ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A week ago, the Tampa Bay Rays were streaking, two games above .500 and persisting through a rash of injuries to their starting pitching.
On Thursday, they return home to Tropicana Field with a six-game losing streak, facing a surging Seattle Mariners team that swept them in a three-game series in Seattle last weekend.
"We've got an opportunity to right the ship here, going back home," manager Kevin Cash said after an 11-2 loss to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday. "Frustrating, sloppy, just not our style of play. I have a lot of confidence in the guys that they'll bounce back. They've done it numerous times already."
The Rays (28-32) will again go without a traditional starting pitcher Thursday. Reliever Ryne Stanek (1-1, 3.65 ERA) will serve as an "opener," expected to draw the first inning or two. He did so last weekend, throwing 1 2/3 innings of scoreless, hitless baseball in what was ultimately a Rays loss.
Tampa Bay is 2-8 in the last 10 games in which he's pitched, but Stanek has fared well in his career against the Mariners with a 0.00 ERA in 2 2/3 innings, allowing only one hit.
Seattle (38-23) will counter with Mike Leake (5-3, 4.71 ERA), who has pitched well with four quality starts in his last five outings, all of which have resulted in Mariners wins. On Friday, Leake went seven innings against the Rays, holding them to six hits and two runs, striking out eight batters while walking none.
For his career, Leake is 1-0 against Tampa Bay with a 2.70 ERA, striking out 14 and walking only two.
Tampa Bay has scored only 12 runs in their six-game losing streak, but they'll hope to get an offensive spark from rookie first baseman Jake Bauers, who was called up after Wednesday's game and can make his major league debut against the Mariners. Bauers was hitting .279 with five home runs and 24 RBIs at Triple-A Durham.
Seattle has dominated with its pitching of late, allowing seven total runs in five straight wins before Wednesday's 7-5 loss to the Houston Astros. The Mariners own a one-game lead over the Astros atop the American League West standings.
The Rays just put top pitcher Chris Archer on the disabled list, and even with Nathan Eovaldi making a strong return from a long injury absence, their starting rotation remains a patchwork assembly of relievers leading "bullpen" days. Tampa Bay is 3-5 in such games entering the series and will have another on Friday as well.
Tampa Bay remains perhaps the streakiest team in baseball -- its six-game losing streak immediately followed five consecutive wins, and the Rays have three win streaks of at least five games to go with three losing streaks of at least five.
After four games with Tampa Bay, Seattle will return home for seven straight against the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox. The Rays stay home with Toronto next before they hit the road for seven games at the New York Yankees and Astros.