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Series Preview: Mariners (11-9) at White Sox (4-14)

The Mariners continue their road trip with a stop in Chicago.

MLB: Houston Astros at Chicago White Sox Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

A sweep of the Rangers would have been nice, and it certainly felt like there were ample opportunities to win the game on Sunday afternoon, but a series win on the road is good enough. Now the Mariners get another chance to bank some wins against a relatively easy opponent. Hopefully they can flip their run differential back to positive in the process too.

At a Glance

Mariners White Sox
Mariners White Sox
Game 1 Monday, April 23 | 5:10 pm
RHP Mike Leake RHP Miguel Gonzalez
57% 53%
Game 2 Tuesday, April 24 | 2:10 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Carson Fulmer
54% 46%
Game 3 Wednesday, April 25 | 11:10 am
RHP Felix Hernandez RHP James Shields
58% 42%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2017) White Sox (2017) Edge
Overview Mariners (2017) White Sox (2017) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 103 (4th in AL) 94 (11th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 10.1 (5th) -7.5 (10th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 115 (14th) 124 (15th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 99 (9th) 103 (14th) Mariners

Update: The White Sox have placed tonight’s (Monday) starter Miguel Gonzalez on the disabled list. Carson Fulmer moves up a day to make tonight’s start and tomorrow’s starter is currently TBD.

These kinds of series are always tricky. The White Sox don’t have much to play for as far as the playoffs go, so they’re an easy opponent to overlook. This lack of expectations combined with the internal competition to stake a claim in the team’s future has allowed some of their young hitters to swing away with reckless abandon. That hasn’t translated to wins but it has given them some interesting peripherals. As a team, they’re third in the majors in average exit velocity while also racking up the sixth most strikeouts.

The White Sox pitching staff has allowed the most runs in the majors, a whopping 120 runs in just 18 games. As a team, they’re allowing five and a half walks per nine innings. That’s just far too many baserunners and it’s pushed their team ERA over six! The Mariners had no problems generating baserunners against the Rangers, but had trouble scoring after getting them on base. They’d do well to show a little patience in this series, hopefully giving them ample opportunities to rack up some runs.

Projected White Sox Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Yoan Moncada 2B S 231 0.325 104 1.7
Avisail Garcia RF R 561 0.392 137 1.9
Jose Abreu 1B L 675 0.330 138 -2.0
Nicky Delmonico LF L 166 0.277 132 -0.5
Welington Castillo C R 365 0.336 113 -2.3
Matt Davidson DH R 443 0.285 83 -4.1
Yolmer Sanchez 3B S 534 0.321 94 -1.3
Tim Anderson SS R 606 0.328 78 3.7
Adam Engel CF R 336 0.247 37 4.3
*All stats from 2017.

Like most rebuilding teams, the White Sox lineup is a mix of youngsters filled with potential and holdover veterans from the last cycle. Yoan Moncada has the most prospect hype surrounding him. He has all the tools to become a successful major leaguer but an awfully low contact rate—and corresponding high strikeout rate—has really held him back. His pitch recognition isn’t the problem. He can discern balls from strikes as evidenced by the excellent walk rates he’s posted. He just can’t make consistent contact with the strikes he sees. The player who grabbed the most headlines early this season is Matt Davidson. His three home run game was a good example of his strengths, his massive power. But like Moncada, a poor contact rate has held him back from truly blossoming into a useful major leaguer.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Miguel Gonzalez (2017)

156 14.6% 8.0% 9.6% 36.2% 4.62 4.88

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 26.4% 91.3 2359 (1.18) 88 89
Sinker 22.9% 91.5 2204 (0.25) 64 109
Changeup 12.4% 84.7 1286 (-1.56) 93 130
Slider 21.3% 87.0 2423 (0.29) 49 80
Curveball 17.0% 77.8 2753 (0.96) 58 77

After being traded from the White Sox to the Rangers in September, Gonzalez is back in Chicago this year. He’s the perfect type of pitcher for a rebuilding club: a reliable innings eater who can outperform his peripherals if everything in his arsenal is working right. In his last two seasons with the White Sox, he’s been able to suppress his home run rate despite allowing a ton of fly balls. That helped him post an ERA below four in 2016 but a career low strikeout rate in 2017 definitely worked against him. His changeup is an interesting pitch—Brooks Baseball classifies it as a splitter because it has a ton of depth to it which pairs nicely with his “rising” four-seam fastball. He just doesn’t throw it enough, instead relying on two breaking balls that just aren’t very good at all.

RHP Carson Fulmer (2017 - Triple-A)

126 16.8% 11.4% 14.9% 45.4% 5.79 5.39

Carson Fulmer encapsulates the problems the White Sox pitching staff has dealt with this season. A former first-round draft pick, Fulmer has struggled with his command throughout his minor league career and those problems haven’t been solved in the majors. His unique delivery generates some deception but it’s probably the source of his command issues too. If he ever figures out how to command his pitches, his repertoire shows some promise. His cutter is probably his best pitch, generating whiffs with good horizontal movement. He also has a decent changeup and will also mix in a curveball too. On a team in a different position, Fulmer would probably find himself in the bullpen as a potential high leverage reliever but the White Sox have the luxury of trying him out in the rotation, hoping he can figure out how to find the strike zone consistently.

RHP James Shields (2017)

117 20.0% 10.3% 17.4% 38.2% 5.23 5.83

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 33.4% 90.6 2294 (0.75) 65 78
Sinker 5.0% 90.2 2251 (1.14) 130 62
Cutter 25.9% 86.5 2393 (0.70) 90 87
Changeup 10.9% 83.1 1678 (-0.26) 111 112
Curveball 24.8% 78.6 2507 (0.15) 129 122

James Shields is barely recognizable from his early career self. When he was with the Rays, he threw his excellent changeup almost 30% of the time, helping him generate both whiffs and ground ball contact. But since 2013 when he joined the Royals, he’s slowly turned away from that pitch. With the White Sox, it’s become almost an afterthought. Maybe it’s because his average fastball velocity has dropped from 93 mph to just 90 mph. Or maybe he’s just lost his feel for the pitch. Whatever the case may be, he’s more and more reliant on his fastball and cutter and neither pitch is very good. Since 2015, opposing batters have posted a combined .269 ISO off those two pitches. That’s translated into far too many home runs and it’s the biggest reason why he’s been below replacement level the past three seasons.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 16-7 0.696 -- W-W-W-W-W
Angels 14-8 0.636 1.5 L-L-L-W-L
Mariners 11-9 0.550 3.5 L-L-W-W-L
Athletics 11-11 0.500 4.5 W-W-L-W-W
Rangers 8-15 0.348 8.0 W-L-L-L-W

The Astros had no problem sweeping the White Sox over the weekend, outscoring them 27-2. Their six-game win streak has vaulted them into first place in the AL West. After being swept by the Red Sox, the Angels lost two of three to the Giants and have fallen a game and a half behind Houston. The top two teams in the AL West face off against each other to start this week. Don’t look now, but the Athletics have played their way to .500 after winning their series against the Red Sox, beating Chris Sale and David Price in the process. They’ll travel to Texas this week, hoping to build on that momentum.