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Series Preview: Mariners (48-47) at Blue Jays (54-42)

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The Mariners head out on a big East Coast road trip beginning with three games in Toronto.

Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Friday, July 22 | 4:07

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Blue Jays

LHP James Paxton

RHP Marco Estrada

36%

64%

Saturday, July 23 | 10:07

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Blue Jays

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

RHP R.A. Dickey

45%

55%

Sunday, July 24 | 10:07

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Blue Jays

LHP Wade Miley

LHP J.A. Happ

38%

62%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Blue Jays

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

109 (2nd in AL)

107 (3rd in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-22.2 (13th)

21.1 (4th)

Blue Jays

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

106 (8th)

97 (3rd)

Blue Jays

Bullpen (FIP-)

95 (11th)

91 (9th)

Blue Jays

After somehow eking out two wins against the White Sox without holding a lead in any of the three games, the Mariners head out on a long road trip to finish the month. With the Rangers faltering and three teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race, FanGraphs actually give the Mariners a better chance to win the division rather than secure a Wild Card spot. The Mariners have a chance to make up some ground in the Wild Card race in this series, but rather than thinking about a specific race, the Mariners simply need to win. To have a fighting chance of making the playoffs, they’ll probably need to get to at least 88 wins, which means a .597 win percentage over the rest of the year.

The Blue Jays:

The Blue Jays offense took a while to get going—it wasn’t until June that their team wRC+ was above league average. Since the beginning of June, they’ve led the majors in runs scored scoring more than six runs a game. That offensive explosion has helped launch them into the middle of the AL East race and they currently hold a two and a half game lead in the Wild Card race. In July, they’ve won 11 of their 15 games, all without the help of Jose Bautista who has been sidelined with a toe injury. Luckily for the Mariners, he’s scheduled to return on Monday.

Key Players

3B Josh DonaldsonThe reigning AL MVP has only gotten better this year. He’s cut his strikeout rate by a few points, added five points to his walk rate, and is hitting for more power than ever. He trails only David Ortiz in wRC+ and Mike Trout in fWAR. He’s turned into such a complete hitter that his offensive game has very few holes in it. If you want to pick nits, his pop-up rate is a bit high but he’s compensated with the highest line drive rate of his career.

SS Troy TulowitzkiSince joining the Blue Jays at the trade deadline last year, Troy Tulowitzki has posted a .241/.315/.429 slash line, good for a 98 wRC+. Yep, you’re reading that right, Tulowitzki has been a below average hitter since leaving Colorado. That’s not to imply that his offensive prowess was completely buoyed by the Coors effect but years of injuries and wear and tear have taken their toll on him. His strikeout rate is higher than ever and his contact rate is at its lowest point since his debut in 2006. He’s simply not the 5.0 fWAR player he used to be.

LF Michael SaundersFor Mariner fans, watching Michael Saunders’s breakout season has been simultaneously gratifying and frustrating. Injuries have always held him back from reaching his potential but he’s finally healthy and is posting his best offensive season of his career. Much of that improvement is due to a huge spike in power production. He’s added almost 100 points to his ISO over his career norm and his .361 BABIP is backed by an excellent hard hit rate and the highest line drive rate of his career. He still strikes out too much and his once excellent speed has been sapped by knee injuries.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Marco Estrada

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

104 1/3

24.1%

9.5%

10.7%

34.3%

2.93

4.12

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

89.1 mph;

47.8%

86.7 mph;

13.2%

78.0 mph;

29.0%

77.0 mph;

10.0%

Estrada PA

Marco Estrada possesses one elite skill: extreme contact management. Opposing batters are running a BABIP of just .193 against him. That would be the lowest mark by a starting pitcher since the mound was lowered in 1969. His mark of .216 last year ranks in the top ten since then too. He’s not just getting extremely lucky, he’s found a way to induce weak contact regularly. His pop-up rate is higher than his line drive rate this year and his fly ball rate is the highest in the league. His best pitch is his changeup and his ability to change speeds and keep hitters off balance is one of the main reasons he’s been so successful.

RHP R.A. Dickey

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

122 2/3

17.0%

8.4%

17.2%

43.9%

4.11

5.27

Pitches

Sinker

Knuckleball

82.8 mph;

10.6%

76.3 mph;

88.6%

Dickey PA

One of the few remaining, natural knuckleballers left in the league, R.A. Dickey has become a reliable innings eater in his old age. He’s slowly reduced his "fastball" usage the past few years and is now throwing it less often than ever. Even his knuckler has lost some effectiveness. He’s allowing far more hard contact of it this year and it’s led to a spike in home runs. His strikeout rate has rebounded a bit after a one year dip last year. At 41 years old, this will probably be his last season in baseball.

LHP J.A. Happ

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

118

19.5%

6.9%

11.3%

41.9%

3.43

4.01

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

92.9 mph;

40.1%

91.7 mph;

29.5%

85.8 mph;

14.8%

84.3 mph;

6.9%

79.1 mph;

8.7%

Happ PA

After being traded away from Seattle to Pittsburgh mid-season, he was the beneficiary of some of that Pirates pitching magic. In Pittsburgh, he added ten points to his strikeout rate, cut his walk rate by a few points, and posted a 1.85/2.19/2.90 pitcher slash line. Those newfound skills haven’t followed him back to Toronto as his overall line looks remarkably similar to his previous three seasons. That doesn’t necessarily mean he hasn’t been successful. His rising fastball has been as good as ever, and while the results aren’t the same, his pitch mix resembles the adjustments he made with the Pirates.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

55-41

.573

-€”

L-W-L-L-L

Astros

51-44

.537

3.5

L-W-L-L-W

Mariners

48-47

.505

6.5

W-L-W-L-W

Angels

43-52

.453

11.5

W-W-W-W-W

Athletics

42-54

.438

13.0

L-W-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Orioles

54-40

.574

+1.0

L-L-L-L-W

Blue Jays

54-42

.563

-€”

L-L-W-W-W

Astros

51-44

.537

2.5

L-W-L-L-W

Tigers

50-46

.521

4.0

W-W-L-L-W

Mariners

48-47

.505

5.5

W-L-W-L-W

Not only have the Rangers won just a single game since the All-Star break, they’re losing players to injuries left and right. They’ll travel to Kansas City this weekend hoping to get their season back on track. The Astros lost two of three to the Athletics earlier this week and host the suddenly dangerous Angels this weekend. The once potent Oriole offense has significantly cooled off this month and they’ve fallen to second in the AL East. They host the best team in the AL, the Indians, this weekend.