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Seattle Mariners Series Preview: They’re somehow hanging around the race

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They’re probably a year away from actually being good, but they’re certainly making life annoying for the A’s and Astros.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

I’m pretty convinced the Seattle Mariners aren’t especially good. They don’t hit for average. They don’t really get on base. They do have some pop, but that’s about it. They don’t score many runs. They’re not an elite pitching staff. They don’t run the bases particularly well. They don’t play great defense. They’ve been outscored by quite a bit. Then how in the hell are they11 games over .500? I honestly don’t really know, but after watching the 2014 Royals (who did have an elite defense and back of the bullpen), I know that anything is possible and that Scott Servais deserves a ton of credit for keeping this team at least on the periphery of the race. And they’re starting to graduate some of their better young players to the big leagues. While they’re finding varying levels of success with them, better days do seem to be on the horizon for the Mariners, the owners of the longest postseason drought in pro sports.

Offensively, I mentioned that about the only thing they do well is hit home runs, and they do that pretty well. Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger do at least with a couple stragglers behind them in double digits. But those two, along with Abraham Toro since being acquired from the Astros, are really the ones leading the charge. It’s been a tough start to a career for Jared Kelenic, who replaced Taylor Trammell who was having a tough start to his career. They’re working with a DH hitting around the Mendoza line, which Royals fans can absolutely empathize with. On the pitching side, they’re very lefty heavy and their best starter, Chris Flexen, is the one the Royals will miss in this four-game set. The Mariners clubhouse appeared to revolt when the team traded away Kendall Graveman to a division rival during a series with them, and it’s understandable. The bullpen still has some pieces, but it feels like they could use one more even with how well Joe Smith has pitched as part of that return. This team feels a bit like the 2013 Royals to me in terms of being close to good, but just not quite there yet. But still, Mariners fans should enjoy a winning season. They’ve had a few of them, so they’re not the Royals, but it’s always more fun to root for a team that wins more than it loses.

Royals vs. Mariners Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Mariners
Category Royals Mariners
Winning % .444 .543
Team wRC+ 88 92
Team xFIP 4.49 4.40
Run Differential -94 -56
Fun Differential -37 90
Highest fWAR Nicky Lopez, 3.0 Ty France, 3.1

Mariners Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
J.P. Crawford SS 421 .265 .327 .360 7.9% 17.5% 96 1.9
Mitch Haniger RF 532 .253 .314 .482 7.3% 23.9% 119 1.9
Kyle Seager 3B 525 .217 .290 .448 9.0% 24.8% 103 2.4
Ty France 1B 495 .291 .360 .464 6.3% 16.8% 131 3.1
Abraham Toro 2B 232 .262 .341 .427 8.2% 14.2% 118 1.3
Jake Fraley LF 214 .208 .355 .370 18.2% 26.2% 111 0.4
Luis Torrens DH 275 .215 .280 .426 8.0% 26.9% 95 0.0
Jarred Kelenic CF 233 .150 .240 .271 9.9% 27.9% 47 -0.9
Cal Raleigh C 91 .179 .231 .286 5.5% 35.2% 45 0.1

Mariners Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Tom Murphy C 246 .206 .295 .369 11.0% 34.6% 88 1.0
Jake Bauers 1B/OF 267 .223 .293 .285 9.0% 25.5% 64 -0.6
Dylan Moore INF/OF 315 .178 .276 .330 10.8% 31.1% 74 0.3

Mariners Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Drew Steckenrider 45 52.0 5 2 23.9% 7.0% 1.90 4.25 1.0
Paul Sewald 42 43.0 8 3 41.5% 7.6% 2.51 2.50 1.6
Joe Smith 38 30.1 2 1 18.7% 4.5% 5.34 3.81 0.2

Projected Starting Pitchers

Thursday - Brad Keller vs. Yusei Kikuchi, 9:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 25 129.1 8 12 19.8% 10.1% 5.43 4.49 1.1
Yusei Kikuchi 23 132.1 7 7 25.6% 9.0% 4.22 3.66 0.7

The first two years in the big leagues for Yusei Kikuchi were not what he or the Mariners had hoped they’d be. It looks like he scrapped the curve after it got absolutely rocked in his rookie season and replaced it with a cutter that’s now become his number one pitch. He had some bad luck last year that led to his ERA over 5.00, but this year the season started off much better for him before he’s really run into issues over his last eight starts. He has a 6.69 ERA in 39 innings with 11 home runs allowed. He has struck out a ton of batters, but he’s also allowed 52 hits in that time, which is not ideal. Both his fastball at 95 and his cutter a few MPH off that are getting hit pretty well, and it’s causing some big problems for him in games. His last start on Friday was the worst yet when he couldn’t even get out of the third. Kikuchi has been murder on lefties, holding them to a .127/.165/.264 line. The Royals count pretty heavily on Andrew Benintendi and Nicky Lopez in their lineup, so they might be in there, but they should consider sitting one of them if they can. The biggest key against Kikuchi is to get ahead. He’s allowing a .340 average and .670 SLG when he’s behind in the count. His first pitch strike percentage has climbed a lot this year, but they need to find a way to get ahead.

Brad Keller claims he found his slider after his start in Boston. He and the Royals cited the camera angle, which makes me weirdly angry that it took dumb luck of a stadium camera, but at least he found it. Since then, he’s actually been sort of a strikeout pitcher. He’s thrown 48.1 innings over eight starts with 50 strikeouts and 18 walks. He has a 3.35 ERA in that time. He hasn’t been perfect, but a .239/.313/.350 line against will certainly work, especially for a guy who slots in the middle to the back of a rotation. It’s been a nice run for him and against this offense, that has a chance to continue if the slider is good.

Friday - Kris Bubic vs. Logan Gilbert, 9:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kris Bubic 22 93.0 4 6 20.3% 11.4% 4.94 4.73 -0.5
Logan Gilbert 17 82.0 5 5 26.6% 5.5% 5.16 3.93 1.5

As hard as it might be to believe, the Royals didn’t draft every college pitcher in the 2018 draft. The Mariners took Logan Gilbert four spots ahead of Brady Singer, hoping to strike deGrom gold from Stetson University. He’s also from Apopka, though went to a different high school than Zack Greinke. Still, that’s some location pedigree for sure. He’s had his ups and downs throughout his 17 starts and has been terrible in his last two, allowing 14 runs in 16 hits in his last 8.2 innings against the Blue Jays and Astros, but the ceiling is very high for him. He’s mostly fastball/slider, throwing the fastball more than 60 percent of the time. It comes in at 95+ with impressive extension and a decent enough whiff rate. His slider has been filthy when it’s on. He’s gotten whiffs on 37.3 percent of swings. And his changeup, which he’s used almost exclusively against lefties, has been even better than that with a 57.5 percent whiff rate. But like Kris Bubic, his opponent, when he hangs it, it gets crushed and he’s allowed three extra base hits on it in 17 plate appearances that finished on the changeup. He’s struggled after the first time through the order, so I would suggest not losing hope if they struggle the first time.

Bubic was the best I’ve ever seen him against the Cubs last weekend, carrying a no-hitter through six that I’m honestly convinced he would have completed without a delay. The beauty of that declaration is that I can never be proven wrong. But either way, he was effective at a higher velocity, which we’d seen before, also against a Chicago team when he started airing it out against the White Sox. I think at 88-91, Bubic has a chance to be a nice starter who will occasionally get his brains beat in, but if he can sit 92-95 instead, he has a chance to be much more than that. I’ve said so many times that it’s all about his changeup, and while I still think his changeup is important, I’m starting to believe that his velocity matters more than that pitch actually. Toro, Ty France and Luis Torrens have handled lefty changeups well, but everyone else has struggled with them on the Mariners, so while the fastball is important, he can probably get through most of this lineup with the changeup working.

Saturday - Carlos Hernandez vs. Tyler Anderson, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Carlos Hernandez 19 59.0 4 1 24.3% 11.3% 3.97 4.48 0.6
Tyler Anderson 23 130.1 6 8 19.4% 5.2% 4.07 4.44 2.0

When the Mariners traded Graveman, Jerry DiPoto told the team that there were more moves coming and to not fret. Then they traded for Tyler Anderson, who is perfectly fine, and that was kind of it outside of picking up Diego Castillo. And Anderson has been good for the Mariners with his general lower strikeout, lower walk repertoire. He kept the Royals at bay when the Royals were in Pittsburgh earlier this year, holding them to one run on three hits over six innings. His cutter has been his best pitch this season, though he throws his four-seamer more. He’s got a pretty typical platoon split, holding lefties to an OPS more than 200 points lower than he’s allowed to righties. This is another opportunity for the Royals to stack the lineup with right-handed bats if they’re able to. Once his pitch count jumps, though, he does struggle, allowing a .789 OPS from pitches 76 through 100, so if the Royals can make him work a little bit, they have a chance to get to him later if they can’t get him early.

Carlos Hernandez starts have become must-views. His last one against the Cubs was the best one yet with just four hits allowed over seven innings. He struck out eight and walked three. I know the Cubs aren’t good and I don’t think Hernandez was at his best, but he got the job done and against an offense like the Mariners, you would expect that his stuff can carry him again, so that’ll be fun to watch. Since joining the rotation after the break, Hernandez is 3-1 with a 3.38 era in seven starts spanning 37.1 innings. You’d like to see more strikeouts than 30 with the stuff that he shows, but it’s hard to argue with the effectiveness. As a team, the Mariners don’t do well with high velocity, so Hernandez might be able to get by with his fastball even if nothing else is working.

Sunday - Daniel Lynch vs. Marco Gonzales, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Daniel Lynch 9 43.2 4 3 18.7% 9.8% 4.74 4.80 0.7
Marco Gonzales 18 100.1 5 5 19.1% 7.3% 4.13 4.91 0.6

Every year, it feels like Marco Gonzales will finally succumb to not being very good and every year he continues to be a solid starter for the Mariners. He hasn’t quite flashed the control that we saw from him last year when he walked just seen walks in 69.2 innings, but he’s still been very solid for them. Like Anderson, you’re not going to see much velocity from him, but he works his sinker the most at 87-90 and then uses a changeup that is one of the best out there when it’s working. His cutter has been a problem for him this year, so if the Royals can identify that out of his hand, they need to get to mashing. His platoon split is even more extreme than Anderson, allowing a .270/.337/.525 line to righties and a .188/.217/.356 line to lefties. That’s a little surprising with his changeup, but here’s another opportunity to stack that lineup. And as you get deeper into the game against Gonzales, you’re more likely to hit him. He has a .294/.341/.541 line allowed the third time through.

Daniel Lynch has been through quite the gauntlet since returning to the big leagues. He’s faced the Tigers (a legitimately good offense for awhile now, weirdly), Blue Jays, White Sox, Yankees and Astros twice in a row. In that time, he’s gone 35.2 innings with a 2.27 ERA. He’s getting whiffs, weak contact and is showing off some big time confidence. The Mariners are easily the worst offense he’ll have faced since coming back to the big leagues, which provides actually a bit of a challenge for the young lefty. It’s easy to get up for starts against good teams or revenge starts, but I’m excited to see what he can do against a lineup that actually has some spots to relax a little bit. Obviously you can’t relax too much, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do in this one.

Prediction

The Royals are playing some of their best baseball of the season behind their young starters and we get to see four of them in this series. I can’t quite figure out the Mariners magic (devil magic?), so it’s hard to pin this series down. I think I’m going the safe route and predicting a split here because I honestly just don’t know.

Poll

Will the Royals conquer the great Pacific Northwest?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Yes, in a big way. They’ll sweep the Mariners.
    (6 votes)
  • 16%
    They’ll take three of four and own bragging rights over Grass Creek.
    (18 votes)
  • 39%
    Taking the advice of King Solomon, it’ll be a split.
    (44 votes)
  • 30%
    They’ll win one, but that’s it. Grass Creek belongs to Seattle...for now.
    (34 votes)
  • 8%
    The Royals will get both out-funned and out-runned and lose all four.
    (9 votes)
111 votes total Vote Now