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Series Preview: Mariners (63-62) at Braves (55-67)

The Mariners wrap up their interleague slate with a trip to Atlanta and Sun Trust Stadium.

Atlanta Braves v Colorado Rockies Photo by Joe Mahoney/Getty Images

At a Glance

Mariners Braves
Mariners Braves
Game 1 Monday, August 21 | 4:35 pm
LHP Andrew Albers RHP Mike Foltynewicz
51% 49%
Game 2 Tuesday, August 22 | 4:35 pm
LHP Marco Gonzalez RHP Lucas Sims
50% 50%
Game 3 Wednesday, August 23 | 4:35 pm
RHP Erasmo Ramirez RHP R.A. Dickey
52% 48%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Braves Edge
Overview Mariners Braves Edge
Batting (wRC+) 102 (4th in AL) 90 (10th in NL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 16.2 (4th) -2.4 (10th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 120 (14th) 115 (14th) Braves
Bullpen (FIP-) 99 (11th) 106 (14th) Mariners

The Mariners started their road trip on the right foot, taking two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays. They’ll look to stay hot as they cross the Florida-Georgia line to square off with the Braves, who own the worst record of any team the M’s will face before returning home to Safeco. This is an opportunity the Mariners need to seize. Taking two of three in Atlanta would mark three straight series wins, giving the team some confidence and momentum before traveling north to New York and Baltimore. For how tumultuous of a season the Mariners starting rotation has had, the Braves are one of seven teams with a higher xFIP than Seattle. An offense that’s scored seven runs in three of the last four games will be looking to enjoy similar success against the Braves.

The Braves:

Once 45-45, the Braves have lost 22 of their last 32 games. Over the last 30 days, their offense has only managed to muster an 88 wRC+. They reinstated Matt Kemp from the disabled list this weekend, which should help boost their offense a bit, but it may not be enough to neutralize their pitching woes; during the same stretch, the Braves pitching staff has run the fifth highest xFIP in baseball. They’ve struggled with a high walk rate (4.37 per 9 innings), and have fallen victim to the long ball (1.57 per 9 innings). Only the Reds, White Sox, Tigers, and Rays have surrendered more earned runs in the last 30 days than Atlanta’s 5.44 ERA during that stretch.

Key Players

1B Freddie FreemanA wrist fracture has limited Freddie Freeman to just 78 games in his best offensive season of his career, but he hasn’t skipped a beat since returning from that injury. Freeman had always been a productive hitter, but a sharp increase in fly ball rate over the past two seasons has seen his ISO skyrocket. His fly ball rate and line drive rate are both well above league average, while his groundball rate is very low. As a result, he’s managed a .305 ISO this season. Defensively, Freeman has had a solid season, running a 3.9 UZR/150 at first base. He’s even played a little third base, where he’s held his own, owning a -1.3 UZR/150.

LF Matt Kemp – While he might not be mirroring his 2011 and 2012 numbers, Matt Kemp has had a productive season for the Braves. His strikeout rate is the lowest it has been since 2009, though his walk rate is also down 1.2% from his career average. His fly ball rate is down over 9% from his career average, while he’s hitting line drives at the third highest rate of his career. This change in his batted ball profile has led to a lower ISO, but has helped nourish a high BABIP. He started the season off hot before cooling down in June and getting hurt in July. He was recently reinstated from the disabled list, and will be looked to provide his early season numbers for a struggling Braves offense.

CF Ender InciarteEnder Inciarte homered twice on Thursday to reach double digit home runs for the first time in his career. His fly ball rate is higher this year than any year in the past, while his roundball rate has trended in the opposite direction. That said, he still hits grounders and line drives at an above league average rate. His speed is a weapon; he’s third in the majors in bunt singles, and has stolen 17 bases this year. His speed translates into incredible range in centerfield, and he has a strong arm to top it off. His ability to get on base, run the bases, and play great defense has earned him the second highest WAR on the team.

Probable Pitchers

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves

RHP Mike Foltynewicz

127 21.1% 8.6% 13.4% 39.2% 4.75 4.52

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 95.6 34.4% 149 84 127
Sinker 95.6 27.0% 102 80 95
Changeup 86.3 5.2% 124 111 120
Slider 86.2 21.0% 132 75 113
Curveball 80.1 12.4% 77 54 69

It took a while, but Mike Foltynewicz is finally fulfilling all the promise he showed as a first-round draft pick back in 2010. Many assumed he was destined for the bullpen with a fastball that averages 95 mph and a devastating slider. To his credit, he’s stuck in the rotation for most of last year and all of this year. While his raw stuff is pretty impressive, he’s been held back by a lack of command. He made some strides forward last year, dropping his walk rate to just 6.7%, but those gains have been given back this year, as he’s posting the highest walk rate of his major league career. Since he relies on a fastball/slider combo—with a few curveballs mixed in for good measure—he’s been prone to getting knocked around by left-handed batters.

RHP Lucas Sims

22 1/3 10.9% 5.9% 14.8% 37.3% 5.24 5.82

Another former first-round draft pick, Lucas Sims made his major league debut back on August 1. He completely dominated Triple-A this season, posting a 28.1% strikeout rate paired with a 7.7% walk rate. He’s always been able to get strikeouts at every minor league level so his 10.9% strikeout rate in the majors is pretty surprising. He just hasn’t been able to get big league batter to chase his pitches. The other major change for him is a walk rate that sits around league average. After posting a 14.2% walk rate across three levels in the minors the past two years, he’s made huge improvements in his ability to command his pitches. That trade off— fewer strikeouts and fewer walks—makes him a much different pitcher than the Braves drafted.

RHP R.A. Dickey

147 16.6% 8.9% 14.8% 49.2% 3.98 5.00

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Sinker 83.9 14.8% 99 67 88
Knuckleball 77.6 84.0% 71 223 122

R.A. Dickey just keeps chugging along. Now in his age-42 season, he’s providing a ton of innings for the Braves while they rebuild. Almost nothing much has changed for the knuckleballer. Back in 2012, when he won the National League Cy Young award, his knuckleball averaged 78 mph, a pretty significant outlier above his career norm, which led to a career high strikeout rate of 24.8%. The knuckler’s average velocity dropped back down to around 76 mph while he was with Toronto the past four years, and his strikeout rate suffered too. This season, he’s bumped his average velocity back up to 77.6 mph, the second highest mark of his career after that 2012 season. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate hasn’t followed suit.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 76-48 0.613 -- W-L-W-W-L
Angels 64-60 0.516 12.0 L-W-L-W-W
Mariners 63-62 0.504 13.5 W-W-W-W-L
Rangers 61-62 0.496 14.5 W-W-L-W-L
Athletics 54-70 0.435 22.0 W-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 66-57 0.537 +2.5 W-W-L-W-L
Twins 63-59 0.516 -- L-W-W-W-W
Angels 64-60 0.516 -- L-W-L-W-W
Royals 62-61 0.504 1.5 L-W-L-L-W
Mariners 63-62 0.504 1.5 W-W-W-W-L

A pair of wins for the Twins and Angels created a bit of separation in the wild card race, putting them a game and a half above the Royals and Mariners. The resurgent Rangers begin a series with the Angels on Monday, which will obviously leave a big impact on the wild card race. The Royals have Monday off before starting a tough three game set against the Rockies. The Twins, on the other hand, have a five (FIVE!) game tilt with the White Sox.