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Series Preview: Mariners (43-47) at White Sox (38-49)

The Mariners kick off the second half of the season with a six-game road trip beginning in Chicago.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Colorado Rockies Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance

Mariners White Sox
Mariners White Sox
Game 1 Friday, July 14 | 5:10 pm
LHP James Paxton RHP James Shields
59% 41%
Game 2 Saturday, July 15 | 4:10 pm
RHP Felix Hernandez LHP Derek Holland
54% 46%
Game 3 Sunday, July 16 | 11:10 am
RHP Andrew Moore TBD
53% 47%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners White Sox Edge
Overview Mariners White Sox Edge
Batting (wRC+) 104 (5th in AL) 94 (10th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 13.3 (4th) -8.1 (12th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 118 (12th) 118 (14th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 107 (13th) 86 (5th) White Sox

The Mariners limped into the All-Star break with a disappointing homestand where they went 2-5. They’re four games back in the Wild Card chase and waffling between being buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. The reality is two and a half weeks isn’t enough time for Jerry Dipoto to make a decision one way or another. All the injuries they’ve dealt with makes this team very difficult to evaluate. Even with some bounce back performances in the second half, it’s not clear that this team is any better than any other Wild Card hopeful. It’s also clear that Dipoto isn’t willing (or doesn’t have the pieces) to sell the farm for an impactful upgrade. So in this weird limbo between competing and retooling, the Mariners are banking on what they’ve built already. That should be good enough to make the next few months at least a little interesting, and if enough things break the right way, they could even make the last few weeks of the season as exciting as 2014 or 2016.

The White Sox:

The big news on the southside of Chicago is the trade of Jose Quintana. Since the end of last season, the White Sox have accumulated an impressive list of prospects and it only grew longer with the addition of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease. With all of these trades, the White Sox have taken a long rebuilding process and cut out all the miserable bits. Rather than an Astros-style multiyear process that includes hundreds of losses while building through the draft, the White Sox are looking like they’ll be able to field a young and very good team as early as 2019. Quintana’s replacement in the White Sox rotation has yet to be determined for Sunday’s game.

Key Players

RF Avisail GarciaJust 26-years-old, Avisail Garcia is finally putting all those raw skills to good use in his sixth major league season. He hasn’t really changed all that much from his disappointing younger years. The aggressive approach at the plate is still there, only now the results have followed his free swinging ways. He’s swinging more often than ever but he’s making more contact with those additional swings. The highest contact rate since his brief call up in 2012 paired with an extremely high .371 BABIP has helped him post a seemingly lucky .310 batting average. He’s also pulling the ball much more often which has led to a spike in his power numbers and the highest ISO of his career.

SS Tim Anderson A first round draft choice in 2013, Tim Anderson quickly worked his way through the minors and made his MLB debut in 2016. He was stellar in his rookie season, posting a 2.4 WAR in just 99 games of work; however, this year has been tougher for the young shortstop. He struck out at a high rate last year, and continues to run a strikeout rate of 26.9%. His BABIP his rookie year was .375, but that number has dropped to .304 this year. As a result, he has just a 63 wRC+ this season. Interestingly, he’s matched his home run total from last year, already leaving the yard nine times in 2017. His hard contact is down a bit from last year, resting at 30.9%, but his fly ball rate has jumped five percent (which may explain hitting as many home runs in fewer games). Additionally, his o-swing% (swings at pitches out of the zone) has jumped to nearly 40% this year. His propensity to swing at pitches out of the zone could be what has led to less hard contact. Anderson showed the ability to produce offensively and play great defense early in his career. Although he’s had a bad 2017, he’s had strong stretches and, at just 24 years old, has plenty of time to turn things around.

3B Todd FrazierDespite running a .218 BABIP in 2017, Todd Frazier still managed to post a 107 wRC+ in the first half. His walk rate has sky rocketed to an impressive 14.6%, while his ISO still sits at .231. He’s had a low BABIP since the start of last season, while his hard contact rates from the past two years have also been below his career average. His high fly ball rates may be better indicators of his BABIP luck. Fly balls tend to have lower BABIP than liners or grounders, but obviously result in quite a few more home runs. His ability to leave the yard and draw walks has made him a productive hitter, even as his BABIP has fallen. He’s also a good third baseman, running a career UZR/150 of 5.1 in the hot corner. It’s also worth noting that he started the year slow, but has run a 144 wRC+ since June. If he can keep that momentum rolling after the All-Star break, Frazier could post another 40 home run season.

1B Jose AbreuJose Abreu burst onto the scene in 2014, winning the AL Rookie of the Year with an impressive 167 wRC+. Although he hasn’t quite matched that production over the past two years, he’s never posted a wRC+ lower than 118 in a season. His power numbers have declined year-over-year, although his strikeout rates have dropped as well. Abreu had been mired in an early season slump but a productive May and June has helped him push his ISO well over .200 again.

Probable Pitchers

New York Yankees v Chicago White Sox

RHP James Shields

36 1/3 18.4% 11.7% 17.5% 32.4% 4.95 6.89

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 90.5 38.8% 48 61 52
Cutter 86.3 29.7% 132 61 108
Changeup 83.5 8.3% - - -
Curveball 73.5 23.0% 168 79 138
Shield’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Among all qualified starters last year, James Shields was the worst by a large margin. No matter what metric you use, Shields shows up at the bottom of the leaderboards. It’s a miracle the White Sox allowed him to make enough starts to qualify for the ERA title. His strikeout and walk rates were career worsts and he allowed a ridiculous number of home runs. Things haven’t been any better this year. He is not the same pitcher who averaged 3.4 fWAR per year from 2006-2014. Always known for his excellent changeup, he’s throwing that pitch less often than ever before. Instead, he’s using his cutter more often. It’s not the worst trade off since the quality of his changeup has deteriorated greatly and he’s actually able to generate a decent amount of whiffs with his cutter. Still, no matter what he throws, batters are still crushing the ball. His home run rate is higher than ever and he’s avoided allowing a home run in a game just once this season (against the Yankees of all teams).

LHP Derek Holland

91 2/3 19.2% 9.3% 17.1% 39.4% 5.01 5.55

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.1 32.9% 38 151 76
Sinker 91.6 19.0% 76 86 79
Changeup 84.1 10.4% -30 36 -8
Slider 80.8 19.5% 114 37 88
Curveball 78.6 17.9% 115 54 95

After a relatively successful return to health last season, Derek Holland latched on with the White Sox this offseason. He’s now three years removed from the freak knee injury that derailed his career but his skills have yet to return to their pre-injury levels. He’s lost some velocity off his fastball, but he’s seen his strikeout rate rise to 19.2% because he’s throwing his two breaking balls much more often this year. Both of those pitches generate above average whiff rates and he had been hesitant to throw them so often with the Rangers because of health issues. While his curveball and slider have helped boost his strikeout rate, a loss of command has also led to a spike in walk rate as well. The last time he faced the Mariners, he was in vintage form. He lasted eight innings, allowed just one run on six hits and two walks while striking out six.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 60-29 0.674 -- W-L-W-L-W
Angels 45-47 0.489 16.5 L-W-L-L-W
Rangers 43-45 0.489 16.5 L-W-W-W-L
Mariners 43-47 0.478 17.5 L-L-W-L-W
Athletics 39-50 0.438 21.0 W-W-L-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 45-41 0.523 -- L-L-L-W-L
Rays 47-43 0.522 -- L-W-L-W-W
Twins 45-43 0.511 1.0 L-W-W-L-L
Royals 44-43 0.506 1.5 W-W-L-L-L
Angels 45-47 0.489 3.0 L-W-L-L-W

The second half of the season opens with a few interesting series. The Rays managed to claim the second Wild Card spot right before the break and will visit the Angels this weekend. The after sweeping the Mariners, the Royals were swept themselves by the Dodgers. They’ll look to get their season back on track while hosting the Rangers. The Yankees and Red Sox will play four games in three days in Boston in a battle for the AL East. The Twins travel to Houston to take on the best team in the AL.