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Series Preview: Mariners (18-13) vs. Cubs (14-12)

The Northsiders are in town for a rare visit.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Chicago Cubs Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

After a strong start to their series against the Rangers, two ugly games over the weekend left a bad aftertaste. In those two games, the Mariners combined for seven errors leading to 10 unearned runs. That pushed their season totals to 37 errors and 31 unearned runs. That puts them on pace to come close to the modern record for team errors set by the 1974 Cubs (199 errors). These ridiculously high error totals haven’t been commonly seen since the turn of the 20th century when gloves looked more like glorified oven mitts than the standard baseball glove of today.

At a Glance

Cubs Mariners
Cubs Mariners
Game 1 Tuesday, April 30 | 7:10 pm
LHP Cole Hamels RHP Félix Hernández
54% 46%
Game 2 Wednesday, May 1 | 3:40 pm
LHP Jon Lester LHP Marco Gonzales
48% 52%
Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Cubs (2018) Mariners (2018) Edge
Overview Cubs (2018) Mariners (2018) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (3rd in NL) 101 (7th in AL) Cubs
Fielding (DRS) 43 (6th) -23 (11th) Cubs
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 106 (11th) 100 (6th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 95 (6th) 94 (4th) Mariners

The Mariners host the Chicago Cubs for the first time since 2013 and just the fourth time since interleague play started in 1997. After winning the World Series back in 2016, it looked like the Cubs were poised to dominate the National League for years to come on the back of a young core led by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. They’ve fallen short of those lofty expectations. Last year, they lost two one-game playoffs at home on back-to-back nights—game 163 against the Brewers and then the Wild Card game against the Rockies.

The same core that led them to a championship a few years ago is still intact but the supporting pieces around them haven’t been as great. The pitching staff has been particularly inconsistent, wracked by injuries and ineffectiveness. Many projection systems pegged them to finish close to last in the NL Central this year. That’s as much a product of the competitive environment in the National League as it is an indictment of the state of the Cubs roster.

Cubs Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Daniel Descalso 2B L 423 0.300 111 2.2
Kris Bryant 3B R 457 0.342 125 -0.6
Anthony Rizzo 1B L 665 0.287 125 -5.8
Javier Báez SS R 645 0.347 131 3.9
Jason Heyward CF L 489 0.297 99 4.3
Willson Contreras C R 544 0.313 100 -5.0
Ben Zobrist RF S 520 0.331 123 0.5
Kyle Schwarber LF L 510 0.288 115 1.1
All stats from 2018

The Cubs value positional flexibility more than any other team in the majors. They have multiple players capable of playing in both the infield and outfield giving them the ability to tailor their lineup based on the pitcher and the matchup. Their two superstars had relatively down years last year: Bryant dealt with a shoulder problem all year long and an extremely slow start to the year affected Rizzo’s season totals. Luckily, Javier Báez picked up a lot of the slack, launching himself into superstardom with a breakout performance. He’s one of the most entertaining players to watch in the majors and he’s been even better this year.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Cole Hamels

190 2/3 23.3% 8.1% 17.5% 45.0% 3.78 4.49
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 30.2% 92.8 2083 91 81 89
Sinker 15.0% 91.9 2076 88 89 91
Cutter 18.0% 88.0 2045 104 121 104
Changeup 18.8% 83.9 1652 122 155 88
Curveball 13.1% 79.2 2197 71 128 98
Slider 4.8% 85.4 2115 93 83 74
Stuff+ Explainer

Cole Hamels was well on his way towards posting his second consecutive season with a FIP over 4.50 until he joined the Cubs in a midseason trade from the Rangers. In 12 starts for Chicago, he posted a 2.36 ERA backed by a 3.42 FIP and helped stabilize a shaky starting rotation on the Northside. He started throwing his four-seam fastball much more often after joining the Cubs. It isn’t his best pitch, but he commands it well, helping him get his deteriorating walk rate under control. It also helped his changeup play up. That pitch was his signature offering while he was with the Phillies but he had gotten away from it recently. By recommitting to his fastball-changeup combo, he’s rejuvenated his career with the Cubs.

LHP Jon Lester

181 2/3 19.6% 8.4% 12.4% 37.7% 3.32 4.39
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 45.3% 91.5 2230 71 89 75
Sinker 5.1% 90.6 2073 93 100 105
Cutter 24.7% 88.5 2381 80 90 107
Changeup 9.3% 85.4 1805 85 78 81
Curveball 15.7% 75.1 2571 45 126 78

The Jon Lester of the last two years is a far cry from the pitcher who was consistently considered one of the best left-handers in the game earlier this decade. Now 35 years old, his skills have been slowly deteriorating since the middle of the decade. Since 2015, his strikeout rate and ground ball rate have dropped and his walk rate has increased year-over-year. Last year, he posted his highest FIP since his sophomore campaign in 2007. He was pretty lucky to post a 3.32 ERA last year. His stuff has taken another step back this year with his fastball sitting just above 90 mph. He’s already spent a couple weeks on the injured list with a hamstring injury, though he came back with a strong performance last week.

The Big Picture:

AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 17-12 0.586 -- L-L-W-W-L
Mariners 18-13 0.581 -- L-W-W-L-L
Rangers 14-13 0.519 2.0 L-L-L-W-W
Athletics 14-17 0.452 4.0 W-L-L-L-L
Angels 12-17 0.414 5.0 L-W-W-L-W

The Astros split their weekend series against Cleveland and were blanked by the Twins last night in the first game of another four-game set. The Athletics have lost four straight after being swept by the Blue Jays over the weekend and losing the first game of their series in Boston yesterday. That’s six losses to the Blue Jays in a week after back-to-back weekend series against Toronto. The Angels won their weekend series against the Royals and host the Blue Jays for three games starting tonight.