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Series Preview: Mariners (20-25) at Nationals (26-17)

The Mariners head out on a tough East Coast road trip beginning in our nation’s capital.

Washington Nationals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Mariners Nationals
Mariners Nationals
Game 1 Tuesday, May 23 | 4:05 pm
RHP Christian Bergman RHP Joe Ross
42% 58%
Game 2 Wednesday, May 24 | 4:05 pm
RHP Sam Gaviglio RHP Tanner Roark
42% 58%
Game 3 Thursday, May 25 | 1:05 pm
LHP Ariel Miranda LHP Gio Gonzalez
43% 57%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Nationals Edge
Overview Mariners Nationals Edge
Batting (wRC+) 103 (5th in AL) 111 (1st in NL) Nationals
Fielding (UZR) 6.9 (4th) -4.5 (10th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 107 (10th) 99 (9th) Nationals
Bullpen (FIP-) 122 (15th) 114 (14th) Nationals

Even though they weren’t swept, that series against the White Sox was probably the lowest point of the season. At least they were (mostly) competitive in Toronto. Since that 21-run outburst in Philadelphia, the Mariners’ offense has gone completely cold. In the eleven games since that two-game series, they’ve scored just 2.72 runs per game. Heading into the series against the Blue Jays, the Mariners team wRC+ stood at 116, 3rd in the American League. Now it sits at just 103 which is still good enough for 5th. It’s no coincidence that this team-wide slump corresponded with Robinson Cano’s absence.

With Cano returning today, the Mariners embark on their toughest road trip of this season. They’ll play three in Washington, three in Boston, then split a four-game series between Denver and Seattle. Luckily for the Mariners they’ll miss the top of the Nationals rotation. If they manage to scrape together a .500 road trip there’s a slight glimmer of hope on the horizon, with a favorable schedule in June and numerous injuries healing quickly.

The Nationals:

Since 2012, the Nationals have had the best record in the National League (by one win over St. Louis). They’ve won the NL East three times but haven’t advanced past the Division Series in any of their playoff appearances. They traded for Adam Eaton this offseason to solidify their outfield and push Trea Turner back to his natural position at shortstop. Unfortunately, Eaton tore his ACL at the end of April and the Nats will have to make do without him for the rest of the season. Without Eaton in the lineup, they haven’t played the same, posting a .500 record in May with a -7 run differential. Their one shortcoming was a lack of depth and losing Eaton has exposed that weakness. They snapped a four-game losing streak with a win against Atlanta on Sunday.

Key Players

RF Bryce HarperAmong the league’s most exciting players, Bryce Harper is off to a phenomenal start to the season. His 2.6 WAR through 40 games is tied for second in the majors, and his 189 wRC+ and 13 home runs are top five marks in the majors. It’s a relief to see him bounce back so prodigiously after a rough season in 2016 following his MVP year in 2015. Along with his massive power, he’s posted a 17.9% walk rate since the start of 2015. Pair that with a .229 career ISO, and you’ve got the making of a superstar. Plain and simple, Bryce Harper is a generational talent.

1B Ryan ZimmermanAs phenomenal as Bryce Harper has been this year, he doesn’t have the highest wRC+ on the Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman’s 190 wRC+ leads the way just over a month and a half into a rejuvenating season for the 32-year-old slugger. Zimmerman hasn’t posted a two-win season since 2013; however he already has a 1.8 WAR through 42 games in 2017. He’s tied for fourth in the majors in both ISO and homers this year, thanks to an incredible 42.1% hard contact rate this season. His 29.5% HR/FB is pretty darn high. With a long history of injuries, it’s possible he’s simply healthy again and raking like he did earlier in his career.

SS Trea TurnerTrea Turner set the league ablaze in 2016, posting a 3.3 WAR in just 73 games. He stole 33 bases, and slashed .342/.370/.567, surprising everyone with an outburst of power that was unseen in the minors. Through 33 games in 2017, his speed has been a valuable asset for the Nationals; however, his ISO has dropped to .164 and he’s had a harder time reaching base. His strikeout rate has jumped up to 23.8% and his walk rate has dwindled to just 3.4%. Where Turner has been very valuable this year is in the field, evidenced by his 6.7 UZR/150 this season. Turner is a speedy, talented shortstop with the tools to be a great leadoff hitter. Once he rebounds from his slow start, the Nationals dangerous lineup will be even more potent.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Joe Ross (2016 Stats)

105 20.8% 6.5% 9.6% 42.6% 3.43 3.49

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Sinker 93.5 47.2% 76 89 80
Changeup 88.1 8.5% 40 58 46
Slider 84.6 38.4% 146 92 128

Like his older brother Tyson, Joe Ross relies on two pitches, a sinking fastball and a sharp slider. And like his brother, Joe throws his slider more than 35% of time with a whiff rate around 40%! The comparisons can stop there. His sinker is nowhere near as effective a pitch as his brother’s, and as a result, his ground ball rate hasn’t been that impressive and has fallen year-over-year. Without a solid third pitch, Ross has struggled with a pretty significant handedness split. In his brief career, left-handed batters have posted a wOBA 120 points higher than right-handed batters. This season, Ross has bounced between the majors and the minors because the Nationals schedule allowed them to carry just four starters for large portions of the season. He’ll be making his first start since April 30.

RHP Tanner Roark

51 1/3 19.2% 9.6% 12.2% 46.0% 4.73 4.27

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.7 18.9% 24 57 35
Sinker 92.3 39.0% 130 98 119
Changeup 83.7 11.4% 159 76 131
Slider 86.1 17.5% 57 147 87
Curveball 76.9 12.7% 132 91 118

Tanner Roark doesn’t have any standout talents and his repertoire is pedestrian. He doesn’t strikeout too many, his walk rate has increased to nearly double what it was in 2014, and his ground ball rate is just barely above average. Still, he’s been able to leverage all these pieces to put together a pretty decent history of success. He outperforms all of his peripherals by generating lots of weak contact leading to low BABIPs and high strand rates. But like any other contact manager, that’s a very volatile path to success, and with a rising walk rate, the margin for success is even slimmer.

Washington Nationals v Colorado Rockies

LHP Gio Gonzalez

56 2/3 19.3% 11.7% 16.9% 45.6% 2.86 5.24

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Sinker 90.9 36.6% 103 124 110
Sinker 90.2 24.1% 100 91 97
Changeup 83.9 18.0% 109 99 106
Curveball 76.3 21.3% 148 85 127

I was surprised to learn that this season is Gio Gonzalez’s tenth in the majors. Throughout his career, he’s posted very good strikeout rates built upon excellent whiff rates on his changeup and his curveball. His fastball velocity has been steadily dropping since 2012 and it finally affected the rest of his repertoire last year. With a smaller difference in velocity, his changeup lost a lot of its effectiveness, though it didn’t affect his overall strikeout rate. This season, his velocity has dropped even further and his strikeout rate has dipped to the lowest point of his career. Even more alarming is his walk rate, which has ballooned to 11.7%, the highest it’s been since 2009. Despite wildly deteriorating peripherals, Gonzalez has posted a 2.86 ERA in nine starts because he’s stranding 90% of the runners that reach against him and is running a remarkably low BABIP of .260.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 30-15 0.667 -- W-L-L-L-W
Rangers 24-21 0.533 6.0 W-W-W-L-W
Angels 24-23 0.511 7.0 W-L-L-W-W
Athletics 20-24 0.455 9.5 L-W-W-W-L
Mariners 20-25 0.444 10.0 W-W-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Orioles 25-18 0.581 +2.0 L-W-W-L-L
Indians 23-20 0.535 -- L-W-W-W-L
Rangers 24-21 0.533 -- W-W-W-L-W
Red Sox 22-21 0.512 1.0 W-L-L-L-W
Angels 24-23 0.511 1.0 W-L-L-W-W

The Astros hot start to the season was finally slowed by the Indians this weekend. Cleveland outscored them 16-9 on their way to a three-game sweep. The Astros returned to Houston last night and beat the Tigers 1-0 while the Indians lost to the Reds in Cincinnati. The Rangers had their 10-game winning streak snapped on Saturday but won the series against the Tigers anyway. They’ll start a three-game series in Boston tonight. The Angels lost their weekend series against the Mets but started off their series in Tampa Bay with a win yesterday.