
Sinker 91.9 7.3% - - -
Changeup 85.6 12.1% 102 94 99
Slider 87.7 28.9% 79 98 85
Curveball 81.0 16.1% 27 131 62
Pruitt’s sinker does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

After a great spring training, Austin Pruitt made it to the big leagues as a reliever in the Rays bullpen. As a starter for most of his minor league career, he had the stamina to be used for multiple innings out of the pen. Injuries to a number of their starters have forced the Rays to bump Pruitt into their starting rotation and he’s responded with four competent starts. His repertoire consists of a fastball that sits around 92 mph, and a curveball, a slider, and a changeup as his secondary offerings. But his best weapon isn’t any one pitch but his ability to locate all four of them at will. His walk rate during his minor league career was just 4.7% and he’s been able to translate that command to the majors.

RHP Jake Odorizzi

104 2/3 19.8% 9.0% 16.6% 30.2% 4.30 5.64

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 91.7 48.7% 195 64 151
Cutter 86.6 12.9% 182 61 142
Splitter 84.1 24.9% 30 95 52
Slider 81.6 8.6% 28 55 37
Curveball 72.6 4.6% - - -
Odorizzi’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size 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 a very impressive whiff rate off that pitch. All those high fastballs also have an unfortunate side effect—lots of home runs. His raw total of home runs allowed is 12th 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 surprisingly 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.

LHP Blake Snell

84 2/3 19.3% 11.8% 12.4% 42.6% 4.78 4.84

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.4 56.7% 74 117 88
Changeup 86.0 20.1% 76 90 81
Slider 85.6 14.8% 226 107 186
Curveball 78.1 8.5% 99 149 116

Blake Snell put together an impressive major league debut last season. He struck out almost a quarter of the batters he faced but he couldn’t escape his one major flaw—a lack of control. His success came despite posting one of the highest walk rates in the majors. His sophomore campaign has been a struggle all year long. He’s pitching in the strike zone at an even lower rate—tenth lowest Zone% in the majors—and he isn’t getting opposing batters to chase those pitches. In fact, batters are making contact against him more often and that’s led to a huge drop in strikeout rate. If he can figure out how to command his fastball, he’d be able to properly utilize his two plus breaking balls. But at this point, he’s a pitcher with a lot of promise and one glaring flaw.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 74-47 0.612 -- W-L-W-W-L
Angels 62-59 0.512 12.0 W-W-W-L-W
Mariners 61-61 0.500 13.5 L-L-L-W-W
Rangers 60-60 0.500 13.5 L-W-W-W-W
Athletics 53-68 0.438 21.0 L-W-L-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 65-55 0.542 +3.5 L-W-W-W-W
Angels 62-59 0.512 -- W-W-W-L-W
Royals 61-59 0.508 0.5 W-W-W-L-W
Twins 60-59 0.504 1.0 L-W-L-L-W
Mariners 61-61 0.500 1.5 L-L-L-W-W

The Rangers have surprised everyone by pushing themselves back into the Wild Card conversation. They won their series against the Astros last weekend, swept the Tigers in three games, and started their four-game series against the White Sox with a win last night. They’re currently tied with the Mariners. After splitting a two-game series with the Nationals, the Angels are in Baltimore to face the Orioles. The Royals host the Indians this weekend and the Twins host the Diamondbacks.