Series Preview: Mariners (48-68) vs. Rays (66-50)

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rays travel 3,000 miles to challenge formidable Mariners

The Mariners have not faced the Rays since June 10, 2018, the final game of a four-game series Seattle won 3-1. Last year the Mariners and the Rays finished with nearly identical records, the Mariners finishing 89-73 and the Rays finishing 90-72. The Rays are on pace to finish with a similar record to last year’s. The Mariners... are not.

The Rays are better than the Mariners in every way this year. Gone is the notion that our offense can carry us when our pitching and defense can’t. For the Mariners to succeed against the Rays, they will need the sort of above-average pitching performances that have been rare this year, and rarer still in the absence of Mike Leake.

Tampa Bay’s offense this year has been carried by a trio of Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham and Brandon Lowe, each with a WAR of 2.5. All-star second baseman Brandon Lowe has been sidelined since July 3 with a bruised shin and there is no timetable yet his return, so the Mariners will avoid facing him this weekend. Starting in his place, however, will be Mike Brosseau, a rookie who signed with the Rays as an amateur free agent in 2016. Brousseau is batting .299 in 93 plate appearances, with 26 hits but 22 strikeouts. Also missing from the lineup will be number 6 offensive producer Yandy Diaz, out since injuring his foot July 22nd. There is also no immediate target for Diaz’s return.

Oh, and Mike Zunino. Batting just .175, but is it a coincidence that the touted pitch framer and former first round draft pick who frustrated Mariners fans for six years is now catching one of the best pitching staffs in baseball? Is it? I’m asking.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Charlie F***in’ Mortin, as they say

If there’s a match-up in our favor this weekend it’s this one. Despite a strong start to his season, Jalen Beeks, in his second year in the majors, has given up 13 earned runs in 15 innings since the beginning of July. In that span he has allowed 13 hits, 5 of them home runs, and 6 walks. In his most recent appearance, a four-inning effort against Miami, he hit 3 batters (he did earn the win though, because Florida). However, that Beeks’ ERA is only 3.77 despite his performance the past six weeks speaks to his earlier success. Scouting reports say Beeks, formerly the number 7-ranked prospect in the Red Sox organization, throws a low-90s fastball that is deceptive enough to draw a lot of swinging strikes, to go along with an above-average changeup as the standouts in his arsenal. Beeks will face Marco Gonzales Friday.

Charlie Morton, as of Friday morning, is set to face TBD in Saturday’s game. TBD meaning, of course, To Be Defeated, because does it even matter? At 35 Mortin is having the best year of his career, his FIP sitting at a league-leading 2.81. He’s thought to be a Cy Young contender, albeit a much less likely choice than former teammates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole of the Astros. In his last game, a 2-0 loss to the Blue Jays, he gave up both runs in 7 innings on 7 hits, striking out 9 and walking none. Seattle’s offense has the 5th highest strikeout rate in all of baseball, and Mortin strikes out a third of the batters he faces. He will strike out many Mariners Saturday, and it probably doesn’t matter much what pitcher we put in to face him. Prove me wrong, TBD.

You probably noticed up there that the Rays lead the league in starting pitching by FIP-. As it turns out, their entire rotation is pretty damn good. Ryan Yarbrough is only their sixth-ranked starting pitcher, but he is also their second-ranked relief pitcher, having thrown roughly 23 of his innings this year from the bullpen. In his 34 innings as a starting pitcher this year he has posted an ERA of 3.97 and a BABIP of .229. In his most recent appearance, entering the game in the 3rd inning of a 7-6 win over Toronto, he gave up 1 earned run in 4.2 innings on 4 hits and 1 walk, striking out 1.

Does anyone remember that we drafted and signed Yarbrough in 2014, taking him in the 4th round? And that we traded him to Tampa Bay in 2017? Along with Mallex Smith (and Carlos Vargas)? For Drew Smyly? Who never even pitched for us? I was just wondering if anyone remembered that.

The Big Picture

As Mariners fans, do we want our division rivals the Athletics to do well as long as we aren’t competing? Are we all just frenemies out here on the West Coast, having each other’s backs so long as we have nothing to lose? Or are they simply the competition, a team we want to see fail at all times because years ago chance made us division-mates? How we answer that may inform how we feel about this series. The Rays currently sit half a game ahead of Oakland for the second wild card spot. In the unlikely event that we, say, sweep the Rays, the Athletics could gain valuable ground in the standings. In the much more likely event that the Rays sweep the Mariners, Tampa would, at minimum, stay where they are, holding the palm of their hand against the forehead of tantrum-throwing Oakland, trying to keep them an arm’s distance away. Of course, the Athletics are playing the White Sox, who are nearly as likely to be swept as the Mariners, so maybe nothing will change at all save for time, all of us a few days closer to death.

We can’t all be Detroit.