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Series Preview: Mariners (11-10) vs. Royals (12-9)

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The reigning world champions are in town for a three-game tilt over the weekend.

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Friday, April 29 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Royals

Mariners

RHP Kris Medlen

RHP Felix Hernandez

41%

59%

Saturday, April 30 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Royals

Mariners

RHP Yordano Ventura

RHP Wade Miley

49%

51%

Sunday, May 1 | 1:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Royals

Mariners

RHP Ian Kennedy

RHP Taijuan Walker

43%

57%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners (2016)

Royals (2016)

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

104 (5th in AL)

101 (6th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-2.7 (9th)

10.7 (2nd)

Royals

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

101 (7th)

106 (9th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

82 (6th)

91 (8th)

Mariners

You may have noticed that the At a Glance section above looks a little different. Earlier this week, FiveThirtyEight released their Elo rankings for Major League Baseball and game by game predictions are included in those rankings. The predictions aren’t perfect—they have a pretty heavy weight on home field advantage, but they do take into account projected starting pitchers and things like travel and off days. I’ll be including these predictions in my series previews from here on out, enjoy!

The Mariners have now won four series in a row and own a +17 run differential, third best in the American League. Beating up on the Astros helped push the Mariners’ playoff odds well over where they were preseason: Baseball Prospectus is the most optimistic, giving them a 55.6% chance of making the playoffs; FanGraphs is a little more measured, seeing the Mariners as a playoff team just a third of the time; and FiveThirtyEight sits between the other, giving them a 46% chance of making the playoffs. All three projection systems agree on one thing: the Mariners have been the best team in the AL West so far and have the best chance to win the division.

They’ll face a stiff challenge to end the first month of play as the reigning world champions come to town. The Royals have found success by bucking the trend and focusing on tons of contact at the plate and fielding an elite defense behind a mediocre pitching staff. It’s worked for them too, as they’ve made it to the World Series twice in a row. The projection systems can’t make heads or tails of their roster but there’s no denying the success they’ve seen the last few years. This is a dangerous team.

The Royals:

The Royals got off to a fast start this year but it’s been a duo of AL West teams that has prevented them from running away with the AL Central. After the first two weeks of the season, they had a 7-2 record heading into a series in Oakland; they wound up losing two of three in that series. More recently, they started this week with a record of 12-6, but a three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels pushed their record to where it stands now.

Key Players

3B Mike Moustakas After years of promise and disappointment, Mike Moustakas finally broke out last year. He’s consistently lowered his strikeout rate from over 20% to under 10% this year and has finally started spraying the ball around the field instead of hitting into the shift half the time. Those two adjustments helped him post a .284/.348/.470 slash line last year. This year, he’s finally showing the power that was expected of him. He’s launched seven home runs already this year and his isolated power is a robust .325. He’s still pulling most of his ground balls, but he’s hitting the ball in the air to all fields, helping him beat the defensive shift that’s plagued him for so long.

C Salvador Perez Salvador Perez is a microcosm of the Royals in all the best ways: he has bucked the sabermetric trend by creating value in immeasurable ways. The Royals value him so much, they tore up his already insanely team-friendly contract to sign him to a less team-friendly extension that treats him fairly. Offensively, he doesn’t walk at all, finding all of his value by making a ton of contact. Defensively, he doesn’t receive very well but is an excellent blocker, has a cannon for an arm, and handles his pitching staff very well.

CF Lorenzo Cain The emergence of Lorenzo Cain as a bona fide superstar has been a major reason the Royals have made two consecutive appearances in the World Series. He’s accumulated 11.5 fWAR over the last two years and was a borderline MVP candidate last year. His primary calling card is his elite defense in center field. That alone has provided over three wins of value since 2013. But he’s also added some offensive prowess to go along with it. Last year, he was able to lower his strikeout rate, raise his walk rate and hit for more power than ever before, and it all added up to an offensive line 29% better than league average.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Kris Medlen (2015 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

58 1/3

16.5%

7.4%

10.0%

49.7%

4.01

4.13

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Curveball

91.4 mph;

21.2%

91.4 mph;

38.3%

84.7 mph;

19.3%

79.0 mph;

20.7%

Medlen PA

Kris Medlen is the rare pitcher who has survived two Tommy John surgeries and made it back to the majors. With the Braves, he had battled through his first reconstructive surgery to become an effective starter for them for a couple of years. Between 2012 and 2013, he had an ERA of just 2.47 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio over four. He missed all of 2014 and returned to the mound to make eight starts for the Royals last year. In three starts this year, his ERA sits at an ugly 6.00 and his walk rate is outrageously high at 16.2%. That will inevitably drop, but with so much damage done to his elbow, it’s unlikely Medlen will ever reach his previous highs again.

RHP Yordano Ventura (2015 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

163 1/3

22.5%

8.4%

11.0%

52.2%

4.08

3.57

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Curveball

96.9 mph;

37.2%

96.7 mph;

20.7%

87.9 mph;

14.8%

84.4 mph;

23.8%

Ventura PA

Yordano Ventura is all about speed. His fastball has the fourth highest average velocity in the majors, he throws the second fastest curveball, and his changeup ranks seventeenth. Despite all that speed, he just doesn’t get as many whiffs with his fastball as you might expect. His best pitch by whiff rate is his curveball and it’s one of the best in the majors. He matches his blazing arsenal with a fiery temper that got him into some trouble last year. He was demoted to Triple-A just after the All-Star break but was recalled before throwing a pitch in the minors due to injuries in the Royals’ rotation. He’s just 25, so his ceiling is still very high, but he’ll have to mature as a player and as a pitcher to reach the promise he’s already shown.

RHP Ian Kennedy (2015 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

168 1/3

24.4%

7.3%

17.2%

38.5%

4.28

4.51

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

92.3 mph;

62.3%

86.0 mph;

8.1%

84.3 mph;

14.5%

78.1 mph;

15.1%

Kennedy PA

If you simply look at Ian Kennedy’s strikeout-to-walk ratio, you might come away thinking he’s one of the better pitchers in the league. Since 2010, he’s averaged a little more than three punch outs for every walk he allows. Unfortunately, he just can’t seem to keep the ball in the yard. As a fly ball pitcher, it’s a problem that’s plagued him throughout his career. Opposing batters have enjoyed an ISO of .189 off his fastball but he’s also able generate a good amount of whiffs with the pitch. His fly ball tendencies and propensity to give up hard contact should be somewhat alleviated by the Royals’ defense and home park. Still, he’s walking a fine line between effectiveness and mediocrity.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

12-10

.545

-

L-L-L-W-W

Mariners

11-10

.524

0.5

L-W-W-W-L

Angels

11-11

.500

1.0

W-L-W-W-W

Athletics

11-12

.478

1.5

L-L-W-L-L

Astros

7-15

.318

5.0

W-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Royals

12-9

.571

+0.5

L-W-L-L-L

Red Sox

12-10

.545

-

W-W-W-W-L

Indians

10-9

.526

0.5

W-W-L-L-W

Mariners

11-10

.524

0.5

L-W-W-W-L

Tigers

11-10

.524

0.5

L-W-L-W-W

The Rangers secured the top spot in the AL West by taking two of three from the Yankees at home. They’re hosting the Angels this weekend, who are fresh off their sweep of the Royals. The Athletics had a series to forget in Detroit, losing three of four. They return home this weekend to face the Astros.