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Series Preview: Mariners (23-23) vs. Indians (21-25)

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The Mariners return home with an even record to face a surging ball club from Cleveland.

Jason Miller/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Thursday, May 28

7:10 pm

Indians

RHP Corey Kluber

Mariners

LHP James Paxton

Friday, May 29

7:10 pm

Indians

RHP Trevor Bauer

Mariners

RHP Taijuan Walker

Saturday, May 30

7:10 pm

Indians

RHP Shaun Marcum

Mariners

LHP Roenis Elias

Sunday, May 31

1:10 pm

Indians

RHP Danny Salazar

Mariners

LHP J.A. Happ

Mariners

Indians

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

98 (10th in AL)

110 (3rd in AL)

Indians

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-17.8 (13th)

-21.8 (14th)

Mariners

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

106 (11th)

85 (1st)

Indians

Bullpen (FIP-)

100 (9th)

101 (10th)

Mariners

Just like that, the Mariners have played their way back to .500. A 6-3 homestand followed by a 6-3 road trip washes away a rough start to the month. The schedule isn’t going to get much easier though; they start a nine-game homestand today in the midst of their streak of 36 games in 37 days.

Remember when the Red Sox came to town and the storyline was their underperforming starting rotation? Well, the Indians are the one team who has had it worse. Their starters have the best FIP- in the league and the best xFIP- in baseball but their ERA- is the fourth worst in the Majors. Where the Sox have suffered through poor sequencing and trouble with the homer, the Indians have suffered through a more serious weakness: bad defense. Last year, they had the worst team defense per DRS and UZR and it hasn’t gotten much better this year.

The Indians:

The Indians were the popular pick to win the AL Central and some had them winning the World Series this year. A terrible start to the year has pushed them deep into a hole that they’re trying to climb out of. They had won six straight, sweeping the White Sox and the Reds, before running into the red hot Rangers. They lost the first two games of that series before annihilating Texas yesterday, 12-3. After a brief homestand, they wrap up a string of 20 games in a row with this series in Seattle.

Key Players

2B Jason Kipnis After signing a lucrative $52 million contract extension last year, Jason Kipnis put up a stinker of a season, slashing just .240/.310/.330. A strained oblique definitely affected his production but he’s fully recovered this year. His regained health has allowed him to post a top 10 wRC+ this year and he’s second in baseball with 3.0 fWAR already.

LF Michael Brantley Michael Brantley does not swing and miss. His whiff rate of 2.6% is the best in the league and would be the fifth best mark in the last five years. His name appears among players like Marco Scutaro, Juan Pierre, and Ben Revere—except Brantley isn’t a slap-hitter or a light-hitting speedster. His breakout year last year established a new level of production from him and he hasn’t slowed down this year. In fact, he’s hitting for more power while also walking at a career high rate. There isn’t another hitter in baseball like him and his ability to make quality contact is unparalleled.

1B Carlos Santana Carlos Santana got off to a very slow start last year, possibly because of a defensive shift to third base. Once he was moved back to first, his production skyrocketed and he was one of the best hitters in the league over the second half of the season. This year, without a position change to worry about, his production hasn’t dropped off and he’s been a solid rock in the heart of the Indians’ lineup.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Corey Kluber

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

69 2/3

29.5%

4.3%

7.8%

48.6%

3.49

2.20

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

94.7 mph;

9.4%

94.1 mph;

41.0%

89.6 mph;

28.1%

85.9 mph;

3.9%

84.1 mph;

17.6%

Kluber_PA

When you look at that Pitch Arsenal graph, it’s readily apparent why Corey Kluber has developed into one of the best pitchers in the Majors. Two of his pitches are off the charts! He’s generating an obscene amount of whiffs with his four-seam fastball and his cutter—both pitches are over two standard deviations above the league average whiff rate for each individual pitch. When a batter swings at one of his cutters, they miss it almost half the time! When Kluber won the Cy Young last year, Felix Hernandez had an excellent case to be made for why he should have won instead, but we shouldn’t sell Kluber short either. Just look at this awesome GIF via FanGraphs:

Kluber_supercut

RHP Trevor Bauer

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

56 2/3

23.6%

9.4%

6.2%

36.7%

3.02

3.34

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

93.2 mph;

44.7%

93.2 mph;

8.5%

85.7 mph;

13.8%

84.8 mph;

25.1%

78.4 mph;

7.7%

Bauer_PA

Since being drafted third overall in 2011, Trevor Bauer has been a divisive prospect. He’s notorious for his extreme warmup routines and his wonky delivery and quickly wore out his welcome in Arizona. The Indians got to work on his mechanics, simplifying his delivery so that he could repeat his throwing motion easier. That’s allowed him to cut his walk rate under 10% while still maintaining his high strikeout rate. Bauer is also notorious for tinkering with his pitches and throwing a wide variety of them. At one point in his career, he was throwing a screwball but he’s only thrown four of them this year and it looks like he’s decided to shelve that pitch in favor of his slider.

RHP Shaun Marcum

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

14 1/3

27.6%

10.3%

29.4%

41.7%

6.28

6.70

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

86.6 mph;

35.6%

87.6 mph;

1.9%

84.2 mph;

29.9%

80.7 mph;

25.1%

72.7 mph;

7.6%

Injuries to T.J. House and Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister’s transition to the bullpen has opened up a spot in the rotation for Shaun Marcum. He injured his shoulder in 2013 and missed most of 2014. Finally healthy, he’s bounced between Triple-A and the Majors this year. At his peak, he was a soft-tossing, control artist who generated enough strikeouts to be effective. He’s made just three appearances this year and his pitch arsenal is different enough that I didn’t feel comfortable including data from 2013. The biggest change to his arsenal is the lack of sliders. He’s completely abandoned the pitch and is now throwing his cutter more often—possibly because of his injury history. His best pitch is his changeup and he uses it to neutralize lefties leading to a small platoon split for his career.

RHP Danny Salazar

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

49 1/3

32.2%

5.9%

19.0%

46.3%

3.65

3.54

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

96.5 mph;

54.3%

94.9 mph;

8.1%

87.2 mph;

24.0%

86.5 mph;

7.5%

81.2 mph;

6.2%

Salazar_PA

After failing to make the rotation out of Spring Training, Danny Salazar has shown why he’s one of the most exciting young pitchers in the Majors. His repertoire is similar to Taijuan Walker’s; he relies mainly on a fastball that’s thrown in the mid- to upper-90s and a devastating split-change. He’ll mix in a slider or curveball occasionally, but moving away from his breaking pitches has allowed his two plus pitches to flourish. He has the best strikeout rate in baseball and his walk rate is above average. Home runs have been a problem for Salazar throughout his career and this year is no different. He’s given up six homers with his four-seamer leading to a robust .289 ISO off that pitch.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

30-18

.625

-

W-W-L-W-L

Mariners

23-23

.500

6.0

W-L-W-W-W

Angels

23-24

.489

6.5

L-L-W-L-L

Rangers

23-24

.489

6.5

W-W-W-W-L

Athletics

17-32

.347

13.5

W-W-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Twins

28-18

.609

+1.0

W-W-W-W-W

Tigers

28-20

.583

-

L-L-L-W-W

Rays

24-24

.500

4.0

L-L-L-L-L

Mariners

23-23

.500

4.0

W-L-W-W-W

Angels

23-24

.489

4.5

L-L-W-L-L

The continued success of the Twins might be more surprising than the Astros’ continued domination. The Twins have won five straight and are now tied atop the AL Central with the stumbling Royals. After a seven-game winning streak, the Rangers finally lost a game; they take on the Red Sox at. The Angels play the Tigers, the other Wild Card leader, this weekend. The Astros lost two of three to the Orioles and look to bounce back against the White Sox at home.