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Series Preview: Mariners (57-53) vs. Tigers (61-50)

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The Mariners wrap up their homestand with a critical three-game series against the Tigers.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Monday, August 8 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Tigers

Mariners

RHP Michael Fulmer

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

51%

49%

Tuesday, August 9 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Tigers

Mariners

LHP Daniel Norris

LHP Wade LeBlanc

48%

52%

Wednesday, August 10 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Tigers

Mariners

RHP Justin Verlander

RHP Felix Hernandez

52%

48%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Tigers

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

108 (2nd in AL)

105 (5th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-22.2 (13th)

-13.8 (12th)

Tigers

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

104 (9th)

100 (5th)

Tigers

Bullpen (FIP-)

95 (10th)

91 (7th)

Tigers

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

With their three game sweep of the Angels, the Mariners now have their best record since the beginning of July. And because the Astros continue their plummet down the standings, the Mariners are now second in the AL West and just three and half back in the Wild Card race. FanGraphs has the Mariners’ playoff odds at 21% while Baseball Prospectus gives them a 29% chance of playing in October. Those odds could drastically change after this series against the Tigers. They currently hold the second Wild Card spot and a series win would go a long way towards pushing the Mariners up the standings.

The Tigers:

Since the All-Star break, the Tigers have been the best team in the American League. Sweeping the Red Sox and the Astros during their eight-game winning streak at the end of July added 25 points to their playoff odds, launching them into the middle of the Wild Card race. Their offensive output has stayed relatively steady all year so their dramatic improvement in the second half of the season has been driven by their pitching staff. They’ve allowed just 3.68 runs per game since the All-Star break, the third best mark in the league. The Tigers just won their fourth straight series after they won two of three against the Mets over the weekend.

Key Players

1B Miguel CabreraFourteen years into his career now, we pretty much know what to expect from Miguel Cabrera. His excellent plate discipline has helped him age gracefully, and while he isn’t hitting for as much power as he has in the past, he’s still punishing the ball with authority. He suffered through his first stint on the disabled list last year and his health has become a growing concern as he ages. Still, as a 33-year-old, he’s one of the best hitters on the planet and the backbone of the Tigers.

LF Justin Upton – After averaging offensive performances around 20% better than league average for the first eight years of his career, everything has come crashing down for Justin Upton. His strikeout rate has ballooned to 29.7% and when he is making contact, it’s with little authority. His power numbers are at a career low but the weird thing is his batted ball profile and his plate discipline aren’t that different from his very successful year last year. His contact rate hasn’t changed, his swing rates are basically the same, and his BABIP is a very good .319 backed by a good line drive rate. He just isn’t getting the results he’s enjoyed throughout his career.

2B Ian KinslerIan Kinsler has found the fountain of youth this year. After watching his power numbers dry up in Detroit, he’s added 70 points to his ISO this year and has crossed the 20 HR plateau for the first time since 2011. With that added power has come a huge increase in strikeouts as well. His swinging strike rate is higher than ever leading to a career low contact rate. All those whiffs have been coming on pitches out of the zone as his in-zone contact rate has barely changed.

DH Victor MartinezAfter he followed up his career year in 2014 with a stinker of a season last year, many thought Victor Martinez’s career had run its course. Instead, his offensive performance has settled between those two extremes from the last two years. That’s he’s remained healthy all year has been the biggest contribution to his success. He’s hitting for power and continues to hit the ball extremely hard. Aside from his deteriorating knees, an elevated strikeout rate might be the only concern for the veteran.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Michael Fulmer

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

104

21.0%

7.4%

11.8%

51.2%

2.42

3.76

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

96.0 mph;

36.3%

95.4 mph;

20.1%

86.6 mph;

16.3%

88.7 mph;

27.2%

Fulmer PA

In his first four major league starts, Michael Fulmer allowed 15 runs in 19 innings. Since then, across 13 games and 84 innings, he’s given up just 16 runs, including a 33 inning scoreless streak. His excellent changeup has been the impetus for this incredible turnaround. He had been toying with the pitch during Spring Training but didn’t fully add it to his repertoire until mid-May. He’s now throwing that pitch around 16% of the time giving him a great compliment to his plus fastball-slider combo. Opponents have just a .250 BABIP against him so he’s benefitted from his fair share of good luck.

LHP Daniel Norris

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

13

27.1%

5.1%

16.7%

30.0%

4.85

4.36

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

93.0 mph;

43.2%

93.3 mph;

20.0%

85.6 mph;

15.0%

86.8 mph;

12.3%

76.3 mph;

9.6%

A former top prospect, famously lived in a van (down by the river), and cancer survivor. Daniel Norris can claim these three things but he’s yet to live up to his potential in the major leagues. He’s posted excellent strikeout rates in the minor leagues, putting down more than a quarter of the minor league batters he’s faced in his career. But he’s always struggled with the walk and his command issues have prevented him from fully establishing himself in the majors. This year, he’s bounced between Triple-A and the majors but has shown off much better control in his three spot starts. With Jordan Zimmermann back on the disabled list, he’ll get the call again.

RHP Justin Verlander

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

153 1/3

26.6%

6.7%

10.2%

36.3%

3.52

3.46

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.0 mph;

55.9%

85.9 mph;

9.9%

87.8 mph;

16.2%

78.8 mph;

15.5%

Verlander PA

Two years removed from 2014, we can now see that his struggles that year were probably injury related. Last year he dealt with a tricep injury and struggled through his first month back from the disabled list. But when his body is right, he’s still vintage Verlander. He’s been completely healthy this year and he’s pushed his strikeout rate back over 25%. He began this year with diminished velocity but has since recovered all of it. He’s also started throwing a hard, cutter-like slider, which he’s able to locate in the zone more reliably than his old breaking ball.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

65-47

.580

-€”

L-W-L-W-W

Mariners

57-53

.518

7.0

W-L-W-W-W

Astros

57-54

.514

7.5

L-L-W-L-L

Angels

49-62

.441

15.5

W-L-L-L-L

Athletics

48-63

.432

16.5

L-W-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Blue Jays

63-49

.563

+1.5

W-W-W-L-L

Tigers

61-50

.550

-€”

W-L-W-W-L

Red Sox

60-50

.545

0.5

L-W-W-L-L

Mariners

57-53

.518

3.5

W-L-W-W-W

Astros

57-54

.514

4.0

L-L-W-L-L

Houston’s collapse is reminiscent of the Mariners’ own collapse in June except theirs has happened in the span of just two weeks. On July 25, they had just swept the Angels pushing their record to 54-44 and were just two and a half games behind the Rangers. They’ve won just three game since and losing two of three to the Rangers over the weekend has left them seven and a half back and in third place in the AL West. They’ll travel to Minnesota for a four-game series hoping to cool off the Twins who have score the most runs in the AL since the All-Star break. The Rangers will travel to Denver to face the Rockies. The Red Sox lost two of three to the Dodgers over the weekend and return home to face the Yankees tomorrow.