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Series Preview: Mariners (49-51) vs. Red Sox (55-45)

The Red Sox are in town as the Mariners look to bounce back against another AL East rival.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance

Red Sox Mariners
Red Sox Mariners
Game 1 Monday, July 24 | 7:10 pm
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez LHP James Paxton
45% 55%
Game 2 Tuesday, July 25 | 7:10 pm
LHP Drew Pomeranz RHP Felix Hernandez
50% 50%
Game 3 Wednesday, July 26 | 12:40 pm
LHP Chris Sale RHP Andrew Moore
60% 40%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Red Sox Mariners Edge
Overview Red Sox Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 93 (10th in AL) 103 (6th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 24.8 (1st) 13.3 (4th) Red Sox
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 90 (2nd) 118 (13th) Red Sox
Bullpen (FIP-) 81 (4th) 103 (13th) Red Sox

The tour of east coast teams continues as the Red Sox make their only appearance in Seattle this week. After dropping their four-game series against the Yankees, the Mariners need to turn this homestand around against the AL East leader. The pitching matchups promise two very competitive games to start and a looming matchup against Chris Sale to wrap up the series. The familiar narrative is that the Mariners have really struggled against left-handed pitching the last few years. That was definitely true in 2014 and ’15, but the past two years the Mariners have done well to break that narrative. As a team, they’ve posted a 101 wRC+ against southpaws with Danny Valenica leading the team’s individual performances.

The Red Sox:

It turns out losing David Ortiz delivered a serious blow to the potency of the Red Sox offense. Their team ISO is just .144, second lowest in the American League and just 28th in all of baseball. That anemic power output is offset in large part by the second highest walk-to-strikeout ratio in the majors. When almost every other team in baseball is posting record power numbers, the Red Sox are scoring runs the old fashioned way. Combined with one of the best pitching staffs in the league, the Red Sox are delivering on all of their pre-season expectations.

Key Players

2B Dustin PedroiaIn his 12th year in the bigs, Dustin Pedroia is as consistent as ever. Even with declining power, the 33-year-old second baseman is still productive offensively with his high walk rate and ability to hit for contact. He’s still phenomenal in the field as well, boasting a 10.8 UZR150 in nearly 700 innings at second base this year. He’s spent the majority of the season batting second, where he can use hit 11.0% walk rate and ability to hit for contact to set the table for the likes of Xander Boegarts and Jackie Bradley Jr.

CF Jackie Bradley, Jr. – Each year in the majors, Jackie Bradley Jr.‘s strikeout rate has dropped. That trend has continued this year, as he’s running a career best 22.4% strikeout rate. That said, his ISO has dropped under .200 for the first time since 2014. His dip in power is confusing, because he’s hitting more fly balls and line drives than any other point in his career, while his ground ball rate is at a career low. Similarly, he’s making hard contact at the highest clip of his career. Interestingly, he had a career high 123 wRC+ through the end of June, before a tough month of July slowed him down. Even in his slower July, he’s hitting a lot of line drives and fly balls and hitting them hard. For some reason, that hasn’t translated to great results. He’ll hit his way through this slump and continue to be an important piece of this Red Sox lineup.

3B Rafael Devers – The Red Sox have gotten a league low 55 wRC+ from their third basemen this season. Although they were rumored to be leaders in the Todd Frazier sweepstakes, they ended up watching him go to the Yankees of all teams. Now, the Red Sox will call their top prospect, Rafael Devers, on Tuesday to fill in the gap at third. Devers is just 20-years-old, and has only played in seven AAA games. That said, he had been tearing the cover off the ball earlier in the year in AA, posting a 153 wRC+. Devers has been praised for his ability to hit to all fields. He’s a powerful hitter, posting a .275 ISO in 320 AA plate appearances this season, and can hit for contact as well. If he adjusts quickly to major league pitching, the upside for Devers is huge.

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 10.4% of his plate appearances, while posting a career low strikeout rate of 8.8%. 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

66 1/3 26.8% 9.2% 13.2% 35.1% 3.66 4.13

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.7 64.3% 161 88 137
Sinker 93.4 4.2% - - -
Cutter 87.9 3.5% - - -
Changeup 86.6 19.5% 176 117 156
Slider 83.6 8.5% - - -
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 an impressive 3.44/3.78/4.29 slash line with a 25.6% 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. Rodriguez recently returned from the disabled list after injuring his knee for the second time in two years.

LHP Drew Pomeranz

102 2/3 24.8% 9.0% 12.2% 42.0% 3.51 3.71

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 91.4 55.4% 176 81 144
Cutter 87.0 7.4% 226 181 211
Changeup 81.5 1.4% - - -
Slider 79.5 35.8% 53 116 74
*Pomeranz’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Despite all the medical drama surrounding his trade from the Padres to the Red Sox and an injury scare during spring training, Pomeranz has made every single scheduled start this season. And his pitching line is basically unchanged from his breakout year last year. He began relying on two pitches last season, his “rising” fastball and his looping curveball. As you’d expect, the vertical movement on his fastball leads to a huge number of whiffs and a huge number of fly balls. He’s been able to limit batters to a sub .200 batting average off his fastball, but is also allowing a .203 ISO off the pitch too. His curveball mitigates a lot of the boom or bust nature of his fastball. Over the past two years, Pomeranz has given up just four home runs off his curveball and more than 65% of the balls in play off that pitch have been on the ground. Those two plus pitches are more than enough to deal with but Pomeranz will also mix in a cutter that has the sixth highest whiff rate of any cutter thrown this season.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Angels

LHP Chris Sale

141 1/3 36.4% 4.7% 8.2% 36.7% 2.48 1.97

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.9 36.8% 225 74 175
Sinker 93.2 12.8% 144 103 130
Changeup 86.8 19.3% 196 92 161
Slider 79.6 31.1% 178 89 148

The last pitcher to post a FIP under 2.00 during a full season was another Red Sox ace. What Chris Sale has done thus far in 2017 is legitimately one of the most dominant pitching performances of the last two decades. He’s already posted 200 strikeouts and we’re not even through July. He’s posted double digit strikeout totals in 65% of his starts this year. It’s no surprise to see all four of his pitches generating whiff rates well above average, with his fastball and changeup being the most deadly. The development of that latter pitch has help him neutralize what was once a pretty significant platoon split. There are simply no holes in his game anymore and he’s well on his way to winning the AL Cy Young award.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 65-33 0.663 -- W-L-W-W-L
Angels 49-51 0.490 17.0 L-W-L-W-W
Mariners 49-51 0.490 17.0 W-L-L-W-L
Rangers 48-50 0.490 17.0 L-L-W-W-W
Athletics 44-54 0.449 21.0 L-W-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 51-46 0.526 +1.0 L-W-W-L-W
Royals 50-47 0.515 -- W-W-W-W-W
Rays 51-48 0.515 -- W-L-L-L-L
Twins 49-48 0.505 1.0 L-W-L-W-L
Mariners 49-51 0.490 2.5 W-L-L-W-L

Just a few days a go, the Rangers were contemplating selling off a few of their pieces. Then they swept the Rays in Tampa and are now tied with the Mariners and Angels in the Wild Card race. The Royals have also made a push up the standings, winning five straight after sweeping away the White Sox over the weekend. They’re now tied with the Rays for the second Wild Card spot. The Orioles who were an afterthought a week ago are now just a game behind the cluster of AL West teams and are talking about going for it again. It’s absolute chaos.