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Series Preview: Mariners (34-37) vs. Tigers (32-36)

The Mariners return home for another long homestand, beginning with a four-game series against the Tigers.

Tampa Bay Rays v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

At a Glance

Tigers Mariners
Tigers Mariners
Game 1 Monday, June 19 | 7:10 pm
RHP Anibal Sanchez RHP Sam Gaviglio
42% 58%
Game 2 Tuesday, June 20 | 7:10 pm
RHP Jordan Zimmermann LHP Ariel Miranda
40% 60%
Game 3 Wednesday, June 21 | 7:10 pm
RHP Justin Verlander LHP James Paxton
45% 55%
Game 4 Thursday, June 22 | 7:10 pm
LHP Daniel Norris RHP Yovani Gallardo
46% 54%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Tigers Mariners Edge
Overview Tigers Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 102 (5th in AL) 103 (4th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 8.1 (6th) 12.6 (2nd) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 100 (8th) 118 (14th) Tigers
Bullpen (FIP-) 112 (14th) 110 (13th) Mariners

Editor’s note: This story was originally published with incorrect pitching probables for the Tigers. This error has now been corrected.

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

The last time these two teams met, the Mariners lost both Felix Hernandez and Mitch Haniger in the same game. They would go on to win that series in Detroit anyway but it was still a major disaster for the team. With Haniger back, Jean Segura returning sometime during this series, and Felix and Iwakuma returning later this week, the Mariners are just now getting back to full strength. Their record has been exactly .500 since that series in Detroit and they’re looking at 16 home games and just three road games to take them into the All Star break.

The Tigers:

Since hosting the Mariners back in April, the Tigers have fallen well below .500. They’ve gone 21-26 since that series and are just a game ahead of the White Sox for last in the AL Central and a game and a half ahead of the Athletics for last in the American League. Almost all of their star players have dealt with some sort of injury at some point this year. J.D. Martinez missed a month and a half, Miguel Cabrera has dealt with a number of nagging injuries, and Victor Martinez is out with an irregular heartbeat. The extreme parity in the American League could help them if they’re able to put together a winning streak, but they could be facing some tough choices as the trade deadline approaches.

Key Players

1B Miguel Cabrera – Miguel Cabrera has finished each of his 14 seasons in the majors with a wRC+ above 100. 2015 was his first season with an ISO less than .200, and he didn’t miss by much. His career strikeout rate stands at 17.0%, while he’s walked at a 11.3% rate. Cabrera epitomizes consistency and productivity. His strikeout rate is up a bit this year, but he’s also walking a bit more as well. His ISO is down to .178, but he’s still running a 120 wRC+. At 34 years old, Cabrera is still a potent offensive weapon.

RF J.D. Martinez – Originally an Astro, J.D. Martinez was released after three seasons in Houston. Since signing with the Tigers in 2014, Martinez has posted a wRC+ of 145. After missing the first month and a half of the season, Martinez has crushed 11 homers in just 34 games, resulting in an ISO of .359. His walk rate is up to 13.1%, a sizable jump from his 7.7% career mark. He’s been a consistent source of offense each season since 2014.

C Alex AvilaIn his second stint with the Tigers, Alex Avila is off to the best start of his career. His ISO is north of .200 for the first time since 2011, and he’s running an incredible .326/.443/.609 slash line. Avila is a very patient hitter, running an impressive 18.0% walk rate since the start of the 2015 season. His hard contact rate rests at 55.9%, which can explain his high ISO and BABIP. As a result of his success at the plate, he leads the Tigers in WAR at 2.3.

2B Ian Kinsler After hitting 28 homers in 2016, Ian Kinsler’s power has seemingly disappeared this year. He only recently hit his fifth home run of the year and his overall offensive line is pretty depressed. Much of those struggles can be attributed to a shift in his batted ball profile. For his career, Kinsler has hit around 45% of his batted balls to the pull side, but that rate has dropped to just 33% this year. So despite making hard contact at the highest rate of his career, his BABIP sits at just .261.

LF Justin UptonJustin Upton has always been a slugger, but his .232 ISO to start the season is the second highest mark in his career. Point to his 42.0% hard contact rate as the driver of this hot start. He’s also pushed his walk rate up back up to 11%, though his ever increasing strikeout rate hasn’t fallen much from his career high 28.6% last year. After a poor showing in his first season in Detroit, it looks like the Tigers are getting Good Justin Upton a year later.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Anibal Sanchez (2015 Stats)

153 1/3 20.2% 7.9% 15.5% 39.6% 5.87 5.06
*Sanchez has made 11 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 91.8 40.9% 111 91 104
Sinker 91.8 16.6% 117 79 104
Changeup 83.9 16.7% 143 120 135
Slider 84.6 14.2% 44 125 71
Curveball 77.9 8.8% -24 45 -1

Anibal Sanchez pitched himself out of the Tigers rotation part way through last season, was thrown back into the rotation because of injuries, and then pitched himself right out of it again. His fastball velocity dropped to the lowest point in his career, though his strikeout and walk rates were right around his career norms. He battled for the final spot in the rotation this spring but lost out and was relegated to the bullpen again. His stuff never played up while relieving and he allowed runs in 7 of his 11 relief appearances. The one common thread through those 7 appearances: He allowed at least one home run in each of them. That’s been his biggest problem dating back to 2015 and the primary reason why he’s been an afterthought on the Tigers. He accepted an optional assignment to Triple-A towards the end of May to stretch himself out for the rotation again. He’ll be making his first start of the year Monday night.

RHP Jordan Zimmermann

75 2/3 14.6% 6.7% 16.2% 34.3% 5.35 5.77

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.1 45.6% 75 85 78
Sinker 93.1 8.3% 128 180 145
Changeup 87.2 5.5% - - -
Slider 88.0 22.6% 37 87 54
Curveball 81.8 18.0% 61 67 63
*Zimmermann’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Last season, Jordan Zimmermann suffered through multiple injuries, causing him to lose a couple of ticks off his fastball velocity. We’re more than two months into the season and he’s just now getting throwing his fastball near 93 mph again. His strikeout rate has cratered and his walk rate has more than doubled since his last season with the Nationals in 2015. It’s possible all these injuries sapped him of all his effectiveness but his strikeout-to-walk ratio wasn’t exactly great when he was healthy last season. The one thing he has done well throughout his career is generate weak contact—he’s been generating a lot more pop ups over the last three seasons. With the Nationals, his hard hit rate was among the best in the majors but that contact management skill has completely disappeared this year.

Chicago White Sox v Detroit Tigers

RHP Justin Verlander

82 20.7% 11.6% 9.3% 34.4% 4.50 4.50

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 95.5 56.6% 123 83 110
Changeup 88.1 5.6% - - -
Slider 90.4 19.3% 41 88 57
Curveball 81.0 17.5% 82 85 83
*Verlander’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Justin Verlander could have won the Cy Young award last year and no one would have blinked twice. After an injury-shortened season in 2015, he removed any lingering doubt about his health by pushing his fastball velocity back to his 95 mph norms and adding a ton of velocity to his slider. This season hasn’t been nearly as good as last year. His walk rate has spiked to 11.6%, the highest mark of his career, and that loss of command has been the root of so many of his problems. His fastball still has the velocity but batters aren’t whiffing on it as often leading to a drop in strikeout rate. His breaking balls aren’t as effective at inducing weak contact leading to a 10 point jump in hard hit rate. All these struggles have combined to balloon his ERA to 4.50, which exactly matches his FIP.

LHP Daniel Norris

71 1/3 21.4% 9.6% 8.5% 40.7% 4.42 3.91

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.0 54.3% 96 83 92
Changeup 86.5 13.2% 128 133 130
Slider 88.0 22.8% 88 110 95
Curveball 78.1 9.8% 213 122 183

Daniel Norris has always struggled to stay on the mound, with a litany of injuries—including thyroid cancer—keeping him from turning in a full season of work since breaking into the majors in 2014. Last year was his most successful season yet, despite two trips to the disabled list. He’s always been able to post excellent strikeout rates in the minors and that skill finally transferred to the majors. But even more encouraging was his walk rate, which he managed to keep around league average. This season, his walk rate has increased by almost two points, though he’s maintained his elevated strikeout rate. His biggest improvement has been a four point drop in his home-run-per-fly-ball rate. The last time he faced the Mariners, he was knocked around for four runs on nine hits in just four innings. He walked two and struck out four.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 46-24 0.657 -- L-W-L-W-L
Rangers 34-34 0.500 11.0 W-L-W-W-L
Angels 36-37 0.493 11.5 W-L-L-W-L
Mariners 34-37 0.479 12.5 W-L-L-L-W
Athletics 31-38 0.449 14.5 L-W-W-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 39-30 0.565 +3.5 W-L-W-L-W
Rays 37-35 0.514 -- L-L-L-W-W
Twins 34-33 0.507 0.5 W-L-L-L-L
Orioles 34-34 0.500 1.0 W-L-L-W-W
Rangers 34-34 0.500 1.0 W-L-W-W-L

This weekend was pretty eventful in every other American League division. The Athletics completed a surprising four-game sweep of the Yankees this weekend, dropping New York into a virtual tie with the Red Sox for the AL East division lead. The Twins finally fell out of first place in the AL Central after being swept in four games by the Indians. The Astros continue to stumble with much of their pitching staff on the disabled list. They lost two of three to the Red Sox this weekend and travel to Oakland to start this week. The Rangers host the Blue Jays while the Angels travel to New York to face the Yankees.