After sweeping the Boston Red Sox, which allowed Tampa Bay to take sole possession of first place in the division, the Rays will look for a little revenge when they welcome the Seattle Mariners into the Trop for a three-game series, starting Monday. The Rays are 4-2 on the homestand, while the Mariners dropped two of three to the Rangers over the weekend.
At 64-42 on the season, the Rays enter play 22-games over .500 and atop the American League East by 1.5 games. Seattle enters the series at 56-60 on the season, eight games back in the American League West and 3.5 games back of the Athletics for the final Wildcard spot.
While Tampa Bay has only the 22nd best team batting average in baseball (.234) and the 13th best slugging percentage (.407), the team has scored the third-most runs in all of baseball. Put differently, they have figured out a way to get a hit when it counts the most, and because of it, the Rays are one of baseball’s best hitting teams with runners on base. 11 of their overall 19 runs against Boston came with two outs, which tends to give credence to that idea.
The Mariners have stumbled a bit of late, resulting in inconsistent play — they have lost three of the last four games after previously winning four straight.
Austin Meadows has been Tampa Bay’s most consistent hitter with 20 home runs (he added two more in the last four days) and a team-leading 76 RBI. Brandon Lowe has 16 doubles, a team-leading 22 homes, and 52 RBI.
It should also be noted that Wander Franco is trending in the right direction, Yandy Díaz has been hot over the last month — slashing .317 BA/.377 OBP/.603 SLG/.980 OPS/.413 wOBA with four homers — Joey Wendle has done, well … Joey Wendle-like things over the same stretch, and Francisco Mejía has been pretty damn good in the batter’s box over his last 41 plate appearances, slashing .289 BA/.341 OBP/.605 SLG/.946 OPS with a .396 wOBA. The Rays have also received countless contributions up and down the lineup. Suffice it to say, this isn’t the same Tampa Bay team that was swept in Seattle, in mid-June.
The Mariners have certainly surprised many, as they are running third in their respective division despite the fact that they have the worst team batting average in baseball at .221. Seattle’s SLG (.383) is only marginally better and ranks in at 26th in baseball. They are in the bottom third of runs scored with 445. Mitch Haniger is Seattle’s offensive leader with 25 home runs, while Kyle Seager has become Seattle’s most consistent hitter with 17 doubles, 22 home runs, and a team-leading 64 RBI. While Seager is averaging only .221, he clearly has made his hits count.
Kevin Cash will turn to Michael Wacha (2-2, 4.79 ERA), Luis Patiño (2-2, 4.26 ERA), and Josh Fleming (8-5, 4.15 ERA) the next three days. Scott Servais will counter with Chris Flexen (9-5, 3.81 ERA), Yusei Kikuchi (6-6, 4.01 ERA), and Logan Gilbert (5-2, 4.04 ERA).
Michael Wacha allowed one unearned run on three hits and a walk across five innings. He struck out nine — matching his season-high. The right-hander was pulled after just 79 pitches (54 strikes, 68% strike rate), although his nine whiffs also tied his season-high. Wacha didn’t surrender a homer for the first time since June 24 after getting taken deep eight times in his last four turns. On the season, Wacha sports a lowered 4.79 ERA and 4.74 FIP on the season, with a 3.47 K/BB and a 1.30 WHIP across 71.1 frames. In his last start vs. Seattle, the right-hander gave up five runs across 3.2 innings.
Chris Flexen allowed seven runs on nine hits with three strikeouts in four innings on Tuesday against the Astros. Flexen surrendered a Yordan Alvarez three-run homer in the first inning, then allowed four more runs on five hits in the fourth to snap his streak of starts with three runs or fewer. It’s the 27-year-old righty’s second straight loss, though he sports a solid though 3.81 ERA and a 3.72 FIP, to go with a mediocre 1.25 WHIP and low 5.7 K/9 across 108.2 innings. Flexen relies primarily on a 93 mph four-seam fastball and an 89 mph cutter that has extreme cut action, while also mixing in an 83 mph changeup, and a 77 mph curveball that has exceptional bite. Key Matchups: Nelson Cruz (2-4, RBI, BB), Manuel Margot (2-2, 2B, HR, 3 RBI), Joey Wendle (1-1, BB)
Luis Patiño allowed three hits and two walks while striking out eight across six scoreless frames on Thursday against the Yankees. Patiño dominated the Yankees lineup throughout the outing and out-pitched Gerrit Cole to earn the win. The right-hander flashed great swing-and-miss stuff, inducing 19 swinging strikes across 97 total pitches. With Rich Hill out of the picture, it’s reasonable to project that Patiño will remain in a starting role. On the season, Patiño has a 4.26 ERA and a 3.66 FIP, with a 1.17 WHIP, and a 3.60 K/BB across 31.2 innings of work.
Yusei Kikuchi was tagged for four runs (three earned) on seven hits and two walks across five innings on Wednesday against Houston. He struck out seven. Kikuchi didn’t have his best stuff and delivered another subpar outing, as he has now allowed at least three earned runs in each of his last four turns. Even though he has fanned at least seven in three straight outings, the left-hander also owns an inflated 7.71 ERA during that aforementioned four-game stretch. On the season, Kikuchi has a 401 ERA and a 4.40 FIP, with a 1.16 WHIP, and a 3.26 K/BB across 114.1 innings of work. He held the Rays to one run on four hits across seven baffling innings in June, with six punchouts. Key Matchups: Nelson Cruz (4-5, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB), Manuel Margot (2-5, BB), Austin Meadows (1-3)
Josh Fleming allowed three runs on eight hits and two walks with seven strikeouts across five innings against Boston on Friday. While it wasn’t a pretty performance by any stretch of the imagination, Fleming came up big when he needed to and escaped more than a few self-induced jams. He, and the rest of the relief corps, ultimately stranded nine runners on the basepaths. It was the first time the left-hander completed five innings since June 19, when he posted 6.1 innings against Seattle. Fleming still threw a few too many balls (40 of 99 pitches, 40% ball rate), and he saw his ERA (4.15) and FIP (4.37) inch up to go along with a 1.19 WHIP, and a 2.32 K/BB across 82.1 innings. Even so, it was a gutsy outing and something to build on. The left-hander is 0-0 with a 7.11 ERA against the Mariners this season thanks to a 6.1 IP/5 R/7 H/2 BB outing in June.
Logan Gilbert allowed four runs on six hits and a walk over 5.2 innings Friday against the Rangers. He struck out six. Gilbert worked through three scoreless frames before surrendering a run in each of the fourth and fifth innings. He then served up two solo shots to Adolis Garcia and Jonah Heim in the sixth. Prior to Friday’s outing, the rookie right-hander had gone 22.2 straight innings without giving up a home run. His ERA is now up to 4.04 and his FIP sits at 3.24, with a 1.06 WHIP, and a 5.21 K/BB through 62.1 frames. Gilbert is 0-0 with a 6.35 ERA in one, 5.2 inning start against the Rays this season. He allowed four runs on six hits including two homers in that outing. Key Matchups: Manuel Margot (1-3, HR, RBI), Austin Meadows (1-3), Joey Wendle (2-2, 2B, RBI), Mike Zunino (1-1, HR, 2 RBI)
— The team should get news on Chris Archer before the start of the series. The right-hander was to go five innings or 75 pitches in a rehab outing on Sunday, however, he was pulled after 31 pitches and one inning due to left hip soreness. The Rays said Archer couldn’t get his footing on the mound and the move was precautionary.