Sure, the Blue Jays only took two out of three and the M's have a 4-2 record on this road trip, but since Friday was an absolutely no business win for the Mariners, they should count their lucky stars they didn't get swept. I just opened with a really long sentence. Let's see how the rest of this goes.
The Mariners are in the unenviable position of having to travel to Tampa Bay for a four game set. I wouldn't wish that on anyone but the Rangers and Angels. The Mariners fare well against teams that they can overwhelm with pitching matchups. They can't do that to the Rays, who boast baseball's best rotation. Even Felix, who pretty much always has the advantage coming in and is the closest thing to an automatic win the M's have ever had, probably faces an even matchup against Jeremy Hellickson on the road. I'm not optimistic about this series, as you can probably tell.
April 30: Felix (2-1, 2.48) vs. Hellboy (3-0, 2.84)
Definitely the best pitching matchup the Mariners have been a part of all season. Although, I'm pretty sure that "best pitching matchup" would guarantee Felix is pitching, since the Mariners have no one anywhere near as good. Hellickson opposed the Mariners three times last season. The final scores of those games were 8-0, 8-1, and 3-2, all wins for the Rays. I had a feeling Hellickson dominated the M's last year. He allowed a grand total of two earned runs in those starts, and 14 hits in 22.1 innings. Damn. He really did dominate Seattle last year. Last year's American League rookie of the year has started this season on fire and undefeated. Felix obviously poses his biggest test, but the Mariners' offense doesn't, and hasn't in the past. This gas worries me, because it would be a waste of a happy Felix day, and poses probably the toughest threat this side of Justin Verlander the American League can offer the M's. Felix needs to continue his solid form of late for the M's to have any chance here. If Vegas sets the over-under on this game at 3.5, I'd take the under.
May 1: Hector "Jason Vargas" Noesi (1-2, 8.83) vs. Matt Moore (0-1, 4.68)
That nickname will be explained in further detail in Tuesday's in-depth column from Anthony Davis about how the Mariner rookie pretty much has turned into Jason Vargas. Not literally of course. Well, almost. Just read it tomorrow. Anyway, Noesi looked pretty good last time out, taking a no hitter into the fifth. Then he got two more outs before getting yanked after blowing a four run lead. Sound like anyone we used to know? Here's a hint, it's Jason Vargas. That article is going to be good, don't miss it. Matt Moore also is a rookie. Baseball America rated him as the top prospect in baseball coming into 2012. That's high praise. His numbers don't exactly reflect that yet. I have a feeling that if the Mariners can get over the hump and beat Hellickson in game one, they'll have a chance against Moore. They still might lose though, since Hector Noesi has sucked in half of his starts so far this year.
May 2: Blake "Ham Sandwich" Beavan (1-2, 3.60) vs. James Shields (4-0, 3.31)
Do I even have to write about this game? Not only is Blake Beavan really fucking boring, he's opposing the best pitcher the Rays have, who has four wins already this year. I just don't see the M's winning this one, although for some reason I have the opposite feeling that I had about Jeremy Hellickson that I do about James Shields. Research time. I was right again! In 2011, Shields allowed seven earned runs in both of his starts against Seattle. So there's that. james Shields last beat the Mariners on May 4, 2010. That's two years ago. Blake Beavan has never faced Tampa Bay. That means something I guess, although I'm not sure exactly what. So maybe the M's do have a chance. I'm beginning to convince myself. Stay tuned. Side note: Blake Beavan has a non-boring goatee. I have facial hair envy towards him.
May 3: Kevin "Old Man Jenkins" Millwood (0-2, 5.24) vs. Jeff Niemann (1-3, 3.86)
Something has struck me about the Mariners and Rays rotation from just writing this post. The Mariners' pitchers ERA's are all over the place. One in the twos, one in the threes (plus Vargas is in the threes after today), one in the fives, and good old Hector in the eights. The Rays' ERA's are much more balanced. David Price and Hellboy are in the twos, and everybody else is in the threes and fours, regardless of what their records are. Jeff Niemann's ERA is only around fifty points lower than James Shields', but Niemann is 1-3 while Shields is undefeated at 4-0. Felix Hernandez is 2-1 because his ERA is in the twos. Hector Noesi is 1-2 because his ERA is in the eights. Why doesn't Jeff Niemann have a better record? This probably won't matter, since Kevin Millwood will get rocked or pitch pretty badly or find a way to squander a lead or something. I'm not very high on him so far this year. The Mariners don't seem to hit for him very all, so maybe they aren't either.
Three to Watch:
Miguel Olivo: Seven days ago, Miguel Olivo was easily the worst Mariner hitter that played on a regular basis. Now, he's the second-worst hitter (Yeah, Brendan Ryan sucks). But he's added two home runs to his resume since then. That's something to track, since Jesus Montero only has three homers all year. And his .195 average is actually better than Justin Smoak's. That's awful. You know what else is awful? Fifteen hits and 17 strikeouts. That line belongs to Olivo. Let's improve that Miguel. I want him to go deep twice in Tampa to prove he's worth a roster spot.
Michael Saunders: I'm pissed I didn't tell the readers to watch him on Friday, because he was pretty fun to watch then. That grand slam he hit won the M's the game, and his 462 foot drive to deep center was pretty incredible. Maybe he's only good in Canada though. That could increase his trade value to the Blue Jays exponentially. His average rose to .258 over the weekend. If it can stay around there, I think I would be happy at least for a while. Especially since Guti is now dealing with plantar fasciitis on top of his pectoral injury. Condor up!
Evan Longoria: I usually choose the player with the highest batting average on the other team for this spot, but since that's Chris Giminez for the Rays (I can't make this shit up), I went with their superstar and second highest average, Longoria. I really don't have a great angle to take on this one except Evan Longoria can mash. Just flat out kill the ball. There's a reason I almost always have him on my fantasy baseball team (even with his .329/4/19 line so far this year, the Way Outs are struggling to stay above .500 in the early going). Mariner pitchers will probably pitch around him a lot in this series, much like they did to Jose Bautista this weekend in Toronto. Bautista didn't do a whole lot in the series, which was nice, but he's also in a slump to start the year, whereas Longoria's numbers are right where they need to be. I hope we limit him fairly well.
I still don't have a great sense of when the Mariners will go off and when they'll suck. In general though, if it's not against Detroit, they probably won't explode on the road. Hopefully I just reverse jinxed them. Probably not though. I think the first game of the series will mean a lot for the M's. If they can beat Hellboy, which they have never done, the M's will have the confidence to beat a rookie with a high ERA, an ace they've knocked around in the past, and an average fifth starter. That first game will set the tone. And I think they win it and get a split in Tampa. Felix pitches well again and the M's win a squeaker against Hellboy, 3-2. Noesi will struggle again and the M's will drop game two 7-3. Beavan will be ham sandwich enough to win as Seattle will beat up on James Shields as always to win 6-4. And then Millwood struggles just enough for the M's to lose the getaway game against Jeff Niemann, who's record will start to look more like his ERA. A split in Tampa would help a lot, and the Twins coming in at home over the weekend presents a great opportunity for the M's to push it back over .500. #FreeJaso. Go M's.