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Rainers vs. River Cats Preview

Last night's Mariners loss was tough. It wasn't fun seeing Miguel Batista pitching in the tenth. It was even less fun hearing reaction from players after the game. Mike Sweeney sounded particularly dejected. Reality seems to be setting in within the clubhouse that this team isn't going to the playoffs.

However, one reason Batista was in the game in such a crucial situation is because the bullpen is thin right now. That's thanks to a few arm injuries, and the lack of September call-ups. You can thank the Rainiers for the lack of call-ups, because they finished a stunning late-season surge, beating the Colorado Springs Sky Sox on the final day of the season to clinch the division crown!

There is enough Mariners coverage out there, and it's an increasingly somber time of the year for the team. Until Tacoma is out of the playoffs, the Mariners Musings are going to stick with the Rainiers. They start a five-game series with the Sacramento River Cats, AAA affiliate of the A's, tonight. Here is a series preview:

LINEUPS

Sacramento: For the year, the River Cats had an average offense. However, as is common with AAA teams, a couple key contributors for most of the year are now in the majors. These include OF Eric Patterson, 1B Daric Barton, and SS Cliff Pennington. However, unlike most AAA teams, Sacramento was able to offset these losses well. Promising prospect 1B Chris Carter has been called up, and he adds much more power to the lineup than Barton did. Furthermore, the Matt Holliday trade brought back highly-touted 3B Brett Wallace, who is playing every day for Sacramento, and may be spending his final days in the minor leagues. Though Sacramento's lineup looks different than it did much of the year, it is still just about as good.

Tacoma: The Rainiers, unlike the Mariners, have a potent lineup. They led the PCL in home runs behind the strength of several good, though not great, sluggers. We saw a few of them briefly during the season in Seattle, 3B Chris Shelton and INF Matt Tuiasosopo. 1B/OF Bryan Lahair spent the whole year in Tacoma too, and put together a great season. The only significant contributors during the season not with the team now are OF Michael Saunders and 1B Mike Carp. However, Tacoma pulled off their entire comeback without Saunders anyway, and they have a glut of first baseman and corner outfielders, making Carp somewhat expendable. The Rainiers still have a formidable lineup, and I would say it is slightly better than Sacramento's.

STARTING ROTATION

Sacramento: The River Cats rotation had the potential to be filthy great with all the young pitching talent the A's have. The problem is that they were a little too good, and are all in the majors. Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill opened up the season in Oakland, and Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro have since joined them. Sacramento's rotation is not completely bare, but it's not what it should have been. The most notable name is RHP James Simmons, a former first round pick that has struggled this year. He is slated to pitch game five, if the series goes that far.

Tacoma: The Rainiers rotation has been a patchwork piece of art for most of the season, thanks in large part to the constant shuffle between them and the M's. Mariners fans will certainly recognize the games two and three starters, LHP Garrett Olson and RHP Brandon Morrow, respectively. Additionally, game four starter RHP Gaby Hernandez has been on a roll as of late. Tacoma's rotation was largely uninspiring this year, but thanks to demotions, it's probably as strong as it has been all year. In fact, thanks to Oakland's call ups, it matches up decently well with Sacramento's.

BULLPENS

The bullpens are not worth dissecting separately. Sacramento has a better one, period. Miguel Batista has kept a job all year in the M's 'pen, which should tell you something about the guys available in Tacoma. RHP Mike Koplove and RHP Robert Manuel have added some stability as late-season additions, but the team also lost reliable closer RHP Randy Messenger when he was called up by the M's.

This could be a fun series. We haven't seen a pennant chase like this since 1995. This Rainiers team even plays baseball a bit like the mid-'90s M's - lots of offense, some good starts here and there, and hope for the best with the bullpen.

There is a David versus Goliath element to this series too. Sacramento is gunning for their third straight PCL crown. It is hard to call them a dynasty, given the high turnover on AAA rosters from year to year, but in some ways that makes their run even more remarkable. They had by far the best record in the PCL this year, so they have to like their chances to threepeat.

However, I'm going to be a homer, and go with the Rainiers in this series. They are red hot right now, and the demotions of Olson and Morrow really help the pitching staff. On top of that, The River Cats are due to lose. It's hard enough to win back-to-back championships, much less three in a row. It's time for them to lose a playoff series, and why not it be to the Rainiers?

UPDATE (3:56 PM Pacific time) - The Mariners just announced that Brandon Morrow is getting called up, and will start Friday against the Rangers. This is good news for the M's, but a big blow to the Rainiers. I'll still pick the Rainiers, but this does change things. Tacoma just lost their ace. Perhaps Carlos Silva makes another rehab start in Morrow's place? He last pitched the last time Morrow started, and has not appeared in a game since.

UPDATE (4:12 PM Pacific time) - The Rainiers announced a few roster moves. The most notable is the addition of LHP Nick Hill. He has started and relieved this year, so I am not sure what he will do with Tacoma. Either way, he's a boost to the Rainiers pitching staff, especially with Morrow's loss.