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Series Preview: Mariners (65-55) at Tigers (64-54)

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The Mariners travel to Detroit to face the dethroned, but still dangerous, Tigers.

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Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Friday, August 15

4:08pm

Mariners

LHP James Paxton

Tigers

RHP Rick Porcello

Saturday, August 16

4:08pm

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Tigers

LHP David Price

Sunday, August 17

10:08am

Mariners

RHP Chris Young

Tigers

LHP Robbie Ray

Mariners

Tigers

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

90 (13th in AL)

108 (2nd in AL)

TIGERS

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

21.3 (6th)

-24.3 (11th)

MARINERS

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

99 (5th)

88 (1st)

TIGERS

Bullpen (FIP-)

82 (1st)

105 (13th)

MARINERS

In an odd turn of events, we're playing the second Wild Card leader for the second series in a row. An early season favorite to win the World Series, the Tigers rotation and lineup have been exactly as advertised. An arms race at the trade deadline between the Athletics and the Tigers led to the addition of David Price -- the Mariners received Austin Jackson from the Tigers in this deal -- and their lineup has thrived with excellent years from Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler.

The Tigers' bullpen has been their Achilles' heel this year and it's only gotten worse recently. Over the last 30 days, their relievers are sporting an ugly 5.19 FIP as a unit and have given up a league worst 16 Meltdowns (a stat designed by FanGraphs to accurately portray the effect of a reliever on the outcome of the game).

The Mariners faced the Tigers at the end of May and took two of three from them at home. That series could be seen as a turning point in the season. After that series, the Mariners rattled off six wins in seven games on the road, pushing their record to 34-29 as they vaulted into the second spot in the Wild Card race.

The Tigers:

Since the All-Star break, the Tigers' record is just 12-16. They've been recently surpassed by the red hot Royals in the AL Central are now a half-game ahead of the Mariners in the Wild Card race and just a half-game behind the Royals in the Central Division. They still have the second best odds to represent the American League in the World Series this year even though the odds of them even making the playoffs have dipped from 95% to just 75% over the past month.

Key Players

2B Ian Kinsler - If I gave you one chance to guess who the non-pitching WAR leader for the Tigers was, I think many of you would guess Miguel Cabrera -- and most of you would be mistaken. Ian Kinsler is having a resurgent year and leads the Tigers' position players with 3.9 WAR. His season line this year looks pretty odd compared to his career averages. His walk rate is severely depressed -- down to four percent -- and he's swinging at more pitches than ever before. Luckily, those extra swings are turning into hits for him as his batting average on balls in play is .303 and his strikeout rate is right in line with his career average.

1B Miguel Cabrera - Miguel Cabrera has been dealing with a myriad of nagging injuries this year and it's definitely affected his performance. His 138 wRC+ would be the lowest mark he's posted since 2008, dropping him from super human to simply amazing (it's ridiculous that a 138 wRC+ is considered disappointing for Cabrera). His power numbers are way down and it could be due to the injuries that have been bothering him. He was offered a chance to compete at the Home Run Derby but turned it down because he "didn't want to mess up his swing anymore."

DH Victor Martinez - Victor Martinez has made a triumphant return from a devastating knee injury that caused him to miss the entire 2012 season. What's even more remarkable is how he's been able to increase his power numbers while maintaining his elite plate discipline skills. Most notoriously, he actually had as many home runs as strikeouts through the middle of June. He dealt with an oblique injury in July but has since rebounded and has continued to punish pitchers.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Rick Porcello

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

150 1/3

15.5%

5.3%

8.9%

48.9%

3.11

3.61

Pitches

Four-seam

Two-seam

Slider

Curveball

Changeup

90.5 mph;

29.1%

90.2 mph;

30.2%

84.8 mph;

10.3%

77.3 mph;

16.3%

81.8 mph;
13.9%

Last year, Rick Porcello's strikeout rate spiked to 19% and many thought that he had turned the corner from the backend of the rotation to a number three or even a number two starter. He hasn't carried that elevated strikeout rate over to this year as his current 15% is slightly above his career norm. Yet, despite the loss of strikeouts, Porcello has continued to be an effective pitcher because has been so stingy with the walks. He's also been relying on some luck this year as the batting average on balls in play against him is a low .278 and he's stranded 75% of the base runners he's allowed, both marks are on the fringe of league average.

LHP David Price

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

185 1/3

27.4%

3.5%

11.9%

40.9%

3.21

3.03

Pitches

Four-seam

Two-seam

Cutter

Curveball

Changeup

93.5 mph;

15.8%

93.0 mph;

41.7%

86.9 mph;

13.5%

80.2 mph

10.3%

84.9 mph

18.7%

David Price will be making his third start for the Tigers when he faces Felix Hernandez on Saturday afternoon. The Mariners have faced Price twice already this year and he was dominant on both occasions. He mainly relies on his two-seam/sinker to set up his change and his cutter. He strikes out a ton of guys and doesn't give up any walks -- he's legitimately one of the top 5 starters in the AL and the Tigers did well to acquire him at the trade deadline. If there was one weakness I could point out it's his above league average home run rate. His xFIP, which swaps in a league average home run rate, is just 2.72.

LHP Robbie Ray

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

20 1/3

15.6%

8.9%

3.7%

37.3%

5.31

3.57

Pitches

Four-seam

Curveball

Changeup

90.8 mph;

59.5%

77.9 mph;

10.4%

83.4 mph;

30.1%

Robbie Ray was the centerpiece of the deal that sent Doug Fister to the Nationals this last offseason. Ray has made just four starts for the Tigers this year and has spent most of his time honing his craft in Triple-A. He's making this start on Sunday in place of the injured Justin Verlander. As a prospect, he was known for his plus fastball that could touch the mid-90s. He also throws a curveball and a changeup but both are below average offerings at this point in his development. He actually reminds me a bit of James Paxton -- a mid-level prospect with a big fastball who needs to develop his command and secondary pitches to succeed.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Athletics

73-48

.603

-

L-L-W-L-L

Angels

70-49

.588

2.5

W-W-L-W-L

Mariners

65-55

.542

8.0

W-W-W-W-L

Astros

50-72

.410

23.5

L-L-W-L-L

Rangers

47-74

.388

26.0

L-L-W-L-W

The Athletics ran into the Royals and promptly lost three of four against the hottest team in baseball. The Athletics and the Royals have played seven times in August and the Royals have won five of those games. The Angels and the Mariners were able to gain two games on the A's making the race for the division even more interesting. The A's take on the Braves while the Angels face the Rangers this weekend.

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Angels

70-49

.588

+5.5

W-W-L-W-L

Tigers

65-54

.546

-

W-W-L-L-L

Mariners

65-55

.542

0.5

W-W-W-W-L

Blue Jays

63-59

.516

3.5

L-L-L-W-W

Yankees

61-58

.513

4.0

L-L-L-L-W

Like I mentioned before, the Tigers find themselves displaced from their familiar throne atop the AL Central. The Royals find themselves facing the Twins in a four-game series over the weekend and should continue to push the Tigers for the top spot in the Central. The Blue Jays hope to get back on track against the White Sox after their demolition at the hands of the Mariners. The Yankees are also faltering as they've lost four straight and fallen eight games behind the Orioles in the AL East and four games back in the Wild Card; they face the Rays over the weekend.

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