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Series Preview: Mariners (6-9) vs. Twins (6-9)

The Mariners look to get back to .500 as they host the Twins over the weekend.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Friday, April 24

7:10 pm

Twins

RHP Phil Hughes

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Saturday, April 25

6:10 pm

Twins

RHP Trevor May

Mariners

LHP James Paxton

Saturday, April 26

1:10 pm

Twins

RHP Kyle Gibson

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Mariners (2014)

Twins (2014)

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

94 (12th in AL)

102 (7th in AL)

Twins

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-11.7 (7th)

-61.3 (12th)

Mariners

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

102 (9th)

108 (13th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

87 (1st)

104 (11th)

Mariners

The Mariners were able to salvage a single win against the Astros and now sit at 3-3 during this homestand. After an off day at home to regroup, the Twins are in town for a three-game series. The Mariners will send out the top of their rotation and James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma will look to get things on track against one of the weaker teams in the American League.

The Twins had a surprisingly decent offense last year but that hasn’t translated over to this year yet. They’re second to last in the league in runs scored and their pitching staff hasn’t improved. That hasn’t made for a good start. They just lost two of three against the Royals in Kansas City.

The Twins:

The Twins were surprisingly active this offseason, signing Ervin Santana and Torii Hunter to lucrative contracts and extending Phil Hughes. Despite these two additions, the Twins don’t look any better. Hunter is a shell of his former self and the team seems content throwing him out there until Byron Buxton is ready to be called up. Speaking of Buxton, the Twins have a number of top prospects on the verge of the Majors. That may explain why they signed Santana for four years. But Santana’s story is even more disappointing. He was suspended after getting busted for PED use before the season started. The first 80 days of his career as a Twin will be spent at home.

Key Players

1B Joe Mauer A full-time first baseman now, Joe Mauer has had his abilities slowly sapped by the wear and tear of playing catcher. A 106 wRC+ last year was well below league average for first basemen. Much of that was due to an absolute dearth of power. Outside of an outlier year in 2009, Mauer has run an ISO of around .140 during his career. That dropped to .095 last year and has dropped even further to .036 to start this year. Last year was also the first time his batting average dropped below .300 since 2007 (excluding an injury shortened 2011). Mauer is signed through 2018 so the Twins need him to regain his batting stroke if they want to recoup any of the value from the massive contract they gave him in 2011.

2B Brian Dozier Brian Dozier has developed an exciting power/speed offensive profile as the Twins’ second baseman. He was one of only five players to join the 20-20 club last year. He was also able to increase his walk rate by four points last year. That improvement in plate discipline is much more promising for his overall value, as he was able to increase his wRC+ by 18 points because of all those additional walks.

LF Oswaldo Arcia Oswaldo Arcia’s approach at the plate is a lot like Mike Zunino’s—there are a lot of whiffs, not much contact, and a surprisingly low overall swing rate. In fact, if you put their plate discipline stats side-by-side, they look like they could be twins. Both of them are able to get away with a poor plate approach because when they do make contact with the ball, it goes far. However, where Zunino contributes excellent defense at a premium position, Arcia is a pretty terrible corner outfielder. In his first two years at the Major League level, he’s cost the Twins 25 runs in defensive inefficiency per DRS.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Phil Hughes (2014 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

209 2/3

21.8%

1.9%

6.2%

26.5%

3.52

2.65

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Curveball

93.3 mph;

60.8%

92.5 mph;

4.4%

89.5 mph;

20.3%

77.2 mph;

14.4%

Hughes_PAgraph

Phil Hughes’ historical year last year came out of nowhere. Sure, he has always been a strike-thrower but no one could have foreseen him setting the all-time strikeout-to-walk ratio record. He’s bound to regress from such lofty heights and he’s already accumulated 13% of his walk total from last year. He mainly relies on his three fastballs, heavily favoring his four-seamer. He also throws a curveball that was much improved last year and was one of the sources of his success. His Pitch Arsenal doesn’t look very impressive and Hughes seems to be an example of the limitations of the metric. He pounds the strike zone and gets a lot of called strikes as a result. The problem with throwing in the zone so often is the razor-thin edge between getting a called strike and enticing a batter to swing. This year, batters aren’t whiffing and are making contact over 90% of the time when they do swing.

RHP Trevor May (2014 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

45 2/3

20.7%

10.3%

11.9%

35.7%

7.88

4.77

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

93.1 mph;

56.0%

92.1 mph;

4.3%

84.3 mph;

16.4%

83.0 mph;

10.0%

77.8 mph;

13.4%

May_PAgraph

Trevor May made his Major League debut last year after spending six years in the Minors. He’s had problems with his control but he’s been able to compensate with excellent strikeout numbers. His batted ball profile skews heavily towards fly balls and he’s been known to leave his pitches up in the zone inviting batters to tee off. His fastball and his changeup are his best pitches and both will generate a ton of whiffs. His changeup is interesting in that it stays on the same plane as his fastball instead of breaking downward. He’s able to generate whiffs with it because of the 10 mph velocity difference between it and his fastball. He also throws a slider and a curveball, with the curve being the better of the two breaking pitches.

RHP Kyle Gibson (2014 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

179 1/3

14.1%

7.5%

7.8%

54.4%

4.47

3.80

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

92.7 mph;

19.5%

92.3 mph;

43.2%

84.4 mph;

12.4%

85.3 mph;

21.5%

81.3 mph;

3.4%

Gibson_PAgraph

On the surface, Kyle Gibson seems like your generic Twins starter—he doesn’t strikeout many, he limits walks, and he generates a ton of grounders. But beneath the surface, things are much more interesting. Gibson mainly relies on his sinker, which generates an above average amount of whiffs and grounders. In fact, Gibson throws three pitches with above average whiff rates. With that many whiffs, it’s odd that his strikeout percentage is so low. Perhaps the culprit is his extremely low strike zone rate. When he does pitch in the zone, batters are making contact 90% of the time when they swing.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

8-7

.533

-

W-W-W-W-L

Athletics

8-9

.471

1.0

L-W-L-W-L

Angels

7-9

.438

1.5

L-L-W-L-W

Mariners

6-9

.400

2.0

W-W-L-L-W

Rangers

6-9

.400

2.0

W-L-L-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Tigers

11-5

.688

+2.0

-L-L-L

Yankees

9-7

.563

-

W-L-W-W-W

Blue Jays

9-7

.563

-

W-L-W-W-W

Rays

8-8

.500

1.0

L-L-L-W-W

Athletics

8-9

.471

1.5

L-W-L-W-L

With all of the teams in the AL West so tightly packed together, it’s hard to discern which teams look the strongest. The Astros find themselves on top of the division but their run differential tells a different story. The Athletics seem to be the best team in the division so far but they’ve been so hot and cold that they’re sitting below .500. The Angels can’t seem to replicate their pitching magic from last year and the Rangers are completely lost. It’s still anyone’s game!