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Series Preview: Mariners (55-54) at Royals (55-51)

The Mariners travel to Kansas City for a huge four-game series against the Royals.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance

Mariners Royals
Mariners Royals
Game 1 Thursday, August 3 | 5:15 pm
RHP Yovani Gallardo RHP Trevor Cahill
49% 51%
Game 2 Friday, August 4 | 5:15 pm
LHP James Paxton RHP Jason Hammel
54% 46%
Game 3 Saturday, August 5 | 4:15 pm
RHP Felix Hernandez LHP Danny Duffy
45% 55%
Game 4 Sunday, August 6 | 11:15 am
RHP Erasmo Ramirez RHP Ian Kennedy
48% 52%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Royals Edge
Overview Mariners Royals Edge
Batting (wRC+) 102 (6th in AL) 88 (15th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 16.0 (3rd) 31.2 (1st) Royals
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 118 (14th) 102 (8th) Royals
Bullpen (FIP-) 100 (11th) 85 (5th) Royals

Note: Text appearing in italics has appeared in a previous series preview.

This four-game series in Kansas City is just the latest critical stretch in a season full of important series. The Mariners sit just a game and a half behind the Royals in the Wild Card race. John did a great job of checking in on the Mariners playoff odds yesterday. In short, the Mariners are projected to have a rest-of-season win percentage a fraction better than the Royals. But the Royals lead in the standings means they have much higher odds of making the playoffs (along with the chance that they could overtake the underperforming Indians in the AL Central). The Mariners need to pick up a couple of games over what the projections project. Splitting these four games wouldn’t be the worst outcome—basically matching what the projections say should happen. A series win would flip these two team in the standings and give the Mariners a slight edge for the rest of the season. A lot can happen between now and the end of September but this series has serious playoff implications.

The Royals:

In many ways, the Royals were in a similar position to the Mariners at the trade deadline. The makeup of their roster basically forced them into buying to take advantage of their talent. Where the Mariners core is aging them out of contention, the Royals are facing a mass exodus of their best players without the financial resources to keep all of them around. Going 23-19 in June and July and winning nine straight leading up to the trade deadline certainly helped them make their decision to buy easy. They acquired Melky Cabrera to play right field and added Trevor Cahill, old friend Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter to bolster their pitching staff.

Key Players

2B Whit MerrifieldAfter getting his feet wet in the majors last year, Whit Merrifield has put together a breakout season in 2017. The speedy infielder has 17 steals to his name, and a lowered strikeout rate and increased ISO has yielded a 111 wRC+. He doesn't walk much, but runs a high contact rate and rarely makes soft contact. With his ability to put the ball in play, speed, and improved power he's been a productive hitter for the Royals this season.

RF Jorge BonifacioIn his rookie season, Jorge Bonifacio has been a valuable hitter and defensive player for the Royals. His strikeout rate has jumped in his transition to the bigs, but he runs a solid walk rate and has shown some power. Bonifacio hits a lot of line drives and an above average hard contact rate. His 9.3 UZR/150 in right field is a product of solid range and a good arm.

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 HosmerThrough 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 Trevor Cahill

65 26.2% 9.2% 17.0% 56.7% 4.15 3.82

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.2 9.5% 109 178 132
Sinker 91.2 36.1% 139 94 124
Changeup 84.2 20.9% 111 141 121
Slider 85.9 9.4% 241 158 213
Curveball 80.2 23.3% 214 114 181

After spending the last few years working out of the bullpen for various teams, Trevor Cahill rediscovered his mojo this season. Only 29-years-old, he signed a one-year deal with the Padres this offseason and made the starting rotation out of spring training. In 11 starts for San Diego, he posted a 3.69/3.39/3.34 pitcher slash line backed by the highest strikeout rate of his career. He’s throwing more breaking balls than ever this year and that’s driving much of his success. His curveball has always been a very good secondary offering but he was able to sharpen it as a reliever and has carried over that effectiveness as a starter. He’s also mixing in a new slider that’s generating a whiff more than half the time an opposing batter offers at it. Those additional strikeouts combined with his excellent ground ball rate makes for a great recipe for success. Cahill missed most of May and all of June with a shoulder injury so there were definitely some red flags when the Royals acquired him.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers

RHP Jason Hammel

119 1/3 17.6% 6.8% 9.3% 38.0% 4.75 4.31

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.4 28.5% 126 73 108
Sinker 92.7 20.6% 96 68 87
Changeup 85.5 3.7% - - -
Slider 85.0 37.8% 109 93 104
Curveball 77.8 9.5% 24 128 59
*Hammel’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

During the last three seasons, Jason Hammel has compiled 5.5 fWAR while producing a 3.68/4.02/3.79 pitcher slash line. His quiet success as a back-of-the-rotation starter flew under the radar on the northside of Chicago. In his age-34 season, his effectiveness has waned a touch but he’s continued to be a valuable innings-eater for the Royals. He relies mainly on a fastball/slider combo, both of which generate above average whiff rates. At one point, his curveball and changeup were also swing-and-miss pitches. The whiff rates on both of those pitches has dropped by more than 50% this season and that partially explains the drop in strikeout rate.

LHP Danny Duffy

108 19.2% 6.6% 5.3% 38.3% 3.42 3.34

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.5 26.8% 80 92 84
Changeup 84.4 22.9% 103 98 101
Slider 83.6 29.2% 116 98 110
Curveball 75.5 1.1% - - -
Duffy’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

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.

RHP Ian Kennedy

107 2/3 20.7% 9.4% 13.2% 38.4% 4.60 4.99

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.4 61.0% 116 91 108
Cutter 86.6 11.6% 123 113 120
Changeup 85.1 11.4% 159 101 140
Curveball 78.2 15.9% 89 111 96

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.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 69-38 0.645 -- L-L-W-L-L
Mariners 55-54 0.505 15.0 W-W-W-W-L
Angels 53-55 0.491 16.5 W-W-L-W-W
Rangers 51-56 0.477 18.0 L-L-L-L-W
Athletics 48-60 0.444 21.5 W-W-W-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 57-49 0.538 +2.0 W-L-W-L-L
Royals 55-51 0.519 -- L-W-L-L-L
Rays 56-53 0.514 0.5 L-W-L-W-W
Mariners 55-54 0.505 1.5 W-W-W-W-L
Orioles 53-54 0.495 2.5 W-W-W-W-W

The Royals head into this huge series with the Mariners having been swept by the Orioles in Baltimore. That’s pushed the Orioles win streak to five games and they’re now just two and a half games back in the Wild Card race; they’ll host the Tigers for four games this weekend. The Rays wrap up their four-game series against the Astros today having won two of three so far and will return home to host the Brewers next. The Red Sox swept a rain-shortened series against the Indians and will host the White Sox for four games over the weekend. The Yankees will travel to Cleveland after losing a series to the Tigers.