After an abysmal road trip, the Rays are happy to return home. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

Less than a week after they faced one another in Seattle, the Mariners are in St. Petersburg where they are set to start a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays, starting Thursday night. The Rays are coming off a horrid road trip, having lost six straight, while the Mariners have won five out of six to climb to 38-23 on the season.

(Stats Credit: ESPN)

Just was just a week ago the headline would have read “Rays keep winning,” however, the team hit a rough patch starting in the final game of their four-game set against the A’s, and have lost six straight games heading into their second series with Seattle. There is some hope for the Rays, however, as the youth wave is finally crashing in Tampa Bay, with the expected callup of 1B Jake Bauers, who joins Christian Arroyo and Diego castillo, where were promoted previously.

Bauers, 22, was in the midst of his second solid season with Durham, slashing .279 BA/.357 OBP/.426 SLG/.783 OPS with five homers and 24 RBI over 222 plate appearances. Even though he is a natural first baseman, Bauers has also spent time in the outfield, offering the team some flexibility in the field. You can read more about his promotion here.

In any case, each of the Rays three losses to the Mariners came by one or two runs. Tampa Bay’s pitching staff did a good job containing Seattle’s hitters for the most part, keeping the Rays in each game. It will be incumbent upon the offense to use the lessons they learned from the Mariners’ hurlers against them. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, as the Rays averaged just 2.44 runs per game over the span of their nine-game road trip.

(Stats Credit: FanGraphs)

Pitching Probables

Over the next four days, Kevin Cash will lean on Ryne Stanek (1-1, 3.65 ERA) who will be followed by Austin Pruitt (1-2, 4.21 ERA), Wilmer Font (0-0, 1.50 ERA) who will be followed by Matt Andriese (1-3, 3.31 ERA), Blake Snell (7-3, 2.36 ERA), and Nathan Eovaldi (1-1, 3.27 ERA). Scott Servais will counter with Mike Leake (5-3, 4.71 ERA), Marco Gonzalez (6-3, 3.38 ERA), Felix Hernandez (6-4, 5.33 ERA), and James Paxton (5-1, 2.95 ERA).

(Stats Credit: FanGraphs)

Austin Pruitt allowed three earned runs on seven hits over five innings against the Mariners on Friday. He recorded three strikeouts. Pruitt has pitched at least five innings in three consecutive relief appearances, and — assuming Ryne Stanek fares well, and posts two innings of work at the start of the game — factors to pitch into the seventh inning in the series opener. All told Pruitt is 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA in three games (13-1/3 innings) against Seattle, although his 4.07 BABIP against the Mariners implies that he has been the recipient of the bad luck dragons.

Mike Leake didn’t factor into the decision Friday, allowing two earned runs on six hits over seven innings against the Rays. He fanned a season-high eight and walked none in the extra inning win. It was the third consecutive sharp outing for Leake, who has given up just four earned runs over his last 21-2/3 innings — allowing him to lower his ERA down from 6.00 to 4.71 over 72-2/3 total  innings of work. The Rays had a difficult time with squaring up the hurler, who baffled them throughout the course of the start. This season he has relied primarily on his 90 mph sinker with heavy sinking action, and an 88 mph cutter with some natural sink, while also mixing in an 85 mph changeup that dives down and out of the zone and has slight armside fade, an 81 mph slider with excellent depth and short glove-side cut, and a 79 mph knuckle curveball with sweeping glove-side movement. Leake is 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in two starts (13 innings) against the Rays. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (3-8), Matt Duffy (2-3), Johnny Field (1-2, HR, RBI), Carlos Gomez (8-20, 2B, 3B, HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB), Mallox Smith (1-3)

Matt Andriese is slated to enter Friday’s “bullpen day” game against the Mariners after opening pitcher Wilmer Font. Rays skipper Kevin Cash had been coy about Andriese’s exact role for Friday’s series opener, a game that Chris Archer was slated to start before his placement on the DL with a left abdominal strain. The right-hander will likely enter the game fairly early on, in the second or third inning, and could potentially find himself working a relatively extensive long-relief outing if he proves effective. Andriese gave up the game winning homer in the Mariners’ 4-3 walk-off win last Friday, after falling behind Mitch Haniger in the bottom of the 12th inning. All told, Andriese is 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA in two games (totaling 3-2/3 innings) against the Mariners.

Marco Gonzalez has allowed only one earned run in 26 innings of work (four starts), including 6-2/3 innings of one-run ball against the Rays on Saturday. The 26 year-old southpaw is 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA over his last eight outings. This season Gonzalez has relied primarily on a firm 85 mph changeup with slight armside fade and natural sink, a whiffy 91 mph sinker, and a 79 mph worm killer curveball, while also mixing in n 88 mph cutter good “rise” and strong cutting action, and a 91 mph four-seam fastball. Key Matchup: Christian Arroyo (1-2, BB), Wilson Ramos (3-5, 2B, RBI), Rob Refsnyder (1-3), Daniel Robertson (2-3)

Blake Snell was brilliant on Sunday, allowing just two hits over six innings while striking out 12 without and walking anyone. Snell overpowered the Mariners, setting an American League record by striking out the first seven hitters of the game on his way to his second double-digit strikeout effort of the season. He now sports a 2.36 ERA and a pristine 0.94 WHIP over 76-1/3 innings. Snell is now 1-1 with a 0.55 ERA in three starts (13-1/3 innings) against Seattle.

Felix Hernandez was credited the win against Tampa Bay on Sunday, scattering five hits over eight innings, while striking out seven and walking one. It was vintage Hernandez, who turned in a throwback performance by baffling the Rays on 106 pitches. His 5.33 ERA on the season still isn’t pretty, and he’s definitely not the dominant force he once was on the mound, yet King Felix has done a good job eating up innings for Seattle this season. His 2.14 K/BB is also still a respectable number. He has been very tough on the Rays over his career, going 9-2 with a 1.89 ERA in 17 starts, although he has allowed at least four earned runs in six or fewer innings in four of his last five outings. Key Matchups: Matt Duffy (2-6), Johnny Field (1-3), Carlos Gomez (6-20, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB), Wilson Ramos (1-3, HR, RBI), Daniel Robertson (2-3), Jesus Sucre (1-3)

Nathan Eovaldi allowed four runs on four hits over five innings on Tuesday. He walked one and struck out four. Eovaldi wasn’t terrible, throwing 66 of 86 pitches for strikes (77% strike rate), and 18 of 21 first pitch strikes. He, however, couldn’t put batters away and was punished for it. In two career starts against Seattle (12 innings), Eovaldi is 0-0 with a 0.75 ERA.

James Paxton got the win on Tuesday, allowing one run on nine hits and a walk while punching out six over 7-2/3 innings against Houston. The nine hits were a season-high — eclipsing his previous high of six — but he was able to work out of trouble thanks in part to three inning-ending double plays. Paxton was otherwise sharp, notching his seventh quality start in eight tries — allowing him to lower his ERA to 2.95. The southpaw also boasts an impressive 4.25 K/BB over 82-1/3 innings. This season he has relied primarily on a 96 mph swing-and-miss four-seam fastball and a hard 82 mph 12-6 knuckle curveball, while also mixing in an 89 mph cutter with heavy sink and a hard 96 mph sinker with little sinking action. Paxton is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (4-14, HR, 2 RBI, BB), Carlos Gomez (3-12, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB)

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