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Series Preview: Mariners (19-17) at Yankees (19-14)

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The Mariners head to the Bronx to face a roughed-up Yankees squad.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners snapped their six-game skid in emphatic fashion yesterday morning. It’s a little skewed because of the blowout, but the Mariners outscored Cleveland 21-18 across their six-game season series but only won the one game against them. Before exploding for 10 runs yesterday, the Mariners had averaged just 2.8 runs per game over their last six games. Hopefully that outburst kickstarts the offense as they head to the bandboxes in New York and Boston.

At a Glance

Mariners Yankees
Mariners Yankees
Game 1 Monday, May 6 | 3:35 pm
RHP Félix Hernández LHP CC Sabathia
36% 64%
Game 2 Tuesday, May 7 | 3:35 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Masahiro Tanaka
38% 62%
Game 3 Wednesday, May 8 | 3:30 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi RHP Jonathan Loáisiga
40% 60%
Game 4 Thursday, May 9 | 3:35 pm
RHP Mike Leake LHP J.A. Happ
37% 63%
Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Yankees Mariners Edge
Overview Yankees Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 111 (4th in AL) 119 (2nd in AL) Mariners
Fielding (DRS) -4 (10th) -26 (15th) Yankees
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 86 (4th) 101 (8th) Yankees
Bullpen (FIP-) 88 (4th) 117 (14th) Yankees

The Yankees have started off this season plagued by a ridiculous number of injuries. At one point in late April, they had 13 players on the injured list. Those 13 players combined to produce 32.8 fWAR last season, which makes their absence this year particularly devastating. They’re missing some of their biggest stars like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, and Luis Severino. And now, James Paxton has been sidelined with a bum knee, saving the Mariners from having to face him during this trip.

Despite all these injuries, the Yankees have managed to find a way to win 19 games early on this year. Their schedule in April was rather light, with just a single series against a team with a winning record (they were swept by the Astros). With a few players on the mend, their roster should be getting stronger right when their schedule gets a little tougher.

Yankees Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
DJ LeMahieu 2B R 121 0.359 112 1.4
Luke Voit 1B R 146 0.295 137 0.4
Gary Sánchez C R 83 0.225 187 0.1
Miguel Andújar DH R 22 0.294 38 -0.4
Gleyber Torres SS R 139 0.316 97 -1.3
Brett Gardner CF L 136 0.202 93 0.0
Gio Urshela 3B R 78 0.379 143 0.0
Cameron Maybin RF R 27 0.438 140 0.2
Mike Tauchman LF L 85 0.214 80 0.4

Both Gary Sánchez and Miguel Andújar have both returned from the injured list recently, providing some reinforcements to a rough lineup. Andújar’s return was rather surprising since the initial diagnosis for his torn shoulder labrum was season-ending surgery. Instead, he opted to try and heal via physical therapy and rehab and here he is a month later. The looming threat of reinjuring his shoulder will cast a shadow over the rest of his season, but the Yankees really needed his bat back in the lineup. One of the few bright spots for the Yankees has been Luke Voit’s follow-up campaign to his breakout year in 2018. He’s still crushing the ball and managed to safely reach base in the first 31 games of the year and 42 straight dating back to last season. That streak was broken on Saturday but he’s shown that last year was no fluke.

Probable Pitchers

LHP CC Sabathia

20 1/3 19.5% 7.3% 16.0% 41.4% 2.66 5.00
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 7.5% 89.6 2028
Cutter 49.8% 89.0 2216 101 59 78
Changeup 9.4% 83.5 1901
Slider 33.0% 80.4 2266 88 65 94
Stuff+ Explainer; Sabathia’s sinker and changeup do not have large enough sample sizes for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

In many ways, CC Sabathia is the perfect model for Félix Hernández as he figures out how to survive with diminished stuff. After thriving with a live fastball for much of his younger years, Sabathia quickly needed to reinvent himself after his velocity declined to around 90 mph. Instead of relying on big strikeout rates, he fully bought into finding success through good command of a limited repertoire and inducing tons weak contact. He’s completely dropped his four-seam fastball in favor of a sinker. But even that pitch has been pushed aside by his excellent cutter the last few years. He’s throwing the cutter almost half the time now and it continues to give opposing batters fits. This season will be his last before he retires. It wouldn’t be a reach to say that revamping his arsenal as his stuff deteriorated added at least three or four successful years to his long career.

RHP Masahiro Tanaka

39 22.5% 7.5% 16.2% 48.6% 3.92 4.21
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 25.8% 91.7 2150 105 140 46
Sinker 3.5% 90.7 1831
Cutter 3.3% 87.8 2215
Splitter 25.5% 87.6 1545 138 53 107
Curveball 4.7% 77.4 2364
Slider 37.3% 83.7 2387 122 109 133
Tanaka’s sinker, cutter, and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

Since making the leap across the Pacific Ocean in 2014, Masahiro Tanaka has posted the ninth best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors. That’s helped him post the 12th best league adjusted xFIP over the same period of time. On the other hand, he’s also posted the fourth highest home run rate, pushing his FIP and ERA much higher than you expect based on his other peripherals. His fastballs have been the main source of his dinger-it is so he’s started throwing them a lot less often beginning in the second half of last season. Instead, he’s throwing his elite slider and excellent splitter more often. That’s helped him drop his home run rate a bit, but it’s also negatively affected his strikeout-to-walk ratio too. I think that’s an acceptable tradeoff if it solves at least some of his home run problems.

RHP Jonathan Loáisiga

10 23.8% 14.3% 8.3% 34.6% 2.70 4.23

Jonathan Loáisiga made the jump from Double-A to the major leagues last year, compiling 24 innings for the Yankees in nine appearances and four starts. He actually pitched in three different levels in 2018, as he began the year in High-A and quickly ascended the ranks. That speaks to how highly the Yankees view his stuff and ceiling. Unfortunately, he’s been beset by a number of injuries throughout his short career. In fact, he only just surpassed the 200 inning mark for his entire professional career this year. Still, with a well-commanded mid-90s fastball, a nasty curveball, and a potentially elite changeup, there’s so much untapped potential that the Yankees are confident giving him a shot in their major league rotation without much minor league seasoning.

LHP J.A. Happ

38 1/3 16.8% 5.6% 17.3% 37.4% 4.93 5.56
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 45.4% 91.6 2338 80 111 100
Sinker 25.7% 89.2 2127 80 137 124
Changeup 11.8% 86.1 1742
Slider 16.3% 84.4 2226 70 67 137
Happ’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

The Yankees were one of the forerunners of the breaking ball heavy approach to pitching that has since swept through the majors. So it was a little surprising to see them re-sign J.A. Happ after acquiring him at the trade deadline last year. Happ famously reinvented himself with the Pirates after a midseason trade from the Mariners in 2015. He began heavily leaning on his “rising” four-seam fastball which greatly improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio. Even after joining the Yankees, he continued to feature his fastball at career-high levels, throwing it up to 70% of the time in New York. He’s lost about a mile per hour off his fastball early this season. That’s a big concern, especially since his secondary offerings are merely average.

The Big Picture:

AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 20-14 0.588 -- W-L-L-W-W
Mariners 19-17 0.528 2.0 L-L-L-L-W
Rangers 16-16 0.500 3.0 L-L-L-W-W
Angels 15-19 0.441 5.0 W-W-W-L-L
Athletics 15-21 0.417 6.0 L-L-W-L-L

Wild Card

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 19-14 0.576 +0.5 L-L-W-L-W
Cleveland 18-14 0.563 -- W-L-W-W-L
Mariners 19-17 0.528 1.0 L-L-L-L-W
Rangers 16-16 0.500 2.0 L-L-L-W-W
Red Sox 17-18 0.486 2.5 W-L-W-W-W

This series will be the first of the season where the Mariners head into it without holding at least a share of a playoff spot. That’s not something to be concerned about in May, but it does highlight just how much of a lead they held in early April and how quickly it’s disappeared since then. The Astros swept the Angels in their short two-game series in Mexico and return home to host the Royals for three. The Rangers won their series against the Blue Jays over the weekend and head to Pittsburgh this week. The Athletics snapped their long losing streak on Friday against the Pirates but began a new one by losing the next two. They host the Reds for three games beginning tomorrow.