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Series Preview: Mariners (28-30) vs. Twins (29-24)

The Mariners host the AL Central-leading Twins for three games.

Minnesota Twins v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

At a Glance

Twins Mariners
Twins Mariners
Game 1 Tuesday, June 6 | 7:10 pm
LHP Hector Santiago LHP James Paxton
35% 65%
Game 2 Wednesday, June 7 | 7:10 pm
LHP Adalberto Mejia RHP Yovani Gallardo
43% 57%
Game 3 Thursday, June 8 | 7:10 pm
RHP Ervin Santana RHP Christian Bergman
49% 51%

Team Overview

Overview Twins Mariners Edge
Overview Twins Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 101 (6th in AL) 106 (4th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 18.1 (1st) 8.4 (4th) Twins
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 118 (14th) 113 (10th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 120 (15th) 108 (12th) Mariners

Just when you thought the season was all but lost, the Mariners go out and score 28 runs in a three-game sweep of the Rays. Since the beginning of June, just five days ago, the Mariners have leap frogged three teams in the Wild Card standings and are in a virtual tie with a fourth. They’ve gained two games in the standings and are just two and a half games out of the second Wild Card berth. Tonight, both Felix Hernandez and Mitch Haniger are starting their rehab assignments in Tacoma. We’ve weathered the storm and clearer skies are on the horizon.

The Mariners will continue their long homestand with a three-game series against the Twins. Surprisingly, they’re leading the AL Central by a game over the Indians. They’ve got there despite posting the worst home record in the majors backed by a -43 run differential in Target Field. As you’d expect, they’re much better on the road, posting the third best road record in the majors and a +24 run differential. After this three-game series in Seattle, the Mariners will travel to Minnesota for a four-game series next week.

The Twins:

The Twins pitching staff has posted an ERA almost a half run lower than their team FIP. Neither mark is good (4.62 ERA, 5.05 FIP), but it reflects the true strength of this team, their defense. The Twins outfield defense is second the majors 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

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 Hector Santiago

62 1/3 15.9% 8.9% 13.3% 32.3% 4.76 5.68

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 91.1 59.6% 115 90 107
Cutter 86.4 3.4% - - -
Changeup 82.8 23.3% 14 81 36
Slider 81.5 5.3% - - -
Curveball 76.3 8.2% - - -
*Santiago’s cutter, slider, and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

While he was with the White Sox and the Angels, Hector Santiago regularly outperformed his defense-independent peripherals by almost a full run. As a pitcher with heavy fly ball tendencies, he was able to suppress his BABIP while generating a strikeout rate right around league average. Since joining the Twins midway through the 2016 season, his strikeout rate has cratered, dropping all the way to just 14.8%. As a result, he’s seen his ERA balloon to match his FIP while continuing to allow the same amount of fly balls as before. With his repertoire primarily consisting of a “rising” fastball and a decent changeup, his strikeout rate is mainly determined by the effectiveness of those two pitches. Since the beginning of last season, he’s lost about 2 mph off his fastball which would explain why he just hasn’t seen the same success he enjoyed earlier in his career.

LHP Adalberto Mejia

27 1/3 20.3% 11.9% 17.2% 45.6% 3.95 5.32

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.5 44.0% 63 108 78
Sinker 92.8 18.7% - - -
Changeup 84.3 14.8% - - -
Slider 83.8 22.6% 73 141 96
*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.

Minnesota Twins v Baltimore Orioles

RHP Ervin Santana

81 18.6% 10.3% 11.8% 41.7% 2.44 4.64

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.2 37.5% 62 113 79
Sinker 92.4 15.3% 112 125 116
Changeup 86.3 15.1% 38 93 56
Slider 84.6 32.0% 100 125 108

There are lucky pitchers, and then there’s Ervin Santana. Prior to his 7-run implosion in his last start, he was leading the league in ERA. But even after that terrible start, he’s still outperforming his FIP by more than two runs. His strikeout rate has dipped a bit and he’s added 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 .155 BABIP.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 42-16 0.724 -- W-W-W-W-W
Angels 29-31 0.483 14.0 W-L-L-W-L
Mariners 28-30 0.483 14.0 W-L-W-W-W
Rangers 26-31 0.456 15.5 W-L-L-L-L
Athletics 25-32 0.439 16.5 L-L-W-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 31-25 0.554 +1.5 W-L-L-W-W
Orioles 29-26 0.527 -- W-W-W-L-L
Indians 29-26 0.527 -- L-W-L-L-W
Tigers 28-28 0.500 1.5 L-W-W-W-W
Rays 29-30 0.492 2.0 L-W-L-L-L

The Astros juggernaut just continues to roll on. They swept away the Rangers over the weekend and continued their streak with a win over the Royals last night. They’ve scored 89 runs during this 11-game winning streak and look nigh unstoppable. The Angels just lost three of four against the Twins and look pretty lost without Mike Trout. They’ve fallen into a virtual tie with the Mariners for second in the AL West and travel to Detroit for a three-game series. The Red Sox and Orioles split a four-game series over the weekend. The Red Sox travel to New York to face the Yankees while the Orioles host the Pirates for two games.