The Tampa Bay Rays are set to kick off a three-game series at SafeCo Field in Seattle on Friday. Tampa Bay is coming off a winning series against Oakland, where the Rays took three of four. The Seattle Mariners have played well since the suspension of Robinson Cano, getting all the way to the 33-20 mark. However, they split their most recent series with the Rangers, allowing 17 runs along the way.
The Rays had won five straight before dropping the series finale against the Athletics on Thursday. While the offense over the last month has been average, the pitching has been fantastic. Over the last eight games, six of which Tampa Bay has won, the Rays allowed just 17 runs total (2.13 runs per game), and more than three runs in any game just once.
I said it before, and I will say it again: in order to be successful in baseball, you must beat those directly ahead of you in the rankings. As it stands, the Mariners are 5-1/2 games ahead of the Rays in the Wildcard standings. True, it may be a fool’s errand to even think about Postseason baseball 55-games into the 2018 season, but the Rays have an opportunity to leap-frog a direct competitor — one that is under-performing Tampa Bay, at least as it relates to BaseRuns. The Rays are performing more like a 31-24 team, with a +33 run differential, while Seattle should be 30-26 on the season, with a +22 run differential. They also have outperformed the Mariners in almost every important offensive category over the last 14-days, boasting a better wRC+ (104 vs 94), wRAA (2.7 vs -3.9), wOBA (.321 vs .305) and ISO (.151 vs .125).
If they can continue to play good baseball, the Rays have a good chance of winning the series.
Over the next three days Kevin Cash will lean on the bullpen (13-12, 3.95), Chris Archer (3-3, 4.29 ERA), and Blake Snell (7-3, 2.56 ERA). Scott Servais will counter with Mike Leake (5-3, 4.93 ERA), Marco Gonzales (5-3, 3.60 ERA), and Felix Hernandez (5-4, 5.83 ERA).
Sergio Romo is slated to start the bullpen day in the series opener. The right-hander has allowed runs in three of his past four appearances, totaling six earned runs over 2-2/3 innings. On Tuesday in Oakland, Romo pitched on a third consecutive day and allowed two runs in the ninth, but he came away with the save. RHP Austin Pruitt is slated to cover the bulk of the innings, though not necessarily immediately after Romo.
Mike Leake was credited with the win against Minnesota on Sunday, scattering four hits and one earned run over eight strong innings. He struck out two and walked none. Leake needed just 86 pitches (62 strikes, 72% strike ratio) to make it through his eight innings before Alex Colome closed out the game. His 4.93 ERA and 1.34 WHIP through his 65-2/3 innings this season aren’t eye-popping, and Leake’s high-contact, low-strikeout ways mean that he’s susceptible to getting blown up from time to time — see his starts on 5/15 (five earned runs), 4/28 (four earned runs), 4/23 (eight earned runs) and 4/18 (five earned runs) for reference. 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 (2-5), Brad Miller (4-6, 2B, 2 3B), Wilson Ramos (5-21, 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB)
Chris Archer got the start for Tampa Bay on Monday, and threw six innings of shutout baseball. He allowed four hits, walked two and struck out seven. Even though his slider was inconsistent all day — at times it showed good tilt and finish, while at other times it stayed up in the zone and looked flat — his fastball was more on point, which made his rolling sliders effective as off speed pitches. Even so, his fastball command was erratic as well, as Archer threw just 18 of 35 heaters for strikes, and just 10 of 22 first pitch strikes over his six innings of work. The right-hander is 1-2 with a 2.80 ERA in six career starts against the Mariners, and 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three starts at SafeCo Field.
Marco Gonzales allowed one run (un-earned) on four hits and four walks over 6-2/3 innings of work on Monday. Gonzalez has given up just two unearned runs over 19-1/3 innings in his last three starts and is 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA over his last seven, while going six-plus innings in six of those outings. This season the 26 year-old southpaw he 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: Wilson Ramos (2-2)
Blake Snell allowed just one run (unearned) on two hits and two walks while fanning seven over 5-2/3 innings of a win against the Athletics. Snell finished just an out shy of a quality start, as he had already reached 97 pitches (62 strikes, 64% strike rate) and allowed a runner to third following a hit and wild pitch. The southpaw was otherwise sharp once again Tuesday, collecting his AL-leading seventh win (tied for first) while improving to 9.7 K/9. Snell boasts an impressive 2.56 ERA and 1.00 WHIP heading into his next start Sunday against the Mariners. King Felix, meet King Blake.
Felix Hernandez gave up five runs on six hits and two walks while striking out four over five innings on Tuesday. Hernandez had allowed just two runs through five frames before running into trouble when he came back out for the sixth. The former Cy Young Award winner was pulled from the game with the bases loaded and none out, yet the bullpen allowed all three runs to score to cross the plate, causing Hernandez’s ERA to bloat to 5.83. He has been very tough on the Rays over his career, going 8-2 with a 1.94 ERA in 16 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 (2-3), Carlos Gomez (6-17, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB), Wilson Ramos (1-3, HR, RBI)
— Last Friday Denard Span and Alex Colome were traded to Seattle for a pair of prospects, and expect the now former Rays to play with a chip on their shoulder.
It’s going to be a little odd facing them so soon, Span said Thursday, but definitely looking forward to it.
Chris Archer has similarly conflicted feelings, saying:
It’s going to be fun. We all know it’s going to be a quality at-bat because that’s what (Span) provides more than anything. … So it’ll be fun to face him, kind of like when you’re young and you’re playing against your friends in Little League, just because it’s so fresh.
Not really looking forward to facing Colome because we know how good he is. Definitely happy for the opportunity both of them have over there. That team is playing really well, and they have nice, defined roles.
— Per Marc Topkin…
RF Carlos Gomez sat out Thursday as a precaution after feeling tightness in his groin area while running out a triple Wednesday, having been on the DL earlier due to a strain in the same area. Gomez said he should be good to return Friday.
— The Rays took six-of-eight California games vs. the Angels and Athletics, two teams ahead of them in the Wildcard race.