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Series Preview: Mariners (17-17) at Blue Jays (13-21)

The Mariners make their annual trip across the border to take on the Blue Jays.

Cleveland Indians v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Mariners Blue Jays
Mariners Blue Jays
Game 1 Thursday, May 11 | 4:07 pm
RHP Chase De Jong RHP Marco Estrada
44% 56%
Game 2 Friday, May 12 | 4:07 pm
RHP Christian Bergman RHP Joe Biagini
50% 50%
Game 3 Saturday, May 13 | 10:07 am
LHP Dillon Overton RHP Marcus Stroman
45% 55%
Game 4 Sunday, May 14 | 10:07 am
LHP Ariel Miranda RHP Aaron Sanchez
47% 53%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2017) Blue Jays (2017) Edge
Overview Mariners (2017) Blue Jays (2017) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 116 (3rd in AL) 83 (13th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 4.7 (5th) -6.3 (13th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 105 (9th) 105 (8th) Blue Jays
Bullpen (FIP-) 112 (12th) 92 (6th) Blue Jays

By winning five of their last six games during the last seven days, the Mariners have pushed their playoff odds back to where they were at the start of the season. If the projections thought the Mariners true talent was just a bit better than .500, then pushing their record back to .500 gives them a good shot at improving those odds even further as the rest of the American League shakes itself out. FanGraphs is still the most pessimistic, giving the Mariners just a 24.4% chance of making the playoffs, with a 3 point change since last week. Per FiveThirtyEight, they’ve added ten points to their odds over the last week. And Baseball Prospectus has been the most encouraged by their hot streak, adding 13 points to their odds, up to 40.3%.

The Blue Jays, on the other hand, have seen their playoff odds completely crater after a nightmare of a start to the season. A once potent offense has been weakened by the departure of Edwin Encarnacion, a rash of injuries to critical players, and sluggish starts by Jose Bautista and Kendrys Morales. The projections still believe they can be a decent team, but they’ve banked enough losses that they’ve basically played their way out of contention within the first month of the season.

The Blue Jays:

With both Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki on the disabled list, the Blue Jays best hitter has been Kevin Pillar. He’s been the lone bright spot in the lineup. Even the pitching staff has been hit by the injury bug. But despite injuries to Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Roberto Osuna, the staff has actually been quite good, all things considered. The Jays have won their last two series against the Rays and the Indians, with a walk-off win securing their series against Cleveland last night.

Key Players

CF Kevin Pillar – Although he’s spent most of his career in the bottom-third of the lineup, Kevin Pillar has stabilized the injury-riddled Blue Jays lineup from the leadoff spot this year. Just a 32nd round draft choice in 2011, his minor league production earned him a major league debut in 2013. The 28-year-old centerfielder plays phenomenal defense, boasting an 18.7 UZR/150 for his career at his position. Pillar doesn’t strike out much and doesn’t walk very much either. Rather, his aggressive approach at the plate is focused on making contact, and this season, he’s made more hard contact than ever before. That alone explains his hot start to the season as the rest of his batted ball profile is right in line with his career norms. He’s combined for seven wins in his two full seasons in the majors, and looks to be on pace for another great season.

RF Jose Bautista – In 2016, Jose Bautista posted a 122 wRC+, his lowest since 2010, as he worked through an injury-plagued season. His fly ball rate was 41.7% that season, and his HR/FB matched his career average. This yielded 22 home runs in 517 plate appearances. Now through 150 plate appearances in 2017, Bautista has struggled to return to form. His 30.7% strikeout rate is up substantially from his career mark of 18.4%. He still walks a lot, reaching base on balls 14.7% of his plate appearances this season. With his contact rate down nearly 10% his average, and his hard contact rate down over 7% as well, his slow start is bound to turn around eventually (or maybe he’s finally reached his decline phase). He’s hit two dingers in May already, and could start to build enough momentum to rebound quickly enough.

DH Kendrys Morales – The leading source of power for the Blue Jays through 34 games has been Kendrys Morales; however, his wRC+ sits at 96 through 136 at bats in 2017. His 20.6% strikeout rate this season is the second highest of his career. His swing percentage is the highest of his career, and most of those additional swings have come on pitches out of the zone. He was removed from the game on Tuesday with hamstring tightness and is currently day-to-day. I’d expect him to be back in the lineup by the weekend.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Marco Estrada

43 25.4% 6.8% 9.4% 38.8% 3.14 3.34

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 89.9 49.7% 182 112 159
Cutter 87.2 9.5% - - -
Changeup 77.9 35.6% 127 68 107
Curveball 77.3 5.1% - - -
*Estrada’s cutter and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

I have the feeling that Jerry Dipoto would love Marco Estrada. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, relying mainly on an 88-90 mph fastball. He’s a fly ball pitcher but generally stays out of trouble by generating weak contact off the bat. Most importantly, he controls the zone by utilizing his impeccable command. That pin point accuracy with his fastball has allowed him to run an above average strikeout-to-walk ratio throughout his career. His best secondary pitch is his changeup which also generates a healthy amount of whiffs and fly balls. That pitch has also helped him neutralize his handedness split, keeping left-handed batters honest.

RHP Joe Biagini

22 2/3 24.4% 3.5% 7.7% 61.0% 2.78 2.39
*Biagini has one start and 14 relief appearances in 2017.

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 95.2 48.6% 163 183 170
Cutter 91.5 21.5% - - -
Changeup 88.1 11.6% - - -
Curveball 80.4 16.6% - - -
*Biagini’s cutter, changeup, and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

With injuries to Aaron Sanchez and J.A. Happ, the Blue Jays have had to scramble to fill those two spots in the rotation. Mat Latos was gifted three starts and someone named Casey Lawrence made two more starts. Joe Biagini is just the latest spot starter who has been thrust into the role. Except Biagini isn’t just some depth piece called up from Triple-A, he was one of the most valuable members of the Blue Jays bullpen. His four-pitch arsenal is very good, with all three of his secondary pitches generating above average whiff rates. He combines those strikeouts with the ability to keep the ball on the ground. In his first start of the year, he threw 52 pitches and lasted four innings, allowing just two hits and one run with four strikeouts. He should be able to stretch out to 60 or 70 pitches in his start against the Mariners.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees

RHP Marcus Stroman

45 1/3 16.9% 6.5% 12.9% 57.6% 3.38 3.65

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.2 10.8% - - -
Sinker 93.8 56.0% 71 141 94
Cutter 90.6 8.0% - - -
Slider 86.4 17.8% 106 92 101
Curveball 82.9 6.9% - - -
*Stroman’s four-seam fastball, cutter, and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

Despite an impressive pedigree, Marcus Stroman’s developmental trajectory has to be a little disappointing for the Blue Jays. He’s posted an excellent 3.42 FIP in his brief four-year career but it’s mostly buoyed by a very good walk rate and an ability to avoid the long ball. His career strikeout rate sits right around league average and it’s mostly a product of his arsenal. He relies on his sinker to help him run one of the highest ground ball rates for a starting pitcher but he isn’t able to generate whiffs with that pitch. His cutter is his most effective pitch when he needs to get a whiff but he usually turns to his less effective slider in two strike counts. When he elevates his four-seam fastball, it can be a weapon for him as well, but he seems hesitant to do that because the pitch encourages fly ball contact. His strikeout rate has fallen even further this year, down to just 16.9%, but his ERA and FIP are as good as ever.

RHP Aaron Sanchez (2016 Stats)

192 20.4% 8.0% 10.7% 54.4% 3.00 3.55

Pitch Arsenal

Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 95.5 19.6% 202 110 171
Sinker 95.5 54.9% 143 126 137
Changeup 89.0 9.0% 62 81 68
Curveball 78.9 16.2% 156 116 143

Like Stroman, Aaron Sanchez relies on a sinker as his primary pitch. The difference is the elite velocity he possesses with his fastball. The combination of an above average strikeout rate and an elite ground ball rate helped Sanchez post the lowest ERA among qualified starters in the American League last year. His curveball is just as devastating as his fastballs though it’s been the source of some trouble for him this year. Throwing the breaking ball caused a blister problem to develop which led to some trouble with a split fingernail. He’s made just three starts this year because of those problems and will be making his first start off the disabled list on Sunday.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 23-11 0.676 -- W-L-W-W-W
Mariners 17-17 0.500 6.0 L-W-W-W-W
Angels 17-19 0.472 7.0 W-L-L-W-L
Athletics 16-18 0.471 7.0 W-W-W-L-W
Rangers 15-20 0.429 8.5 L-L-L-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Orioles 22-11 0.667 +4.5 W-W-W-W-L
Twins 16-14 0.533 -- L-W-L-L-W
Red Sox 17-16 0.515 0.5 L-W-W-L-L
Mariners 17-17 0.500 1.0 L-W-W-W-W
Tigers 16-16 0.500 1.0 W-L-L-W-L

The Astros took care of business against the Braves, sweeping them away in two games. They head to New York today to begin a huge four-game series against the best team in the American League. The Athletics won two of three against the Angels helping them move into a virtual tie for third in the AL West. They’ll travel to Texas tomorrow to face the Rangers while the Angels host the Tigers in a four-game series. The Mariners make their first appearance in the Wild Card standings after getting back to .500. The Red Sox have lost two of three to the Brewers and will wrap up that series today before taking on the Rays this weekend. The Twins wrap up their rain shortened series against the White Sox today and travel to Cleveland this weekend.