The Rays welcome the Seattle Mariners into the Trop for a three-game series starting Tuesday. (Photo Credit: X-Rays Spex)

After taking two of three from the Boston Red Sox, including a pair of come-from-behind wins, the Tampa Bay Rays welcome the Mariners of Seattle into the big top for a three-game series starting Tuesday. The Mariners swept the Royals the weekend past.

At 9-7 on the season, the Rays enter play two games above .500, while the Mariners enter play at 10-6 and in first place in the AL West.

It was an eventful series against the Red Sox. While Tampa Bay had the opportunity to pull off three come from behind wins against Boston’s relief corps, they fell short on Friday — ending the contest with a one-run deficit and with the bases loaded. Yet, on Saturday, the Rays bullpen no-hit the Red Sox through nine innings, although it gave up the lead in the tenth. Even so, Kevin Kiermaier lashed a two-run homer in the bottom of the frame giving the Rays a hard-fought win. Finally, on Sunday, Shane McClanahan gave up two early runs but nothing else. That allowed the Rays to come back in the middle innings to pull ahead of Boston, and ultimately defeat those Massholes. They have now won four out of their last five games and the last two series.

Meanwhile, the Mariners got man after man into scoring position against the Royals which bore fruit; Seattle plated 22 runs across their three-game home set. Seattle went 7-2 on the homestand, despite being without Mitch Haniger, Paul Sewald, and manager Scott Servais due to COVID-19. They also took two of three from both Houston and Texas before sweeping the Royals.

Tampa Bay has been improving at the plate despite the BABIP luck dragons. Consider that their wRC+ has improved from 103 to 107, and now 121 over the last 10 or so days, while the team’s overall BABIP dropped from .317 to .282 over the last seven days. As evidenced in the series against Boston, a lot of hard-hit balls found gloves, stifling their offensive production. Still, they did just enough to eke out a couple of wins.

Seattle, on the other hand, continually applies pressure by getting runners on base, either by swinging the bat or taking walks. Over the last seven days, the Mariners have slashed .274 BA/.381 OBP/.471 SLG/.852 OPS with a .378 wOBA and a 14.2% BB%. They’ve also averaged more than five runs per game thanks to the quality of the hits they rack up — their .195 ISO speaks to that.

Over the next three days, Tampa Bay’s pitching staff will be tasked with slowing down a Mariners club that is, historically, difficult to beat. The Rays went 1-6 against Seattle last season — with the lone win coming at the Trop — and 6-12 since 2018.

Pitching Probables

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Josh Fleming (2-1, 5.40 ERA) behind opener Matt Wisler (1-0, 2.45 ERA), Drew Rasmussen (0-1, 5.25 ERA), and Corey Kluber (0-1, 3.68 ERA). The Mariners will turn to Logan Gilbert (2-0, 0.54 ERA), Marco Gonzales (1-1, 3.29 ERA), and Chris Flexen (1-2, 3.63 ERA).

Josh Fleming is expected to pitch behind opener Matt Wisler on Tuesday. Fleming also followed Wisler in his last outing, although he struggled against the Cubs, allowing three runs on four hits with two strikeouts and a walk over 3.1 innings. Fleming has a 2.38 FIP and 6.5 K/BB across 10 innings this season, so he could be due some positive regression. Fleming is 1-0 with a 5.56 ERA in two starts against the Mariners.

Logan Gilbert tossed 6.2 scoreless innings against the Rangers on Wednesday, allowing six hits while striking out four. Only one of the six hits against Gilbert went for extra bases, and he finished his outing without issuing a walk for his second consecutive turn. The right-hander went exactly five innings in his previous two outings, so his ability to pitch into the seventh was a pleasant development. Gilbert has allowed only one earned run over three turns this season, good for a tidy, yet likely unsustainable, 0.54 ERA. Superlatives aside, Gilbert is 0-1 with a 5.91 ERA in two career starts against Tampa Bay. He relies primarily on a 96 mph four-seam fastball and an 87 mph worm-killer slider with short glove-side cut, while also mixing in an 80 mph curveball with 12-6 movement, and an 86 mph changeup with arm-side fade. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (2-6, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI), Brandon Lowe (1-3, 2B), Manuel Margot (1-3, HR, RBI), Taylor Walls (1-2), Mike Zunino (1-3, HR, 2 RBI)

Drew Rasmussen allowed two earned runs on four hits and two walks while striking out four across three innings Wednesday against the Cubs. Rasmussen was staked to a 4-0 lead in the opening frame, yet he failed to work efficiently. He wasn’t hit particularly hard, although multiple batters reached base in every inning that he worked. Positively, Rasmussen generated four groundball outs and threw a first-pitch strike to 13 of the 16 hitters he faced. Rasmussen has a 5.25 ERA and has failed to complete five innings in two of his three starts to begin the season, so expect a short leash unless he can prove to the contrary. He appeared in one game against the Mariners last season, going 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA across 1.2 innings of work.

Chris Flexen allowed one run on six hits with five strikeouts in seven innings against the Royals on Friday. After allowing three earned runs and being tagged for the loss in each of his first two starts, Flexen shut down Kansas City’s offense aside from a Salvador Perez solo homer. Through three starts, the 27-year-old has an excellent 3.63 ERA — nearly identical to last season’s mark — and 11 strikeouts compared to just four walks through 17.1 innings. Flexen is 1-1 with a 6.52 ERA in two career starts against Tampa Bay. He relies primarily on his 92 mph four-seam fastball with some added backspin and an 88 mph cutter with extreme cut action and natural sink, while also mixing in an 82 mph changeup, and a 75 mph curveball with sharp downward bite. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (2-2, HR, RBI, BB), Yandy Diaz (1-3), Kevin Kiermaier (1-2, 3B, BB), Manuel Margot (3-5, 2B, HR, 3 RBI)

Corey Kluber allowed four runs on 11 hits in five innings on Friday against Boston. He walked a batter and struck out three. Kluber gave up a pair of runs in both the first and third innings, although the damage could have been greater had he not induced two double-play ground balls. After allowing only two runs and seven hits combined in his first two starts, the veteran right-hander put together his least effective start of the season, allowing 12 of 25 batters to reach safely. Kluber has been very good against Seattle over his career, going 4-2 with a 1.93 ERA in six career starts.

Marco Gonzales threw 4.2 innings on Thursday against Texas, allowing six runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk while striking out six. Gonzales was handed a first-inning five-run lead, but he gave a pair of those runs back in the second before getting through the third and fourth unscathed. However, things fell apart for the left-hander in the fifth inning when his infield committed three errors behind him. Gonzales had a chance to get out of the mess allowing just one run, but he gave up three straight two-out, extra-base hits — including a two-run homer — to be chased from the contest. He has a pristine 3-0 record with a 2.84 ERA in five starts against Tampa Bay. Gonzales relies primarily on his 80 mph changeup that has some natural sink to it and 89 mph four-seam fastball that also boasts sinking action, while also mixing in an 87 mph cutter, and a 78 mph curveball with sharp downward bite. Key Matchups: Kevin Kiermaier (2-5), Brandon Lowe (1-3, 2B), Manuel Margot (1-4, 2B, RBI, BB), Mike Zunino (1-3, 2B, RBI)