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Series Preview: Mariners (56-50) at Rays (64-42)

The Mariners limp into Tampa Bay looking for some better luck.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Well that was a disappointing way to start off this critical road trip. It’s easy to say that the Mariners were finally on the receiving end of some really poor luck in close games, but playing on the road is hard, no matter who the opponent is. But they didn’t do themselves any favors either. They left five men on base on Saturday and a whopping 10 on Sunday. So now Seattle heads into their gauntlet against the Rays and Yankees without the buffer of a series win in Texas to buoy them if things go sideways on the East Coast. Just like that stretch against the A’s and Astros at the end of July, if the Mariners can manage to go 4-3 during this next week, it would be a massive victory.

At a Glance

Mariners Rays
Mariners Rays
Game 1 Monday, August 2 | 4:10 pm
RHP Chris Flexen RHP Michael Wacha
37% 63%
Game 2 Tuesday, August 3 | 4:10 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi RHP Luis Patiño
39% 61%
Game 3 Wednesday, August 4 | 10:10 am
RHP Logan Gilbert LHP Josh Fleming
41% 59%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Rays Mariners Edge
Overview Rays Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 103 (6th in AL) 92 (11th in AL) Rays
Fielding (OAA) 27 (1st) -9 (10th) Rays
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 96 (5th) 112 (12th) Rays
Bullpen (FIP-) 84 (1st) 88 (3rd) Rays

The Rays weren’t as busy as some of their division rivals at the trade deadline. They got an early start on the action by trading for Nelson Cruz a week before the deadline, made their big swap with the Mariners on Thursday and then made a small move to add Jordan Luplow on Friday. Cruz is obviously the headlining move and gives them a potent power threat in the middle of their lineup. The rest of the additions they made simply added depth to an already deep roster.

Their biggest issue has been a pitching staff that has been wracked by injuries. They currently have 15 pitchers on the Injured List, though a handful of them are currently on rehab assignment and should be returning soon. That hasn’t stopped them from ascending to the top of the AL East over the weekend after sweeping the Red Sox in three games.

Rays Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Brandon Lowe 2B L 400 0.266 125 2.0
Ji-Man Choi 1B L 192 0.333 134 0.6
Nelson Cruz DH R 379 0.297 135 -3.0
Austin Meadows LF L 424 0.270 122 0.1
Randy Arozarena RF R 415 0.331 114 0.8
Joey Wendle 3B L 316 0.352 119 -0.2
Wander Franco SS S 131 0.293 99 1.5
Mike Zunino C R 245 0.202 120 0.3
Kevin Kiermaier CF L 253 0.313 70 2.7

Super prospect Wander Franco was called up in late-June, and while he hasn’t lit the league on fire yet, his debut has been much better than Jarred Kelenic’s. He’s bounced from third base to shortstop, pushing fellow top prospect Taylor Walls back to the minors. The Rays lineup is so deep and their bench so flexible that All-Star Joey Wendle has been relegated to a part-time role at third. Compared to the four-game series in Seattle back in June, this lineup has been far more potent recently. Austin Meadows, Brandon Lowe, and Ji-Man Choi have all been extremely productive over the last month and All-Star Mike Zunino continues to blast dingers at a regular rate.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Michael Wacha

71 1/3 22.1% 6.4% 18.2% 37.9% 4.79 4.74
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 36.4% 93.3 2085 111 74 85
Cutter 34.0% 89.0 2063 104 59 117
Changeup 27.2% 86.7 1550 49 110 117
Curveball 2.3% 75.2 2108

From a previous series preview:

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.

The Mariners handed Wacha his worst start of the season back in June. He allowed five runs on 11 hits in just 3.2 innings. Since the All-Star break, he had a couple of rough starts against the Braves and Orioles before spinning a gem against the Yankees last week.

RHP Luis Patiño

31 2/3 26.7% 7.4% 8.9% 28.7% 4.26 3.66
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 50.6% 95.6 2421 144 97 92
Sinker 7.1% 94.5 2345
Changeup 6.6% 87.7 1993
Curveball 4.2% 78.2 2507
Slider 31.5% 86.2 2514 115 118 123

When the Rays traded Rich Hill to the Mets a week ago, they cleared room in their rotation for Luis Patiño. He was the headlining prospect that came back in the Blake Snell trade this past offseason and has bounced between the majors and minors this year. He was pitching out of the bullpen to start the year but the Rays sent him back down to Triple-A to be stretched out as a proper starter. He relies pretty heavily on a plus fastball/slider combo with his curveball and changeup just average compliments. With his repertoire essentially limited to a two-pitch mix, he’s really struggled to work through a lineup multiple times. When his fastball and slider are working really well and he’s facing a right-handed-heavy lineup, he can look dominant — like his last start against the Yankees where he struck out eight. But a fuller repertoire is the one thing holding him back from fulfilling his lofty prospect potential.

LHP Josh Fleming

82 1/3 15.0% 6.5% 14.3% 56.3% 4.15 4.37
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 44.2% 91.1 1799 103 134 86
Cutter 28.5% 86.2 1849 100 63 96
Changeup 23.0% 81.9 1595 127 56 84
Curveball 4.3% 78.2 1823

From a previous series preview:

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.

Fleming allowed five runs in 6.1 innings last time out in Seattle, allowing seven hits and two walks while striking out five. He’s been roughed up since the All-Star break, allowing 13 runs in three second half starts.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 64-42 0.604 -- W-W-W-L-L
Athletics 60-47 0.561 4.5 W-W-W-L-W
Mariners 56-50 0.528 8.0 L-L-W-L-L
Angels 52-53 0.495 11.5 W-L-L-W-L
Rangers 38-67 0.362 25.5 W-L-L-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 63-44 0.589 +3.0 W-L-L-L-L
Athletics 60-47 0.561 -- W-W-W-L-W
Yankees 56-48 0.538 2.5 W-L-W-W-W
Blue Jays 54-48 0.529 3.5 L-W-W-W-W
Mariners 56-50 0.528 3.5 L-L-W-L-L
Cleveland 51-51 0.500 6.5 L-W-L-W-L

The Mariners fell behind the Yankees and the Blue Jays in the Wild Card standings after both teams swept their weekend series. New York won three games in Miami and will return home to face the Orioles this week. The Blue Jays swept the Royals in their triumphant return to Toronto and will continue their homestand with a four-game series against Cleveland.

The Astros couldn’t keep up with the best team in baseball over the weekend; they lost two of three to the Giants in San Francisco. They’ll travel to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers beginning on Tuesday. The A’s won their four-game series against the Angels to stay just ahead of the pack in the AL Wild Card race. They’ll return home to face the Padres for two games.