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Series Preview: Mariners (34-36) vs. Rays (43-26)

The Mariners host one of the best teams in the American League for four-games this weekend.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Chicago White Sox Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners are on the last leg of their gruelling stretch of 30 games in 31 days. With their series win against the Twins in the books, they’ve now gone .500 (13-13) during this period. To wrap up this gauntlet, they’ll host one of the best teams in the American League. They dodged a bullet with Mitch Haniger’s knee injury and a large portion of their pitching staff is healthy again. The Mariners have their four best starters lined up to start in this series against some very hittable arms on the Rays. This should be an interesting bellwether for their progress nearly halfway through this season.

At a Glance

Rays Mariners
Rays Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, June 17 | 7:10 pm
LHP Rich Hill RHP Justin Dunn
60% 40%
Game 2 Friday, June 18 | 7:10 pm
RHP Michael Wacha LHP Yusei Kikuchi
54% 46%
Game 3 Saturday, June 19 | 7:10 pm
LHP Josh Fleming RHP Logan Gilbert
58% 42%
Game 4 Sunday, June 20 | 1:10 pm
LHP Shane McClanahan LHP Marco Gonzales
54% 46%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Rays Mariners Edge
Overview Rays Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 103 (8th in AL) 88 (12th in AL) Rays
Fielding (OAA) 26 (1st) -5 (10th) Rays
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 93 (4th) 117 (15th) Rays
Bullpen (FIP-) 89 (4th) 91 (5th) Rays

After a relatively slow start to the season, the Rays now look just as good as they did last year where they were the World Series runner-up. There are no true stars on their roster, but the sum of all their parts are far better than you’d expect based on the individuals. They maximize every single roster slot with flexible players capable of filling multiple roles. The incredible depth they’ve built up in their organization has helped their pitching staff weather a ton of injuries — Tyler Glasnow, their undisputed ace was the latest victim. They have 10 different pitchers currently on the Injured List but have a laundry list of prospects and minor leaguers ready to make an impact in the majors. It may not be the most glamorous way to win but it’s certainly been effective the last few years.

Rays Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Brandon Lowe 2B L 266 0.250 97 1.6
Randy Arozarena LF R 282 0.350 118 2.2
Ji-Man Choi 1B L 66 0.448 165 0.1
Austin Meadows DH L 279 0.265 131 0.0
Joey Wendle 3B L 222 0.340 132 -0.6
Manuel Margot RF R 234 0.264 87 0.0
Taylor Walls SS S 79 0.326 115 0.1
Mike Zunino C R 158 0.215 121 -0.2
Kevin Kiermaier CF L 156 0.340 73 2.1

Austin Meadows is the closest thing they have to a star on the position player side of things. He was fantastic in his first full season with the Rays back in 2019 but a bout with COVID in 2020 had a ton of ill effects that lasted the entire season. His production has bounced right back to the levels he saw two years ago as he’s solidified himself as a true middle-of-the-order thumper. For their roster strategy to really work, they usually need at least one or two unexpected breakouts to make up for their lack of star power. This year, it’s Joey Wendle’s turn. His aggressive, high-contact approach is reliant on good batted ball luck but he’s added a touch more power this year to compensate for those streaks where he runs into some bad batted ball luck.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Rich Hill

66 2/3 25.9% 8.7% 13.3% 44.2% 3.38 3.94
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 46.6% 88.6 2373 71 119 76
Sinker 2.8% 85.7 2297
Cutter 5.6% 83.9 2456
Changeup 1.2% 79.2 1444
Curveball 39.5% 72.7 2784 114 73 103
Slider 4.3% 70.3 2686
Many of Hill’s pitches do not have large enough sample sizes for Stuff+ or pitch arsenal scores.

At 41 years old, Rich Hill is still baffling batters with his high-spin approach. His four-seam fastball possesses a tremendous amount of back-spin, imparting a ton of ride for a pitch that only rarely crosses the 90 mph threshold anymore. To pair with that elevated heater, he’ll pair a sweeping curveball that has the highest horizontal movement of any curveball in baseball. It’s a two-pitch combo that’s worked well for him since his career renaissance in 2016. The thing that holds his approach together is pinpoint command of his fastball. He does an extremely good job of locating his four-seamer so that he not only can generate whiffs with it but can also help him tunnel his curveball down in the zone. The rest of the four pitches in his repertoire are mixed in sparingly to keep batters off balance if they’re sitting on his fastball or curveball.

RHP Michael Wacha

39 2/3 18.8% 6.9% 14.3% 35.9% 4.54 4.52
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 37.0% 93.2 2095 115 65 77
Cutter 35.1% 89.0 2074 114 71 127
Changeup 24.9% 87.1 1547 52 106 83
Curveball 3.1% 75.4 2094
Wacha’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for Stuff+ or pitch arsenal scores.

Michael Wacha had a promising start to his career in St. Louis but much of his success was tied to an extremely low home run rate. His strikeout rate never really stood out because he didn’t really have an effective breaking ball to finish batters off. In 2019, he lost his ability to keep batters from taking him deep, leading to a career-worst 5.61 FIP. The next year, he signed with the Mets, and while his FIP was a touch better, his ERA ballooned up to 6.62. Both his strikeout and walk rates were the best they’d been since his rookie year but his home run rate exploded. After his one season in New York, he signed with the Rays and has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen. His home run rate is a bit more under control this year but his strikeout rate has fallen back to the same pedestrian level he had regularly in St. Louis.

LHP Josh Fleming

56 1/3 14.8% 5.8% 15.4% 59.9% 3.20 4.17
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 44.5% 91.2 1806 109 132 91
Cutter 28.5% 86.2 1851 98 78 67
Changeup 23.2% 81.9 1584 124 62 93
Curveball 3.7% 78.6 1848
Fleming’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for Stuff+ or pitch arsenal scores.

Josh Fleming made his major league debut last year as the sort of flexible swingman the Rays love to hoard. Drafted in 2017, he quickly made his way through the organization using his pinpoint command to stymie minor-league hitters. He doesn’t throw very hard and his strikeout rate reflects that lack of raw velocity. Instead, he relies on an elite groundball rate to keep batters in check. Both his sinker and changeup generate ridiculous amounts of contact on the ground because he’s able to locate them down in the zone so consistently. The lack of a true out pitch limits his ceiling a bit, but he should thrive as a back-end starter or swingman with his ability to manage hard contact against him.

LHP Shane McClanahan

38 2/3 27.9% 7.9% 22.6% 46.2% 4.42 4.14
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 38.2% 97.2 2259 161 90 107
Changeup 9.8% 90.1 1722
Curveball 10.6% 83.9 2611
Slider 41.4% 90.0 2386 136 129 98
McClanahan’s changeup and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for Stuff+ or pitch arsenal scores.

Shane McClanahan was the 10th ranked prospect in a loaded Rays organization heading into this season. He actually made his major league debut in the playoffs last year, pitching four times out of the bullpen after making just four starts above Single-A in his short minor league career. He made his regular season debut in April of this year and featured a fastball that sat around 97 mph and hit triple digits from time to time. His best pitch is a nasty slider that has a whiff rate close to 50%. He’s struggled through the kinds of ups and downs you would expect from a 24-year-old rookie but he has a bright future ahead of him.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Athletics 43-27 0.614 -- W-W-W-W-W
Astros 39-28 0.582 2.5 W-L-W-W-W
Mariners 34-36 0.486 9.0 L-W-W-W-L
Angels 33-35 0.485 9.0 W-W-L-L-L
Rangers 25-43 0.368 17.0 L-W-L-L-L

Prior to arriving in Seattle, the Rays lost a dramatic three-game series against the White Sox. With the best record in baseball in hand, Chicago now travels to Houston for another exciting four-game series against the Astros. As soon as the Angels had clawed their way back above .500, they were crushingly swept by the A’s in Oakland. They start a four-game series against the Tigers tonight, hoping to get back in the win column again. The A’s begin a long road trip on Friday with a three-game series in New York against the Yankees.