Faced with high expectations this season, the struggling Tampa Bay Rays might be pressing.
The Seattle Mariners don't have the burden of anticipated success, perhaps helping them get off to a good start.
Coming off a terrible homestand that featured constant reminders of last season's run to the World Series, the Rays open a nine-game, three-city road trip against the Mariners on Tuesday night.
Tampa Bay (5-8) enters this three-game set after losing five of seven at home, a stretch marked by daily promotions celebrating the club's stunning 2008 playoff run.
The Rays, who lost to Philadelphia in the World Series after failing to finish with more than 70 wins in any of their previous 10 seasons, hope getting away from Tropicana Field will help them get back on track.
"It was a great week but it was also difficult," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "That's been part of my concern is the consistent reminder of last year. I wanted to move this beyond last year. It was beautiful. It's wonderful. Now it's time to a create an even better 2009."
The Rays will face a Mariners team that's 8-5 after going 61-101 last season. Seattle, though, has lost three of four, scoring two runs or fewer in the defeats.
Tampa Bay will be looking to shore up its pitching against a sputtering Mariners lineup. The Rays have allowed 20 runs in their last two games, losing 12-2 to Chicago on Sunday, and have a 5.37 ERA on the season.
Tampa Bay's Andy Sonnanstine (0-1, 6.52 ERA), whose 14 wins last season tied a team high, settled down in his last start after a terrible first outing. The right-hander gave up two runs and four hits in five innings as the Rays lost 4-3 to New York on Wednesday night.
Sonnanstine is 1-1 with a 2.66 ERA in three starts against the Mariners.
It's uncertain if B.J. Upton will be behind Sonnanstine in center field Tuesday. Upton is day-to-day after leaving Sunday's game due to tightness in his right quadriceps.
Gabe Kapler will likely start if Upton can't play. Upton missed the first six games this season due to offseason shoulder surgery and Kapler has filled in, playing nine games and batting .174 (4-for-23).
Mariners first baseman Russell Branyan expects to be back in the lineup after sitting out an 8-2 loss to Detroit on Sunday with a sore back. He's tied for the team lead with two home runs.
Seattle needs him, as it went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position over the last two games.
"Our overall philosophy is trying to get a little deeper in counts," manager Don Wakamatsu told the Mariners' official Web site. "We have an aggressive offense, and sometimes it can work against you. It's something we're going to have to work on."
Starting pitching has been mostly solid for Seattle, with its rotation posting a 3.35 ERA.
Jarrod Washburn (2-0, 1.29), who will take the mound Tuesday, had lost five straight decisions before opening this season with two quality starts. He gave up his only two runs of the season in his last start, allowing four hits in six innings as Seattle beat Los Angeles 11-3 on Wednesday night.
The left-hander is 11-3 with a 2.60 ERA in 16 starts versus the Rays and beat them 7-1 at Tropicana Field last April 9, throwing seven innings of one-run ball.
The Rays went 3-1 at Seattle last year and won the season series 4-3.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times