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Series Preview: Mariners (36-33) at Tigers (34-35)

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The Mariners wrap up their long road trip with a four-game series against the Tigers.

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Monday, June 20 | 4:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Tigers

RHP Nate Karns

RHP Mike Pelfrey

53%

47%

Tuesday, June 21 | 4:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Tigers

LHP James Paxton

RHP Justin Verlander

43%

57%

Wednesday, June 22 | 4:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Tigers

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

RHP Michael Fulmer

44%

56%

Thursday, June 23 | 10:10 am

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Tigers

RHP Adrian Sampson

TBD

43%

57%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Tigers

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

111 (2nd in AL)

106 (4th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-10.6 (12th)

-6.3 (10th)

Tigers

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

104 (9th)

104 (8th)

Tigers

Bullpen (FIP-)

92 (9th)

90 (7th)

Tigers

The Mariners swift slide down the standings is pretty staggering. Consider: on June 1 the Mariners were a half game behind the Rangers and nine games over .500. They’ve lost eight games in the standings since then and are now just three games over .500. The worst part is their run differential in June is just -11; their Pythagorean win percentage indicates they "should" have two more wins this month. Baseball Prospectus has the Mariners playoff odds at their lowest point this year and FanGraphs actually has the Astros just barely ahead of them.

The Tigers:

The Tigers latest effort to win a World Series for aging owner Mike Ilitch hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. Their two big acquisitions this offseason, Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann, have seriously underperformed and they just lost J.D. Martinez for 4-6 weeks with a broken elbow. Their excellent offense has been undone by their thoroughly mediocre pitching staff and their -6 run differential exactly matches their record. They lost three of four to the Royals over the weekend, getting outscored by 19 runs over their last three games.

Key Players

1B Miguel Cabrera – Fourteen years into his career now, we pretty much know what to expect from Miguel Cabrera. His excellent plate discipline has helped him age gracefully, and while he isn’t hitting for as much power as he has in the past, he’s still punishing the ball with authority. He suffered through his first stint on the disabled list last year and his health has become a growing concern as he ages. Still, as a 33-year-old, he’s one of the best hitters on the planet and the backbone of the Tigers.

3B Nick Castellanos – He doesn’t walk much and strikes out too often but there is one thing that Nick Castellanos does exceptionally well: hit line drives. Over the last three years, his 25.8% line drive rate ranks eighth in the majors and it’s helped him post a BABIP well above average each year of his career. For the first two years of his career, that batting profile has been around 6% below league average. This year, he’s been 26% above league average and it’s all due to an explosion of power. His home run rate is a robust 15.7% and that’s helped him push his ISO over .200 for the first time in his career. He’s been one of the worst fielders in the league so he needs his bat to carry all of his value. That’s finally the case this year.

LF Justin Upton – After averaging offensive performances around 20% better than league average for the first eight years of his career, everything has come crashing down for Justin Upton. His strikeout rate has ballooned to 33.1% and when he is making contact, it’s with little authority. His power numbers are at a career low but the weird thing is his batted ball profile and his plate discipline aren’t that different from his very successful year last year. His contact rate hasn’t changed, his swing rates are basically the same, and his BABIP is a very good .338 backed by a good line drive rate. He just isn’t getting the results he’s enjoyed throughout his career.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Mike Pelfrey

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

71 1/3

10.8%

9.3%

14.1%

50.4%

4.79

5.37

Pitches

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

93.3 mph;

67.5%

81.9 mph;

17.4%

84.5 mph;

10.9%

73.4 mph;

3.6%

Pelfrey PA

Among all qualified pitchers in the majors, Mike Pelfrey has the lowest strikeout rate, the second-lowest strikeout-to-walk ratio, and the fourth highest FIP. The odd thing is his fastball velocity. He generates an above average amount of velocity with his sinker but it’s just not enough. He doesn’t get whiffs with the pitch and it’s not the pitch he uses to generate grounders either. That would be his splitter on both counts. It’s been his best pitch by far this year. Pelfrey will also mix in a slider and a curveball occasionally but batters are hitting over .400 off his breaking balls so he’d do well to avoid them as much as possible.

RHP Justin Verlander

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

93

26.0%

6.7%

10.0%

35.7%

3.87

3.52

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

93.7 mph;

57.1%

88.8 mph;

11.0%

85.6 mph;

9.6%

84.8 mph;

6.8%

78.4 mph;

14.5%

Verlander PA

Two years removed from 2014, we can now see that his struggles that year were probably injury related. Last year he dealt with a tricep injury and struggled through his first month back from the disabled list. But when his body is right, he’s still vintage Verlander. He’s been completely healthy this year and he’s pushed his strikeout rate back over 25%. He began this year with diminished velocity but has since recovered all of it. He’s also started throwing a hard cutter in place of his slider. He’s able to locate that pitch in the zone more reliably than his old breaking ball but is able to generate an above average whiff rate with it making it a very effective weapon.

RHP Michael Fulmer

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

59 1/3

23.4%

9.4%

11.1%

48.8%

2.43

3.79

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

96.3 mph;

33.3%

95.6 mph;

24.4%

86.6 mph;

13.1%

88.8 mph;

29.3%

Fulmer PA

In his last start, Michael Fulmer had his historic 33 1/3 scoreless inning streak snapped by the Royals. It was the second longest streak by a rookie in major league history and an incredible accomplishment considering what came right before. In the four games before his scoreless streak, Fulmer allowed 15 runs in 19 innings along with 29 hits. So what’s changed? Well, his changeup for one. Fulmer threw just 25 changeups total in his first four starts but threw 29 alone in his start on May 16 against the Rays. His scoreless streak started with that game and his usage of his change piece has settled in around 15%. His walk rate is a little high and he’s stranding 86% of the baserunners he’s allowed, but any scoreless streak that long has to be backed by some good luck.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

45-25

.643

-€”

W-W-W-W-W

Mariners

36-33

.522

8.5

L-W-W-L-L

Astros

34-36

.486

11.0

W-W-L-W-W

Angels

31-38

.449

13.5

W-W-L-W-W

Athletics

28-41

.406

16.5

L-L-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Red Sox

39-29

.574

+1.5

W-L-L-W-W

Royals

38-31

.551

-€”

W-L-W-W-W

Blue Jays

39-33

.542

0.5

W-W-W-L-L

Mariners

36-33

.522

2.0

L-W-W-L-L

Tigers

34-35

.493

4.0

L-W-L-L-L

The Rangers are showing no signs of slowing down, winning their sixth straight game and sweeping the Cardinals over the weekend. They’ll play a make-up game tonight against the Orioles before hosting the Reds for two games. The Astros took care of business against the Reds over the weekend, winning two of three. They’ll host the Angels to start this week. With their series win over the Tigers, the Royals have made it back into the Wild Card race. They’ll travel to New York to play the Mets in a rematch of the World Series.