The Rays host the Seattle Mariners looking for their fourth series victory in a row. The Rays have won seven of their last nine while the Mariners enter the series losing seven of their last ten.
The last series meeting between these teams represented a low point for the Rays: they were swept, and a Felix Hernandez fastball to the back of Logan Forsythe’s shoulder landed him on the DL for a month. This time around King Felix is on the disabled list.
Tuesday: Taijuan Walker vs Jake Odorizzi
Wednesday: Nathan Karns vs Drew Smyly
Thursday: James Paxton vs Blake Snell
Nathan Karns returns to the Trop.
The Rays are fortunate to miss Felix Hernandez while he is on the disabled list and get to face lefty James Paxton. Nathan Karns and Taijuan Walker have performed well.
Taijuan Walker enters the tilt with a 3.48 ERA that doesn’t align with his 4.36 FIP. Walker has been extremely lucky versus left handed batters as they have hit .162/.224/.370 on a .144 BABIP while allowing a 29.5% hard contact rate. Right handed batters have had the opposite results as they have been fortunate en route to a .310/.348/.461 line with a .387 BABIP. He has had a problem with the long ball as he’s allowed a 17.1% FB/HR rate.
Nathan Karns makes his return to Tropicana Field after the winter trade that saw Brad Miller and Logan Morrison acquired by the Rays. Karns leads the Mariners with 1.1 fWAR from the rotation. He has flipped his ERA/FIP from last year with the Rays 3.67/4.09 to 4.09/3.68 with the Mariners. He has limited the homerun, dropping his HR/FB rate to 8.8%. Walks have been a problem, as he’s issued free passes to 10.9% of batters faced.
James Paxton has been effective in short outings since being called up. His first start on June 1 was by far his weakest as he allowed eight runs, (albeit just three earned), over 3.2 innings. In his last outing he held the Rangers scoreless over 6.1 innings. It’s only a 16.1 inning sample, but he’s striking out 32.9% while walking only 5.5%. Throughout his career left handed batters have had much more success, hitting .326/.412/.425. The Rays strength offensively is still in right handed bats that crush lefties, so there’s hope that the Rays can match up well against him.
Mariners bullpen has been a strength.
The Mariners enter the series with the third lowest bullpen ERA in the American League at 3.13, but over the last week they haven’t been nearly as effective. The last seven days they have the second highest bullpen ERA at 5.40 (6.34 FIP). Let’s hope this time small sample sizes are indeed predictive.
Steve Cishek has performed well on his way to picking up 14 saves with a 2.83 ERA (3.78 FIP). He’s striking out 31.0% and walking only 6.2% of batters faced. He’s already been touched for five homers.
Right handed reliever Nick Vincent has been the Mariner’s most effective reliever, posting a 2.28 ERA (2.61 FIP) over 27.2 innings while striking out 31.2% and walking only 3.7% of batters faced.
Left handed reliever Vidal Nuno has been equally effective against batters of both handedness. He’s posted a 1.57 ERA (2.38 FIP) over 23 innings. He has struck out 28.6% while walking only 2.2%.
The worst performer out of the pen has been former Ray Joaquin Benoit, who has posted a 4.26 ERA (6.12 FIP) over 12.2 innings after spending time on the disabled list. With a 13.0% walk rate, his control has been one of his problems.
The Mariners offense is really good.
The Mariners enter the series with the third highest wRC+ in MLB at 112. They have hit for a combined .260/.329/.440 line. The Mariners currently have 94 homeruns, second in MLB, and have scored 315 runs (5.0 runs per game), fourth in MLB.
The Mariners absolutely crush the ball against right handed pitching. As a team they have hit .267/.335/.475, 117 wRC+. That mark is good for third best by wRC+. The Mariners have been more average against left handed pitching as they have hit only .246/.311/.422, 102 wRC+.
There are three big bats from which the Rays pitchers need to limit damage: Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Nelson Cruz.
Cano has enjoyed a bounce back after a disappointing 2015 with the Mariners. He is hitting .295/.349/.574, 152 wRC+ with 18 homeruns. He only hit 14 and 21 in his previous two seasons in Seattle. Cano is absolutely crushing right handed pitching with a .335/.386/.683, 191 wRC+ line.
Kyle Seager has enjoyed a breakout season with the stick as he’s hitting .280/.355/.504 with 11 homeruns and a 134 wRC+. He’s crushing right handed pitching to the tune of .322/.408/.566, 165 wRC+.
Nelson Cruz has been the right handed bat to balance the lineup, hitting .293/.377/.530, 149 wRC+. He’s been good against pitchers of either hand, but has hit .289/.360/.618, 161 wRC+ against left handed pitchers.
The timing makes sense to call up Blake Snell for his return to the majors.
It was only a matter of time after Blake Snell’s impressive debut against the Yankees that he would return to the mound. This will be his first start at the Trop and strategically it was a good move to add another starting left handed pitcher in this series. Hopefully this time it’s for good and he’s able to be an effective member of the rotation for the coming years.
Logan Forsythe has the opportunity to seek revenge against the team that sent him to the disabled list for a month. And we can hope that Logan Morrison and Brad Miller go all Elliott Johnson against their former team.
The Rays need to continue to pick up series wins as they work themselves back to a .500 record. While the last series caught a Seattle team riding a momentum wave, we can hope this time the Rays are catching the Mariners on a downswing.