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Series Preview: Mariners (9-2) at Royals (2-6)

The Mariners head to Kansas City for a four-game series.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to believe the Mariners are just a couple of bullpen meltdowns away from being undefeated to start this season. They’re scoring 7.3 runs per game which is just bonkers. They’ve hit a home run in every game they’ve played this year and multiple home runs in eight of them. It seems like everyone in the lineup has bought into the “elevate and celebrate” mantra. The Mariners are leading all of baseball in fly ball rate but they haven’t completely sold out for power. They’re second in the AL in walk rate and are running the lowest chase rate in the majors. With so many question marks surrounding the lineup heading into the season, it’s nice to see everything clicking.

At a Glance

Mariners Royals
Mariners Royals
Game 1 Monday, April 8 | 5:15 pm
RHP Félix Hernández RHP Homer Bailey
57% 43%
Game 2 Tuesday, April 9 | 5:15 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Jake Junis
56% 44%
Game 3 Wednesday, April 10 | 5:15 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi TBD
55% 45%
Game 4 Thursday, April 11 | 10:15 am
RHP Mike Leake RHP Jorge López
58% 42%
Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Royals (2018) Mariners (2018) Edge
Overview Royals (2018) Mariners (2018) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 88 (13th in AL) 101 (7th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (DRS) 25 (5th) -23 (11th) Royals
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 109 (10th) 100 (6th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 116 (15th) 94 (4th) Mariners

The high-powered Mariners offense heads to Kansas City for a four-game series this week. Kauffman Stadium has secretly been one of the hardest ballparks to hit a home run in. The fence in straightaway center field may be a little closer than the dimensions of Coors Field, but the total outfield area is actually the largest in the majors. And since Kansas City isn’t a mile above sea level, the ball just doesn’t travel as well as in Denver.

It’s been a rough fall from grace for the Royals after their back-to-back World Series appearances and victory in 2015. They managed to stick around the race for the second Wild Card spot for the next two years after their championship but lost over 100 games last season. It was the first season in another rebuilding cycle that started when the last of their homegrown stars from their last cycle left in free agency.

Royals Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Whit Merrifield RF R 707 0.352 120 2.8
Adalberto Mondesí SS S 291 0.335 114 5.1
Alex Gordon LF L 568 0.299 89 -0.1
Jorge Soler DH R 257 0.340 123 -2.6
Ryan O'Hearn 1B L 170 0.293 153 -1.7
Chris Owings 2B R 309 0.265 51 0.2
Hunter Dozier 3B R 388 0.296 80 -3.8
Martín Maldonado C R 404 0.280 74 -3.2
Billy Hamilton CF S 556 0.309 69 8.4
All stats from 2018

By adding Billy Hamilton this offseason, the Royals have the potential to have three players in their lineup steal 50 bases apiece. Whit Merrifield stole 45 bases last season and he’s the slowest of the trio per Statcast sprint speed. Adalberto Mondesí stole 32 bases in just 75 games and could be one of the fastest shortstops in the game. Even though he’s the fastest by sprint speed, Billy Hamilton might be the weakest link to actually accomplishing that feat. He stole just 34 bases last year and the biggest reason why he isn’t stealing more is because he has such a hard time getting on base in the first place. After winning the World Series with a contact-heavy lineup, the speed of the current Royals lineup continues to buck the trend in modern lineup construction.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals

RHP Homer Bailey

106 1/3 15.2% 6.7% 18.7% 42.6% 6.09 5.55
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 45.4% 93.8 2079 85 90 93
Sinker 11.9% 93.4 1995 104 53 103
Splitter 14.9% 86.2 1246 77 100 115
Curveball 10.0% 79.9 1890 89 72 98
Slider 17.8% 87.9 1887 126 69 80
Stuff+ Explainer

Last season, Homer Bailey made more than 20 starts for the first time since 2014. His recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2015 hasn’t been easy. And though he probably deserves a little better based on his peripherals, his ERA hasn’t dropped below six since returning from that elbow injury. The Reds basically paid the Dodgers to take his contract off their hands this offseason and he was released as soon as the paperwork was filed. He caught on with the Royals in spring training, and to his credit, made the starting rotation to start the season. His stuff is clearly diminished, though his splitter and slider show a little promise. At this point, the Royals are hoping to extract the last little bit out of Bailey while their pitching prospects percolate in the minors.

RHP Jake Junis

177 21.6% 5.7% 16.2% 42.0% 4.37 4.64
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 33.5% 91.8 2024 47 74 101
Sinker 20.2% 91.1 1976 85 109 84
Changeup 5.9% 85.3 1487 91 60 66
Slider 40.4% 82.2 2473 75 105 100

With a pretty good strikeout-to-walk ratio, Jake Junis has a nice foundation to build on. His problem is he doesn’t really have a third pitch in his repertoire to pair alongside his fastball/slider combo. His changeup just isn’t a factor so he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher. And unfortunately, his fastball is just too hittable. Last year, opposing batters crushed his four-seamer to the tune of a .263 ISO. His slider is actually pretty good, but as soon as he falls behind in the count, he becomes too predictable. Batters can hone in on his fastball and lay off anything that breaks. That’s led to a huge home run problem and it’s the reason why the rest of his peripherals don’t line up with his high ERA and FIP.

The Royals haven’t announced their starter for Wednesday. They’ve been relying on a four-man rotation for the first week and half of the season and there’s no clear candidate to take the fifth spot in the rotation. lists Scott Barlow as the fifth starter on the Royals depth chart. Barlow was originally drafted by the Dodgers in the sixth round back in 2011. He slowly worked his way through their organization, finally reaching Double-A in 2016. He repeated the level in 2017 and showed a vastly improved strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Dodgers chose not to re-sign him after that improvement however and the Royals quickly picked him up as a minor league free agent. He made his major league debut last year in the Royals bullpen but has been stretched out as a starter for most of his career. He has a pretty standard four-pitch repertoire: fastball, changeup, slider, curveball. His biggest problem has been a lack of command.

RHP Jorge López

53 2/3 16.2% 9.4% 10.9% 45.3% 5.03 4.48
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 30.6% 93.9 2026 117 69 102
Changeup 11.0% 88.2 1612 51 75 111
Curveball 26.8% 81.4 2406 125 80 77
Slider 10.5% 87.8 2227 135 108 51

Jorge López flamed out as a starter in the Brewers organization. He’s always had good stuff, but the command and the makeup has been lacking. He was traded to the Royals as part of the Mike Moustakas deal last year and Kansas City immediately started transitioning him back to the rotation. He rewarded their faith in him with a few solid starts in August and September, including a perfect game that was taken into the ninth inning. He’s got pretty good velocity on his fastball but it’s not a pitch that will get many whiffs. His curveball is above average as well, but it, too, is more of a contact management tool. With his two primary pitches generating more ground balls than whiffs, it shouldn’t be surprising to see his strikeout rate well below average. He’s recently added a slider to his arsenal and that pitch has show some promise, but he just doesn’t throw it often enough for it to have an impact.

The Big Picture:

AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Mariners 9-2 0.818 -- W-W-L-W-W
Astros 5-5 0.500 3.5 L-L-W-W-W
Rangers 5-5 0.500 3.5 W-W-L-L-L
Athletics 6-7 0.462 4.0 L-W-L-L-L
Angels 4-6 0.400 4.5 L-L-W-W-W

The AL West standings are shaping up exactly how we expected them to. Like the Mariners, the Rangers offense has been really hot to start the season. They’ve scored the third most runs per game in the American League so far but their pitching staff has been a wreck. At least the Mariners starting rotation has been decent and that’s a big reason why they’re 9-2 rather than 5-5. The Astros have started off pretty cold. They aren’t allowing many runs but they aren’t scoring many either. They did show some signs of life this weekend when they swept the Athletics in three games.