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Series Preview: Mariners (31-33) at Twins (32-27)

The Mariners travel to Minnesota to take on the Twins (again) for four games.

Minnesota Twins v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

At a Glance

Mariners Twins
Mariners Twins
Game 1 Monday, June 12 | 5:10 pm
RHP Yovani Gallardo LHP Adalberto Mejia
50% 50%
Game 2 Tuesday, June 13 | 5:10 pm
RHP Christian Bergman RHP Kyle Gibson
52% 48%
Game 3 Wednesday, June 14 | 5:10 pm
RHP Sam Gaviglio RHP Ervin Santana
45% 55%
Game 4 Thursday, June 15 | 10:10 am
LHP Ariel Miranda RHP Jose Berrios
55% 45%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Twins Edge
Overview Mariners Twins Edge
Batting (wRC+) 104 (5th in AL) 99 (7th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 8.4 (4th) 18.1 (1st) Twins
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 115 (10th) 116 (11th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 104 (11th) 118 (15th) Mariners

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

It isn’t often two teams from different divisions will play their entire slate of games together in the span of 10 days. These two teams will be very familiar with each other by the end of this four game series. From a scouting perspective, this series was pretty easy to prepare for. All the things that were true about the Twins a week ago are still true today. Their pitching staff is still outperforming middling peripherals because their defense is one of the best in the majors. They still have one of the best road records in the majors (they won two of three in San Francisco over the weekend) and can’t seem to win at home.

For their part, the Mariners look a little different than they did a week ago. That’s because Mitch Haniger has made his way back from the disabled list. The Mariners now have a plethora of outfielders to deploy which should allow Scott Servais to mix and match based on the opposing pitcher. Both Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are a rehab start away from rejoining the team as well. With another long homestand on the horizon after this week-long road trip, the Mariners are hopefully poised to make some headway in the standings.

The Twins:

The Twins starting rotation has posted an ERA more than half a run lower than their collective FIP. Neither mark is good (4.29 ERA, 4.99 FIP), but it reflects the true strength of this team, their defense. The Twins outfield defense is second the majors per UZR and their defensive efficiency on fly balls is third best in the majors. The Mariners outfielders are ahead of them in both categories, but the Twins also possess an excellent defensive infield as well, an area where the Mariners are lacking.

Key Players

2B Brian DozierSince 2012, the only second baseman to hit more home runs than Brian Dozier is Robinson Cano. The hard-hitting second baseman had his best season to date in 2016, crushing 42 dingers en route to a 132 wRC+. The power is down a bit for Dozier so far this year, whose .178 ISO is down .017 from his career average. His hard contact rate is actually the highest it has been in his career, but he’s hitting grounders at the second highest frequency of his career. His increased walk rate allows him to be a suitable leadoff hitter, and his power and ability to swipe bags are advantageous as well.

DH Robbie Grossman – After failing to post a wRC+ of 100 in any of his three seasons with the Astros, Robbie Grossman had a 127 wRC+ with the Twins a year ago. He’s always been capable of drawing walks, but has really cut down on strikeouts this season, dropping his K% to 15.4%, more than 8% lower than his career average. He currently boasts a 1.17 BB/K ratio, which has yielded a .410 OBP. After never posting an ISO north of .102 in a season, his power has spiked in each of the past two seasons. Running a solid .171 ISO with his propensity to get on base, Grossman has earned a 136 wRC+ though 188 at bats this season.

CF Byron Buxton – Despite a 48 wRC+, Byron Buxton has a 0.4 WAR through 55 games this season because of his phenomenal defense. He’s one of the rangiest centerfielders in the bigs, which he compliments with a strong arm. His 19.2 UZR/150 this season, for perspective, nearly matches Jarrod Dyson’s career UZR/150 in center. Buxton’s speed in the outfield translates to the base paths, where he’s stolen 10 bases so far this season. His walk rate has jumped to 8.6% this season, nearly 2% higher than his career average. He’s demonstrated power in his career, posting a .205 ISO in 2016, but has failed to generate as much pop this season. His contact rate, however, is the lowest of his career at just under 67%, which has yielded a strikeout rate of 33.9%. He’s shown flashes of greatness at the plate as well, running a 114 wRC+ in the second half of last season.

3B Miguel SanoOne of the league’s premier young sluggers, Miguel Sano is off to an incredible start in 2017. His 2.7 WAR through 50 games this year is more than double his WAR from last season, when he played 116 games. When he makes contact with the baseball, he absolutely punishes it, running a 52.0% hard contact rate; however, he sometimes struggles to make contact, striking out at a 36.1% rate for his career. He’s currently boasting an absurd .465 BABIP, but even if that falls, his 15.2% walk rate for the season will help him continue to get on base frequently. He’s also played solid defense this year with a UZR/150 of 10.6. At just 24-years-old, Miguel Sano is coming into his own as one of baseball’s most feared hitters.

RF Max KeplerAnother 24-year-old that has been critical to the Twins’ early season success is Max Kepler. His wRC+ jumped from 93 a year ago to 116 through 210 plate appearances in 2017. He’s a solid hitter, slashing .269/.348/.462, with some pop, evidenced by his 24 career homers in 664 plate appearances. He knows how to C the Z, running a 10.0% walk rate while striking out just 19.0% of the time this season. He also plays solid defense, posting a 9.5 UZR/10 in right field this season. He’s a well-rounded player, with the ability to get on base, hit for some power, and contribute in the field.

1B Joe MauerHe may not be 24—in fact he’s 34—but Joe Mauer has been an integral part of the Twins for over a decade. After catching for the majority of his career, Mauer switched over to first base in 2014 and has been an above average defensive player at the position, with a career UZR/150 of 3.2 at first. Mauer has cut his strikeout rate to 12.6% this season, his lowest rate since 2011, which has helped his batting average climb to it’s highest mark since 2013. He’s been a steady contributor since his first full year in the bigs in 2005, never posting a wRC+ lower than 94. He doesn’t hit for much power, but gets on base and still plays solid defense.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Adalberto Mejia

32 1/3 20.9% 12.2% 18.4% 41.8% 4.18 5.87

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.3 44.4% 67 106 80
Sinker 92.7 16.6% - - -
Changeup 84.0 15.1% - - -
Slider 83.6 23.9% 77 137 97
*Mejia’s sinker and changeup do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

The Twins acquired Adalberto Mejia when they traded Eduardo Nunez to the Giants last season. He was never considered a top prospect in either organization but was able to post a pretty good season in the minors last year. He began last year in Double-A for the third consecutive season so the fact that he’s making major league starts just a year later shows just how far he’s come in one season. None of his four pitches grade out a plus, but they’re all pretty decent. His best tool is his control, though it’s escaped him in the majors so far. Mejia allowed just two hits—both home runs—in his last start against the Mariners. He allowed three walks and struck out five.

RHP Kyle Gibson

48 1/3 15.4% 11.5% 14.9% 50.3% 6.52 5.26

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.3 19.6% 87 55 76
Sinker 91.9 35.6% 39 168 82
Changeup 83.6 12.9% 85 56 75
Slider 83.6 16.3% 181 92 151
Curveball 79.5 15.6% 174 91 146

Kyle Gibson has carved out a place in the Twins rotation because he is exceedingly average. He doesn’t strikeout too many batters, his control isn’t good enough to limit baserunners, and while he does generate an above average ground ball rate, it hasn’t helped him manage his contact. This year, his walk rate is the highest it’s been in his career. Opposing batters are chasing his pitches out of the zone much less often, although his whiff rate is higher than ever. He’s generating those extra whiffs off his two breaking pitches, a slider and a curveball. But he isn’t fooling batters, they’re often swinging and missing those pitches when he throws them in the zone. Gibson was able to hold the Mariners to just one run in his previous start, allowing five hits and three walks while striking out four.

RHP Ervin Santana

90 18.4% 9.6% 10.9% 44.2% 2.20 4.44

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.2 38.4% 52 121 75
Sinker 92.4 14.2% 112 125 116
Changeup 86.3 14.3% 33 96 54
Slider 84.7 33.1% 108 141 119

There are lucky pitchers, and then there’s Ervin Santana. In his last start, he pitched his major league leading third complete game shutout against the Giants. It’s the middle of June and he’s still outperforming his FIP by more than two runs. His strikeout rate has dipped a bit and he’s added almost three points to his walk rate this season but he’s second in the majors in strand rate, just behind the magician, Dallas Keuchel. But unlike Keuchel, who induces a ton of ground balls, Santana is finding his success by inducing infield fly balls at a much higher rate than his career norms. In fact, he’s allowing far less hard contact overall this season. In 2015 and 2016, his average exit velocity allowed was a perfectly league average 88.5 mph. This year, it’s down to 84.8 mph and that’s a big reason why he’s been able to post an obscenely low .154 BABIP.

Minnesota Twins v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

RHP Jose Berrios

38 25.5% 8.5% 9.3% 43.2% 2.84 3.90

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.0 40.9% 273 97 214
Sinker 93.4 21.1% 74 107 85
Changeup 84.1 8.3% - - -
Curveball 81.2 29.7% 93 111 99
Berrios’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

The Twins selected Jose Berrios with the first pick of the 2012 draft and was immediately the best pitching prospect the Twins have had in a long time. He worked his way through the organization, flashing an elite fastball and a nasty curveball. He finally made his major league debut last year with great expectations on his shoulders and fell flat on his face. He would bounce between the majors and the minors a few times last year but never could find the consistency expected from a top pitching prospect. This offseason, he focused on honing his mechanics. He made his first major league start at the beginning of May and has finally gotten the results everyone was expecting. His fastball has the second highest whiff rate in baseball even though the pitch doesn’t have top end velocity or a ridiculous amount of “rise” on it. He’s gotten a bit lucky in his six starts this year (83.3 LOB%, .231 BABIP) but he’s definitely made the adjustments to stick in the majors.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 44-20 0.688 -- L-W-L-W-L
Angels 33-33 0.500 12.0 L-W-W-L-W
Mariners 31-33 0.484 13.0 W-L-W-L-L
Rangers 30-32 0.484 13.0 W-L-W-W-W
Athletics 27-36 0.429 16.5 L-L-L-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 34-28 0.542 +2.0 L-L-W-W-L
Indians 31-29 0.517 -- L-L-W-L-W
Rays 34-32 0.515 -- W-W-W-L-W
Orioles 31-30 0.508 0.5 W-L-L-L-L
Angels 33-33 0.500 1.0 L-W-W-L-W

Despite missing the best baseball player in the universe, the Angels have somehow managed to go 7-6 since losing Mike Trout on May 28. They’ve won their last two series on the road against the Tigers and the Astros, and return home to face the Yankees this week. The Rangers swept the Nationals in Washington over the weekend, pushing them into a virtual tie with the Mariners for third in the AL West. The Astros host the Rangers in a three-game series this week. The Orioles were crushed by the Yankees over the weekend, allowing 38 runs in three games. They’ve lost four in a row and have fallen out of the two Wild Card spots. They’ll travel to Chicago for a four-game series against the White Sox this week.