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Series Preview: Mariners (17-20) at Orioles (16-19)

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The Mariners begin a grueling stretch of play with a three-game series in Baltimore.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Tuesday, May 19

4:05 pm

Mariners

RHP Taijuan Walker

Orioles

RHP Miguel Gonzalez

Wednesday, May 20

4:05 pm

Mariners

LHP Roenis Elias

Orioles

LHP Wei-Yin Chen

Thursday, May 21

9:35 am

Mariners

LHP J.A. Happ

Orioles

RHP Chris Tillman

Mariners

Orioles

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

98 (10th in AL)

104 (4th in AL)

Orioles

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-17.1 (13th)

3.8 (6th)

Orioles

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

106 (10th)

106 (11th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

103 (9th)

108 (13th)

Mariners

After a relatively easy schedule to start the year, the Mariners enter what looks to be the most demanding stretch of the year. Starting today, they’ll play forty-three games in just forty-four days. This stretch includes a cross-country flight from Tampa to Seattle without the benefit of a travel day.

The Mariners’ starting pitching seems like they might be coming out of their early season funk. They’re just 10th in the league in FIP- but much of that is due to running the second highest home run rate in the league. In fact, if you normalize their home run rate, they jump all the way up to 4th in xFIP-. Regression is coming.

The Orioles have been surprisingly good these past few seasons. The last time they were this good was in 1997 when the Mariners and Orioles faced off in the Division Series. More recently, they’ve made two playoff appearances in the last three years and won the AL East last year. They’ve found success by combining one of the best offenses in the league with a mediocre pitching staff and they’re continuing that formula this year.

The Orioles:

Due to the recent civil disorder in Baltimore, the Orioles have played the fewest games to start this year (their opponents during the rioting, the White Sox, have also played just 35 games). Due to these cancelled games, they’re also beginning a grueling stretch of play where they’ll play forty-two games in forty-two days. They have one off day during that period but they’re also making up two games with the White Sox in a scheduled doubleheader on May 28. They recently lost two of three against the Angels and sit in fourth place in the AL East.

Key Players

CF Adam Jones Adam Jones has gotten off to a hot start this year. His wRC+ of 153 is in the top-20 among all qualified batters in the Majors and he’s already accumulated almost 2.0 fWAR. He’s always had an aggressive approach at the plate, but this year, something’s changed. He still isn’t walking very often but his strikeout rate has dropped by eight points! He’s avoiding strikeouts by making contact with 83.5% of the pitches he swings at—that contact rate is the highest rate he’s ever posted by nine points. His power is still present so it doesn’t seem like he’s selling out to make contact at all costs. If he’s able to maintain these changes in plate discipline, he could join the ranks of the elite hitters in the Majors this year.

3B Manny Machado Manny Machado has also enjoyed some newfound success with a different plate approach. He’s become much more selective at the plate and that’s led to a higher walk rate and a lower strikeout rate. In fact, Machado has the ninth lowest swing rate on pitches outside the zone in the Majors. Better pitch recognition can lead to harder contact when he’s able to identify pitches he can punish. As a result, he’s hitting for more power than ever before.

2B Jimmy Paredes Last year, Steve Pearce had a surprising breakout season, accumulating 4.9 fWAR in just 102 games for the Orioles. He’s come crashing back down to earth this year with a slash line of just .188/.267/.313. Enter Jimmy Paredes, a 26-year-old utility player with just 145 games at the Major League level over four seasons prior to this year. Paredes has been on fire to start this season and he’s forced his way into the lineup. He’s spraying line drives to all fields and he’s matched his career home run total in just 24 games. Among batters with at least 100 plate appearances, his 171 wRC+ ranks eighth.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Miguel Gonzalez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

43

19.4%

9.7%

9.3%

41.3%

2.93

4.10

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

91.7 mph;

44.0%

91.5 mph;

14.8%

84.3 mph;

13.4%

85.0 mph;

17.3%

77.1 mph;

10.0%

Gonzalez_PAgraph

Miguel Gonzalez has always found a way to outperform his poor peripherals and the difference between his FIP and ERA is the largest in baseball since he entered the league in 2012. This year, that trend has continued but he’s also improved his strikeout rate and his ground ball rate. He’s throwing his slider more often and it’s been generating an astonishing amount of grounders. He’s shifted away from his sinker which he used to get ahead in the count and to generate weak contact. By moving away from that pitch, his walk rate has increased to below average levels.

LHP Wei-Yin Chen

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

42 2/3

19.5%

8.1%

10.7%

39.2%

2.53

4.58

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

91.6 mph;

52.7%

90.4 mph;

11.6%

82.8 mph;

12.1%

82.6 mph;

16.6%

72.5 mph;

6.9%

Chen_PAgraph

Wei-Yin Chen’s strikeout rate and walk rate have steadily fallen since his Major League debut in 2012 until this year. Both rates are now at their highest in his career which is not a good thing. He’s running the highest FIP of his career but he’s been able to outperform his peripherals and his ERA is a sparkling 2.53. He’s basically the left-handed version of Miguel Gonzalez. He leans on his four-seam fastball more than half the time. He’ll mix in a sinker, a splitter, and a slider with an occasional curveball. All of his pitches have dropped in effectiveness this year except his fastball. He’s generating about 25% more whiffs with his four-seamer which may be the sole reason behind the increase in strikeout rate.

RHP Chris Tillman

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

38 1/3

15.8%

11.1%

12.8%

38.8%

6.34

5.42

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

92.4 mph;

61.5%

91.9 mph;

2.7%

87.4 mph;

9.5%

84.3 mph;

11.3%

76.6 mph;

14.9%

Tillman_PAgraph

Chris Tillman has established himself as a mid-rotation, innings eater with two years of 200+ IP. He doesn’t generate enough strikeouts to be at the top of a rotation but he generally limits baserunners helping him outperform his peripherals (I sense a theme here). He’s a fly ball pitcher whose home park encourages home runs, especially for left-handed batters. Last year, he was able to avoid his homer happy ways by inducing more groundballs and less hard contact. This year, his hard contact rate is even lower and he’s allowing a similar amount of fly balls but he’s been hurt by the homer again. He missed a start the last time through the rotation due to some issues with his back.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

25-14

.641

-

W-W-W-W-L

Angels

19-19

.500

5.5

W-W-W-L-L

Mariners

17-20

.459

7.0

L-L-W-L-W

Rangers

16-22

.421

8.5

W-L-L-L-W

Athletics

14-26

.350

11.5

L-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Tigers

23-16

.590

+1.5

W-W-W-L-L

Twins

21-17

.553

-

W-L-W-W-L

Rays

21-18

.538

0.5

W-W-L-L-W

White Sox

18-17

.514

1.5

W-W-W-W-W

Angels

19-19

.500

2.0

W-W-W-L-L

The White Sox have vaulted themselves into the Wild Card race by winning six straight. So many pundits saw Cleveland as the best team in the AL Central but this latest win streak, a hot Twins team, and continued success from the Tigers and Royals have the Indians looking up from the bottom of the pile. The Astros continue to play extremely well and sport the best record in the League. They face off against the Athletics to start the week. The Angels started a four-game series against the Blue Jays with a loss yesterday.