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Series Preview: 4/21-4/23 Tampa Bay Rays @ Seattle Mariners

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4/21: Andy Sonnanstine vs. Jarrod Washburn (10:10 SS)
4/22: Jeff Niemann vs. Chris Jakubauskas (10:10 FS-F)
4/23: James Shields vs. Felix Hernandez (6:40 SS)

The first thing you need to know about Seattle is that their defense is ridiculous this year. Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, and Ichiro form a superb defensive outfield, and as such, the Mariner pitchers are having a good start to the season. Combine their defense with the ballpark -- unkind to right-handed power -- and it could become a trying series offensively. The good news is, the Rays pitching should get a break from the onslaught of difficult offenses.

Washburn has a .203 BABIP and a strand rate nearing 95%. He's only missing marginally more bats and his flyball/line drive rates have remained steady. Throw in nearly zero difference in stuff and pitch usage - although he has used his fastball more and slider less - and it's difficult seeing Washburn being anything but the benefactor of the improved glovework. Washburn is a soft tossing lefty without an out pitch and with the tendency to allow homeruns. That means expect a career performance.

Jakubauskas is filling in for the injured Ryan Rowland-Smith. His minor league numbers are nice, although there's been some debate as to whether Jakubauskas can succeed with his stuff. Fastball in the low-90s, curveball and change; a rather rudimentary arsenal.

Finally, Felix. He throws in the mid-90s but can pump it up when needed. Look for a fastball heavy attack, with some sliders, curves, and changes tossed in for good measure. Felix doesn't walk a lot of batters nor does he give up many homeruns anymore, and if this improvement in strikeout rate is legitimate, then you're looking at a legitimate Cy Young contender. If you don't think you'll make it home by 6:40 Thursday night, take off early, Shields and Hernandez should be delightful.

 C Rob Johnson
1B Russell Branyan/Mike Sweeney
2B Jose Lopez
3B Adrian Beltre
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
LF Endy Chavez
CF Franklin Gutierrez
RF Ichiro Suzuki
DH Ken Griffey Jr.

You may remember Johnson from the Al Reyes rumors a while back, he's filling in for the injured Kenji Johjima and exiled Jeff Clement - who you may recall from the Edwin Jackson rumors. Branyan was mildly entertaining in his 2006 stint with the Rays as the all-or-nothing slugger. Beltre is Longoria's biggest hurdle to becoming the best third baseman defensively in the A.L. Betancourt is the rather large shell of his former self - the defensive wunderkind who frustrated the heck out of the Rays.