The Rays (18-7) are off to the best start in baseball but begin a tough western road trip this week that sees them travel to Seattle, Oakland, and Anaheim.

They open up with the Mariners (11-13) on Tuesday, who come in having lost three straight after being swept at home by the Rangers.

These three series will go a long way to showing how good the Rays really are in 2010. Last August, when the Rays were beginning to get back into the wild-card race, the western road trip crippled the team’s chances, beginning with a blown save and loss to Seattle.

The Mariners have fallen to the bottom of the AL West standings but are easily within striking distance at just two games back. They have the added advantage of starting pitcher Cliff Lee, who has rejoined the team after a stint on the DL.


Projected Lineups


1. Ichiro – RF

2. Chone Figgins – 2B

3. Franklin Gutierrez – CF

4. Jose Lopez – 3B

5. Milton Bradley – LF

6. Ken Griffey Jr. – DH

7. Casey Kotchman – 1B

8. Rob Johnson – C

9. Jack Wilson – SS



1. Jason Bartlett – SS

2. Carl Crawford – LF

3. Ben Zobrist – RF/2B

4. Evan Longoria – 3B

5. Carlos Pena – 1B

6. B.J. Upton – CF

7. Pat Burrell – DH

8. Sean Rodriguez/Gabe Kapler – 2B/RF

9. Dioner Navarro/John Jaso – C


With the Rays facing three left-handers, Reid Brignac likely won’t start but should come off the bench later in games. Willy Aybar will likely get a start in this series, possibly in place of Carlos Pena.


Pitching Matchups


TB: James Shields (3-0, 3.38)

SEA: Jason Vargas (2-1, 3.60)

Shields is coming off his best start in more than a year, striking out 12 in seven innings to beat Oakland. The Mariners counter with the 27-year-old lefty Vargas, who’s had three quality starts in a row.

Pitcher vs. Batter: Chone Figgins has had some success against Shields, going 6-for-17 with three steals. Jose Lopez is just 2-for-15. Ichiro is 5-for-19 lifetime with a home run off Shields. Vargas has seen limited action against the Rays.



TB: Matt Garza (4-1, 2.06)

SEA: Cliff Lee (0-0, 0.00)

This has the makings of a classic pitcher’s duel. Lee looked very sharp in his first start, and Garza has been among the best in the American League thus far.

Pitcher vs. Batter: Current Mariners have had quite a bit of success against Garza; they are a collective 21-for-55 (.382) against the Rays righty. Ichiro is 4-for-11 with a home run.

Lefties Carl Crawford (3-for-18) and Carlos Pena (5-for-22) have each struggled against Lee. Pena has hit three homers off him though. Dioner Navarro has gone 0-for-10.



TB: Jeff Niemann (1-0, 2.76)

SEA: Ryan Rowland-Smith (0-1, 5.28)

The rubber match of the series features the third lefty in a row for the Mariners, something the Rays have struggled against in the past. The Rays counter with Niemann, a workhorse in the early going.

Pitcher vs. Batter: The Mariners haven’t seen much of Niemann, but Figgins is 4-for-6 off him. Griffey, Lopez, and Ichiro have all homered off him. The Rays haven’t seen much of Rowland-Smith either. Willy Aybar is 4-for-8 with three doubles, and Navarro has a home run off the lefty.


Game Notes

– This series features the top two teams in the AL in total ERA: Rays 3.01, Mariners 3.25.

– The Rays lead the majors in runs scored with 147, while the Mariners are second to last in the AL with 86. The Rays are hitting .263, the Mariners .236.

– Seattle is last in the AL with nine home runs as a team. The Rays have hit 26.

– The Rays were 3-5 against Seattle last season, 1-2 at Safeco Field.

– Tampa Bay was 12-21 against the AL West in 2009, 2-0 this season.

– Rays closer Rafael Soriano returns to the place he started his career; he spent five seasons with the Mariners from 2002-2006.

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