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Series Preview: Mariners (74-79) vs. Cleveland (96-57)

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The Mariners host the best team in the American League this weekend.

Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

At a Glance

Cleveland Mariners
Cleveland Mariners
Game 1 Friday, September 22 | 7:10 pm
RHP Trevor Bauer RHP Erasmo Ramirez
56% 44%
Game 2 Saturday, September 23 | 1:10 pm
RHP Carlos Carrasco RHP Andrew Moore
62% 38%
Game 3 Sunday, September 24 | 1:10 pm
RHP Corey Kluber RHP Mike Leake
66% 34%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Cleveland Mariners Edge
Overview Cleveland Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (2nd in AL) 102 (5th in AL) Cleveland
Fielding (UZR) 11.6 (7th) 12.6 (5th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 78 (1st) 116 (14th) Cleveland
Bullpen (FIP-) 72 (1st) 98 (9th) Cleveland

I’m a little relieved that the Mariners finally laid any postseason hopes to bed this week. Sure, a miracle run towards the second Wild Card spot like 2014 and 2016 would have been fun, but this team just couldn’t get out of its own damn way. The same could be said for any of the Wild Card contenders this year. Amazingly enough, the Mariners have only fallen down the standings by a game and half during this six-game losing streak. The failures of every team ahead of the Mariners allowed us to hold on to some sliver of hope. Now that reaching the postseason by some miracle is off the table, maybe the Mariners will turn their attention to seeing what players like Dan Vogelbach, Marco Gonzales, and Andrew Moore can contribute in 2018. It’s a familiar refrain for Mariners fans, only this year it came in September rather than in July.

Cleveland:

The ballclub from Cleveland has lost just a single game since August 23rd. Their 22-game winning streak broke the American League record (and the major league record, depending on who you ask). During this 28 game stretch, they’ve allowed just two runs per game. They’ve recorded seven shutouts and have held opposing teams to three runs or less 22 times. Cleveland has claimed the best record in the American League on the back of one of the best pitching staffs in the history of the game. During their two series against the Rangers the past week, the Mariners faced four starters who ranked in the bottom 15 in strikeout rate—the three starters they’ll face this weekend all rank in the top 15 in strikeout rate.

Key Players

SS Fransisco Lindor – At just 23 years old, Fransisco Lindor already has 16.3 career WAR. He posted wRC+ numbers of 126 and 111 his first two years in the league, but has added to his offensive repertoire this year with increased power. His fly ball rate has jumped nearly 14% from last season, resulting in a sharp increase in home runs. Lindor is also a fantastic fielder, running a career 15.4 UZR/150 at shortstop.

3B Jose RamirezAnother bright young star, 24-year old Jose Ramirez has the highest WAR on the team this season (5.8). He broke out last season offensively, slashing .312/.363/.462; however, a sharp increase in ISO has catapulted his season wRC+ to 145. Ramirez’ fly ball rate has jumped a bit since last season, but the greatest difference in his batted ball profile in a 7.7% increase in hard contact rate, which has fueled an over 8% jump in HR/FB. He’s swinging at fewer balls and more strikes, which could serve as an explanation for his impressive batted ball stats as well as his increased walk rate. He’s played over 500 innings at second and third base this season, but has performed better at third, evidenced by a 7.7 UZR/150.

DH Edwin EncarnacionAfter a slow start to the season, Edwin Encarnacion has posted a 138 wRC+ since the beginning of May. He’s eclipsed the 30 home run mark for the sixth consecutive year, and is two RBI short of the triple digits. His contact rate dropped for fourth consecutive year, resulting in a 20.2% strikeout rate. Meanwhile, his o-contact% is his lowest since 2009, yielding a career high 15.8% walk rate. When he puts the ball in play, Encarnacion generates a lot of hard contact, specifically on fly balls, which leads to a lot of home runs.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Trevor Bauer

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
163 1/3 26.1% 8.1% 16.7% 45.9% 4.41 3.96

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.5 39.5% 98 106 101
Sinker 93.9 9.8% 47 75 56
Cutter 87.7 13.4% 270 78 206
Changeup 87.3 7.1% 69 115 84
Curveball 79.0 29.5% 122 124 123

Through the first two months of the season, Trevor Bauer had posted an ERA of 6.00, almost two full runs higher than his FIP. His strikeout-per-walk ratio was higher than ever but he was getting knocked around nonetheless. Since the beginning of June, he’s seen his ERA fall below his FIP, down to 3.55, despite a slight increase in his BABIP allowed. His improvement this season isn’t just simply better batted ball luck. Towards the end of May, Bauer decided to start throwing his curveball much more often, more than 30% of the time, twice as often as before. That pitch generates an above average number of whiffs, but its true benefit to his repertoire is how it plays off his other pitches. Bauer has seen an increase in whiff rate on his cutter, and to a lesser extent his four-seam fastball, helping him post the best strikeout rate of his career.


RHP Carlos Carrasco

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
186 27.7% 5.8% 13.0% 44.5% 3.48 3.26

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.8 37.6% 67 83 72
Sinker 93.7 11.9% 147 90 128
Changeup 88.9 15.5% 137 162 145
Slider 85.5 24.1% 243 104 197
Curveball 83.4 10.9% 217 119 184

After his brilliant breakout year in 2015, Carlos Carrasco couldn’t quite match that level of performance last season. His strikeout rate dipped a little, but it was so high to begin with, he still ran a strikeout rate well above average. He didn’t induce quite as many ground balls, with his fly ball rate carrying the difference. Those additional fly balls, and a higher hard hit rate, led to an explosion of home runs. Despite those little hiccups, Carrasco is still one of the best pitchers in the American League. All three of his secondary pitches are deadly. Since the beginning of 2015, opposing batters have a combined batting average of just .179 off those three pitches. His worst pitch might be his 95 mph fastball, which seems ridiculous, but hhis command is so good and he gets so much horizontal movement with it that it’s still a plus pitch.


Kansas City Royals v Cleveland Indians

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.0 15.1% 105 79 96
Sinker 92.9 27.6% 57 91 68
Cutter 89.2 24.1% 273 115 220
Changeup 86.1 6.5% 137 117 130
Slider 84.7 26.7% 233 99 188

There are so many ways to talk about how good Corey Kluber has been this year, so I’ll just choose to focus on his strikeout-to-walk ratio. There have been over 4,000 individual qualified pitcher seasons in the modern era (since 1969). Corey Kluber’s strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks 14th among all those historical seasons (fun fact: Hisashi Iwakuma’s 2014 season ranks 16th). But if you just take what Kluber’s done since returning from the disabled list in early June, his strikeout-to-walk ratio would rank fourth. He’s allowed just 21 walks to 211 strikeouts in that period. Like Bauer, Kluber’s dominance stems from throwing his breaking ball much more often. He hasn’t doubled the number of sliders he’s throwing but it’s close. Relying on that pitch has vaulted him into the discussion for the Cy Young award in a season where Chris Sale is posting the third highest strikeout rate in the modern era.


The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros-x 93-59 0.612 -- W-W-W-W-L
Angels 76-76 0.500 17.0 W-L-L-L-L
Rangers 76-76 0.500 17.0 L-W-W-W-W
Mariners 74-79 0.484 19.5 L-L-L-L-L
Athletics 69-83 0.454 24.0 L-W-W-W-W
x - clinched the AL West

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 85-67 0.559 +6.5 W-L-W-W-W
Twins 79-74 0.516 -- W-L-L-L-W
Angels 76-76 0.500 2.5 W-L-L-L-L
Rangers 76-76 0.500 2.5 L-W-W-W-W
Royals 75-77 0.493 3.5 L-L-L-W-W

After being swept by the Yankees earlier this week, the Twins got back on the right track with a 12-1 drubbing of the Tigers yesterday. They continue to hold onto the second Wild Card despite some recent stumbles because no other team is playing well enough to make a move up the standings. The Angels were swept at home by Cleveland and travel to Houston this weekend. With their sweep of the Mariners, the Rangers have actually tied the Angels in the standings. They face the Athletics seven times and the Astros three times in the last week and half of the season.