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Series Preview: Mariners (41-42) vs. Royals (41-40)

The Mariners wrap up the first half of the season with a seven-game homestand beginning with three against the Royals.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance

Royals Mariners
Royals Mariners
Game 1 Monday, July 3 | 7:10 pm
RHP Ian Kennedy RHP Andrew Moore
44% 56%
Game 2 Tuesday, July 4 | 3:40 pm
LHP Danny Duffy RHP Felix Hernandez
45% 55%
Game 3 Wednesday, July 3 | 7:10 pm
LHP Jason Vargas LHP Ariel Miranda
45% 55%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 87 (15th in AL) 105 (4th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 19.4 (1st) 12.6 (2nd) Royals
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 104 (9th) 117 (12th) Royals
Bullpen (FIP-) 88 (8th) 111 (14th) Royals

Winning two of three against a division and Wild Card rival was a good way to forget about that bad series against the Phillies. Now the Mariners return home for seven games to wrap up the first half of the season. They’ll begin this homestand with a three-game series against a surprising Wild Card rival. At the beginning of June, the Royals possessed the worst record in the American League and had scored just 3.4 runs per game up to that point. A month later and they’re just a half a game out in the Wild Card race and a game over .500. They’ve gone 19-10 since June 1 and their offense has scored 4.6 runs per game in that time. They lost just a single series in June (in Detroit) and have made their way back into the Wild Card conversation after a disaster of a start to the season.

The Royals:

In many ways, the Royals are the same team that won the World Series back in 2015. Their defense continues to be a huge strength and that helps an otherwise mediocre pitching staff outperform their peripherals. On offense, they’re not as contact focused as they were a couple of years ago as their team strikeout rate has risen towards league average, but they’re still refusing to draw walks as a team. With the loss of Greg Holland and Wade Davis, their bullpen isn’t nearly as strong as it was either. Their hot streak in June only delayed the difficult decisions they’re going to have to make about some of their core pieces (Hosmer, Moustakas, and Cain) as they become free agents at the end of this year.

Key Players

CF Lorenzo CainAfter a sort of down 2016, during which he missed the final month of the season, Lorenzo Cain has returned to his 2015 form. His 9.7% walk rate is a career high while his strikeout rate dropped to the second lowest mark of his career, largely due to his o-swing% (percentage of pitches swung at outside of the zone) is at a career low. His ISO has increased to the second highest number of his career. He’s hitting fly balls at a higher rate than any other season in the bigs, and his hard contact % is nearly four points above his career average. He’s already worth as many wins (2.4) through 78 games this season as he was in 103 in 2016.

C Salvador PerezSalvador Perez has seen increased ISO each year since 2013, peaking at .236 in this season. His fly ball rate saw a massive jump in 2016, reaching 47.1%, however, it’s leapt even further this year, resting at 50% on the nose. He almost never makes soft contact, running a 16.1% soft contact rate this season. Meanwhile, his hard contact rate of 42% is nearly 12 points over his career average. As a result, his wRC+ of 117 through 293 plate appearances is the highest of his career.

1B Eric Hosmer – Through 81 games in 2017, Eric Hosmer currently is running the highest wRC+ of his career. Interestingly, however, his 21.5% fly ball rate is the lowest of his career, while his hard contact rate is over 3% below his career mark. What he has done very well, though, is hit the ball to the opposite field. When going the other way or up the middle, he’s batting over .500 and five of his home runs have gone out to left field. When he’s pulling the ball, his BABIP drops all the way to .138. While he doesn’t hit many fly balls or generate a ton of hard contact, his ability to hit effectively to all fields has helped him find a lot of grass and be a productive member of the Royals lineup.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Ian Kennedy

74 1/3 20.3% 10.8% 15.1% 37.8% 4.72 5.64

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.5 60.7% 110 89 103
Cutter 86.7 12.4% 102 154 119
Changeup 85.1 13.2% 182 101 155
Curveball 78.0 13.6% 95 135 108

Ian Kennedy has made a career out of using his “rising” fastball to generate a ton of strikeouts while allowing a ton of home runs. Since 2010, his first full year in a major league rotation, he’s allowed the second most home runs in the majors. He’s also struck out the 12th most and made almost every single start since then (tied for 3rd most games started). His extreme fly ball profile seems to be perfectly suited for the Royals outfield defense and that pairing helped him post an ERA a full run lower than his FIP in his first year in Kansas City. Both his strikeout and walk rates have taken a step back this year, so despite allowing the lowest BABIP in the majors so far, he’s added a run to both his ERA and his FIP.

LHP Danny Duffy

68 2/3 18.8% 8.7% 5.1% 40.0% 3.54 3.55

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.6 47.3% 78 109 88
Changeup 84.9 22.5% 118 98 111
Slider 84.0 29.4% 141 95 126

Danny Duffy started off last year in the Royals bullpen and saw his average fastball velocity jump up to 96 mph. He moved back to the rotation in mid-May and maintained that velocity bump in longer outings. As the season wore on, his velocity slowly dropped until it was sitting around 94 mph in September, matching his previous career norms. So was last year’s success a velocity fueled blip or a true breakout? Through 11 starts this year, it looks like it was just a blip. His average fastball velocity has fallen to 93 mph and with it his strikeout rate. He’s managed to survive by allowing a miniscule home-run-per-fly-ball rate. He’s returning from an oblique injury to make his first start off the disabled list on Tuesday.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

LHP Jason Vargas

101 1/3 18.3% 5.9% 6.2% 37.7% 2.22 3.47

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 86.4 48.8% 46 96 63
Changeup 80.0 31.1% 182 99 154
Curveball 72.9 20.0% 36 83 52

Jason Vargas is the most unlikely All-Star this season. Tommy John surgery wiped out most of 2015 and 2016 for him but he’s made a triumphant return to the mound this year. He hasn’t really changed much from the pitcher we knew when he was a Mariner—he controls the zone very well, doesn’t give up too much hard contact, and relies on a killer changeup. As he’s aged, he’s followed the Jamie Moyer career path. His fastball only averages 86 mph but his changeup and curveball are so good that he’s able to keep opposing batters off balance enough to be successful. His strikeout rate has even seen a little bump this year, mostly driven by a changeup that induces a whiff two out of every five times a batter swings at it. He’s been pretty lucky to strand so many baserunners, driving his ERA well below his FIP, but the rest of his peripherals are very good.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 56-27 0.675 -- W-W-L-W-W
Angels 43-43 0.500 14.5 W-L-L-W-L
Mariners 41-42 0.494 15.0 L-L-W-L-W
Rangers 40-42 0.488 15.5 L-L-L-W-L
Athletics 35-47 0.427 20.5 L-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 43-37 0.538 +2.0 W-L-W-L-L
Rays 43-41 0.512 -- L-L-W-W-L
Royals 41-40 0.506 0.5 L-W-W-L-W
Twins 41-40 0.506 0.5 L-L-L-W-L
Angels 43-43 0.500 1.0 W-L-L-W-L

The Twins continue to fall in the standings after losing three of four to the Royals over the weekend. All of that buffer they built up early in the season has been wiped away and they’re now well behind the Indians in the AL Central; they’ll host the Angels this week. The Rangers lost two of three to the White Sox this weekend as their bullpen coughed up leads on Friday and Sunday; they’ll return home to host the AL East leading Red Sox. The Rays won two of three from the Orioles and now hold the second Wild Card spot outright. Both the Orioles and the Rays will be playing in National League parks this week—the Rays in Chicago and the Orioles in Milwaukee.