I’m starting the piece off with that because apparently Felix Hernandez hates country music, and I have a problem with that. I don’t care what language you speak when you come to America, but don’t mess with my country music!
The road trip starts in Seattle where a few story lines come into play. First off, the Mariners offense is struggling, mightily. They have not hit a home run in their last 63 innings and Casey Kotchman is the only player in their lineup with at least three home runs. In fact, the Mariners are tied with the Astros for the lowest home run total in all of baseball having hit only nine home runs on the season. Their .240 team batting average is third worst in the American League, better than only the .225 effort of the White Sox and the .227 effort of the Blue Jays – two teams the Rays have gone a combined 5-1 against so far on the young season. The Mariners are last in the league in extra base hits and their .651 team OPS is 40 points below the next team (Texas) in the American League. Simply put, this is a team that is struggling mightily to hit but everyone knew that coming into the season. What the team has done very well is pitch.
The Mariners’ team ERA is 3.33 – 2nd in the American League trailing the Rays who are at 3.14. The club has had 14 quality start, also 2nd best in the league. Mariner pitchers have the lowest pitches per plate appearance in the American League as they pitch to contact and put their outstanding defense to use and that also speaks to their very low 6.0 K/9 which is better than only the Indians so far. The one area the club struggles is in catching runners as they are 10th in the American League nabbing just 21% of their base stealers.
Given how hot the Rays pitching is right now, this is the last pitching staff the Mariners want to see but the same could be said for the Rays as well. After pounding the Royals on Thursday night, the club struggled to hit much of anything in the past three games as the club managed to scrape together just 15 hits over the final 3 games of the series and dropped two of those three contests. The Rays come into Seattle fortunate enough to miss Felix Hernandez and the hot Doug Fister but they get to face all of the three lefties the Mariners have including Cliff Lee. The Rays have been rather indifferent against lefties this season having been handcuffed by the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Brian Matusz, John Danks, Brett Cecil and Ricky Romero but easily beat Jon Lester and Mark Buehrle. While it may feel as if the club has been awful against lefties, the overall numbers paint a different story. The Rays are 6th in the AL with a .725 OPS vs LHP, 8th with a .241 team batting average, and 2nd in the league with 43 RBI against lefties trailing the Yankees by 3.
Jason Vargas is off to a surprising start with less hits than innings pitched, a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio, and 2 wins. Ryan Rowland-Smith is just the opposite having allowed 13 walks to just 9 strikeouts and has already surrendered 7 homers in just 29 innings this year. Neither of those two worry me as much as Cliff Lee does who has been a nemesis to the Rays’ franchise throughout his career. Lee is 6-2 lifetime against the Rays with a 2.32 ERA and hitters have had but a .593 OPS against him in 10 games. Lee made his first start of the season earlier this week after starting the year on the disabled list and Lee picked up right where he left off last season in Philadelphia.
The Rays went 2-4 in Safeco last season which included a very painful loss last season when Ryan Langerhans hit a deep home run off J.P. Howell that started Howell’s free-fall toward the injury list last season. Overall, the club is an even .500 at 5-5 at Safeco since the start of the 2008 season. The good news is that while the hitting struggles on the road, the pitching certainly does not. In fact, the Rays have a team ERA of 2.23 on the road and have held opponents to a .202 batting average and a .638 OPS in 93 innings. On paper, this is a very good series for the Rays to start off a road trip because the Mariners biggest weakness right now plays right into the Rays team strength. The 9-1 road trip certainly has expectations high for this road trip, but I would settle for a series win in at least 2 of the 3 series on this trip before coming back to Tropicana Field to take on the Mariners and the Indians.