Seattle Mariners at Tampa Bay Rays series primer

The American League West is calling once more.

After the Tampa Bay Rays split a four-game series against the Oakland Athletics over the weekend, the Seattle Mariners will arrive for a three-game set to close the seven-game homestand at Tropicana Field. At 24-21, the Rays lead the AL East, and they’ll search to build momentum before beginning an extended road trip against the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Angels and Mariners.

Tampa Bay will try to rebound after two consecutive losses on Saturday and Sunday to struggling Oakland, which outscored the Rays a combined 12-2 after Tampa Bay claimed the first two games of the series. The Mariners enter 20-23 and in fourth place in the AL West. They own a 9-13 road record, which stands as the worst mark away from home of any AL West team.

Unfortunately for the Rays, they’ll draw right-hander Felix Hernandez on Wednesday. The ace is 5-2 with a 2.12 ERA in 13 games against Tampa Bay, but he’s 0-2 with a 3.23 ERA at Tropicana Field.

Here’s a closer look at the upcoming Rays-Mariners series …

SCHEDULE AND PROBABLE PITCHERS

WHO’S HOT

Nelson Cruz (Mariners): He hit .364 (8 for 22) with two home runs and four RBI in six games from May 19-24. He had three contests with two hits each in the span. He has hit .343 with 17 home runs and 34 RBI this season.

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Evan Longoria (Rays): He hit .333 (7 for 21) with one home run and four RBI in six games from May 19-24. He had at least one hit in each contest in the span. He has hit .282 with five home runs and 21 RBI this season.

WHO’S NOT

Justin Ruggiano (Mariners): He hit .182 (2 for 11) with five strikeouts in five games from May 19-24. He went hitless in four contests in the span. He has hit .207 with two home runs and three RBI this season.

Rene Rivera (Rays): He hit .154 (2 for 13) with five strikeouts in four games from May 19-24. He went hitless in two contests in the span. He has hit .144 with two home runs and nine RBI this season.

STORYLINES

1 1/2: Lead, in games, for the Rays in the AL East over the second-place New York Yankees. Entering play Monday, Tampa Bay stands the lone team in the division with a winning record.

2-2: Rays’ record in the current homestand. After the three-game series against the Mariners, Tampa Bay will embark on a 10-game road trip from May 29-June 7.

3-4: Rays’ record against the Mariners in 2014. Tampa Bay dropped the final three games at Tropicana Field against Seattle by a combined score of 15-4.

QUOTE BOARD

"It was two strikes and I was just trying to put the ball in play. The plan was just to drive the ball in the outfield and score one run, and we ended up getting three out of it. In a 1-0 game, it does change the complexion of the game." — Third baseman Evan Longoria to reporters, after he hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning of the Rays’ 5-2 victory over the Athletics on Friday at Tropicana Field. The hit gave Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead.

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"I just didn’t make the pitches, and they took advantage." — Reliever Xavier Cedeno, after he allowed two runs (one earned) and two hits in the Rays’ 5-0 loss to the Athletics on Saturday at Tropicana Field. Oakland outhit Tampa Bay 10-6 that afternoon.

"We know about Sonny Gray, he’s as good as anybody in the American League. — Manager Kevin Cash to reporters, after the Rays only had four hits in five innings during the Athletics’ 7-2 victory Sunday at Tropicana Field. Gray improved to 5-2 with a 1.77 ERA and 61 strikeouts this season.

LOOKING AHEAD

May 29-31 — Rays at Orioles

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.