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Series Preview: Mariners (21-15) at Tigers (15-21)

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

Detroit Tigers v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With their convincing win yesterday afternoon, the Mariners pushed their run differential into the positive side of the ledger. They’ve still been the beneficiaries of some good Cluster Luck—they’ve gained a couple more runs of Cluster Luck since the beginning of the month. But this upcoming stretch of play should give them ample opportunities to expand their run differential. Beginning with this series in Detroit, the Mariners won’t play a team with a record currently over .500 until June 5. Just seven of those games are on the road. If everything goes right, this team could be around 15 games over .500 by the end of the month.

At a Glance

Mariners Tigers
Mariners Tigers
Game 1 Friday, May 11 | 4:10 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales LHP Matt Boyd
53% 47%
Game 2 Saturday, May 12 | 1:10 pm
RHP Félix Hernández RHP Michael Fulmer
52% 48%
Game 3 Sunday, May 13 | 10:10 am
LHP James Paxton LHP Blaine Hardy
62% 38%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2018) Tigers (2018) Edge
Overview Mariners (2018) Tigers (2018) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 110 (3rd in AL) 96 (11th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -3.2 (13th) 1.4 (6th) Tigers
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 109 (10th) 105 (8th) Tigers
Bullpen (FIP-) 99 (10th) 96 (9th) Tigers

The Tigers aren’t as toothless as you’d expect a rebuilding club to be. But their schedule has been fairly soft to start the year. They’ve played just four teams with records currently over .500 (one of those series was a one-game, rain soaked series against the Yankees), and they managed just a single win against them. Playing the AL Central definitely helps.

Since they only committed to a full rebuild within the last year or so, their roster is still filled with holdovers with only a few promising youngsters contributing regularly. Eventually they’ll restock their farm system with prospects, but for now, they’re relying on players like Jose Iglesias and Mike Fiers. They certainly won’t be part of the next great Tigers cycle.

Tigers Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
JaCoby Jones CF R 115 0.316 87 1.5
Jeimer Candelario 3B S 158 0.347 139 -0.5
Nicholas Castellanos RF R 153 0.400 135 0.4
Víctor Martínez DH S 125 0.258 87 -1.1
John Hicks 1B R 66 0.308 96 0.0
James McCann C R 119 0.314 98 -0.4
Mikie Mahtook LF R 40 0.192 1 0.3
José Iglesias SS R 138 0.255 55 0.9
Dixon Machado 2B R 133 0.240 50 0.3

Unfortunately, some bad injury luck has sidelined two of the Tigers best hitters for the foreseeable future. Old friend Leonys Martín was enjoying a career renaissance this season but was placed on the disabled list with a knee injury this week. And their best player, Miguel Cabrera, was lost to a hamstring injury last week. One of the few actual prospects getting regular playing time in the majors is leading the team in fWAR. Jeimer Candelario was acquired last year at the trade deadline from the Cubs and he’s flourished in Detroit. He’s always shown good plate discipline throughout his minor league career but the power he’s found in the majors is a new development.

Probable Pitchers

Detroit Tigers v Texas Rangers

LHP Matt Boyd

36 17.9% 6.2% 5.5% 31.8% 3.00 3.72

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 36.5% 90.0 2324 (0.87) 99 83
Sinker 5.8% 88.7 2302 (0.93)
Changeup 10.7% 78.5 1770 (-2.40)
Slider 32.3% 81.1 2320 (-0.05) 96 144
Curveball 14.8% 73.2 2268 (-0.11)
*Boyd’s sinker, changeup, and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

After three years of mediocre pitching befitting a back-of-the-rotation starter, it seems like Matt Boyd is finally putting everything together this season. His ERA is exactly three and it’s backed up by FIP of 3.70. But he’s also been fairly lucky too. His strand rate is pretty high, his BABIP is a very low .248, and he’s cute his home run rate in half. On the surface, those stats might indicate some serious regression towards his career norms is ahead. But it appears that Boyd has been quite adept at managing hard contact against him this year. His xwOBA on contact is just .315, the 14th lowest mark among all starting pitchers in baseball. More than half of the balls in play off him have been fly balls, justifying his low BABIP even further. Along with a low walk rate, Boyd is quickly becoming one of the more promising pitchers in the Tigers organization.

RHP Michael Fulmer

41 19.8% 7.0% 12.1% 46.6% 3.51 3.87

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 18.9% 96.1 2261 (-0.02) 201 104
Sinker 35.4% 95.7 2118 (-0.49) 93 84
Changeup 17.5% 88.0 1764 (-0.12) 76 90
Slider 22.7% 86.3 2565 (1.11) 97 137
Curveball 5.6% 86.0 2507 (-0.65)
*Fulmer’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

After winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2016, Michael Fulmer’s follow-up campaign was marred by an elbow injury that cut his season short in August. It’s possible to blame that elbow injury for the drop in strikeout rate he suffered last season because it’s bounced back this year. The effectiveness of his changeup has waned a bit. That was the pitch that drove his award winning rookie season but it’s not generating the same kind of whiff rate it was back then. The physical characteristics of the pitch look the same so I’m not sure what’s going on. He has added a couple inches of depth to his slider. That hasn’t translated to a better ground ball rate yet, though opposing batters continue to have trouble making solid contact on the pitch either way.

LHP Blaine Hardy (Triple-A)

24 1/3 35.3% 4.7% 0.0% 43.1% 0.74 1.41

With Jordan Zimmerman shelved due to a shoulder injury, Blaine Hardy steps into the rotation in his place. He’ll be making his first start in the majors on Sunday after spending his entire career pitching out of the bullpen. The Tigers had been stretching him out in Triple-A before recalling him at the beginning of the month. I’m not sure how long they expect him to last but the Mariners could see a bullpen day if Hardy can only go three or four innings. He relies primarily on a four-seam fastball with an insane amount of “rise” on it. If he were a qualified pitcher this season, the vertical movement on his fastball would rank second in the majors. He pairs that heater with a big, 12-6 curveball and a decent changeup and slider as well.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Angels 23-14 0.622 -- L-W-L-W-W
Astros 24-15 0.615 -- L-L-W-W-W
Mariners 21-15 0.583 1.5 W-L-W-L-W
Athletics 18-19 0.486 5.0 W-W-L-L-L
Rangers 15-24 0.385 9.0 L-L-W-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 26-11 0.703 +3.0 W-W-W-W-L
Astros 24-15 0.615 -- L-L-W-W-W
Mariners 21-15 0.583 1.5 W-L-W-L-W
Blue Jays 20-18 0.526 3.5 L-W-L-W-L
Athletics 18-19 0.486 5.0 W-W-L-L-L
*The Yankees and Red Sox are tied in the AL East standings. The Astros and Angels are technically tied in the AL West standings.

The Angels snapped the Twins five-game win streak last night in the first game of a four-game series in LA. The Astros took care of business against the Athletics earlier this week and host the Rangers over the weekend. The Red Sox barely avoided a four-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees, winning in dramatic fashion yesterday. The Blue Jays host the Red Sox while the Yankees host the Athletics this weekend.