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Seattle Mariners vs. Boston Red Sox Series Preview

The Mariners return home to play the best team in the universe, but get Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in two games. Also, discussion of Jon Lester's struggles and Jacoby Ellsbury as a possible free agent target.

Future Mariners center fielder please
Future Mariners center fielder please
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Date Time Venue Probable Pitchers
7/8 7:10 PM Safeco Field
Jon Lester vs. Felix Hernandez
7/9 7:10 PM Safeco Field Allen Webster vs. Hisashi Iwakuma
7/10 7:10 PM Safeco Field Felix Dubront vs. Aaron Harang
7/11 12:40 PM Safeco Field Ryan Dempster vs. Jeremy Bonderman

Here comes another swarm of outsider fans to Safeco Field just weeks after the Cubs stopped by. Boston fans have evolved into a more tolerable breed than they were from 2004-2008, a time that I fondly refer to as the "pink hat era." Since it's no longer trendy to be a Boston fan (hey, I cheered for them in that 2004 ALCS too), it's business as usual, which is a long lineage of die hard fans/worthless bandwagoners who have transplants all over the nation.

The Mariners just finished a 4-2 road trip with only one start each from Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, but remain ten games under .500. Before the All-Star break, the Mariners will get two starts each from Felix and Iwakuma. Now back at home, the Mariners have a chance to deliver a little bit of optimism before the break. Unfortunately, the Red Sox bring a 54-36 record atop the absolutely ridiculous AL East, which features four teams at least eight games over .500. Nobody is that good in the entire NL West.

Felix's opponent tonight is Jon Lester, who is having another disappointing season. Lester has seen his xFIP decrease in four straight seasons, and his strikeout rate is noticeably lower than it once was. It hasn't gotten worse this year but it's virtually equal to 2012, at 7.32 K/9. Not much has changed with Lester's velocity or pitch usage over the years, but his cutter is no longer an effective pitch and neither is his curve. He hasn't decreased his usage of the cutter (25%), but the pitch value for it has gone from a wCT of 16.4 in 2010 to 8.2 in 2011, down to -4.1 last year and already at -6.3 this season.

So what's happened to Lester's cutter? He doesn't throw it for a strike as much, people don't miss it as much, and people hit it harder and further than they used to.

Cutter Whiff % Strike % LD% HR%
2011 15.31% 26.46% 2.82% 0.13%
2012 12.92% 22.64% 5.07% 0.36%
2013 9.72% 19.64% 4.45% 1.01%

Lester has just a team option remaining on his contract, for $13 million next year. The Red Sox have plenty of cash and Lester is still a pretty good pitcher even in decline, so it'll likely be exercised. Lester's been linked to the Mariners forever because of worthless "he wants to come home" narratives and those aren't likely to subside any time soon with Jacoby Ellsbury entering this offseason's free agent pool.

Ellsbury is an interesting free agent candidate, and ignoring all of the local connections, he makes a ton of sense for the Mariners. There's a hole in center field for future seasons with the Mariners. The team is likely to move on from Franklin Gutierrez given his unrelenting injury woes, Michael Saunders has taken a huge step back, and who knows about Dustin Ackley. If Ackley puts it all together in the second half and becomes a major contributor/asset in center field, maybe Ellsbury doesn't make as much sense. Still, I endorse going after him and worrying about Ackley late.

Jacoby Ellsbury will be 30 in the fall. He's already posted 3.3 fWAR and a .340 wOBA to date. He's a plus defender in center field, and is two years removed from a rebonkulous 9.1 fWAR 2011 campaign. 2012 was a huge set back as he struggled with injuries, but this season is a more realistic idea of what teams can expect from Jacoby Ellsbury over the next two to three years. The Mariners have poor depth in the outfield throughout their system, and should be intrigued at adding his kind of production at the top of the lineup. If Boston doesn't extend him, there are few free agents who make more sense for Seattle. There's a poll about Ellsbury below, so weigh in.

Tomorrow, Boston will counter Hisashi Iwakuma with Allen Webster, who has been nothing short of awful since being called up. The tantalizing enigma Felix Dubront goes against Harang on Wednesday, and then it's Ryan Dempster against Jeremy Bonderman's last start (please) on the Thursday afternoon game. If you've never been to a getaway weekday game at Safeco, I highly recommend it. Attendance is relatively low, but full of people who are big enough fans to skip out on work early.