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Series Preview: Rays vs Mariners

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Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays defended home turf against the Boston Red Sox shipping them off to Boston with a sweep. The Rays hold a 5-4 advantage in the head to head and will look to increase their division lead when they host the Seattle Mariners this week.

We are not going to talk about the trip to Seattle earlier this season. Nope, not talking about it. The Mariners have surprised many with a 56-50 record but have been outscored by 56 runs on the season.

In the American League East standings the Rays turned a 1.5 game deficit into a 1.5 game advantage over the Red Sox. The New York Yankees are 7.0 games back. The Toronto Blue Jays are 8.0 games back. The Baltimore Orioles are 26.0 games back.

Matchups:

Monday 7:10 PM: Chris Flexen vs Michael Wacha
Tuesday 7:10 PM: Yusei Kikuchi vs Luis Patino
Wednesday 7:10 PM: Logan Gilbert vs Josh Fleming

Chris Flexen returned to the states after a very successful 2020 campaign in the Korean Baseball Organization. He’s thrown 108.2 innings of 3.81 ERA/3.72 FIP/4.57 xFIP baseball. He gets very few strikeouts (15.5%) but has avoided excessive baserunners with a 4.9% walk rate. He has ran very well with a 8.0% HR/FB rate. Even with a mid 4s xFIP he has been a solid innings eater. Flexen uses a 92.7 mph four-seam fastball and a 89.0 mph cutter over 30% of the time each. He’ll throw a 82.8 mph changeup and 77.0 mph curveball the remaining 30% of the time. When he does get whiffs it usually comes on the changeup.

Yusei Kikuchi has made significant progress in his third season in the majors. He has a career high 26.7% strikeout rate while maintaining an average 8.2% walk rate. In 114.1 innings he has a 4.01 ERA/4.40 FIP/3.37 xFIP. The only real problem has been in the homerun department. His 24.1% HR/FB rate is far and away the highest among qualified pitchers with only three players sitting above 20%. Kikuchi has used a 91.4 mph cutter as his primary pitch throwing it nearly 40% of the time. He adds a 95.5 mph four-seam fastball just over 30% of the time. He’ll throw a 82.9 mph slider to all batters, but will add in a 86.6 mph changeup to right handed batters. The four-seam fastball gets whiffs up in the zone while the slider is his put away pitch.

Logan Gilbert is a central Florida native. He went to Wekiva High School in Apopka and attended Stetson University in DeLand. Gilbert has showed the promise that made him a highly ranked prospect and first round pick. He has a 4.04 ERA/3.24 FIP/3.84 xFIP through his first 62.1 major league innings. He’s posted a 28.4% strikeout rate and 5.4% walk rate. He works off a 95.0 mph four-seam fastball that he throws over 60% of the time. His secondary weapon of choice is a 81.9 mph slider that he throws nearly 25% of the time. He’ll sprinkle in a 79.0 mph changeup to left handed batters and a 73.8 mph curveball to batters from both sides of the plate. The changeup and slider are very effective put away pitches.

The Seattle bullpen has performed solidly with a 4.10 ERA/3.69 FIP/4.18 xFIP. They made some changes before the deadline in trading away Kendall Graveman and JT Chargois but did bring in Diego Castillo in a trade with the Rays. Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, and Casey Sadler have been their most effective relievers.

The Mariners offense has struggled.

As a team the Mariners are hitting .221/.298/.382 and putting up a 92 wRC+. Despite their struggles getting on base they have done a better job of scoring runs than most teams in their situation. Their 4.23 runs per game just barely avoids ranking in the bottom ten.

Mitch Haniger has returned from two injury plagued seasons to lead the team offensively hitting .260/.317/.498 and putting up a 125 wRC+. He leads the team with 25 homers.

Ty France has been the other plus offensive performer hitting .272/.351/.421 and putting up a 119 wRC+. He has ten homers. He’s the best threat for the Mariners to get on base.

Kyle Seager (104 wRC+), JP Crawford (96 wRC+), and Luis Torrens (107 wRC+) have been solid producers at the plate.

Abraham Toro has hit two homers in 19 plate appearances after being traded to the Mariners last week.

Jarred Kelenic has struggled in his first 153 plate appearances in the majors. He’s hitting .124/.216/.204 and putting up a 24 wRC+. He has a ton of talent, but the jump to the majors is huge.

Former Florida State University Seminole Cal Raleigh made his major league debut a few weeks ago, but the catcher has struggled at the plate so far hitting .184/.244/.316 and putting up a 58 wRC+.

The Mariners are an average to below average defensive team. As a team they have produced +3 DRS and -6.9 UZR. Not terrible, but also not a team strength.

Time to build on the momentum.

2021 was the first time the Rays were in possession of the American League East division lead when the calendar turned to August. They came off a highly emotion series against the team that was ahead of them. The crowd was electric.

Now is time to continue to do what is expected of them. They need to continue to win series. Especially against teams who are worse than them. At the same time the Rays can’t afford to overlook the Mariners.