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Series Preview: Mariners (50-48) at Pirates (51-47)

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The Mariners return to the high-seas, looking to track down those dastardly Pirates.

Justin Berl/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Tuesday, July 26 | 4:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Pirates

RHP Felix Hernandez

LHP Francisco Liriano

47%

53%

Wednesday, July 27 | 4:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Pirates

LHP James Paxton

RHP Gerrit Cole

41%

59%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Pirates

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

109 (2nd in AL)

101 (4th in NL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-22.2 (13th)

-8.6 (8th)

Pirates

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

106 (9th)

115 (14th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

96 (11th)

102 (11th)

Mariners

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

The Mariners and Pirates connect for the second leg of a differed home-and-home series. A month ago, both of these teams were suffering through a terrible month of play and had fallen far out of contention, hovering around .500. A month later, both teams have started to turn things around and find themselves in the thick of the playoff race in their respective leagues. The Mariners playoff odds peaked this weekend at 22% after their win on Saturday but dropped to 16% after the loss on Sunday. With two off-days this week, the Mariners will be well rested before their stretch of 33 games in 34 days begins on Friday.

The Pirates:

Remember how poorly the Mariners played in June? The Pirates somehow managed to be worse. They’ve rebounded in July, going 13-6 this month, and have limited opponents to just four runs per game. A seven-game win streak to start the month—beginning with their win in Seattle—certainly helped but they’ve also managed to win every series this month save one. Their pitching staff has been the primary driving force behind this resurgence. They just took two of three from the Phillies last weekend and are a game and a half back in the NL Wild Card race.

Key Players

CF Andrew McCutchenThe 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 really took a toll on him last month. In June, he slashed just .202/.255/.323, 46% below league average. His strikeout rate has spiked to almost 25% 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 0.7 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 11.1%, and his hard 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 .331. 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.

LF Starling MarteThe third member of the Pirates’ All-Star outfield, Starling Marte has developed into a premier outfielder in his five years in the majors. He’s managed to maintain a four point reduction in his strikeout rate this year and an extremely high BABIP has helped him post a batting average north of .300. He doesn’t walk much but his plus speed and batted ball profile help him reach base enough to wreak havoc on the basepaths. If it weren’t for Andrew McCutchen, he’d be playing in center field. Instead, he’s playing an excellent left field further increasing his overall value.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Francisco Liriano

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

105 1/3

22.1%

12.9%

16.9%

52.0%

4.96

4.91

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

93.5 mph;

3.5%

93.2 mph;

47.2%

85.6 mph;

17.9%

86.1 mph;

31.4%

Liriano PA

Like Dallas Keuchel, Francisco Liriano refuses to pitch in the zone. His zone rate is the lowest in baseball for the third consecutive year, and like Keuchel, he’s really struggled with the same approach this year. He’s never been known for pinpoint command, but his walk rate has ballooned to 12.9% this year. Opposing batters have stopped chasing his pitches out of the zone and are patiently waiting for Liriano to get himself into trouble. Right-handed batters in particular are waiting for hitter’s counts before punishing him to the tune of a .346 wOBA.

RHP Gerrit Cole

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

78 1/3

20.0%

6.9%

4.3%

44.0%

2.99

2.96

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

95.9 mph;

51.4%

95.8 mph;

14.8%

88.7 mph;

5.1%

88.1 mph;

17.8%

81.9 mph;

10.7%

Cole PA

Gerrit Cole has a fastball problem. Despite possessing one of the fastest fastballs in baseball, he’s lost the ability to induce whiffs with it. In the first three years of his career, both his four-seam and his two-seam fastballs regularly produced whiff rates above league average. This year, both pitches are well below average and it’s led to a career low strikeout rate. The rest of his plate discipline stats are well within career norms so his problems may be a simple as some bad luck. Without his plus fastball, Cole is merely a great pitcher rather than an elite pitcher.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

58-42

.580

-€”

L-L-W-W-W

Astros

54-45

.545

3.5

W-W-W-W-L

Mariners

50-48

.510

7.0

L-W-W-W-L

Athletics

45-55

.450

13.0

L-W-W-W-L

Angels

44-55

.444

13.5

W-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Red Sox

55-42

.567

+0.5

W-L-L-W-L

Blue Jays

56-44

.560

-€”

W-L-L-W-W

Astros

54-45

.545

1.5

W-W-W-W-L

Tigers

52-48

.520

4.0

W-L-L-L-W

Yankees

51-48

.515

4.5

L-W-L-W-W

Despite staking themselves to a 5-1 lead, the Athletics couldn’t hang on against the Rangers yesterday. Texas has won three straight now after winning two of three against the Royals over the weekend. The Astros were able to reign in the Angels over the weekend, ending LA(AA)’s six-game winning streak by sweeping them in three games. The Orioles have won five straight pushing their lead in the AL East to two and a half games over the Red Sox who are in a virtual tie with the Blue Jays for the Wild Card lead. In a rare five-game series (it included a make-up game doubleheader), the White Sox beat the Tigers over the weekend, three games to two.