Tampa Bay Rays
When the defending AL champs came to our place in June, they were 17 games over .500 and atop the American League East. Then the Mariners staged an upset and swept the four-game series in dramatic fashion, knocking the Rays into second place behind the Boston Red Sox where they spent the bulk of the next month and a half. But they've recently regained first place and currently sit 1½ games above Boston just in time for the M's to give them another knock-down. At least, that's the plan; having just lost two of three to the hapless Texas Rangers by serving up a trio of ninth-inning homers to turn victories into defeats, the Mariners are in a bit of trouble, and how they deal with that psychologically when playing on the Rays' home AstroTurf will be a rather large factor.
Being a first-place team, Tampa Bay figures to be a tough customer despite a team batting line that scares nobody: .234/.316/.407. Remarkably, with that line the Rays are second in the league in runs scored. How? Good question. Like a lot of clubs these days, they rely on the longball and have five hitters with double-digit home-run totals in Brandon Lowe, Randy Arozarena, Austin Meadows, and ex-M's Mike Zunino and Nelson Cruz. Wendle and 1B/3B Yandy Díaz have been the Rays' best overall hitters, with Ji-man Choi chipping in big hits now and then as well. Cruz brought his boomstick to west Florida in a late-July trade with Minnesota and has two homers with his new club, but he's yet to deliver as he had with the Twins (.167/.242/.367 in eight games as a Ray).
The Rays have also been winning with a solid relief corps and outstanding defense. However they manage to score all those runs, the bullpen makes it stand up. Even with Castillo now an ex-Ray, All-Star Andrew Kittredge and Matt Wisler are anchoring a tough crew to back up a rather middling group of starters. There has been a lot of roster shuffling, though, with no less than nine Tampa Bay pitchers currently on the injured list; that includes staff ace Tyler Glasnow, who will miss next year as well thanks to Tommy John surgery. Scheduled to start in this series against Seattle are Michael Wacha, Luis Patino, and Josh Fleming. The veteran Wacha has yet to reclaim the ability he showed as a 17-game winner with the Cardinals years ago, but is rebounding reasonably well from a tough season as a New York Met in 2020; despite just four decisions (2-2), Tampa Bay is 12-6 in his starts thus far and one of the losses was his last time out, when he allowed zero earned runs to the Yankees in five innings. Patino has been awesome at home (1-1, 0.61 ERA, 0.750 WHIP, .140 BA against) and awful on the road (1-1, 7.41, 1.529, .278), so the M's are catching him in his preferred space; that split doesn't extend to his time in Triple-A this year, though (seven starts), where he gave up nine runs at home in Durham and one on the road. Left-hander Fleming had a terrific rookie season in 2020 (5-0, 2.78 ERA) and a decent first half in ’21, but since the All-Star break he's taken it on the chin, allowing 13 runs in three starts; the M's cubbed him back in June for five runs in Seattle's 6-5 win, the only time they've faced him.
There are a lot of Seattle ties to the Rays as Tampa Bay has been one of Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto's favorite trading partners. In addition to Zunino and Cruz, Wisler, Kittredge, Choi, pitcher Ryan Yarbrough, and the freshly-acquired J.T. Chargois were all Mariners or Mariner farmhands at one time (and Wisler was acquired in exchange for another former Seattle farmhand, pitcher Michael Plassmeyer).
|vs. AL West||13-15|
Who’s Hot & Not
Last 10 games
.306/.405/.583, 2 HR, 6 RBI
.350/.395/.500, 4 XBH, 5 RBI
.333/.378/.690, 4 HR, 6 RBI
.353/.389/.824, 2 HR, 5 RBI
.107/.156/.107, 6 Ks
.158/.233/.342, 14 Ks
Last 3 series vs. Seattle
|6/20/21||SEA 6, TB 2|
|6/19/21||SEA 6, TB 5|
|6/18/21||SEA 5, TB 1|
|6/17/21||SEA 6, TB 5|
|8/21/19||TB 7, SEA 6|
|8/20/19||SEA 7, TB 4|
|8/19/19||SEA 9, TB 3|
|8/11/19||TB 1, SEA 0|
|8/10/19||TB 5, SEA 4|
|8/9/19||TB 5, SEA 3|
Kevin Cash: A top-three finisher for Manager of the Year the past three years—and winner of the award in last year's mini-season—Cash has earned a reputation for success, no mean feat when you consider the relative paucity of resources in low-budget Tampa Bay. The winningest manager in the franchise's history by percentage (Cash's predecessor, current Angels skipper Joe Maddon, has more wins in total, having helmed the Rays from 2006-2014), Cash had no managerial experience when he was hired in 2015; after retiring as a player in 2012, the ex-catcher served as Cleveland's bullpen coach for three years and then went straight to managing the Rays. At 43, Cash is the 4th-youngest big-league manager and just two years senior to his current DH, Nelson Cruz.
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 the Medoza line: .207/.276/.406 to go with over 700 strikeouts. Since moving to the Rays, Zunino has been even worse, batting just .173/.257/.394 in 190 games to date. He is, however, on pace to have his best year as a home-run hitter; his career best is 25 bombs, with the M's in 2017.
Zunino was traded to Tampa Bay along with outfielder Guillermo Heredia after the 2018 campaign for outfielders Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley. Mallex didn't exactly work out here and was released by the Mets a couple of weeks ago, but Fraley was a hidden gem in that deal and is finally getting an overdue chance to show his worth as a big leaguer.
|Tampa Bay Rays||(2008 - present)|
|League Champions:||2008, 2020|
Tyler Glasnow: The Rays' ace pitcher is on the shelf for a long while after injuring his UCL in his most recent start, and he blames the Commissioner's office and the league for his woes. "My lifelong dream—I want to go out and win a Cy Young, I want to be an All-Star, and now it's all just shit on." This is because he, and the rest of the pitchers in baseball, were told that the rule against using foreign substances on the baseball will now be enforced in earnest and he felt he had to compensate for not using grip/spin enhancers by overstressing his arm. "I just threw 80 innings," Glasnow said, "then you tell me I can't use anything in the middle of the year. I have to change everything I've been doing the entire season. I'm telling you I truly believe that's why I got hurt." The problem with this argument, of course, is that the rules didn't change in the middle of the year as he implies. It was always against the rules. He was simply told it would be enforced more rigorously. Glasnow and others don't seem to get that this line of complaint is, at its essence, "No fair, I was cheating all along before and now I can't cheat anymore." Suck it up, Tyler.