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Series Preview: Mariners (2-1) at Giants (2-2)

The Mariners head out on their first road trip of the year.

San Franciso Giants  v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The opening series against Cleveland went as well as could be expected. All three games were decided by one run, with the Mariners offense providing just enough runs to support the pitching staff. We also saw two key players injured and lots of dingers, both hit and allowed. We’ve got a long way to go but those three games feel like a microcosm of what to expect for the rest of the season. If that’s the case, it’s going to be one roller coaster of a season.

At a Glance

Mariners Giants
Mariners Giants
Game 1 Tuesday, April 3 | 1:35 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales LHP Ty Blach
47% 53%
Game 2 Wednesday, April 4 | 4:15 pm
RHP Felix Hernandez RHP Johnny Cueto
48% 52%
Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2017) Giants (2017) Edge
Overview Mariners (2017) Giants (2017) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 103 (4th in AL) 83 (15th in NL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 10.5 (5th) -3.4 (10th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 115 (14th) 105 (9th) Giants
Bullpen (FIP-) 99 (9th) 99 (9th) Giants

After their second off day in five days, the Mariners head down the coast to San Francisco for a brief two-game series against the Giants. This will be the second of three home openers that the Mariners will participate in this season, giving them a couple of opportunities to play spoiler to another fan base. This will also be the first interleague matchup this year and the first half of a four-game set against the Giants this season.

The Mariners unquestionably suffered through a disappointing and frustrating season in 2017. The Giants had it worse. Between injuries to key players, extreme underperformance, and really bad luck, the Giants lost almost 100 games despite being projected to be one of the better teams in the National League. They haven’t exactly gotten off to a glowing start this year either. They split their opening series against the Dodgers, but both Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija are starting the year on the disabled list. They’re hoping their big name acquisitions, Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, will be able to carry the team back to the postseason but they’re both on the wrong side of 30. In fact, Joe Panik is the only starting position player under 30 and the average age of their 25-man roster is the oldest in baseball.

Projected Giants Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Joe Panik 2B L 573 0.301 104 -2.1
Brandon Belt 1B L 451 0.284 119 -0.8
Andrew McCutchen RF R 650 0.305 122 1.3
Buster Posey C R 568 0.347 128 -1.8
Evan Longoria 3B R 677 0.282 96 1.6
Brandon Crawford SS L 570 0.293 86 -1.3
Hunter Pence LF R 539 0.301 87 2.7
Austin Jackson CF R 318 0.385 131 0.4
All stats from 2017

Only the Padres had a worse offense than the Giants last season. Adding McCutchen and Longoria will certainly help but each has a few question marks surrounding them. Cutch rebounded last year after a very poor 2016 but his batted ball profile continued to slowly deteriorate. He still possesses excellent plate discipline but the days of him posting 5.0+ fWAR season are probably past. Longoria’s struggles last year are even more concerning. He posted the lowest wRC+ of his career in 2017 despite a career low strikeout rate. The biggest culprit was a career high ground ball rate that severely limited his ability to hit for power. Joe Panik hit two game winning solo home runs in the Giants first two games of the season. He’s developed into a solid infielder by being a little above average across the board, the sum of which is a little boring but really effective.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Los Angeles Dodgers Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Ty Blach (2017)

163 2/3 10.6% 6.2% 9.6% 46.7% 4.78 4.42

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 60.6% 90.4 2102 (0.03) 89 109
Changeup 23.9% 80.6 1991 (1.31) 93 114
Slider 5.3% 79.8 2324 (0.89) 73 79
Curveball 10.3% 76.8 2180 (-1.25) 50 97

Among all qualified pitchers last season, Ty Blach posted the lowest strikeout rate in baseball. He relies on a sinker and a changeup most of the time which allows him to generate above average ground ball rates but neither pitch helps him get whiffs. And despite all the changeups, right-handed batters have crushed him. All 17 of the home runs he allowed last year were off right-handed batters and they ended up posting a .350 wOBA against him. With all the injuries the Giants suffered this spring, Blach has been forced into the rotation. He’s probably bound for long relief once Bumgarner and Samardzija return.

RHP Johnny Cueto (2017)

147 1/3 21.0% 8.2% 14.0% 39.4% 4.52 4.49

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 34.6% 91.8 2196 (-0.03) 101 115
Sinker 16.7% 91.3 2146 (0.07) 115 89
Changeup 19.5% 82.1 1439 (-0.98) 149 58
Slider 29.3% 85.2 2217 (-0.33) 63 91

Johnny Cueto struggled through a recurring blister problem last year, leading to his worst season since 2009. The primary effect of that issue was the loss of his normally pinpoint command. His pitches found the zone an agonizingly low 38.1% of the time and batters refused to chase his pitches. When he was able to throw strikes, batters really punished him, his changeup in particular. He was still able to generate a healthy whiff rate with his cambio but batters put that pitch in the air far more often, and when they did, it went far. He held the Dodgers to just one hit over seven innings on Opening Day so maybe that’s a sign all those troubles are behind him.

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 4-1 0.800 -- W-L-W-W-W
Mariners 2-1 0.667 1.0 W-L-W
Angels 3-2 0.600 1.0 L-W-W-W-L
Athletics 2-3 0.400 2.0 W-L-L-L-W
Rangers 1-4 0.200 3.0 L-W-L-L-L

It’s weird to see so many non-AL West opponents to start the year. The Mariners won’t face a division rival until the fifth series of the season. The Astros got off to a quick start by winning three of four against the Rangers. The Angels also won three of four to start the year. With the race for the Wild Card so hotly contested this year, it’s never too early to scoreboard watch. The Twins and Yankees have both started the year off with two wins and two losses.