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Series Preview: Mariners (51-49) vs. Cubs (60-40)

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The Mariners head to Chicago—the northside—to take on the best team in the National League, the Cubs.

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Friday, July 29 | 11:20 am

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Cubs

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

LHP Jon Lester

43%

57%

Saturday, July 30 | 11:20 am

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Cubs

LHP Wade Miley

RHP Jake Arrieta

35%

65%

Sunday, July 31 | 5:08 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Cubs

RHP Felix Hernandez

RHP Kyle Hendricks

42%

58%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Cubs

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

109 (2nd in AL)

107 (2nd in NL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-24.2 (14th)

34.7 (1st)

Cubs

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

107 (10th)

90 (4th)

Cubs

Bullpen (FIP-)

96 (10th)

99 (9th)

Mariners

Beginning today, the Mariners enter their most grueling stretch of play this season. They play 13 games in a row before an off day on August 11th and then play 20 more games without a break which will take them through the end of the month. There are a few reinforcements returning from the disabled list in the near future but a major trade in the next three days is pretty unlikely. Their playoff hopes are still hanging on by a thread and they’ll get a chance to face three of their Wild Card rivals in August. But first, the Mariners must face the best team in the National League. And for the first time since 2004, they’ll be featured on Sunday Night Baseball with Felix Hernandez taking the hill.

The Cubs:

Through the first two months of the season, many were comparing the Cubs to the 2001 Mariners. Through May, the Cubs compiled a 35-15 record (by comparison, the 2001 Mariners had a 40-12 record through the first two months of play) and a few were ready to crown them World Series champions. Of course that was all a bit premature. In the two following months, they’ve been just a game over .500 and they’ve posted a negative run differential in July. They just recently split a cross-town series with the White Sox.

Key Players

3B Kris BryantIn his rookie campaign, Kris Bryant struck out in over 30% of his plate appearances yet managed to post an offensive line 36% better than league average. A .378 BABIP certainly helped but he showed off all the offensive talent that made him the number one prospect in the league. This year, he’s shaved seven points off his strikeout rate while increasing his power output to elite levels. Maybe the most impressive aspect of his game may be his defensive work. Joe Maddon has utilized him at six different positions this year (including an inning at shortstop and in center) and he’s been more than capable at all of them. His excellent defensive work has helped him accumulate 5.2 fWAR this year, tops in the National League.

1B Anthony RizzoThere’s a strong case to be made that Anthony Rizzo has wrestled the title of best first baseman in baseball away from Paul Goldschmidt this year. He’s on pace to hit the most home runs of his career but it hasn’t come at the cost of his excellent plate discipline. In fact, his batting average and on-base percentage are both at career highs this year. Rizzo just keeps getting better at age 26 and is the anchor of the Cubs’ potent lineup.

SS Addison RussellThe youngest member of the Cubs’ elite core, Addison Russell still has a lot of room to develop. Always an elite defender at shortstop, his bat has always been the key to his ascent to stardom. In his second year in the majors, he’s cut his strikeout rate by five points, added a couple of points to his walk rate, and is showing off the power that made him such a tantalizing prospect. A league average offensive line is great progress for Russell and his minor league history suggests even more improvement on the horizon.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Jon Lester

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

122 1/3

23.9%

7.3%

15.6%

47.1%

3.09

4.00

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.1 mph;

48.6%

91.9 mph;

8.3%

89.4 mph;

25.2%

86.1 mph;

4.8%

75.8 mph;

13.0%

Lester PA

Like so many pitchers around the league, Jon Lester has suffered through a huge spike in home runs allowed. That’s the main reason why he’s added more than a full run to his FIP this year. Despite the hitter friendly nature of his home park, Lester has actually been excellent at home, limiting opposing batters to just a .129 ISO in Wrigley. When batters aren’t launching the ball out of the park, Lester has been just as good at striking out batters and limiting walks. His curveball has always been a plus pitch but he’s now generating the second most whiffs with a curveball in baseball.

RHP Jake Arrieta

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

127 1/3

26.2%

8.9%

9.2%

53.2%

2.76

2.99

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.6 mph;

4.9%

94.7 mph;

58.4%

89.3 mph;

3.8%

89.8 mph;

20.4%

81.3 mph;

12.5%

Arrieta PA

Jake Arrieta’s transformation from broken pitcher to Cy Young award winner is almost unbelievable. After his amazing breakout in 2014, he only got better by cutting his walk rate to just 5.5% giving him a strikeout-to-walk ratio just under five. But the most encouraging improvement was the huge increase in groundball rate. There are a few concerns that have showed up this year. His walk rate has ballooned to 8.9% and it’s led to an uncharacteristic string of poor starts since the end of June. Batters are also swinging and missing against his slider less often than before, though it hasn’t affected his overall strikeout rate yet. Make no mistake, he’s still one of the best pitchers in baseball, but maybe not as invincible as his 1.77 ERA from last year made him seem.

RHP Kyle Hendricks

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

116 2/3

21.9%

6.8%

9.3%

52.3%

2.39

3.36

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Curveball

88.8 mph;

19.4%

88.1 mph;

49.3%

80.6 mph;

25.1%

76.5 mph;

6.1%

Hendricks PA

In his first three years in the majors, Kyle Hendricks’s FIP has been remarkably consistent, sitting within a range of just .04 runs. He strikes out an above average amount of batters, doesn’t walk many, and generates a healthy amount of groundballs. But if you look at his pitch repertoire, you might come away surprised he’s able to be successful at all. His batted ball profile certainly helps—a high groundball rate and a high pop-up rate help him manage contact in front of one of the best infield defenses in baseball. He’s also able to command his pitches with precision, leading to an elite whiff rate with his changeup and an incredibly high called strike rate with his fastball.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

59-44

.573

-€”

W-W-L-L-W

Astros

55-46

.545

3.0

W-W-L-L-W

Mariners

51-49

.510

6.5

W-W-L-W-L

Athletics

47-55

.461

11.5

W-W-L-W-W

Angels

46-56

.451

12.5

L-W-W-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Blue Jays

57-45

.559

+1.0

L-W-W-W-L

Red Sox

55-45

.550

-€”

W-L-L-L-L

Astros

55-46

.545

0.5

W-W-L-L-W

Tigers

54-48

.529

2.0

L-L-W-W-W

Yankees

52-49

.515

3.5

L-W-W-W-L

The suddenly resurgent Athletics were able to take two of three from the Rangers earlier this week but were able to eke out a win against the visiting Royals last night; they’ll wrap up their four-game series this weekend. After "selling" Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs earlier in the week, the Yankees were able to take two of three from the Astros in Houston. They’ll be in Tampa Bay this weekend. The Tigers swept the Red Sox in Boston earlier this week and now travel to Houston to face the team immediately ahead of them in the Wild Card standings. In the AL East, the Orioles and the Blue Jays face off for the division lead in Toronto this weekend.