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Series Preview: Mariners (28-18) vs. Twins (12-34)

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The Mariners continue their homestand with a three-game series against the Twins.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Friday, May 27 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Twins

Mariners

LHP Pat Dean

RHP Felix Hernandez

34%

66%

Saturday, May 28 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Twins

Mariners

RHP Phil Hughes

LHP Wade Miley

37%

63%

Sunday, May 29 | 1:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Twins

Mariners

RHP Ricky Nolasco

RHP Taijuan Walker

34%

66%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Twins

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

113 (2nd in AL)

84 (15th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-11.7 (13th)

-6.0 (11th)

Twins

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

101 (6th)

109 (11th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

84 (7th)

106 (13th)

Mariners

With their big win over Oakland on Wednesday, the Mariners finally pushed their home run differential into positive territory. They have the second highest run differential in the American League and the third highest in baseball. The pitching staff is allowing the second fewest runs per game in the AL, behind only the White Sox. That may not continue all year. As a group, they have the third lowest BABIP and the third highest strand rate in the majors. That’s caused the team FIP to be more than half a run higher than their team ERA.

The good news is that the offense legitimately looks like one of the best in baseball. With Adam Lind showing signs of life and no one playing well above their head, this run scoring machine should continue to hum through the summer.

The Twins:

The Twins are in that awkward phase where they’re waiting for their top prospects to mature enough to make the jump to the majors. Miguel Sano has already established himself at the highest level but has disappointed this year. Byron Buxton and Jose Barrios have each made cameo appearances this year but neither looked ready to make that leap forward. In the meantime, they’ll continue to be cellar dwellers in the AL Central. They salvaged a three-game series against the Royals with a win on Wednesday, just their fifth win in the month of May.

Key Players

1B Joe Mauer It looks like Joe Mauer might be finally bouncing back from a nasty concussion that left him a shell of his former self the past two years. He’s walking at the highest rate of his career, he striking out less often, and is hitting a line drive almost a third of the time he puts the ball in play. The root of these improvements is the rejuvenation of one of the best batting eyes in baseball. He’s cut his swing rate at balls outside the strike zone down to just 19.3% and his whiff rate is a miniscule 4.4%.

RF Miguel Sano – Miguel Sano burst into the major leagues last year, launching 18 home runs in 80 games and posting the 6th highest walk rate among batters who received at least 300 plate appearances. He also struck out more than a third of the time he was at the plate and that hasn’t changed much this year. Sano is making contact more often help him keep his BABIP over .300, but it’s a far cry from the ridiculous .396 BABIP he ran last year.

DH Byung-ho Park – When Jung-ho Kang made the successful transition from the KBO to MLB last year, it paved the way for two more transplants this year, Hyun-soo Kim and Byung-ho Park. Unlike the easy transition Kang and Kim enjoyed, the Twins have thrown Park into the fire, starting him in 39 of their 46 games. He’s responded by showing off his prodigious power. More than half of his hits have gone for extra bases and a quarter of the fly balls he’s hit have left the yard. His high strikeout rate and low contact rate give some cause for concern but Park has proven that the transition from Korea to the US isn’t as risky as some might have believed.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Pat Dean

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

14

19.7%

8.2%

10.5%

38.6%

3.86

4.30

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

90.6 mph;

56.8%

85.4 mph;

26.3%

85.3 mph;

11.9%

77.2 mph;

4.9%

There’s a surprising lack of information about Pat Dean on the internet. Simply looking at his minor league track record, I can tell you he’s just another Twins pitcher who doesn’t strikeout many but doesn’t walk many either. That he posted a 4.81 ERA in Double-A in 2014 after reaching Triple-A the year before should tell you all you need to know about his position in the Twins organization. He made his first major league start last week against the Blue Jays and was able to earn a quality start. At this point in their season, Dean is simply eating innings for the Twins before their real prospects get their chance in the majors.

RHP Phil Hughes

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

48 2/3

13.2%

4.4%

13.4%

37.7%

5.55

4.94

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

91.4 mph;

48.2%

88.8 mph;

23.8%

85.3 mph;

3.3%

81.3 mph;

2.4%

77.7 mph;

21.7%

Hughes PA

It’s hard to believe that Phil Hughes set the major league record for highest strikeout-to-walk ratio just two years ago. Moving to Minnesota had to major effects on his arsenal. First, he simplifies his repertoire down to three primary pitches: his fastball, cutter, and curveball—with a changeup and slider thrown very occasionally. He also started pounding the strike zone; in the last three years, no other pitcher has thrown in the strike zone more often than Hughes. It may have worked for him in 2014, but batters have punished him for throwing in the zone so often the last two years. He’s still extremely stingy with giving up walks but his strikeout rate has fallen well below average and he just can stop giving up hits.

RHP Ricky Nolasco

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

52

20.5%

4.9%

11.1%

43.4%

5.54

3.71

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

91.7 mph;

28.9%

91.8 mph;

18.5%

80.8 mph;

5.2%

82.7 mph;

33.5%

74.7 mph;

13.3%

Nolasco PA

Ricky Nolasco was once the poster child for the usefulness of defense-independent pitching stats. He consistently posted ERAs that were much higher than you might expect given his other peripherals. His biggest strength has been his ability to locate his pitches in the strike zone, keeping his walk rate very low. Unfortunately, age and injury has caused every other aspect of his arsenal to deteriorate. His strikeout rate has rebounded a bit this year but he’s still giving up too many runs, particularly when pitching from the stretch. When the bases are empty, he’s holding opposing batters to just a .319 wOBA, but as soon as someone reaches, that jumps all the way up to .368. Unsurprisingly, he’s stranding just 57.2% of the runners that reach against him.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Mariners

28-18

.609

-€”

W-W-L-W-W

Rangers

27-20

.574

1.5

W-W-L-W-W

Angels

21-26

.447

7.5

L-W-W-L-L

Astros

20-28

.417

9.0

L-L-W-W-W

Athletics

20-28

.417

9.0

L-L-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Orioles

26-19

.578

-€”

W-L-L-L-L

Rangers

27-20

.574

-€”

W-W-L-W-W

Indians

25-20

.556

1.0

L-L-W-W-W

Royals

24-22

.552

2.5

W-L-W-W-L

Tigers

23-23

.500

3.5

W-W-W-W-L

The Astros may be finally showing some life after sweeping the Orioles at home to start this week. They’ll head to Anaheim to face the Angels over the weekend. The Rangers continue to keep pace with the Mariners, after taking two of three from the Angels; they’ll host the Pirates this weekend. The AL Central looks like the most exciting division in the league right now. After racing out to a big start, the White Sox have scuffled recently and have given up a lot of ground to the surging Indians. The first game of a big four-game series between the Royals and the Sox was rained out yesterday. The Orioles look to get back on track in Cleveland this weekend.