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Series Preview: Mariners (31-25) vs. Indians (31-24)

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Their gauntlet continues as the Mariners return home for a four-game series against the AL Central-leading Indians.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Monday, June 6 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Indians

Mariners

RHP Trevor Bauer

LHP James Paxton

48%

52%

Tuesday, June 7 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Indians

Mariners

RHP Carlos Carrasco

LHP Wade Miley

53%

47%

Wednesday, June 8 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Indians

Mariners

RHP Danny Salazar

RHP Taijuan Walker

52%

48%

Thursday, June 9 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Indians

Mariners

RHP Josh Tomlin

RHP Nate Karns

47%

53%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Indians

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

114 (2nd in AL)

104 (6th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-10.9 (13th)

23.0 (2nd)

Indians

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

108 (10th)

95 (4th)

Indians

Bullpen (FIP-)

86 (6th)

95 (10th)

Mariners

*Text in italics has appeared in a previous series preview.

Well that didn’t go as planned. The optimist might say the Mariners were missing two of their regular starters and ran into a hot Rangers team at the exact wrong moment. The pessimist…well we don’t need to go over what the pessimist would say. As you would expect, the Mariners lost a lot of ground in their playoff odds. Baseball Prospectus, normally the optimist of the bunch, had the Mariners losing 16 points off their chances to make the playoffs this weekend; FanGraph had them losing 12 points. Both of those systems still believe the Mariners will be a playoff team, but their chances are now down to a coin flip.

After a slow start, the Indians have finally put themselves in position to win the competitive American League Central. Since facing the Mariners back on April 19–21, they’ve gone 25-17 and leaped over three teams to take the division lead. But despite their great success recently, their playoff odds have stayed relatively stable. They were the pre-season favorite to win the division, they’re just finally playing like the projection systems assumed they would.

The Indians:

Maybe the most impressive part of the Indians recent success has been their outfield, or rather, their lack of outfielders. Their best player, Michael Brantley, has been sidelined a bum shoulder that he may have reinjured when he returned from the disabled list for 11 games in the middle of May. Marlon Byrd, their regular right fielder, was busted for PED use and probably won’t play another game in the majors. They’re down to two converted infielders, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jose Ramirez, Rajai Davis, and a young Tyler Naquin in the outfield. But, as a group, their outfield has accumulated the eighth most fWAR in baseball, an incredible amount of production considering the individual parts. The Indians swept the Royals in four games over the weekend to take the lead in the American League Central. They’re in the midst of a 20-game stretch without an off day and are beginning a 10-game road trip today.

Key Players

3B/LF Jose RamirezOne of the biggest reasons why the Indians have been so good without Michael Brantley has been the emergence of Jose Ramirez as an offensive powerhouse. He’s always been a good defender—the Indians have used him across four different positions this year—but he’s producing at the plate 33% better than league average. He’s swinging at pitches outside of the zone at the lowest rate of his career and it’s helped him cut his strikeout rate to just 8.8%. When he makes contact, he’s hitting a line drive almost a quarter of the time and he’s spraying the ball around the field rather than pulling the ball almost half the time.

1B Carlos SantanaCarlos Santana has one of the most discerning batting eyes in baseball. He’s consistently run one of the highest walk rates in baseball during his seven year career but he’s taken his discipline to an extreme this year. He’s cut his strikeout rate to just 11.7% and it’s mostly due to a refusal to swing at pitches outside of the zone; his 16.1% O-Swing% is second lowest in the majors. While he’s made great strides in his plate discipline, his batted ball profile is out of whack. He’s hitting the ball harder than ever before but his line drive rate is just 13% and his fly ball rate is at the highest point of his career. Hard hit fly balls are good for his power numbers but his BABIP is just .210, limiting his overall offensive contribution.

SS Francisco LindorIf it weren’t for Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor would have run away with the Rookie of the Year award last year. Their debut conjures memories of Jeter, Rodriguez, and Garciaparra in the late-90s. To get a sense of how impactful Lindor’s call up was just look at the Indians’ team defense. Per FanGraphs Defense, the Indians had one of the worst defenses in the first half of last year. They ended the year with the second best defense in the American League and much of it was due to Lindor’s defensive prowess.

2B Jason KipnisAfter an injury-plagued year in 2014, Jason Kipnis bounced back to post a .303/.372/.451 slash line last year. His BABIP bounced back, he struck out less often, and he continued to play solid defense at a premium position. The only thing that didn’t return was his power. His isolated power was exactly league average but instead of 15+ home runs, he hit a career-high 43 doubles. Even if he doesn’t regain some of his home run power, he should post another excellent season as one of the best second basemen in the American League.

C Yan GomesBetween 2013 and 2014, Yan Gomes posted 7.8 fWAR but a bad knee injury completely derailed his 2015. Before that, he showed excellent power and a batted ball profile that could support an above average BABIP. He doesn’t walk much so his offensive ceiling is a bit limited but the rest of his offensive game is more than good enough. All that’s left is to prove that the injury concerns are behind him.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Trevor Bauer

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

52 2/3

20.6%

9.2%

11.8%

47.4%

4.27

4.24

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

95.1 mph;

20.9%

94.5 mph;

32.2%

90.2 mph;

18.7%

88.0 mph;

13.3%

78.2 mph;

14.6%

Bauer PA

By simply looking at the chart above, it might seem like Trevor Bauer has finally realized the great amount of hype thrust upon him since being drafted in 2011. He’s generating above average whiff rates on all five of his pitches but his overall swinging strike rate—and thus his strikeout rate—aren’t any higher than they have been. Historically, he’s run a high fly ball rate but he’s improved his ground ball rate to above league average this year. Bauer will need all the strikeouts and grounders he can get because his walk rate is still just as high as ever.

RHP Carlos Carrasco

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

27

20.4%

5.6%

20.8%

50.6%

3.00

4.57

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.9 mph;

37.1%

94.0 mph;

19.8%

89.1 mph;

9.3%

88.4 mph;

18.0%

83.8 mph;

15.8%

Carrasco PA

Everything fell into place for Carrasco last year. He struck out almost 30% of the batters he faced while maintaining a miniscule walk rate and an above average ground ball rate. Everything you could want in a pitcher, Carrasco has in spades. He has four plus pitches in his repertoire, each with incredible velocity. Among all right-handed starters, he threw the fifth fastest slider and batters whiffed almost half of the time they swung at the pitch. His changeup is almost a carbon copy of Felix’s. Carlos Carrasco missed more than a month with a hamstring injury. He returned to action last week and could still be limited to a conservative pitch count.

RHP Danny Salazar

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

68 1/3

29.2%

11.9%

6.8%

50.3%

2.24

3.00

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

95.8 mph;

49.5%

95.7 mph;

17.8%

87.1 mph;

19.9%

85.3 mph;

7.6%

81.9 mph;

4.8%

Salazar PA

The third member of the Indians rotation could be an ace on almost any other team. Danny Salazar is able to rack up strike outs while also commanding his entire repertoire to avoid unnecessary baserunners. A below average ground ball rate and some trouble with the home run have kept his career ERA and FIP above 3.50. Salazar leans heavily on his excellent fastball and has a killer split-changeup to finish off batters. He rarely throws his breaking balls which is odd for a starting pitcher. His slider may be the better of the two but batters own a .233 ISO off the pitch. Salazar has struggled with his command this year but he’s managed to post a 2.24 ERA despite a five point jump in his walk rate.

RHP Josh Tomlin

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

61

16.4%

2.8%

13.2%

40.9%

3.54

4.30

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

88.7 mph;

39.8%

86.0 mph;

40.1%

84.7 mph;

8.0%

76.4 mph;

12.2%

Tomlin PA

Josh Tomlin has survived in the majors by maintaining an elite walk rate. Among starters who have pitched at least 200 innings in the past three years, Tomlin’s 2.8% walk rate ranks second only to Phil Hughes. And like Hughes, Tomlin also struggles to strike anyone out and has had trouble keeping the ball in the park. Tomlin’s strikeout rate did spike in 2014 and he improved it again last year but it’s fallen well below average this year. Some of that may be due to the loss of velocity he’s suffered this year. Still, he’s been able to win eight of his ten starts and maintain an ERA of just 3.54 by refusing to allow many baserunners.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

34-22

.607

-€”

W-L-W-W-W

Mariners

31-25

.554

3.0

L-W-L-L-L

Astros

28-30

.483

7.0

W-L-W-W-W

Angels

26-30

.464

8.0

W-L-W-L-W

Athletics

25-32

.439

9.5

W-W-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Red Sox

33-24

.579

+1.5

L-L-L-W-L

Mariners

31-25

.554

-€”

L-W-L-L-L

Royals

30-26

.536

1.0

W-L-L-L-L

Blue Jays

31-27

.534

1.0

W-W-W-L-W

White Sox

29-28

.509

2.5

W-W-L-L-L

Don’t look now but the Astros are just two games under .500 after their sweep of the Athletics over the weekend. They face off against their intrastate rival in Arlington in a big four-game series starting today. The Angels took two of three from the Pirates over the weekend in Pittsburgh and are just a game behind the Astros in the West. They travel to New York to face the Yankees beginning on Tuesday.