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Series Preview: Mariners (38-38) vs. Pirates (37-40)

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It's a battle on the high seas as the Mariners host the Pirates for a quick two-game series.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Tuesday, June 28 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Pirates

Mariners

LHP Jon Niese

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

42%

58%

Wednesday, June 29 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Pirates

Mariners

RHP Jameson Taillon

LHP Wade Miley

46%

54%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Pirates

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

109 (3rd in AL)

110 (3rd in NL)

Pirates

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-11.0 (10th)

-3.0 (8th)

Pirates

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

102 (9th)

117 (14th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

97 (11th)

110 (14th)

Mariners

On June 1, both the Mariners and the Pirates were in second place in their respective divisions with almost the exact same record. Since then, both teams have won just 8 games and have tumbled down the standings. While the Mariners’ stretch of poor play has come in frustratingly close games, the Pirates are in full meltdown mode. They’re scoring just 3.7 runs per game this month while allowing 5.7 runs, flipping their run differential from +34 down to -18. Because of the relative strength of the National League, the Pirates find themselves with just a 5% chance to make the playoffs while the Mariners sit around 20%.

The Pirates:

Almost everything that could go wrong for the Pirates has gone wrong this month. Their pitching staff is sporting a league worst 5.51 ERA in June with the worst strikeout and walk rates in the National League. Their offense is slashing just .229/.302/.369 this month. To be fair, their schedule has been pretty brutal. They’ve had just one scheduled off day since May 12, with two rainouts leading to two double headers during this stretch and another makeup game from an earlier rainout where they flew to Denver in-between two home series. Due to their payroll situation and their recent stretch of poor play, many are casting them as sellers for the upcoming trade deadline. That may be a bit premature, especially since they just won three of four against the Wild Card leading Dodgers.

Key Players

CF Andrew McCutchen – The Pirates’ star center fielder has been one of the biggest reasons behind their struggles. Andrew McCutchen has been dealing with an injury to his right hand for most of the season but it’s really taken a toll on him this month. In June, he’s slashing just .211/.268/.344, 36% below league average. His strikeout rate has spiked to almost 30% and his hard hit rate has fallen to the lowest point of his career. The Pirates were counting on him for another 6.0+ fWAR season but he’s accumulated just 0.6 fWAR so far this year.

3B Jung-Ho Kang – Jung-Ho Kang was the forerunner for the recent migration of KBO stars to Major League Baseball. He was eased into the lineup slowly last year but quickly showed his hitting prowess once he was seeing regular playing time. A nasty knee injury cut his season short in September and his recovery forced him to miss a month of playing time this year. In his first game back, he launched two home runs and he hasn’t slowed down since. He’s added 120 points to his ISO and is on pace to hit over 30 home runs this year.

RF Gregory Polanco – After two years of development at the major league level, Gregory Polanco is finally fulfilling the promise that has followed him as a former top prospect. He’s added almost 100 points to his ISO, has pushed his walk rate to 11.9%, and his hart hit rate is higher than ever. The biggest reason for this newfound success is his batted ball profile. His line drive rate is 12th highest in the majors which has helped him push his BABIP to .344. But the most significant change is his pull rate. He’s hitting the ball to right field almost half the time he puts the ball in play which has helped him maximize his power.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Jon Niese

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

87 2/3

16.2%

8.0%

23.7%

54.4%

4.93

5.55

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

90.2 mph;

27.4%

89.6 mph;

28.5%

86.6 mph;

25.1%

83.2 mph;

11.2%

74.8 mph;

7.8%

Niese PA

In many ways, Jon Niese is pretty similar to Mike Leake, who the Mariners roughed up over the weekend. Like Leake, Niese doesn’t strikeout very many but relies on an above average groundball rate to manage all the contact he allows. His walk rate has never been as low as Leake’s so his margin for success is much slimmer. The past two years, Niese has been tormented by the home run. This year, almost a quarter of the fly balls he’s allowing are leaving the yard. He’s lost some velocity off his fastball and batters have punished the pitch to the tune of a .321 ISO off his four-seamer and a .243 ISO off his sinker.

RHP Jameson Taillon

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

22

16.5%

5.5%

26.7%

51.5%

4.50

4.97

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Curveball

95.5 mph;

26.0%

95.3 mph;

43.6%

87.5 mph;

9.0%

80.8 mph;

21.5%

Jameson Taillon missed two whole years of development to Tommy John surgery and the resulting rehab and recovery. Starting this year in Triple-A, he hadn’t thrown a competitive pitch since 2013. He blew away all doubts by posting a 2.04 ERA in 61 minor league innings while being remarkably stingy with the free passes and showing off his strikeout stuff. The Pirates called him up at the start of this month and he’s stumbled through four starts with his eight-inning, no-run win in New York the highlight. His excellent command has translated to the majors but his strikeouts have not. His four-seam fastball has been particularly ineffective, generating just one swinging strike so far.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

50-27

.649

-€”

W-L-W-W-W

Astros

40-37

.519

10.0

W-W-W-L-W

Mariners

38-38

.500

11.5

L-L-W-W-L

Athletics

33-43

.434

16.5

W-W-W-L-W

Angels

32-45

.416

18.0

L-L-L-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Red Sox

41-35

.539

+0.5

W-W-L-L-L

Royals

40-35

.533

-€”

L-L-L-W-W

Blue Jays

41-37

.526

0.5

W-L-W-L-L

Astros

40-37

.519

1.0

W-W-W-L-W

Mariners

38-38

.500

2.5

L-L-W-W-L

The Rangers were the first team in the majors to reach 50 wins and they did it early this morning in New York after a long rain delay. The Astros had their seven-game winning streak snapped on Sunday after the Royals held them to just one run after they scored 26 in the first two games of the series. The Astros started a three-game series against the Angels with a win yesterday. In the AL Central, the Indians have pushed their division lead to five games after sweeping the Tigers over the weekend and pushing their winning streak to 10 games.