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Updated: May 5, 2010, 1:57 AM ET

Can Lee slow the Rays, redirect the M's?

By Aaron Boone
ESPN
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What happens when one of the game's best pitchers meets arguably the most dynamic offense in baseball? We'll find out Wednesday night when Cliff Lee makes his second appearance of the season against the team with the best record in baseball.

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonCliff Lee didn't allow a run in his first start with the Mariners.

It will be interesting to see how Cliff Lee attacks Tampa Bay's lineup, particularly Evan Longoria. Longoria is hitting .457 with three homers and six RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak and has a .346 average in seven career games at Safeco Field. Longoria isn't the only piece of the offense that can do damage, either. Yes, part of what makes the Rays' offense so great is that they can hit the ball out of the park and score a ton of runs. But on nights when the offense does quiet, the Rays can win low-scoring games, too. They have the pitching and they can manufacture runs with their speed -- which is vitally important come playoff time when you face more quality pitchers.

Matt Garza, who takes the mound Wednesday, is 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA and should have no problem against a Mariners offense that ranks among the worst in the American League. (Seattle entered play Tuesday tied with Cleveland for the fewest runs scored in the American League.)

The acquisitions of Lee and Chone Figgins made the Mariners a trendy preseason pick to win the AL West, but they now find themselves in last place with an anemic offense and a less-than-impressive bullpen. The good news is that, unlike the Rays' situation in the AL East, Seattle could still conceivably take its division with 90 wins. Lee and Felix Hernandez are arguably the best one-two punch in baseball, and Doug Fister has baffled opponents, sporting a 1.29 ERA (first in the AL) and just five walks over 35 innings of work. Even Lee's replacement, journeyman Jason Vargas (2-1, 3.60), has garnered praise, allowing just three earned runs in his past two starts (and both times pitching into the seventh inning). The Mariners have got to start hitting, but there's no reason to think that they won't be in the AL West picture down the stretch.

And there's no reason to think that Cliff Lee can't put up an impressive fight on Wednesday night. If anyone is capable of shutting down an offense like Tampa Bay's, it's Lee.

Aaron Boone is an analyst for "Baseball Tonight."

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