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Series Preview: Mariners (22-23) vs. Twins (27-15)

The Mariners host the surprising AL Central leaders for four-games this weekend.

MLB: Game Two-Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

After that rough road trip, it felt nice to pick up a couple of wins against a division rival. I mentioned it in the last series preview but we’re already getting to the point in the season where the Mariners need to find out if any of these young-ish prospects they’ve acquired are going to be major contributors in the future. It’s been nice to see J.P. Crawford get some regular playing time but Shed Long has already been shuttled back to Triple-A. That means Mallex Smith should be making his return after shaking off the rust in Tacoma. And with Kyle Seager on the mend, the roster crunch will be felt even more in the coming weeks.

At a Glance

Twins Mariners
Twins Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, May 16 | 7:10 pm
RHP Michael Pineda RHP Erik Swanson
51% 49%
Game 2 Friday, May 17 | 7:10 pm
LHP Martín Pérez LHP Marco Gonzales
48% 52%
Game 3 Saturday, May 18 | 7:10 pm
RHP José Berríos LHP Wade LeBlanc
54% 46%
Game 4 Sunday, May 19 | 1:10 pm
RHP Kyle Gibson LHP Yusei Kikuchi
50% 50%
Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Twins Mariners Edge
Overview Twins Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 118 (2nd in AL) 114 (3rd in AL) Twins
Fielding (DRS) 21 (3rd) -44 (15th) Twins
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 92 (4th) 105 (9th) Twins
Bullpen (FIP-) 87 (6th) 122 (14th) Twins

If you ignore 2018, the Twins success this year doesn’t seem so sudden. Two years ago, they made a surprising run to the playoffs, securing the second Wild Card spot with unexpectedly strong performances from their young core. Development isn’t linear and many of those youngsters struggled in 2018. But they’re back to producing another year later and now they’re supported by a group of strong veterans. It helps that Cleveland basically decided to punt this offseason, giving the Twins a huge opportunity to leapfrog them in the standings.

Twins Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Max Kepler RF L 167 0.220 96 -1.5
Jorge Polanco SS S 176 0.352 168 0.8
Nelson Cruz DH R 144 0.332 127 -0.2
Eddie Rosario LF L 169 0.217 110 0.1
C.J. Cron 1B R 150 0.240 103 -1.1
Willians Astudillo 3B R 70 0.250 90 -1.2
Jonathan Schoop 2B R 144 0.320 117 0.4
Jason Castro C L 62 0.226 166 0.2
Byron Buxton CF R 137 0.355 118 1.3

Like the Brewers did in 2018, the Twins took advantage of a slow free agent market to add a bunch of role players to their roster. Nelson Cruz was the headlining acquisition, but Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, and Marwin González have all made significant contributions this year. But simply adding a bunch of veterans to the lineup wouldn’t have mattered unless their young core was contributing too. The biggest breakout this year has been from Jorge Polanco. He was suspended for half the year last year after a positive PED test but his breakout might have actually started last year after his return. This year, he’s crushing the ball, adding 10 points to his hard hit rate and posting the highest ISO in his professional career. Byron Buxton has also rebounded after a rough year in 2018. He’s cut his strikeout rate to a career low 22.6% and is also hitting for more power than ever. Combined with his elite defense in center field, we may finally be seeing him blossom into a star.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Minnesota Twins

RHP Michael Pineda

40 20.1% 5.2% 17.9% 34.1% 5.85 5.36
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 55.4% 92.6 2003 62 104 91
Changeup 12.3% 87.5 1911
Slider 32.3% 84.0 2045 112 98 85
Stuff+ Explainer; Pineda’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery midway through 2017, the Twins signed Michael Pineda to a two-year contract with the assumption that he’d miss the first year recovering. He’s healthy now but his return to the majors hasn’t come without some struggles. He’s still the same pitcher that grew up in the Mariners organization, leaning heavily on his good fastball and great slider, but his problem has always been a lack of a third option in his repertoire. His changeup just isn’t good enough to keep batters from sitting on his fastball and that’s led to a big home run problem throughout his career. To make matters worse, his fastball velocity hasn’t rebounded to the same heights as he enjoyed earlier in his career. So while his strikeout-to-walk ratio is decent, he’s just getting destroyed by the long ball, allowing more than two per nine innings.

LHP Martín Pérez

46 1/3 24.0% 9.4% 8.3% 38.9% 3.11 3.47
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 15.4% 95.1 2158 132 129 63
Sinker 26.5% 94.9 2102 147 114 59
Cutter 30.6% 88.8 2325 103 132 115
Changeup 17.1% 86.3 1861 97 121 107
Curveball 6.2% 79.4 2648
Pérez’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

Martín Pérez has resurrected his career with the Twins after the Rangers declined to re-sign him this offseason. The pitcher the Mariners will face is nearly unrecognizable from the pitcher they became so familiar with in Texas. The biggest change to his repertoire is the introduction of an excellent cutter to replace his slider. The shape of the pitch is basically the same but he’s throwing it at 88 mph now instead of 85 and that’s made it a real weapon. He’s also increased the average velocity of his fastball up to 95 mph, helping him generate more whiffs and additional knock-on effects for his entire arsenal. His trademark changeup is now more effective because its velocity differential is even greater. The result is a strikeout rate higher than ever and a ground-ball rate lower than ever. The latter isn’t ideal but the former more than makes up for it.

RHP José Berríos

59 22.7% 4.6% 12.7% 36.9% 3.05 3.92
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 33.3% 93.5 2235 93 139 72
Sinker 21.6% 92.3 2144 120 80 95
Changeup 11.0% 84.0 1637 141 95 150
Curveball 34.0% 81.5 2344 137 89 131

José Berríos throws one of the most remarkable curveballs in the majors. No pitcher generates more horizontal movement on their curveball than Berríos, making it one of the most GIF-able pitches in baseball. But it’s that pitch that has caused him to really struggle for stretches during the year. When he loses his feel for his bender, the rest of his repertoire can’t pick up the slack. He really needs all three pitches working in tandem to find success. But when he’s on, he can be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. His fastball is pretty good but the development of his changeup has really elevated him into the pitching elite. That pitch has helped him keep left-handed batters at bay while giving him a reliable third offering to keep right-handed batters off-balance.

RHP Kyle Gibson

44 1/3 24.3% 7.0% 19.4% 50.8% 4.26 3.85
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 16.6% 93.7 2232 119 98 135
Sinker 34.8% 93.6 2131 101 67 104
Changeup 13.6% 86.2 1720 88 133 111
Curveball 12.5% 80.9 2456 96 136 101
Slider 22.6% 85.0 2430 84 154 95

It’s taken a while, but Kyle Gibson has finally developed into an above average starter. Earlier in his career, he looked more like a pitch-to-contact innings eater, but a tweak to his pitch mix last year led to a big increase in strikeout rate. Rather than relying on his okay sinker, he started leaning on his secondary offerings more often, specifically his slider. All three of his secondary offerings possess above average whiff rates, he just needed to utilize them properly. The result was a four point jump in his strikeout rate and it’s even higher this year.

The Big Picture:

AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 29-15 0.659 -- W-W-W-W-W
Mariners 22-23 0.489 7.5 L-L-L-W-W
Angels 20-23 0.465 8.5 W-L-W-L-L
Rangers 18-22 0.450 9.0 L-L-L-L-W
Athletics 19-25 0.432 10.0 W-W-L-L-L

Wild Card

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 26-16 0.619 +3.5 W-L-W-W-W
Cleveland 22-19 0.537 -- L-L-W-L-W
Red Sox 23-20 0.535 -- W-W-W-L-W
Mariners 22-23 0.489 2.0 L-L-L-W-W
Angels 20-23 0.465 3.0 W-L-W-L-L

The Astros have extended their winning streak to eight games now after sweeping the Tigers in Detroit. Now they travel to Boston to face the Red Sox who have been almost as hot recently. The Angels slipped behind the Mariners in the standings again after losing their series against the Twins in Minnesota. They’ll return home Friday to face the Royals.