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Series Preview: Mariners (24-18) vs. Tigers (19-23)

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The Mariners seek some redemption in their four-game series against the Tigers.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This whirlwind of a week just keeps rolling on. It honestly feels like that series in Detroit was a lifetime ago. Both the on-field and off-field events have drained the mental and physical energy from this team—yesterday’s meltdown was evidence of that. But amazingly enough, the Mariners are just half a game out in the Wild Card race. The season is far from over.

At a Glance

Tigers Mariners
Tigers Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, May 17 | 7:10 pm
LHP Matthew Boyd LHP Marco Gonzales
41% 59%
Game 2 Friday, May 18 | 7:10 pm
RHP Michael Fulmer RHP Félix Hernández
41% 59%
Game 3 Saturday, May 19 | 6:10 pm
RHP Mike Fiers LHP James Paxton
32% 68%
Game 4 Sunday, May 20 | 1:10 pm
LHP Francisco Liriano LHP Wade LeBlanc
39% 61%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Tigers Edge
Overview Mariners Tigers Edge
Batting (wRC+) 109 (2nd in AL) 98 (9th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -2.2 (10th) 7.5 (3rd) Tigers
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 106 (9th) 110 (10th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 94 (8th) 95 (9th) Mariners

With the Tigers in town for a four-game series, the Mariners have a chance for a little payback and redemption. After their walk-off win on Sunday, the Tigers strung together a couple of wins against Cleveland. If they had won yesterday, they would have been tied for the division lead in the AL Central. As it stands, they’re in third place in their division, two games behind Cleveland. It’s really too bad the Mariners are stuck in a competitive division.

Tigers Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
JaCoby Jones CF R 137 0.322 92 0.3
Pete Kozma 3B R 23 0.294 92 0.3
Nicholas Castellanos RF R 166 0.393 133 0.8
Víctor Martínez DH S 142 0.229 66 -0.9
James McCann C R 139 0.310 99 -0.6
John Hicks 1B R 89 0.357 125 -0.3
Mikie Mahtook LF R 61 0.238 20 0.7
José Iglesias SS R 156 0.267 70 1.4
Dixon Machado 2B R 154 0.264 53 1.0

The biggest change from the series last weekend is the loss of Jeimer Candelario to wrist tendonitis. He joins Miguel Cabrera and Leonys Martín on the disabled list and Pete Kozma is filling in at third for him. Even without those three excellent hitters, the Tigers have continued to score a decent number of runs. James McCann continues to improve his approach at the plate. He’s lowered his strikeout rate two years in a row now and is walking at the highest clip of his career this season. With Cabrera shelved for the foreseeable future, John Hicks is doing his best impression of him in the interim. Hicks is making hard contact on over 50% of the balls he puts in play, leading to an isolated power higher than any he posted in the minor leagues. A career high fly ball rate is likely part of the driving force behind that leap in offensive output.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

LHP Matt Boyd

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
42 18.8% 7.1% 5.0% 32.0% 3.21 3.63

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 35.7% 90.1 2336 (0.88) 102 81
Sinker 7.1% 88.6 2295 (0.87)
Changeup 9.3% 78.5 1812 (-2.22)
Slider 33.3% 81.2 2267 (-0.28) 98 130
Curveball 14.7% 73.3 2300 (-0.28) 67 212
*Boyd’s sinker and changeup 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.

Boyd held the Mariners to three runs across six innings in Detroit. His contact management skills were in full effect, allowing just three hits in his start.


RHP Michael Fulmer

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
45 1/3 20.2% 7.8% 16.7% 49.6% 4.37 4.34

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% 96.2 2252 (0.28) 197 112
Sinker 35.6% 95.9 2114 (0.04) 85 88
Changeup 17.9% 88.2 1746 (-0.24) 76 91
Slider 27.7% 86.3 2518 (0.93) 102 116

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.

The Mariners knocked Fulmer around in the second game of the doubleheader, scoring six runs in four and a third innings.


RHP Mike Fiers

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
38 1/3 16.3% 3.8% 14.0% 39.7% 4.23 5.06

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 31.8% 88.3 2214 (0.59) 97 78
Sinker 14.0% 87.8 2071 (0.56)
Cutter 16.6% 83.1 2238 (0.13) 46 80
Changeup 22.8% 82.2 1749 (0.24) 108 142
Curveball 14.0% 70.3 2603 (2.18)
*Fiers’s sinker and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

Mike Fiers was picked up by the Tigers this offseason after he was jettisoned by the Astros. It’s a little astonishing that he made 28 starts for Houston in their championship campaign, though he was left off the postseason roster completely. Anyway, he’s in Detroit to eat innings, not to help them win championships. A pretty sizeable spike in walk rate last season has been completely reversed this year. He’s actually posting the best walk rate of his career, though it’s come with the second lowest strikeout rate of his career too. His true weakness is the long ball and that’s no different this year. Over the past four years, he’s allowed the fifth most home runs in baseball. His “rising” four-seam fastball is the main culprit, but his cutter also gets rocked pretty hard as well.


LHP Francisco Liriano

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
44 2/3 17.5% 12.6% 11.1% 46.8% 4.03 4.85

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 43.1% 92.6 2046 (-0.65) 95 94
Changeup 17.8% 86.0 1726 (0.15) 105 91
Curveball 37.0% 84.7 2273 (-0.38) 105 112

After putting together an impressive three year stretch with the Pirates a few years ago, Francisco Liriano has come undone the past two years. He’s bounced between four different teams since 2016 and was relegated to the bullpen when he joined the Astros late last season. He’s back in the rotation with the Tigers but all of his weaknesses are on display again. He’s never been known for his command, but his walk rate has spiked to the highest it’s been since 2011. He’s also losing his ability to generate elite ground ball rates despite relying on his sinker more than ever. To make matters even worse, he isn’t striking out nearly enough batters to make up for those weaknesses. Only some fairly good luck on batted balls has come between him and an ERA much closer to five.


The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 28-17 0.622 -- W-W-L-W-W
Angels 25-18 0.581 2.0 L-W-W-L-L
Mariners 24-18 0.571 2.5 W-L-W-W-L
Athletics 21-22 0.488 6.0 L-L-W-W-L
Rangers 17-27 0.386 10.5 W-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 29-14 0.674 +4.0 W-W-L-L-W
Angels 25-18 0.581 -- L-W-W-L-L
Mariners 24-18 0.571 0.5 W-L-W-W-L
Blue Jays 22-21 0.512 3.0 W-L-L-L-W
Athletics 21-22 0.488 4.0 L-L-W-W-L

The Astros swept away the Angels in a short two-game series this week, giving them a little breathing room in the AL West. The Astros will return home tomorrow to host Cleveland while the Angels begin a four-game series against the Rays. The Athletics travel to Toronto for a four-game series that could see those two teams flip in the Wild Card standings.