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Series Preview: Mariners (10-6) at Rays (9-7)

The Mariners embark on a long road trip beginning in Tampa Bay.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

After a truly magnificent 7-2 opening homestand — complete with walk-offs, timely plate discipline, fun differential AND run differential (56-31!), the ending of one era, the beginning of a new one, and the transcendence of time as we know it — the Mariners are setting out on one of their longest road trips of the year. With the NL East paired with the AL West for interleague play this season, they’ll make two stops in Florida this week. This three-game series against the Rays kicks off 16 consecutive days of Mariners baseball, so here’s to hoping the good vibes keep rolling!

At a Glance

Mariners Rays
Mariners Rays
Game 1 Tuesday, April 26 | 3:40 pm
RHP Logan Gilbert LHP Josh Fleming
48% 52%
Game 2 Wednesday, April 27 | 3:40 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Drew Rasmussen
42% 58%
Game 3 Thursday, April 28 | 10:10 am
RHP Chris Flexen RHP Corey Kluber
43% 57%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Rays Mariners Edge
Overview Rays Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 110 (3rd in AL) 94 (10th in AL) Rays
Fielding (OAA) 29 (2nd) -6 (8th) Rays
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 97 (7th) 111 (12th) Rays
Bullpen (FIP-) 88 (3rd) 89 (4th) Rays
2021 stats

Following a 100-win season in 2021, the Rays have expanded on their success by… doing Rays stuff. Nelson Cruz, Collin McHugh, Michael Wacha, David Robertson, and Chris Archer have all signed elsewhere, and the Rays have made precious few additions outside of adding Corey Kluber (1 year / $8M) to the rotation and lefty Brooks Raley (2 years / $10M) to the bullpen. In a strong contender for biggest head-scratcher of the offseason, the Rays also traded former All-Star outfielder/DH Austin Meadows to the Tigers for talented but unproven infielder Isaac Paredes (and a competitive balance round B selection in the 2022 draft). They also dealt infielder Joey Wendle to the Marlins (presumably to help free up space for MLB’s #76 overall prospect Vidal Bruján, and for infielder Taylor Walls, who is hard at work on a breakout sophomore season). The Rays rotation may look a bit different than expected, as well; ace Tyler Glasnow is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and will miss the majority of 2022, while MLB’s #12 overall prospect Shane Baz is targeting a May return from arthroscopic surgery to his elbow.

Roster churn and injuries aside, the Rays have navigated April admirably with the help of some elite offense and ever-dependable pitching depth. After an opening series sweep against the Orioles, the Rays scuffled a bit — dropping three of four to the Athletics (!?) and two of three to the White Sox — before getting back on track with back-to-back series wins against the Cubs and Red Sox. Tampa is still riding the high of a thrilling extra innings win over Boston Saturday night, culminating in a walkoff homer from centerfield stalwart Kevin Kiermaier after the Rays pitching staff took a no-hitter into the 10th inning.

Rays Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Brandon Lowe 2B L 615 0.280 137 4.9
Wander Franco SS S 308 0.311 127 3.1
Randy Arozarena DH R 604 0.363 128 1.5
Ji-Man Choi 1B L 305 0.300 117 -0.9
Yandy Díaz 3B R 541 0.286 111 -2.2
Josh Lowe LF L 470 0.361 142
Manuel Margot RF R 464 0.281 95 1.6
Kevin Kiermaier CF L 390 0.345 101 2.2
Mike Zunino C R 375 0.231 134 0.6

Wonder who leads the Rays in WAR? It’s the wunderkind named Wander. At just 21 years old, Wander Franco has already ascended to superstardom thanks to his elite bat-to-ball skills and plus defense at shortstop. Crazier yet, he’s done it all with just a 3% walk rate — I suppose that’s what a legit 80-grade hit tool can do for you.

Anchoring the lineup is second baseman Brandon Lowe, who has quietly emerged as one of the better hitters in baseball over the past two seasons. The eminently flexible first baseman Ji-Man Choi has gotten off to a roaring start in 2022, while Yandy Díaz continues to dependably devour lefty pitching. (We’ll also likely see MLB’s #49 overall prospect Josh Lowe start a game or two in the outfield, as we all close our eyes and imagine an alternate timeline in which Josh, Brandon, and former-Ray Nathaniel all still play for Tampa while fronting a pop-punk band called All Time Lowe).

Defending AL Rookie of the Year Randy Arozarena has struggled mightily so far, but will hope to get back on track against the M’s. Meanwhile, catcher Francisco Mejía was added to the COVID-19 injured list on Friday after a hot start, so keep an eye out for a healthy dose of MLB All-Star™ Mike Zunino behind the dish. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll even catch a glimpse of baseball’s most elite garbage time hurler, Brett Phillps, who is doing his darndest to earn Gold Glove honors at the pitcher position.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Tampa Bay Rays v Chicago Cubs Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

LHP Josh Fleming

104 1/3 14.5% 6.9% 12.8% 55.7% 5.09 4.27
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 48.2% 91.2 1789 103 134 93
Cutter 28.5% 86.3 1853 95 63 87
Changeup 23.3% 81.8 1602 135 66 88
Curveball 9.4% 80.0 1651 80
2021 stats; Fleming’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for Pitch Arsenal scores.

While Matt Wisler is technically the listed starter for the Rays, he’ll be acting as an opener in front of Josh Fleming. The Mariners can expect a ton of sliders from Wisler — he threw his breaking ball 91% of the time last year and it’s up to 93% this season. Once he’s worked through the first inning, Fleming is expected to work as the bulk man for the majority of the middle innings. He relies on a bowling ball sinker that has an exceptional movement profile leading to a ton of whiffs when batters aren’t pounding it into the ground. His secondary offering lag a bit behind his fastball so if batters can lay off the sinker, they’re often able to do some damage against his cutter or changeup.

RHP Drew Rasmussen

76 23.8% 8.1% 8.1% 47.3% 2.84 3.09
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 68.4% 97.1 2437 173 118 108
Changeup 2.4% 90.2 1781
Curveball 2.6% 80.3 2629
Slider 31.6% 86.4 2654 109 81 103
2021 stats; Rasmussen’s changeup and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for Stuff+ scores.

Drew Rasmussen was a key part of the Willy Adames trade last summer. With a fastball and slider heavy pitch mix, his profile fits that of a high leverage reliever. Instead, the Rays slotted him into the rotation over the last two months of the season and he thrived. His fastball is one of the best in the majors and features all the characteristics you’d expect: tons of velocity and a bunch of ride. His slider was merely okay but he’s made a bunch of changes to his breaking ball this year that’s made it even more deadly. Essentially, he’s now throwing a harder slider-cutter hybrid and a slower, sweeper with tons of horizontal movement. That gives him three distinct pitches to utilize multiple times through the order, hopefully extending his ability to accumulate quality innings in the rotation.

RHP Corey Kluber

80 24.0% 9.7% 9.6% 42.5% 3.83 3.85
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 4.6% 89.9 2263 20
Sinker 26.3% 90.7 2106 68 62 78
Cutter 28.5% 87.6 2458 108 106 95
Changeup 14.4% 84.7 1644 67 132 154
Curveball 30.8% 81.9 2504 105 123 121
2021 stats; Kluber’s four-seamer does not have a large enough sample size for Pitch Arsenal scores.

A fractured arm and a shoulder injury wiped out the majority of Corey Kluber’s 2019 and ‘20 seasons. He pitched for the Yankees last year but looked quite diminished from his peak as one of the premiere starters in baseball. During the first half of the season, he looked pretty good, compiling a 3.79 FIP with a 25% strikeout rate through his first nine starts. Another shoulder injury sidelined him for a couple of months during the summer and he returned at the end of August to make six more starts down the stretch. Never a fireballer, he relied instead on impeccable command and wicked movement during his run of success. His fastball velocity has fallen precipitously, however, and he’s sitting around 89 mph this year.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Mariners 10-6 0.625 -- W-L-W-W-W
Angels 10-7 0.588 0.5 W-L-L-W-W
Athletics 9-8 0.529 1.5 L-W-L-L-W
Astros 7-9 0.438 3.0 L-L-L-W-L
Rangers 6-10 0.375 4.0 W-W-W-L-W

The Angels barely managed to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Orioles over the weekend, winning on Sunday by a score of 7-6 after letting a 6-0 lead slip away. They started off a four-game series against the Guardians yesterday with a win. The Astros are mired in an early season slump and also barely avoided a weekend sweep with an extra-innings walk-off win on Sunday. That dramatic win couldn’t spark a win streak as they lost to the Rangers on Monday night in the first of four games between those two teams. The A’s lost their weekend series to the Rangers and will play a short two-game series against their Bay Area rivals this week.