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Series Preview: Mariners (78-61) at Rays (85-55)

The Mariners wrap up this long road trip with a big four-game set in Tampa Bay.

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

The minor struggles continued this week for the Mariners, as they lost two of three to the Reds, falling one game behind Houston in the AL West. This time it was the pitchers that faltered, as Bryan Woo, Andrés Muñoz, and Justin Topa were unable to keep the Reds offense in check in the first two games. Seattle’s lineup seems to have adopted an all-homers strategy, combining for eight in the series in Cincinnati. Three of those belong to Julio Rodríguez, who has already made history and is now approaching thirty home runs on the season. This weekend the Mariners play four games in Tampa, facing the Rays for the final time during the regular season.

At a Glance

Mariners Rays
Mariners Rays
Game 1 Thursday, September 7 | 3:40 pm
RHP Luis Castillo RHP Zack Littell
54% 46%
Game 2 Friday, September 8 | 3:40 pm
RHP George Kirby RHP Taj Bradley
52% 48%
Game 3 Saturday, September 9 | 1:05 pm
RHP Bryan Woo RHP Aaron Civale
46% 55%
Game 4 Sunday, September 10 | 10:10 am
RHP Bryce Miller RHP Zach Eflin
44% 56%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Rays Mariners Edge
Overview Rays Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 117 (1st in AL) 109 (4th in AL) Rays
Fielding (OAA) 9 (5th) 11 (3rd) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 84 (1st) 91 (3rd) Rays
Bullpen (FIP-) 86 (2nd) Mariners

The Rays have the third-best record in baseball, but that’s only good enough for second in the stacked AL East. Their 47-24 record at home, however, is tied with the Dodgers for the best home record in the game. Tampa is making a run for the AL East pennant, but even if they don’t make that, they’re eight games ahead of the second AL Wild Card (currently the Mariners), so they are pretty confidently playoff-bound. Analytics-heavy player development and effective management by Kevin Cash have contributed to the Ray’s success, as has quality play up and down the lineup and rotation. In the first half of the season, after opening the year with a 13-game win streak, the Rays were riding high. Ace Shane McClanahan had the lowest ERA in the game, a healthy Wander Franco was playing like a superstar, and the team was dramatically outperforming expectations.

The second half of the season has been rougher, to say the least. Tampa has now lost most of their starting rotation to injury, including McClanahan to his second Tommy John surgery. Wander Franco, in the biggest blow to fan morale, is on indefinite administrative leave as the Dominican Republic investigates allegations of improper relationships with multiple minors. For a peek at the impact of these events on Rays fans, see this article from our sister site, posted as several injuries were announced last month and demonstrating the startling percent of Opening Day players no longer with the team. Despite all this, Tampa has gone 20-11 since August 1, most recently taking two of three from the Red Sox. Replacement pitchers in the starting rotation have stepped up, and all but one of the starting nine are batting above league average.

Rays Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Yandy Díaz 1B R 525 16.4% 10.7% 0.178 154
Brandon Lowe 2B L 386 26.4% 11.7% 0.213 118
Isaac Paredes 3B R 489 17.2% 9.6% 0.246 138
Randy Arozarena LF R 580 23.3% 12.1% 0.168 126
Josh Lowe RF L 420 26.0% 5.7% 0.211 125
Jose Siri CF R 349 36.4% 5.7% 0.275 104
Luke Raley DH L 379 31.9% 7.1% 0.242 128
Taylor Walls SS S 287 24.7% 12.5% 0.144 94
René Pinto C R 55 27.3% 3.6% 0.208 131

The Rays lineup, without Franco, still has seven batters with over 2 fWAR and five with over 120 wRC+. Leading the pack are first baseman Yandy Díaz and third baseman Isaac Paredes. Paredes is a particularly exciting player, as he’s just 24, is a strong fielder, and strikes out less than many of his promising young counterparts. Randy Arozarena will, for better or for worse, be familiar to fans from his dramatic Home Run Derby performance in July. Franco’s replacement at shortstop, Taylor Walls, is the only player in the Ray’s primary starting nine with a below-100 wRC+; he has been out for weeks due to injury and his return was delayed due to groin soreness this week.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Zack Littell

63 1/3 19.3% 3.0% 13.9% 39.5% 4.69 4.35
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 34.2% 94.0 72 91 100 0.300
Sinker 6.7% 92.7 64
Splitter 19.4% 84.2 115 87 64 0.298
Slider 32.3% 88.4 102 51 88 0.374
Sweeper 7.4% 80.4 102

The Rays have weathered some pretty unfortunate injuries in their rotation; McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs, and Drew Rasmussen have all suffered season-ending injuries this year. Of course, they’ve barely skipped a beat thanks, in part, to the efforts of Zack Littell. Originally drafted by the Mariners way back in 2013, he’s served mostly as a reliever for nearly his entire major league career; he made two starts for the Twins upon his major league debut and made two starts as an opener for the Giants in 2021 and that’s it until this year. Upon making the shift to longer outings in late-July, Littell has posted a 4.42 ERA and a 4.66 FIP across seven starts. Those numbers don’t fly off the page, but he’s provided valuable bulk innings for a thin rotation.

RHP Taj Bradley

79 2/3 30.0% 8.8% 16.7% 36.0% 5.42 4.09
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 44.2% 96.2 134 95 101 0.347
Cutter 25.8% 88.6 108 115 98 0.365
Changeup 13.2% 89.4 71 136 141 0.205
Curveball 16.9% 79.0 86 80 103 0.266

From a previous series preview:

Taj Bradley is the latest in a long line of elite pitching prospects the Rays have churned out over the years. His pedigree isn’t as high as Shane McClanahan’s was, but he’s on track to be a frontline starter for Tampa for years to come. He made his major league debut this year as a 22-year-old and has impressed across 11 starts so far. His best pitch is a mid-90s fastball that has plenty of ride and life at the top of the zone. He’ll play a hard cutter off his heater and also possesses a good curveball and a promising changeup. If you lower the threshold to 50 innings pitched, he has the fourth highest strikeout rate in the majors, though some bad batted ball luck has pushed his ERA nearly a full run higher than his FIP.

Bradley had a long stretch of starts with the big league club earlier this season but was sent back down to Triple-A in August to manage his workload. He was recalled last week and made a solid start against the Guardians on Sunday. The last time the Mariners faced him, they scored five runs on nine hits in just 3.1 innings.

RHP Aaron Civale

107 2/3 21.7% 6.2% 5.9% 39.6% 2.76 3.18
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 12.9% 91.8 75 114 74 0.291
Sinker 17.7% 92.3 73 80 166 0.31
Cutter 37.5% 87.6 96 93 96 0.323
Splitter 1.7% 85.0
Curveball 24.7% 77.9 150 87 102 0.264
Slider 5.4% 82.4 126 82 81 0.206

From a previous series preview:

Aaron Civale wasn’t healthy last year; two separate trips to the IL forced him to miss almost two months of the season and held him to just 20 starts. When he was on the mound, the results just didn’t go his way. His ERA outpaced his FIP by more than a full run thanks to an extremely low strand rate and a high BABIP allowed. His underlying metrics were actually pretty decent; he posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career and finally honed his deep repertoire down to his best three pitches. Never content with his pitches, he introduced a sweeping slider to his pitch mix late in the season, a pitch that could give him a second swing-and-miss weapon to pair with his excellent curveball.

Civale was the Rays big trade deadline acquisition and he’s helped stabilize their rotation after all those injuries to their best starters. His very first two starts of the season came against the Mariners back when he was part of the Guardians rotation; he held the M’s scoreless in seven innings in his first start and then allowed four runs in 5.2 innings in his second.

RHP Zach Eflin

155 2/3 25.7% 3.4% 11.9% 50.8% 3.47 3.11
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 5.5% 93.2 84 128 75 0.234
Sinker 32.1% 92.3 98 83 117 0.274
Cutter 26.5% 88.5 100 66 108 0.369
Changeup 4.9% 86.4 77 102 87 0.222
Curveball 27.5% 79.0 100 111 119 0.212
Sweeper 3.2% 79.6 123

The Rays signed Zach Eflin to the largest free agent contract in their franchise history this offseason. He’s rewarded that faith in him with his best season in the big leagues. He’s already surpassed his previous career-high in fWAR and has been one the best starters in the majors thanks to a phenomenal strikeout-to-walk ratio and an above average groundball rate. His signature pitch is a biting curveball that produces both swings and misses and weak contact. The Rays have also helped him hone his cutter that he introduced to his repertoire last year and it’s now become a significant piece of his pitch mix.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 80-61 0.567 -- L-L-W-W-W
Mariners 78-61 0.561 1.0 W-L-L-L-W
Rangers 76-63 0.547 3.0 L-W-L-L-L
Angels 64-76 0.457 15.5 L-L-L-L-L
Athletics 43-97 0.307 36.5 W-W-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Tampa Bay 85-55 0.607 +8.0 L-W-L-W-W
Mariners 78-61 0.561 +1.5 W-L-L-L-W
Blue Jays 77-63 0.550 -- L-W-W-W-L
Rangers 76-63 0.547 0.5 L-W-L-L-L
Red Sox 72-68 0.514 5.0 W-W-W-L-L
Yankees 70-69 0.504 6.5 W-W-W-W-W

Houston swept the Rangers this week, giving them a one game lead over the Mariners in the West and pushing Texas two games back of Seattle. Of the four possible outcomes in that heated Texan battle, this might have been the worst for the Mariners since it elevated Houston over Seattle in the standings. Still, it’s nice to see a tiny bit of daylight between the M’s and the Rangers as their free fall continues.

The Astros play the Padres this weekend, while the Rangers host Oakland. In the Wild Card race, the Rays remain 8 games up in the first slot, with Toronto and Texas just below Seattle and the Red Sox and Yankees a tier behind them. The Blue Jays play the Royals starting Friday, while the Red Sox host the Orioles and the Yankees host the Tigers for one more today before taking on the Brewers. The teams vying for the Wild Card and division spots play each other quite a bit starting next week, so the rooting interests will get more complicated. This weekend, however, M’s fans should pull for the Padres, Athletics, Royals, Orioles, and Brewers.