Tampa Bay Rays
In another quirk of the modern MLB schedule, this weekend marks the Mariners' first encounter with the Tampa Bay Rays this season. We're already done with 19 meetings with the Angels, but nothing yet for the Rays. Go figure.
In any event, Tampa Bay finds itself in the thick of things in the American League pennant race. Though ten games back of the Yankees in the AL East, they do currently hold the second position in the Wild Card standings, half a game ahead of Oakland. How they've managed this is something of a mystery; thanks largely to injuries, they've been making do with a patchwork pitching staff featuring Charlie Morton and a cast of thousands. Morton is excellent every fifth day and Emilio Pagán has been terrific in short relief for them, but otherwise it's been tricky. Even now, the Rays have not announced starting pitchers for this series, though Morton figures to go on Saturday; as the pioneers of the practice, they may well use openers with planned long relief the other two games.
The Rays' bats are good but not great on the whole. Bolstered by late-July acquisitions Jesús Aguilar and Eric Sogard, Tampa Bay will work opposing pitchers pretty hard; their top hitter had been OF/DH Austin Meadows, batting .291/.363/.539, after which it's a steep drop to Tommy Pham at .268/.368/.446. Sogard became the new top dog when he arrived on July 30th (now batting .303/.369/.494, and in seven games as a Ray is .348/.444/.696) and Aguilar, playing about two-thirds of the time, has hit .375 since his arrival August 1st.
A favored trading partner of Mariner GM Jerry Dipoto, there will be some familiar names on hand in the visitors' dugout, including catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Guillermo Heredia, and Pagán. Pitchers Andrew Kittredge and Ryan Yarbrough and first baseman Ji-man Choi were Mariner farmhands as well. Zunino and Heredia are doing for the Rays about what they did for the Mariners last year, Heredia almost eerily so—in 2018 as a Mariner, Heredia hit .236/.318/.342; this year as a Ray, his line so far is .231/.316/.350.
The Mariners will start Marco Gonzales on Friday night then feature Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc on Saturday and Sunday. Whether Milone and/or LeBlanc will start or follow more opener foolishness is yet to be determined.
|vs. AL West||10-8|
Who’s Hot & Not
Last 10 games
.297/.381/.541, 5 XBH, 6 RBI
.314/.385/.743, 5 HR, 9 RBI
.342/.457/.526, 3 XBH, 11 RBI
.225/.225/.425, 5 XBH, 2 RBI
.154/.313/.385, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 14 K
.231/.302/.282, 2 2B, 4 RBI
Last 3 series vs. Seattle
|6/10/18||SEA 5, TB 3|
|6/9/18||TB 7, SEA 3|
|6/8/18||SEA 4, TB 3|
|6/7/18||SEA 5, TB 4|
|6/3/18||SEA 2, TB 1|
|6/2/18||SEA 3, TB 1|
|6/1/18||SEA 4, TB 3|
|8/20/17||TB 3, SEA 0|
|8/19/17||SEA 7, TB 6|
|8/18/17||SEA 7, TB 1|
Kevin Cash: In his fifth year as skipper of the Rays, his hometown team, ex-catcher Cash is developing a reputation as an out-of-the-box strategist, at least as far as pitching goes. In addition to popularizing the "opener," the Rays have opted to use the starting rotation concept as more of a mild suggestion than a strict rule. Both last year and this Cash has not had a steady starting five to use anyway, as injuries have been plentiful, and it's an interesting way to go when you don't have confidence in your starters (this is different from what the Mariners and other teams have done with the opener "stratagem" in that the M's still use the ostensible starter every turn for as long as he can go).
The Rays are here on "players weekend," when teams wear different jerseys with more playful player-chosen nicknames on the back. Cash was pranked by someone in the Rays' clubhouse (presumably) when the nicknames to be used were announced on social media and Cash's was "Rocco's Seat Warmer," a reference to longtime Tampa Bay player and current Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli and implying that Cash was merely holding his job until Baldelli became available to take it. Cash seemed to take the prank in stride, but will not be wearing the nickname.
Fun fact: Cash is the only big-league manager to play in both the Little League World Series (Florida Northside Little League, 1989) and the College World Series (Florida State Seminoles, 1998-99).
Mike Zunino: One of the great busts of the Jack Zduriencik era, Mike Z never fulfilled his promise with the Mariners. Drafted third overall in 2012, Zunino was rushed to the Majors after just 52 games at Triple-A in 2013. Unsurprisingly, he was overmatched—he posted a line of just .214/.290/.329 in his rookie season, and was even worse in 2014 (.199/.254/.404). In six seasons in Seattle, Zunino amassed numbers that barely reached Medoza line: .207/.276/.406 to go with over 700 strikeouts. Hoping for a fresh start in Tampa Bay, Zunino is having his statistically worst season yet and has lost playing time to Travis d'Arnaud. Of course, Zunino's defense is still exceptional, and that's what keeps him around. But when you're batting .175, how long can that last?
Zunino was traded to the Rays along with Guillermo Heredia last November for Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley in one of Jerry Dipoto's best trades to date.
|Tampa Bay Rays||(2008 - present)|