Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays @ Seattle Mariners

SEATTLE - APRIL 30: Starting pitcher Cliff Lee #36 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field on April 30, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

And so the nine-game road trip begins. All games in this series begin at 10:10 PM (bleh).

Tuesday, May 4: RHP James Shields vs. LHP Jason Vargas

Wednesday, May 5: RHP Matt Garza vs. LHP Cliff Lee

Thursday, May 6: RHP Jeff Niemann vs. LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith

Don't be fooled by Seattle's 11-14 record; they're a decent team (projection systems put them at around a .500 team) and they match up well against the Rays. The Mariners have what's widely considered to be the best defense in the majors (first this season in Defensive Runs Saved) and they're throwing three lefties in this series, which we all know has been the Rays' kryptonite in past seasons. The Rays' line-up this season is much more balanced than in the past and so the lefties shouldn't stymie them, but it doesn't help that one of those lefties, Cliff Lee, is one of the best pitchers in baseball. If there's one saving grace to this series, it's that the Rays miss Felix Hernandez; facing Lee and King Felix in the same series would be as fun as appendicitis - shooting pain everywhere and you can't even walk.

Lucky for the Rays, the non-Cliff-Lee lefties, Jason Vargas and Ryan Rowland-Smith, should be hittable. Jason Vargas has been unimpressive in past seasons, but has strung together a couple solid outings this season and currently has a 3.46 FIP. He's a similar pitcher to Andy Sonnanstine - low fastball velocity (~87 MPH), low strikeout totals (~5 K/9), and low walks (~2 BB/9). This season, though, he's increased his strikeout numbers closer to 7 K/9 and become more successful as a result. As for Ryan Rowland-Smith, he's a young pitcher with good potential and he posted respectable numbers last season in 15 starts (4.20 FIP), but he's struggled with his command so far this season (~3 K/9,~4 BB/9). He's also an extreme fly ball pitcher, so the Rays should be sure to take lots of pitches against him and lay into them when they get a good pitch to hit.

Offensively, the Mariners lack punch. Their offense has been the second weakest in the majors so far this season (.290 wOBA, only ahead of the Astros) and it can't be entirely blamed on a low BABIP (.285, which is low but not that low). So far Franklin Gutierrez is their only batter with a wOBA over .340 and according to projection systems, he's playing over his head and is due to regress back to a .345 wOBA. Ichiro (.323 wOBA), Chone Figgins (.308 wOBA), and Milton Bradley (.302 wOBA) are due to improve at some point, but the question is when. Shields, Garza, and Niemann have to be happy - they'll be pitching against a poor offense in a huge park with a great defense to back them up. 

Questions for the Series:

  • Will our offense come back? Runs were tough to come by during the last three games against the Royals and outside of Cliff Lee, the Rays should be able to hit these guys. Evan Longoria did a good job carrying our offense, but he shouldn't have to do it all by himself.
  • Will these games be over before one in the morning? I despise West Coast starts...

Over/Unders:

  • 1.5 starts for Jaso this series. We're facing three lefties, so my guess is we see a lot of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named behind the plate.
  • 1.5 starts for Sean Rodriguez. Who will Maddon do with against the three lefties - Sean Rodriguez or Gabe Kapler? With the way Brignac is playing, Sean Rodriguez needs to start hitting to make a case for more playing time. 
  • 0.5 home runs for Zobrist. Will this finally be the series?
  • 168.5 awesomeness points for the Garza/Lee match-up. That should be some game.
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