After a franchise record 21 wins in the month of August, the Mariners scuffled to start September. They lost 2 of 3 to the Mets in New York and followed that up with losing the first 2 against the Reds. They did salvage game 3, but going 2-4 to start September had a lot of Mariners fans panicking. The offense showed signs of life and guys like Mike Ford, Josh Rojas, and Ty France have stepped up offensively. There were some good signs to end the series that will hopefully carry into a 4 game set in Tampa Bay as the Mariners look to change course for September.
Game 1 - Luis Castillo (11-7 | 3.19 ERA) vs Zack Littell (3-4 | 4.69 ERA)
The Mariners have "The Rock" starting game 1 and he will be going up against Zack Littell. Castillo was dominant in August only walking 5 guys all month and going 4-0. He will look to get back to his September starts after a 5-inning, 5-run start against the Mets in which he walked 2 guys and only struck out 2.
Littell has been really up and down this year. An 8.10 ERA in May followed by a 3.38 ERA in June and back up to the low 4's in July and August. The Mariners have the obvious pitching advantage and need to get back to their ways of securing a game 1 win and they have a great shot of that with Castillo on the bump.
Game 2 - George Kirby (10-9 | 3.39 ERA) vs Taj Bradley (5-7 | 5.42 ERA)
Game 2 features a pair of former top prospects as Kirby was a fast riser and one of the Mariners best pitching prospect of the last 10 or 15 years. Taj Bradley was the Rays 3rd overall prospect last year (74 overall according to MLB.com). Kirby had his best month of the year in August going 1-0 in 4 starts with a 2.6 ERA over 27 2/3 IP. He didnt walk a single batter and struck out 23. Kirby will look to bounce back after being roughed up over 3 innings pitched in his return home to New York. Bradley actually had a pretty good start to the year with ERA's of 3.52 in April and 3.68 in May.
Things fell apart through June and July as he compiled an ERA of 6.26 in June and 7.89 in July before being optioned back to Durham. The big change here for Bradley were the walks. He walked 5 batters over 30 innings in April and May. In 44 2/3 over June and July, he has walked 21 batters. The Mariners offense does a great job drawing walks, so I look for their offense to be patient and create a lot of traffic early on to get Kirby comfortable in hopes he can give them 6 or more
Game 3 - TBD vs Aaron Civale (7-3 | 2.75 ERA)
Game 3 will be interesting to see what the Mariners do. This is Bryan Woo's turn in the rotation, but he struggled his last time out. His velocity was down a few ticks, he was leaving pitches in the middle of the plate and didnt have any control as he walked 3 guys and hit 3 batters. We might be seeing the effects of overuse. He has thrown 114 innings this year, after throwing only 57 innings last year in his first year back from Tommy John.
The Mariners bullpen is in rough shape after the New York and Cincinnati series so they may turn to Mike Leake as an opener and look for Woo to give them maybe 3 or 4 innings to use a sort of modified 6-man rotation. Whoever takes the bump for the Mariners will face tough competition going against Aaron Civale, who is having a career year.
The Rays starting pitching has been decimated by injuries, so Civale's presence has been appreciated for them. Civale has always limited walks and posted pretty average strikeout numbers. With the question mark on the mound and Civale on the bump, this will be a tough game for the Mariners. They will need to be aggressive in the strike zone and take advantage of run-scoring opportunities when they present themselves.
Game 4 - TBD (Miller) vs Zach Eflin (13-8 | 3.47 ERA)
The Mariners haven't officially announced the Game 4 starter, but this is Bryce Miller's turn in the rotation, and I would expect him to make that start. He has been pretty consistent since a rough month of June, going at least 5 innings in every start except for 1. His last start against the Reds was pretty average going 5 innings, walking 1, hitting 3 and only striking out 2, but he limited damage giving up on 1 run.
With question marks for Game 3, hopefully, Miller can get ahead early, keep the pitch count down, continue his streak, and maybe even work into the 7th. Zach Eflin has had the best year of his career so far and he showed his abilities in August going 2-2 with a 2.62 ERA over 6 starts only walking 3 and striking out 35 batters. The Mariners will have to have a similar approach with Eflin as they will Civale. They will need to be aggressive and look to take advantage of opportunities to get a run when they can. They need to score early to put pressure on Eflin and make Miller comfortable.
The series against the Rays will really test the Mariners and show us the direction that the team is heading in this last month. They have struggled early this month and the worrisome part is their pitching hasn't been good. They have walked guys and allowed a lot of traffic on the bases. The offense went cold, but the good thing is that they came alive in game 3 against the Reds. The Mariners will avoid having to face Oppenheimer (Tyler Glasnow) thankfully! The Mariners will trot out 2 of their best pitchers in hopes of securing a series win. Game 1 and Game 2 will rely on the pitching in hopes that they can carry the team to victories. In games 3 and 4, there are big question marks with the pitching, so the offense will need to step up and carry them.