The Royals head to the West Coast for a road trip this week that will take them to Seattle, Oakland, then Houston. The Mariners battled the Royals for a Wild Card spot last year, but of course, the true enmity between the teams stems from the Battle for Grass Creek, Wyoming. NEVER FORGET.
Seattle has floundered as a franchise despite high expectations with General Manager Jack Zduriencik, with last year being their first winning season since 2009, his first season at the helm. The Mariners were expected to contend this year, but have hovered around .500 until late May when they suffered a seven-game losing streak. They have struggled mightily against the Astros, dropping 9 of 13 to Houston. They have the fourth-worst record in the league at 32-38, and have actually overachieved with a Pythagorean expectation of 29-41.
Seattle's issue has been the same issue that has plagued them for years - a lack of offense. They are dead last in the league in runs scored with just 3.4 runs per game. They are second-to-last in on-base percentage, second-to-last in slugging percentage, and second in most strikeouts. The Mariners are sixth in home runs, but over a quarter of their 71 team home runs have come from Nelson Cruz.
Cruz has been sensational this year, but just 5 of his 19 home runs have come at Safeco Field. Second baseman Robinson Cano is enduring a career-worst season with an OPS lower than that of Christian Colon, and is hitting just .214/.222/.286 against lefties this year. The Mariners go with a bit of an unconventional lineup, with first baseman and Kansas City native Logan Morrison leading off. Slugger Mark Trumbo, acquired on June 3 from Arizona, has hit just .179/.193/.232 with one home run in 15 games since being acquired.
The Mariners are a terrible base-stealing team, getting caught 46% of the time, the third-worst success rate in the league. Austin Jackson leads the club with seven steals, but has been caught six times. Overall, the Mariners are the third-worst baserunning team in the league with -8.4 Baserunning Runs. The Mariners were known to be a good defensive club early in the Zduriencik era, but have -18 Defensive Runs Saved this year, third-worst in the league.
Mariners ace Felix Hernandez is having a typical Felix Hernandez-type season, although he was rocked for eight runs in less than an inning back on June 12 against Houston. If you remove that start, his ERA is just 2.29. However there have been cracks in Felix's armor this year, with his strikeout rate down, his walk rate up considerably, and he has benefited from a low BABIP of .241. His fastball velocity is down, but his curveball and changeup remain plus pitches.
Former Royals prospect Mike Montgomery has found a home in Seattle after being acquired from Tampa Bay last winter. The 25-year old lefty has a reverse-split against lefties this year in the Major Leagues and minors, and had very little split last season in the minors. Montgomery throws a a fastball that averages 91 mph but has had a very low strikeout rate through four big league starts. Roenis Elias has pitched worse than his ERA would suggest and features a very hittable 91 mph fastball and may be one of the more predictable pitchers in baseball.
The Mariners are ninth in reliever ERA at 3.84, but walk opponents at a greater rate than anyone else. Fernando Rodney and his sideways hat have converted 14-of-17 save opportunities, but has a 6.11 ERA with 4.5 walks-per-nine innings. Right-handed middle relievers Carson Smith, Tom Wilhelmsen, and Mark Lowe have all pitched very well, with over 10 strikeouts-per-nine innings.
The Royals dropped five of seven to the Mariners last year, which nearly cost them a Wild Card spot, as they finished just two games better than Seattle last season. The Mariners are a struggling team this year, but scoring could be a premium this series, and the Mariners are 15-12 in one-run games this year. The Royals need to put the bad weekend behind them and get some good starting pitching performances on the road this week before we start sounding alarm bells over the rotation.