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Series Preview: Mariners (10-13) at Indians (12-9)

The Mariners wrap up their long road trip with a stop in Cleveland.

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Mariners Indians
Mariners Indians
Game 1 Friday, April 28 | 4:10 pm
LHP Ariel Miranda RHP Carlos Carrasco
38% 62%
Game 2 Saturday, April 29 | 1:10 pm
RHP Yovani Gallardo RHP Danny Salazar
41% 59%
Game 3 Sunday, April 30 | 10:10 am
RHP Chase De Jong RHP Josh Tomlin
44% 56%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2016) Indians (2016) Edge
Overview Mariners (2016) Indians (2016) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (2nd in AL) 103 (5th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -24.9 (13th) 35.6 (2nd) Indians
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 107 (10th) 95 (2nd) Indians
Bullpen (FIP-) 95 (11th) 86 (2nd) Indians

After the events of Black Tuesday, it seemed like the Mariners season was all but over. Losing their King to an ominous shoulder injury and their best hitter of this young season to an oblique injury while getting stomped 19-9 was a deflating string of events. But then the Mariners showed some resiliency, stringing together a couple of wins to take the series from Detroit. Even without Mitch Haniger in the lineup, this offense is potent, as Wednesday’s win showed us. The Mariners will wrap up this month with their hardest test of 2017, a three-game series in Cleveland against the reigning American League champions.

Like the Mariners, the Indians got their season started slowly. They were sitting below .500 as recently as April 17, but a five-game winning streak and a string of series wins since then has pushed them to the top of the AL Central. They just took two of three from the Astros.

The Indians:

After a long and slow rebuilding process, the Indians finally had everything come together during their run to the World Series. Their roster had no weaknesses, though it is amazing that they made such a deep run in the playoffs without Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. All of the main characters have returned this season with some key additions. Edwin Encarnacion was signed to split time at first base and designated hitter with Carlos Santana, replacing the bat of Mike Napoli. Michael Brantley has also returned from his lingering shoulder injury and solidifies an outfield that’s probably the weakest position group on the roster.

Key Players

SS Francisco LindorFrancisco Lindor is one of the most exciting young stars in the game today. He’s a defensive wizard at a premium position, his bat is well above average, and his speed is good enough to swipe more than a few bases. But the most promising development has been his power, which is coming on strong early this season. He’s already launched six home runs in April and his ISO is an outrageous .313. His strikeout rate is right in line with his career norms so it’s not like he’s selling out for power either. He’s just hitting the ball extremely hard as his body hits its physical peak.

1B Carlos Santana – By all accounts, 2016 was a career year for Carlos Santana. He posted career highs in HRs, ISO, K%, wRC+, and fWAR. Maybe it was because he’s finally settled at a position—after beginning his career at catcher and a failed experiment at third base—or maybe he was just completely healthy. Whatever the reason, Santana is an incredibly dangerous hitter in an excellent lineup. Since his ability to get on base is so good, Terry Francona has installed him as the regular leadoff hitter after dabbling with the non-traditional role last year.

LF Michael Brantley – Michael Brantley missed almost all of 2016 after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. There were some who were wondering if he would ever make it back to the majors. The Indians were coy about his health this spring in an effort to manage expectations. Brantley ramped up his workload as the season approached and made the opening day roster with questions about his health still up in the air. Since then, he’s posted a .300/.364/.529 slash line in 18 games and his shoulder hasn’t given him any problems. His strikeout rate is abnormally high—more than double his career rate—but that can probably be chalked up to getting back into the swing of things after missing so much time.

Probable Pitchers

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians

RHP Carlos Carrasco (2016)

146 1/3 25.0% 5.7% 16.3% 48.5% 3.32 3.72

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 95.0 41.3% 66 107 80
Sinker 94.0 11.9% 255 124 211
Changeup 89.9 16.5% 121 117 120
Slider 88.5 14.8% 171 97 146
Curveball 84.4 15.5% 198 123 173

After his brilliant breakout year in 2015, Carlos Carrasco couldn’t quite match that level of performance last season. His strikeout rate dipped a little, but his strikeout rate was so high to begin with. He didn’t induce quite as many ground balls, with his fly ball rate carrying the difference. Those additional fly balls, and a higher hard hit rate, led to an explosion of home runs. Despite those little hiccups, Carrasco is still one of the best pitchers in the American League. All three of his secondary pitches are deadly. Since the beginning of 2015, opposing batters have a combined batting average of just .179 off those three pitches. His worst pitch might be his 95 mph fastball, which seems ridiculous, but hhis command is so good and he gets so much horizontal movement with it that it’s still a plus pitch.

RHP Danny Salazar (2016)

137 1/3 27.6% 10.8% 12.8% 47.8% 3.87 3.74

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 95.9 48.0% 181 103 155
Sinker 95.4 20.4% 95 127 106
Changeup 86.9 18.5% 163 106 144
Slider 86.0 8.0% 85 97 89
Curveball 81.7 4.9% 79 115 91

Danny Salazar’s stuff has never been questioned. A 96 mph “rising” fastball and an elite changeup help him rack up huge whiff totals. But last year, his walk rate jumped up to over 10% and it hasn’t dropped this season. He was pitching in the strike zone at the same rate but opposing batters weren’t swinging at pitches out of the zone as often in 2016. His O-Swing% is back to normal this season but his walk rate is still just as high. Perhaps it’s because he can’t put batters away when he reaches a three-ball count—he’s walked 50% of the batters that have gotten to that point in an at-bat, much higher than league average. All those additional walks might be more worrying if he wasn’t running the second highest whiff rate in the American League.

RHP Josh Tomlin (2016)

174 16.3% 2.8% 17.7% 43.8% 4.40 4.88

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 88.8 30.2% 16 103 45
Sinker 88.5 6.7% 89 81 86
Cutter 86.4 40.9% 71 80 74
Changeup 84.2 7.3% 3 123 43
Curveball 76.1 14.9% 124 89 112

Since his major league debut in 2010, Josh Tomlin possesses the second lowest walk rate in the major among qualified starters. In the past four years, he’s been able to push that walk rate even lower. That might be his lone useful skill. His contact rate was the highest it’s been in his career, and as a result, his strikeout rate took a big step back. He’s also been extremely home run prone throughout his career and it only got worse in 2016. He has shown some signs of adjustment this season. He’s throwing his sinker much more often at the expense of his four-seam fastball. That’s allowed him to generate more contact on the ground rather than in the air where the most damage can be done.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 14-8 0.636 -- L-W-W-L-L
Angels 12-12 0.500 3.0 L-W-W-W-W
Athletics 10-12 0.455 4.0 W-L-L-L-L
Rangers 10-12 0.455 4.0 W-W-L-L-W
Mariners 10-13 0.435 4.5 L-W-L-W-W

Like I mentioned above, the Astros lost their series against the Indians. They’ll return home to host the Athletics this weekend. After their promising series against the Mariners, the A’s were swept by the Angels in four games earlier this week. The Angels pushed their record up to .500 with the sweep and will be taking on the Rangers in Texas. The Rangers lost their mid-week three-game series against the Twins.