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Seattle Mariners series preview: The Battle for Grass Creek rages on

Something may be amiss
Something may be amiss
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Battle for Grass Creek rages on tonight. While logic would dictate that the World Series win should be enough for the Kansas City Royals to seize the territory, the staunchest of the Seattle Mariners' fans will not be swayed by such trivialities as a single World Series win. If anything, their belief in their team has been reinforced, made more steadfast by the hope infused in the form of a new regime taking the reins.

Their hope has thus far been validated by an early run in which finds Seattle half a game out of first place in the division. Adjusted standings show that their early run is one substantiated by their run differential, though their offense has been a bit on the dodgy side, relying on the heart of the order for most of its production.

Two second-place teams butt horns in this series - this one with the history of a battle that has waged on at the bisection point between these two proud franchises, a battle that has torn families apart, left sons hating fathers, brothers not speaking to each other, mothers praying for peace, and sisters leaving Grass Creek and its heartbreak behind.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Friday, 9:10 PM CDT

Kris Medlen 3 15.0 13 11 6.00 4.44 4.99 5.33
Felix Hernandez 4 25.0 24 15 1.80 4.15 4.08 4.40

Judging by Felix Hernandez's peripherals, he has struggled significantly more than his ERA would suggest. His velocity is down, and he's been battling serious control issues with the highest walk-rates of his career, marks that are more than double his career average. With these causes for concern coming on the heels of being shut down at the end of last season with elbow issues, it is hard to ignore the alarm bells. Hernandez has been able to limit the damage done by free passes thanks to a .188 BABIP and 84.6 LOB%, but control is going to have to come back if he expects to maintain an ERA near career norms.

Kris Medlen has also struggled with free passes, but unlike his Friday counterpart, he's had no such luck in areas that would allow for him to outperform his peripherals. He's suffered a .372 BABIP and a poor 63.9 LOB%. Between the BABIP and his alarming walk-rates, it isn't hard to see from whence Medlen's struggles have originated. His hard contact rates are roughly four percentage points higher than his career average, but with just 15.0 innings under his belt, making too much of contact percentages that aren't alarmingly out of character with his career marks is probably not necessary. It isn't unreasonable to expect that his BABIP will start to regress toward the mean. His career BABIP is .293, and with the Royals defense behind him, a .372 mark in this department seems incredibly unlikely to continue to plague him.

Game Two - Saturday, 8:10 PM CDT

Yordano Ventura 4 23.0 21 14 2.35 3.67 4.89 4.89
Wade Miley (L) 4 23.0 19 6 7.04 4.50 3.82 4.01

Wade Miley wishes he could have Medlen's luck. The southpaw has suffered a .394 BABIP - only Chris Archer has suffered worse luck amongst qualified starters - and he's got the tenth-worst strand rate (61.7 LOB%) of any qualified starter. One can assume some regression is in his future. Given the fact that the Royals are in the midst of a three-game skid leaving four-day-olds across the heartland not knowing a world in which the reigning World Champs have won a game, Miley will probably regress all over the Royals.

While relying on less heat than in the past thanks in part to his new delivery, Yordano Ventura has yet to allow more than two earned runs in a start. His walk-rates appear to be elevated mostly because of his six-walk start against Minnesota in his first start of the season. He's walked three, two, and two since. He's also mixing in his change-up more than in the past, throwing both the curve and cambio roughly 23% of the time, lowering his reliance upon the fastball in the process, nearly halving the usage of this two-seamer.

Game Three - Sunday, 3:10 PM CDT

Ian Kennedy 4 26.0 23 9 2.77 4.22 4.48 4.09
Taijuan Walker 4 25.0 25 3 1.44 2.11 2.56 2.64

For more on Walker, Jeff Sullivan just wrote him up today at Fangraphs. As a super prospect, Walker drew comps of Dwight Gooden. Since coming up a couple weeks past his 21st birthday for the last few weeks of the 2013 season, he flashed his potential but never quite put everything together. This year, he has been mixing his four pitches better, getting an increase in grounders from his change-up (h/t to Jeff Sullivan) that has so much movement on it that PITCHf/x classifies it as a splitter. The change has become his go-to secondary offering, mixing it with his curve and slider, which often gets classified as a cutter because of its break. Walker's microscopic walk-rate given his raw stuff makes for a nightmare of a match-up if this incarnation of Taijuan Walker is truly Walker realizing his potential.

Kennedy regressed to the mean hard in his last start. His season can be broken into two sections. His first three starts were solid and saw him strike out 21 while walking just five en route to 20 innings of 1.35 ERA ball. His last start was brutal. He walked four, hit two more batters, allowed seven hits, and struck out just two. Control was suddenly not his friend. Which shows up Sunday will largely determine if the Royals can stick with the Mariners with Walker on the mound.

The Batsmen

The Sea Men have used a bunch of different lineups, so below is just a rough approximation of what their line-up could look like with the first two and last three spots specifically being a bit up for grabs.

Nori Aoki (L) LF 87 0 10 4 1 .205 .271 .295 .253 63
Seth Smith (L) DH 62 2 10 8 0 .280 .403 .440 .373 151
Robinson Cano (L) 2B 94 8 12 24 0 .247 .319 .565 .376 153
Nelson Cruz RF 93 4 9 13 0 .272 .355 .494 .366 146
Adam Lind (L) 1B 60 1 6 3 0 .259 .267 .345 .265 71
Kyle Seager (L) 3B 87 4 11 10 0 .143 .241 .338 .259 67
Chris Iannetta C 58 2 5 5 0 .250 .379 .396 .349 134
Leonys Martin (L) CF 73 4 8 9 2 .200 .274 .431 .304 100
Ketel Marte (S) SS 78 0 10 3 2 .288 .321 .329 .288 88
Luis Sardinas (B) 2B/SS 21 1 3 2 1 .190 .190 .333 .225 41
Dae-Ho Lee 1B 27 2 4 3 0 .280 .333 .520 .369 148
Steve Clevenger (L) C 23 1 3 3 0 .150 .261 .300 .257 65
Franklin Gutierrez OF 37 0 2 3 0 .200 .324 .267 .276 79

*Stats through Thursday, April 28

Robinson Cano has fueled the Seattle offense thus far with his .565 SLG. Nelson Cruz and Chris Iannetta have carried their weight, and Seth Smith has swung good wood. Unfortunately for the pride of Coon Valley, Scott Servais, the bulk of the lineup outside of the two-through-four spots have done relatively little. Their offense has been roughly league average, putting up a .232/.308/.399 triple-slash good for a .311 wOBA and 104 wRC+ that puts them roughly equal to the Royals' .314 and 101 marks.

There are a lot of guys on the club who haven't experienced the heated Battle for Grass Creek. The big key to this series will likely be how players like Chris Iannetta, Adam Lind, Leonys Martin, Steve Clevenger, Dae-Ho Lee, and Luis Sardinas respond to the pressure and how Nori Aoki reconciles with being a turncoat in this ongoing war.

And let there be no doubt about it. This will be a WAR.

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