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Series Preview: Mariners (21-27) at Red Sox (25-21)

The Mariners hope to stay afloat in Boston this weekend.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Boston Red Sox Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Mariners Red Sox
Mariners Red Sox
Game 1 Friday, May 26 | 4:10 pm
RHP Yovani Gallardo LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
40% 60%
Game 2 Saturday, May 27 | 1:05 pm
RHP Rob Whalen LHP Brian Johnson
45% 55%
Game 3 Sunday, May 28 | 10:35 pm
RHP Christian Bergman RHP Rick Porcello
39% 61%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Red Sox Edge
Overview Mariners Red Sox Edge
Batting (wRC+) 102 (8th in AL) 102 (7th in AL) Red Sox
Fielding (UZR) 6.9 (4th) 2.0 (5th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 113 (13th) 91 (1st) Red Sox
Bullpen (FIP-) 118 (14th) 77 (5th) Red Sox

This Tim Kurkjian tweet from yesterday morning perfectly encapsulates the horrors we’ve witnessed the past week:

The Mariners managed to salvage a single game from their series in Washington yesterday morning. Despite that five-game losing streak, the Mariners are just two games under .500 in May. The pitching staff is completely broken and the offense is struggling, making every game for the past two weeks agonizing to watch. But James Paxton is less than a week away from rejoining the rotation. Mitch Haniger should follow soon thereafter. Felix and Iwakuma haven’t had any setbacks in their recovery from shoulder problems and even Drew Smyly is well on his way back from his injury woes. They’re less than a third of the way through the season, and the really poor start and this recent disaster have dug a hole that’s almost impossible to get out of, but if you squint really hard, you can see some light at the end of the tunnel.

The Red Sox:

After adding Chris Sale to their rotation this offseason, the Red Sox looked like they had put together the best roster in the American League. And even though David Price hasn’t thrown an inning yet (he’s scheduled to make his season debut on Monday), the rotation has been exactly as advertised, posting the best adjusted FIP in the league. It’s their offense that’s been the problem. Losing a generational talent in David Ortiz hurt the lineup more than expected and a few injuries have forced the Red Sox to install a rotating door at third base. After hovering around .500 for much of April and May, they’ve put together a four-game winning streak capped by a sweep of the Rangers.

Key Players

RF Mookie BettsSince entering the league in 2014, Mookie Betts has been one of baseball’s most valuable players. In that time frame, he’s accumulated the 11th highest WAR, and is the only player in the top 30 with less than 400 games played. Defensively, he’s a great right fielder, evidenced by his 15.8 WAR/150 at the position, with a strong throwing arm. At the plate, he’s as potent as can be; over 1794 plate appearances, Betts has posted a 127 wRC+. This season, Betts has shown incredible plate discipline, walking over 10% of his plate appearances, while posting a career low strike out rate of 7.6%. Betts is a well-rounded player who plays great defense, gets on base, and hits for power as well.

SS Xander BogaertsAt just 24 years old, Xander Bogaerts already has two four-win seasons under his belt. Additionally, he’s improved each year he’s played in the majors. He posted an 85 wRC+ in 2013, and has climbed all the way up to 129 through 177 plate appearances this season. His plate discipline is much improved, walking at a rate of 8.5% versus his career mark of 6.8%. He’s also striking out at the lowest rate of his career. One thing that stands out, however, is his dip in power. He hit 21 home runs last season, but has yet to leave the yard in 2017. One explanation could be his fly ball rate of 22.6%, which is down over 10% from last season. Even without the power numbers, he’s still on track to have his most productive season of the year, evidenced by his .331/.395/.450 slash line.

LF Andrew BenintendiThe Andrew Benintendi hype train was in full commission prior to the season, and the 22 year old has lived up to the expectation. He was a first round selection in 2015, and flew his way through the minors and into the bigs by the end of 2016. The 22 year old has played solid defense this year, with a 0.6 UZR/150 this season; however, he’s been most impressive at the plate. He C’s the Z like a champ, posting walk and strikeout rates of 10.3% and 13.8% respectively through 195 plate appearances. He’s shown flashes of speed this season, swiping six bases in 43 games. Although he’s already hit five home runs, his ISO stands at .138. Benintendi is a weapon at the top of the line up with his ability to get on base.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Eduardo Rodriguez

49 1/3 27.8% 9.1% 8.8% 32.0% 3.10 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 93.9 62.8% 169 87 142
Sinker 93.4 5.3% - - -
Cutter 87.6 2.5% - - -
Changeup 86.5 19.9% 215 95 175
Slider 83.9 9.6% - - -
*Rodriguez’s sinker, cutter, and slider do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

With a fastball that averages 94 mph, Eduardo Rodriguez has the stuff to be a frontline starter. But in his first two seasons in the majors, various factors prevented him from reaching his potential. After a mid-season demotion to the minors last year, he’s made some important adjustments to his repertoire to maximize his strengths. Prior to his demotion, his pitcher slash line sat at 4.77/4.51/4.38 with a strikeout rate of just 18.1%. Since being recalled in July of 2016, he’s posted a very impressive 3.19/3.42/4.21 slash line with a 25.8% strikeout rate. Much of that improvement has come with a significant change to his pitch mix. He’s always thrown a ton of fastballs, one of the highest rates in the majors. But since July 2016, he’s started pairing his fastball with an excellent changeup, rather than his mediocre slider. He’s able to generate an insane amount of whiffs with his changeup and that’s boosted his overall strikeout rate to its current lofty heights.

LHP Brian Johnson (Triple-A Stats)

44 2/3 19.4% 8.9% 3.4% 39.4% 2.82 3.32

Brian Johnson doesn’t rely on a high voltage repertoire, instead using his command and control to make the most of his 88 mph fastball. He gets lots of “rise” on his fastball, and he’ll often throw it up in the zone to generate a ton of whiffs. Despite living in the upper regions of the zone, he hasn’t been thunderstruck by a dinger problem during his minor league career. Perhaps that’s due to his big looping curveball, his best secondary pitch. Without a dynamite pitch arsenal, he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation innings eater. He’s spent some time on the highway to hell (Pawtucket), bouncing between the majors and the minors the past two seasons. He’ll be making his second spot start of the year on Saturday, hoping the Mariners won’t shake him all night long.

RHP Rick Porcello

62 22.6% 4.4% 12.7% 39.4% 4.35 3.76

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.9 31.4% 206 70 161
Sinker 90.4 29.7% 96 81 91
Cutter 85.8 10.5% 225 80 177
Changeup 81.5 9.1% 99 62 87
Curveball 75.6 17.6% 42 85 56

Rick Porcello put together an incredible season in 2016 to win the Cy Young award. He posted a career-best strikeout-to-walk ratio and career-lows in BABIP and ground ball rate. Since joining the Red Sox in 2015, he’s made some wholesale changes to his approach that has made him unrecognizable from his early career self. He’s continued to evolve this season, posting an even higher strikeout rate and ground ball rate even with his fly ball rate, while continuing to be stingy with his free passes. The additional strikeout have been driven by throwing his four-seam fastball more often, rather than his sinker. He’s also added some velocity to his slider—Statcast is now classifying it as a cutter—and it’s been a deadly weapon against right-handed batters.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 32-16 0.667 -- L-W-W-L-W
Angels 25-25 0.500 8.0 W-W-W-L-L
Rangers 24-24 0.500 8.0 L-W-L-L-L
Athletics 21-25 0.457 10.0 W-W-L-L-W
Mariners 21-27 0.438 11.0 L-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Orioles 25-20 0.556 +0.5 W-L-L-L-L
Red Sox 25-21 0.543 -- L-W-W-W-W
Indians 24-21 0.533 0.5 W-W-L-W-L
Angels 25-25 0.500 2.0 W-W-W-L-L
Rays 25-25 0.500 2.0 L-L-L-W-W

After being swept by the Indians last weekend, the Astros rebounded by winning three of four against the Tigers. They’ll host the stumbling Orioles this weekend. The Angels lost two of three to the Rays, dropping their record to .500 and into a virtual tie with Tampa Bay and the Rangers in the Wild Card race. The Angels travel to Miami and the Rangers are in Toronto this weekend.