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Series Preview: Mariners (18-22) at Blue Jays (19-24)

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The Mariners travel north to face the Blue Jays in Toronto over the weekend.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Friday, May 22

4:07 pm

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Blue Jays

RHP Marco Estrada

Saturday, May 23

10:07 am

Mariners

LHP James Paxton

Blue Jays

LHP Mark Buehrle

Sunday, May 24

10:07 am

Mariners

RHP Taijuan Walker

Blue Jays

RHP Aaron Sanchez

Mariners

Blue Jays

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

100 (9th in AL)

109 (3rd in AL)

Blue Jays

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-17.5 (13th)

4.7 (4th)

Blue Jays

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

106 (11th)

129 (15th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

101 (9th)

102 (10th)

Mariners

The grind continues as the Mariners continue their tour of the AL East with a three-game series in Toronto. Like the Orioles, the Blue Jays have one of the best offenses in the league paired with an even worse pitching staff. They have seemingly been on the cusp of contention for the last few years but they haven’t ever been able to put everything together right.

The Blue Jays have had an interesting start to the year; they lead the league in both runs scored and runs allowed. Despite a run differential of +12, they find themselves in the cellar of the AL East. Their offense is anchored by three sluggers, they’ve benefitted from a breakout season from their second baseman, Devon Travis, and they’re playing decent defense. But the pitching staff is a mess and there aren’t many obvious reinforcements on the horizon. After Marcus Stroman went down with a season-ending injury, they turned to Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez to help bring some new blood to an aging rotation. A month and a half later, Norris is back down in Triple-A and Sanchez has looked about as good as Taijuan Walker.

The Blue Jays:

The Blue Jays have really fallen apart in May after starting the year around .500. They’ve won just three of their last ten games and recently split a four game series with the Angels. Injuries have taken their toll on this team. Both of their middle infielders are currently injured; Devon Travis, their rookie second baseman, injured his shoulder this week and Jose Reyes has been on the shelf with a cracked rib since late April. The outfield hasn’t fared any better; Michael Saunders still hasn’t fully recovered from his knee injury and they’ve had to call on Chris Colabello to fill in. As a special treat, the Blue Jays have called up Munenori Kawasaki to take Travis’s spot on the roster.

Key Players

C Russell Martin The Blue Jays signed Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract as he approached his mid-30s. One might expect an incredulous response from the pundits when an aging catcher is signed for such a large amount over a long period of time. It’s a testament to Martin’s skills both behind the plate and beside the plate that this signing was generally viewed in a positive light. Over the last few years, he’s been rated as one of the best pitch framers in the game and his ability to work with a pitching staff is legendary. This year, his bat has out shone his glove; his 158 wRC+ is second among all catchers in the Majors and 11th overall.

RF Jose Bautista Jose Bautista is 34-years-old this year and he may be showing some signs of slowing down. He’s still hitting for massive power but he’s swinging and missing at the highest rate of his career. As a result, his contact rate is down but only on pitches outside the zone; he’s still punishing pitches in the zone. His walk rate has also spiked to just under 20%! More strikeouts will lead to a lower batting average but his on-base percentage shouldn’t be affected if he maintains his ridiculous walk rate.

3B Josh Donaldson Josh Donaldson has enjoyed his move to Toronto so far. At home, he’s hitting a ridiculous .373/.391/.687 and that’s driven much of his overall offensive line so far. On the road, he’s been much more pedestrian with a .238/.350/.381 slash line. What’s most interesting about his home/away splits is his walk rate—it’s six times higher on the road than it is at home. Maybe he’s seeing the ball really well at home and is comfortable enough to swing early and often.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Marco Estrada

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

25 1/3

24.3%

10.3%

16.1%

36.8%

3.55

5.06

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

90.2 mph;

47.7%

87.7 mph;

3.0%

80.0 mph;

36.5%

78.0 mph;

12.8%

Estrada

The demotion of the struggling Daniel Norris opened up a spot in the rotation for Marco Estrada. While he was a Brewer, Estrada was able to put together two good seasons as a starter but things began to fall apart last year. His strikeout rate dropped, his normally excellent walk rate was up and he was seriously hurt by the homer. Dingers have been a problem for him for his entire career and pitching in Rodgers Centre and the AL East hasn’t helped. He mainly relies on a decent four-seam fastball and a killer changeup. That pitch has allowed him to run a tiny platoon split over his career and maintain his high strikeout rate when moving back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation.

LHP Mark Buehrle

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

47

11.1%

5.3%

15.7%

43.7%

5.36

5.06

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

84.1 mph;

25.3%

83.8 mph;

24.3%

80.0 mph;

21.4%

79.2 mph;

22.3%

72.1 mph;

6.8%

Buehrle

Mark Buehrle has been the picture of consistency over his 16-year career in the Majors. Not including his rookie year, he’s made at least 30 starts and pitched over 200 innings every single year he’s been in the Majors. What’s even more amazing is the consistency of his peripherals; you can count on a strikeout rate around 14%, a walk rate around 5.5%, and a ground ball rate around 45%. That’s an amazing feat in this era of volatility and injury.

RHP Aaron Sanchez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

45 1/3

14.9%

15.8%

16.7%

59.9%

4.17

5.48

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Curveball

94.8 mph;

17.7%

95.0 mph;

56.1%

89.9 mph;

9.5%

79.6 mph;

16.7%

Sanchez_PAgraph

Aaron Sanchez was able to win the fifth starter spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation out of Spring Training after pitching exclusively out of the bullpen as a rookie last year. At one point, he was in the conversation to be the Jays’ closer simply on the strength of his fastball. He can get it up to 97 mph and sits comfortably in the mid-90s with it. Like most young starters, his development will entirely depend on his secondary pitches. Right now, his curveball is his is only viable option as he just doesn’t have confidence to throw his changeup consistently. Without the changeup to keep them honest, lefties are teeing off on his fastballs to the tune of a .437 wOBA.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

27-15

.643

-

W-L-W-W-L

Angels

21-20

.512

5.5

L-L-W-W-L

Mariners

18-22

.450

8.0

W-L-L-W-L

Rangers

18-23

.439

8.5

L-W-L-W-W

Athletics

14-29

.326

13.5

L-W-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Tigers

25-17

.595

+1.0

L-L-L-W-W

Twins

23-17

.575

-

W-W-L-W-W

Yankees

22-19

.537

1.5

L-W-L-L-L

Angels

21-20

.512

2.5

L-L-W-W-L

Orioles

18-20

.474

4.0

L-W-W-L-W

The Mariners continue to fall back in the AL West standings but haven’t fallen too far in the Wild Card race. That’s certainly not what we expected coming into the season but a hot streak could propel this team back into the conversation. The Astros took two of three from the Athletics earlier this week but lost to the Tigers yesterday to start a four-game, weekend series. After splitting a series with the Blue Jays, the Angels travel to Boston to take on the Red Sox.