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Series Preview: Mariners (13-10) at Cleveland (13-9)

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The Mariners wrap up the month of April with their annual trip to Cleveland.

Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

If the Mariners manage to avoid a sweep this weekend, they’ll head into May with a winning record for just the second time in the last five years. And with the return of Ryon Healy to the lineup this afternoon, the Mariners will be at full strength for the first time this season. That will give us the chance to see what this team can do against another playoff contender.

At a Glance

Mariners Cleveland
Mariners Cleveland
Game 1 Thursday, April 26 | 3:10 pm
LHP James Paxton RHP Mike Clevinger
41% 59%
Game 2 Friday, April 27 | 4:10 pm
RHP Erasmo Ramirez RHP Corey Kluber
33% 67%
Game 3 Saturday, April 28 | 1:10 pm
RHP Mike Leake RHP Carlos Carrasco
34% 66%
Game 4 Sunday, April 29 | 10:10 am
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Josh Tomlin
41% 59%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2018) Cleveland (2018) Edge
Overview Mariners (2018) Cleveland (2018) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 104 (6th in AL) 78 (14th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 1.1 (5th) 11.0 (1st) Cleveland
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 113 (11th) 95 (4th) Cleveland
Bullpen (FIP-) 110 (12th) 74 (3rd) Cleveland

For the first time this season, I’ll be peppering in 2018 stats into the series previews. I’ll continue to rely on last year’s stats for the pitching probables since pitching sample sizes are still fairly small. I’ve also included the Wild Card standings in the last section for the first time this year. Also, since this is the first repeat opponent of the season, just a reminder that text pulled from a previous series preview will appear in italics.

The baseball team from Cleveland has gotten off to a pretty slow start this season. Fortunately, the AL Central has been the weakest division in baseball so far with all four other teams sitting below .500. Their offense has scored just 3.5 runs per game, tied for the fifth lowest mark in baseball. But despite these struggles offensively, their run differential is +11 because their pitching staff continues to dominate. They’ve allowed the third fewest runs per game this season, with just the Astros and the Red Sox besting them. Eventually their offense will kick into gear, hopefully after this series.

Projected Cleveland Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Francisco Lindor SS S 102 0.258 84 0.2
Jason Kipnis 2B L 98 0.219 24 0.0
Jose Ramirez 3B S 97 0.217 147 0.5
Michael Brantley LF L 56 0.320 114 0.0
Edwin Encarnacion DH R 92 0.180 71 -0.5
Yonder Alonso 1B L 85 0.196 87 -0.1
Yan Gomes C R 57 0.281 93 -0.3
Tyler Naquin RF L 46 0.355 82 0.0
Bradley Zimmer CF L 61 0.405 81 0.6
*All stats from 2018

It’s no surprise Cleveland is struggling to score runs. Their entire starting lineup is mired in a slump. Jose Ramirez failed to get a hit against the Mariners in the opening series of the year but it didn’t take him long to start raking. He’s basically carried Cleveland’s offense by himself the last few weeks. Michael Brantley was activated from the disabled list at the beginning of April and hasn’t shown any ill effects from his various injury woes. He leads the majors with a 97% contact rate. Maybe the most concerning early season struggles have been Edwin Encarnacion’s. The power has been there but his strikeout rate has exploded to just under 30% and his walk rate has been halved.

Probable Pitchers

Cleveland Indians v Baltimore Orioles

RHP Mike Clevinger (2017)

121 2/3 27.3% 12.0% 11.9% 39.5% 3.11 3.85

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 53.9% 92.8 2217 (0.02) 92 113
Changeup 15.7% 87.4 1489 (-1.21) 126 84
Slider 19.3% 81.8 2317 (0.10) 153 146
Curveball 11.6% 75.8 2192 (-0.59) 152 38

Like almost all of the other pitchers in the Cleveland rotation, Mike Clevinger features a pair of killer breaking balls. His slider might be one of the best in the game. But he only throws it around 20% of the time, relying on his fastball over 50% of the time. That may be normal for any other pitching staff, but in Cleveland, Clevinger stands out from the rest of his rotation-mates. It’s a little odd because his fastball doesn’t generate many whiffs and he doesn’t have great command of it (under 50% zone rate with his fastball last season). It’s that lack of command that could be his Achilles Heel. A 12% walk rate last season is pretty ugly, though he’s made some improvements to it early this season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him begin to rely on his secondary pitches more often as the season goes on.

RHP Corey Kluber (2017)

203 2/3 34.1% 4.6% 13.5% 44.5% 2.25 2.50

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 14.4% 93.0 2372 (1.01) 96 83
Sinker 27.8% 92.9 2225 (0.73) 77 96
Cutter 24.3% 89.2 2580 (1.49) 156 98
Changeup 6.2% 86.1 1707 (0.03) 119 106
Slider 27.3% 84.7 2589 (1.05) 151 129

Through the first month of last season, it seemed like Corey Kluber had finally broken down. His FIP was over four and he soon went on the disabled list in early May. But the Klubot was fully repaired when he returned in June. Over 23 starts from June 1 onwards, he posted a 1.62/2.06/2.22 pitcher slash line, backed by a 36.2% strikeout rate and a miniscule 3.7% walk rate. That stretch alone helped him earn his second Cy Young award. His two standout pitches are his cutter and his slider (or curveball or whatever). Last year, he started throwing both of them far more often and the results speak for themselves. It’s not that his fastballs aren’t good—they’re effective enough—but those two plus plus pitches are enough to elevate him into the elite stratosphere.

The last time the Mariners faced Kluber, Nelson Cruz handed him his only loss of the season. Besides that lone home run allowed in the first inning, Kluber was basically unhittable, going eight innings, scattering six hits, and struck out eight.

RHP Carlos Carrasco (2017)

200 28.3% 5.8% 12.4% 45.2% 3.29 3.10

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 36.1% 94.8 2257 (-0.40) 83 86
Sinker 12.7% 91.1 2060 (-0.89) 113 90
Changeup 16.1% 88.9 1478 (-1.15) 115 90
Slider 21.0% 85.7 2495 (0.82) 163 123
Curveball 14.1% 83.4 2655 (0.82) 145 117

For the first time in his career, Carlos Carrasco reached the 200 inning mark and he hit it on the nose. His strikeout rate reached the second highest mark of his career. Like Kluber, Carrasco’s breaking pitches are outstanding. He’s able to generate a higher whiff rate off his slider than Kluber’s and adds a curveball that’s almost as good. He’s got another weapon in his repertoire that Kluber doesn’t have: a devastating changeup. Because it has such a low spin rate, the amount of drop he gets is much higher than an average change piece. Batters put the pitch on the ground more than 75% of the time they make contact leading to a miniscule ISO allowed off the pitch. His three excellent secondary offerings make up for a rather lackluster fastball, a common theme for Cleveland’s pitching staff.

The Mariners were able to score five runs off Carrasco during that first series of the year. He pitched into the sixth inning but allowed two home runs, including one from Nelson Cruz (which preceded the fateful ankle injury), while striking out just four.

RHP Josh Tomlin (2017)

141 18.6% 2.4% 13.7% 39.6% 4.98 4.12

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 36.7% 87.9 2285 (0.98) 59 98
Cutter 35.1% 85.8 2572 (1.35) 86 97
Changeup 4.1% 83.1 1852 (0.49)
Curveball 24.1% 74.7 2739 (0.87) 109 106
*Tomlin’s changeup did not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

If Mike Clevinger stands out in the Cleveland rotation because of the overuse of his fastball, Josh Tomlin stands out because he’s a merely league average pitcher. Clearly the weak link in the rotation, Tomlin’s best skill is his elite command. He walked just 14 batters all of last season, good for the lowest walk rate among all starters with a similar number of innings pitched. But that’s about it as far as positives go. He doesn’t strike out very many and opposing batters tend to make some loud contact against him. This season has been particularly rough for Tomlin. He’s sporting a 9.24 ERA backed by an 11.46 FIP, all because he’s allowed 8 home runs in just 12 innings.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 17-9 0.654 -- W-W-L-L-W
Angels 16-9 0.640 0.5 W-L-W-W-L
Mariners 13-10 0.565 2.5 W-L-L-W-W
Athletics 13-12 0.520 3.5 W-W-W-W-L
Rangers 9-17 0.346 8.0 L-W-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Angels 16-9 0.640 +1.0 W-L-W-W-L
Yankees 14-9 0.609 -- W-W-W-W-W
Blue Jays 14-9 0.609 -- W-L-L-W-L
Mariners 13-10 0.565 1.0 W-L-L-W-W
Athletics 13-12 0.520 2.0 W-W-W-W-L

In the battle between the top two teams in the AL West, the Angels came out on top. They’re basically in a dead heat for the division lead. They’ll host the streaking Yankees this weekend. Don’t look now, but the Athletics have pushed their record above .500 after winning eight of their last ten games. They’re just a game behind the Mariners in the standings and will travel to Houston for a three-game series. The Rangers bring up the rear in the AL West and will travel to Toronto to take on a surprising Wild Card contender.