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Series Preview: Mariners (19-14) at Blue Jays (19-16)

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The Mariners head north of the border to face another Wild Card contender, the Blue Jays.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Mariners have now lost two series this season to their two closest division rivals. Because they’ve taken care of business against everyone else they’ve faced, those two series losses haven’t really affected the standings too much. They’re a game out in the Wild Card race and a game and a half out in AL West. In this series against the Blue Jays, the Mariners have another opportunity to put some distance between them and a Wild Card contender.

At a Glance

Mariners Blue Jays
Mariners Blue Jays
Game 1 Tuesday, May 8 | 4:07 pm
LHP James Paxton RHP Marcus Stroman
51% 49%
Game 2 Wednesday, May 9 | 4:07 pm
LHP Wade LeBlanc LHP Jaime García
47% 53%
Game 3 Thursday, May 10 | 4:07 pm
RHP Mike Leake LHP J.A. Happ
42% 58%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2018) Blue Jays (2018) Edge
Overview Mariners (2018) Blue Jays (2018) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 108 (4th in AL) 100 (8th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -3.2 (13th) -7.2 (15th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 112 (11th) 117 (13th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 102 (10th) 90 (4th) Blue Jays

After a disappointing season in 2017, the Blue Jays came into this year in the nebulous middle of the American League. They were pretty active during the offseason but none of their acquisitions looked like they would make much of an impact. But the collective benefit of a much deeper roster has helped them emerge from the pack. Players like Yangervis Solarte and Teoscar Hernandez have given the Blue Jays the flexibility to weather injuries to Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson.

Even with all that added depth—which has already been strained early this season—they need their stars to carry the load and will definitely need better performances by their starting rotation. Luckily, their bullpen has been excellent, covering up the struggles of some of their starters. Update: John Lott of The Athletic Toronto reported this morning that Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna was arrested and charged with assault. It’s likely he won’t be available during this series.

Blue Jays Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Curtis Granderson LF L 93 0.419 163 -0.4
Josh Donaldson 3B R 77 0.238 118 0.6
Yangervis Solarte 2B S 144 0.260 138 -0.3
Justin Smoak 1B S 134 0.313 114 -3.7
Teoscar Hernandez RF R 102 0.292 128 1.0
Kevin Pillar CF R 146 0.355 144 2.5
Russell Martin C R 91 0.140 73 -1.7
Kendrys Morales DH S 89 0.167 30 0.1
Lourdes Gurriel SS R 57 0.268 68 -0.3

As you can see, the Blue Jays lineup has been extremely top heavy. Some of those performances aren’t very sustainable. But as players like Curtis Granderson and Kevin Pillar fall back to earth, Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak should begin to pick up the slack. And it looks like Solarte and Hernandez are in the midst of breakout seasons. The bottom of their lineup is a real problem though. Russell Martin, Kendrys Morales, and the combination of Aledmys Diaz and Lourdes Gurriel have posted a collective offensive line around 50% below average.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Minnesota Twins

RHP Marcus Stroman (2018)

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
32 1/3 20.0% 10.7% 20.0% 60.8% 7.52 4.40

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 7.6% 93.0 2338 (0.81)
Sinker 49.7% 92.5 2296 (1.11) 148 94
Cutter 6.2% 91.1 2516 (2.07)
Changeup 6.8% 83.6 1667 (-0.35)
Slider 27.0% 86.5 2671 (1.57) 132 52
Curveball 2.7% 83.3 2662 (0.43)
*Stroman’s four-seam, cutter, changeup, and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

With a repertoire six pitches deep, Marcus Stroman has a vast array of weapons to call on in any given situation. Yet, as the season wore on last year, he started limiting his arsenal to just his excellent sinker and his plus slider, throwing the pair of pitches around 80% of the time by September. That adjustment helped him lower his second half ERA and pushed his ground ball rate up to 63.6%, but the rest of his peripherals were basically unchanged. His sinker is a great equalizer however. Left-handed batters slugged just .366 off the pitch last year, helping him reverse his platoon split for the first time in his career. This season, Stroman has continued to rely on his sinker-slider combo—around 75% of the time through six starts—but his excellent command has escaped him. He’s walking more batters than ever before and that’s caused his ERA to balloon to over seven and a half.


LHP Jaime Garcia (2018)

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
30 23.9% 9.7% 22.2% 40.0% 6.60 6.00

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 36.4% 89.8 2328 (0.76) 68 110
Sinker 25.1% 89.6 2169 (-0.07) 213 49
Changeup 11.7% 82.1 1958 (1.10)
Slider 18.2% 82.1 2693 (1.74) 106 74
Curveball 8.6% 73.0 2697 (0.97)
*Garica’s changeup and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

The acquisition of Jaime Garcia isn’t exactly working out the way the Blue Jays envisioned. Over the last three seasons, Garcia has accumulated an average of two fWAR per season. He didn’t’ strikeout a ton of batters, but limited his walks and ran a very good ground ball rate. With Toronto, everything is out of whack. He’s striking out more batters than ever before but his walk rate has spiked and his ground ball rate has plummeted. He’s also allowed the fourth highest home run rate among starters. His average fastball velocity has dropped below 90 mph this season. That could be one of the main culprits behind his poor start to the year.


LHP J.A. Happ (2018)

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
41 2/3 31.0% 6.4% 19.4% 48.5% 3.67 3.81

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 46.8% 92.9 2363 (0.95) 191 115
Sinker 26.3% 90.9 2155 (0.22) 152 135
Changeup 8.8% 86.8 1753 (-0.07)
Slider 13.8% 86.9 2238 (-0.54) 95 124
Curveball 4.3% 77.3 2177 (-1.06)
*Happ’s changeup and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

After being traded away by the Mariners midway through 2015, J.A. Happ made a simple adjustment that’s led to three and half years of above average production. He started throwing his two fastballs around 70% of the time. His four-seamer has a ton of “rise” and he locates it well leading to a huge number of whiffs. Among all starters who have thrown at least 100 pitches, his four-seam whiff rate is fifth highest in the majors. His sinker is pretty good too. When batters put it in play, it’s on the ground more than 60% of the time. That’s helped him even out his batted ball profile after running very high fly ball rates earlier in his career. This season, Happ is striking out more batters than ever before, increasing his K% by more than eight points! Still, his ERA and FIP have increased over last year because he’s also giving up more home runs than ever 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 21-13 0.618 -- W-W-W-L-W
Astros 22-15 0.595 0.5 L-W-L-L-W
Mariners 19-14 0.576 1.5 L-W-L-W-L
Athletics 18-17 0.514 3.5 L-W-W-W-L
Rangers 14-23 0.378 8.5 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
Yankees 24-10 0.706 +3.5 W-W-W-W-W
Astros 22-15 0.595 -- L-W-L-L-W
Mariners 19-14 0.576 1.0 L-W-L-W-L
Blue Jays 19-16 0.543 2.0 W-L-L-L-W
Athletics 18-17 0.514 3.5 L-W-W-W-L

Despite winning 15 of their last 16 games, the Yankees still find themselves a game behind the Red Sox in the AL East. These two super teams will face each other three times in New York this week. After their series win in Seattle, the Angels travel to Colorado for an interleague series against the NL Wild Card leaders. The Astros couldn’t overcome the best team in the National League over the weekend, losing two of three to the Diamondbacks. They took out all their frustrations on the A’s last night, crushing them 16-2.