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Series Preview: Mariners (73-77) at Royals (87-62)

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The Mariners face a late-season challenge as they travel to Kansas City to take on the best team in the AL.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Tuesday, September 22

5:10 pm

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Royals

RHP Jeremy Guthrie

Wednesday, September 23

5:10 pm

Mariners

LHP Roenis Elias

Royals

RHP Yordano Ventura

Thursday, September 24

5:10 pm

Mariners

LHP James Paxton

Royals

RHP Johnny Cueto

Mariners

Royals

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

102 (4th in AL)

102 (6th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-34.8 (13th)

38.9 (1st)

Royals

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

107 (11th)

110 (14th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

101 (9th)

88 (6th)

Royals

The Mariners did their part in making the race for the AL West crown much closer. Now they travel to Kansas City to face the best team in the AL. This series will be a good test of the progress this team has made in the second half. The Mariners’ offense will be battling a Royals’ pitching staff that has struggled lately. In September, Royal starters have allowed a 5.47 ERA, the fourth worst mark in the league. Offensively, the Royals haven’t changed much. Their focus is on making contact which has led to the lowest strikeout rate of any team in baseball.

The Royals:

The Royals could feasibly clinch the AL Central in this series against the Mariners as their magic number is three (a combination of three wins or losses from the Twins gets them their division crown). They’ve scuffled a bit in September, running a losing record in a month for the first time this season. That has allowed the Blue Jays to creep to within a game of the best record in the AL. Kansas City is returning home from a long road trip where they recently lost two walk-offs against the Tigers before taking the final game in the series on Sunday.

Key Players

CF Lorenzo Cain Lorenzo Cain is a late bloomer in the majors; he had played baseball for just two years before being drafted out of high school by the Brewers. His raw talent had always been apparent but it wasn’t until last year that he would put everything together. He’s an elite defender in center field and much of his value last year was derived from a UZR of 9.0 at a premium defensive position. Offensively, his success has been much slower to develop. Last year, his BABIP was an extremely high .380 but he’s shown that his offensive success wasn’t a fluke with an even better offensive line this year. He’s striking out less often, putting the bat on the ball more often, and is hitting the ball harder than ever before.

3B Mike Moustakas After four years of disappointment, Mike Moustakas is finally showing why he was considered a top prospect for the Royals for so many years. It really comes down to one number: his wOBA on balls hit to the opposite field is .367 this year. It had been around .190 entering this year and his successful adjustment has made him a threat to all fields. He’s also been able to cut his strikeout rate for the third consecutive season to just over 10%.

1B Eric Hosmer After an excellent showing in the postseason last year, Eric Hosmer has built upon that success to post the most valuable season of his young career, although nothing has really changed from his breakout year in 2013. For Hosmer, it all comes down to pitch recognition and selectivity at the plate. He’s swinging less often and making less contact, but his line drive rate is higher than ever and his walk rate has increased to almost 10%. His BABIP is much higher than his career rate but it matches his BABIP from 2013 when his line drive rate was 22%.

Kendrys MoralesRemember him? After a terrible season last year, many in the game seemed to write Kendrys Morales off as a lost cause. The Royals took a chance on him and its paid dividends for them. He hasn’t changed much from his stint with the Mariners, his plate discipline stats are largely unchanged and his batten ball profile is pretty similar, save a higher line drive rate. He’s back to hitting for power, he striking out less often, and balls are finding green more often. Overall, it’s a pretty similar line to his successful 2013 season in Seattle, it only seems more remarkable because of the black hole that he had become last year.

Ben ZobristBen Zobrist as acquired from the Athletics before the trade deadline to solidify the Royals lineup by giving it a healthy dose of flexibility. He’s flourished in Kansas City despite losing some of the defensive luster he’s been known for. Instead, he’s regained his power stroke, cut his strikeout rate to under 10%, and has posted his best overall offensive line since 2012.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Jeremy Guthrie

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

144 1/3

12.3%

6.7%

12.6%

34.3%

5.55

5.38

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

92.6 mph;

32.8%

91.3 mph;

20.1%

88.1 mph;

14.0%

85.7 mph;

16.9%

77.7 mph;

16.1%

Guthrie PA

Jeremy Guthrie is a perfect example of a back-end, innings-eater. He’s thrown over 200 innings in five of the last six years and his total innings over that same period is the 13th most in baseball. He doesn’t strikeout many, he doesn’t give up many walks, and his fly ball profile is benefitted by the best defensive outfield in baseball. He’s moved away from a mediocre slider in favor of a cutter but there hasn’t been any discernable benefit. His best pitches are his fastballs but declining velocity has robbed them of their limited effectiveness. He’ll also mix in a changeup and a curveball but neither pitch is very useful. Guthrie faced the Mariners in Seattle earlier this season and gave up six runs on nine hits in just five innings.

RHP Yordano Ventura

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

143 1/3

21.8%

8.6%

12.1%

51.6%

4.40

3.83

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

96.9 mph;

37.4%

96.7 mph;

21.3%

92.6 mph;

4.0%

88.0 mph;

15.1%

84.4 mph;

22.2%

Ventura PA

Despite his prickly demeanor and a mid-season demotion, Yordano Ventura is one of the best young starters in the game. He relies on a fastball with huge velocity and a good amount of "rise," helping him induce whiffs and a decent amount of ground balls. Ventura does struggle with consistency, especially with his secondary pitches. He often struggles to throw his changeup and curve for strikes. That isn’t a problem for his changeup since it generates enough whiffs to allow him to leave it out of the zone but his curveball is often forgotten the deeper into the count he gets.

RHP Johnny Cueto

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

194

21.0%

4.8%

9.8%

41.7%

3.43

3.50

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

93.5 mph;

32.0%

93.1 mph;

19.5%

88.8 mph;

20.3%

84.2 mph;

16.5%

85.2 mph;

8.4%

81.4 mph;

3.4%

Cueto PA

Johnny Cueto was acquired by the Royals at the trade deadline to shore up one of the worst starting rotations in the league. Since joining the Royals, his ERA and FIP have skyrocketed, his strikeout rate has plummeted, and the Royals have gone 2-8 in his 10 starts with them. There isn’t much that’s changed in his pitch arsenal so we might have to chalk these struggles up to adjusting to a new league and a new environment. When he’s right, Cueto generates an above average amount of strikeout and limits walks. He’s usually able to limit hard contact as well but that ability has eluded him this year. Perhaps that’s the root of his recent struggles; batters are making hard contact against him 30% of the time since joining the Royals.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

80-69

.537

-

W-W-L-W-L

Astros

80-71

.530

1.0

L-L-W-W-W

Angels

76-74

.507

4.5

W-W-W-L-L

Mariners

73-77

.487

7.5

L-W-W-L-W

Athletics

64-86

.427

16.5

L-W-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Yankees

82-67

.550

+3.0

W-L-W-W-L

Astros

80-71

.530

-

L-L-W-W-W

Twins

76-73

.510

3.0

L-L-L-L-W

Angels

76-74

.507

3.5

W-W-W-L-L

Indians

74-74

.500

4.5

W-L-W-L-W

The Astros snapped their five-game losing streak by winning two games against the Athletics and taking the first game in their series against the Angels yesterday. That win pushed them three games ahead of the Angels and just a game behind the Rangers. Texas travels to Oakland as they try and maintain their slim lead in the division. The Twins and the Indians start a three-game series that could see the two teams swap spots in the Wild Card race.