Having spent seven of the last ten days going head-to-head with the New York Yankees for supremacy in the AL East division, the Rays return to Tropicana Field tonight to begin their last homestand of the regular season against the Seattle Mariners.
Undoubtedly, the Rays will have one eye on the scoreboard tonight as the Yankees and Red Sox, the team they're chasing for the division and holding off for the Wildcard respectively, face off tonight in New York, the first of three this weekend and six over the last ten days between the longtime rivals. This schedule shaking out this way is a definite advantage for the Rays as they're guaranteed to move closer to a spot in the postseason no matter what but the Rays can help themselves most by taking care of their own business. This not a knock on the Marinersbut the Rays are simply a better team with more to play for and as such, should be looking to jump all over the visitors from Seattle regardless of what's taking place in the Bronx. If that happens, the Rays could end the weekend in first place in the division with the Wildcard spot locked up.
This has largely been a season the Seattle Mariners (58-94, 4thin the AL West)and their fans would probably like to forget. They lost their ace starter (Cliff Lee) in a trade with the Rangers, they fired their manager (Don Wakamatsu) in August and the greatest player in the history of the franchise (Ken Griffey Jr.) retired before the all-star break. At least he did so as a Mariner, which was nice. They come into this series 3-7 in their last ten games, having lost two of three in Toronto in their last series. One highlight from that series, and in the Mariners season, was rightfielder Ichiro Suzuki collecting his 200th hit of the season, becoming the first player in history to get 200 hits in each of his first ten seasons and tying all-time hit leader Pete Rose for most 200 hit seasons. Jason Vargas (9-11, 3.75) gets the start tonight.
The Rays (91-61, 2nd in the AL East) will counter with Jeff Niemann (10-7, 4.48) whose ongoing struggles since returning from the disabled list a month ago have become a point of concern. He's 0-4 in five starts since returning, lasting no longer than five innings in any of them. During that stretch, he has allowed 31 runs, all earned, in 19.1 innings, walking 15, striking out 19 and giving up six homers. Another bad outing tonight could force manager Joe Maddon to make changes in the rotation. The emergence of rookie Jeremy Hellickson, who most recently pitched 3.1 inings in relief on Wednesday would be a significant factor in Maddon's decision making. The Rays are 5-5 in their last ten, winning the last two of a four game series with the Yankees in New York, their first consecutive wins since Sepetember 10th and 11th against the Blue Jays.