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Series Preview: Mariners (31-44) vs. Royals (23-48)

The Mariners return home to face a floundering Royals squad.

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Mariners have a chance to seriously further their season goals these next few games, as they host a Royals squad that currently holds the #2 draft spot in the loaded 2020 draft. Coming off an emotionally confusing series win against the A’s, it would probably help if they’d hurry up and send Mike Leake out for cigarettes then drive the RV away while he’s gone. They’ve got some work to do to catch up to the true cellar-dwellers of MLB, but have faith: they can get it done. They were born for this.

At a Glance

Royals Mariners
Royals Mariners
Game 1 Monday, June 17 | 7:10 pm
LHP Danny Duffy LHP Tom Milone
43% 57%
Game 2 Tuesday, June 18 | 7:10 pm
RHP Homer Bailey LHP Yusei Kikuchi
41% 59%
Game 3 Wednesday, June 19 | 12:40 pm
RHP Brad Keller LHP Marco Gonzales
44% 56%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 86 (11th in AL) 110 (4th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (DRS) 28 (4th) -65 (15th) Royals
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 106 (10th) 118 (14th) Royals
Bullpen (FIP-) 99 (8th) 115 (13th) Royals

Fresh off a long stretch against AL West teams, the Mariners take on a Royals team that is not, well, good. Though they sit in the cellar of the AL Central, the Royals have actually underperformed their Pythag by six wins, trending to a Mariners-esque pattern of being either thumper or thumpee in a given game. As is typical for a Royals squad, no matter the overall quality, the defense and pitching are pretty good, and the hitting… hey what’s that over there?

Royals Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Whit Merrifield RF R 319 0.349 121 -0.7
Alex Gordon LF L 287 0.288 112 1.0
Adalberto Mondesi SS S 305 0.355 95 3.9
Jorge Soler DH R 290 0.283 110 0.2
Cheslor Cuthbert 3B R 57 0.353 109 0.1
Jorge Bonifacio 1B R 240 0.229 50
Nicky Lopez 2B L 119 0.256 45 0.0
Martín Maldonado C R 197 0.267 58 -1.5
Billy Hamilton CF S 216 0.299 58 3.4
Bonifacio’s stats from Triple-A

The Royals’ hitters are a real tale of two lineups; the first five are pretty passable, even good, though they lack some thump. Whit Merrifield, easily the team’s best hitter, continues his above-average play across the diamond, and Adalberto Mondesi’s defense helps compensate for his slightly weak bat. Get past Cheslor Cuthbert, though, and it’s what I like to call “not good.” Some solid defense can’t make up for having four sub-60 wRC+ hitters in a row.

Probable Pitchers

Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

LHP Danny Duffy

49 1/3 20.0% 8.6% 8.9% 39.7% 4.38 4.06
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 41.5% 92.8 2262 90 86 68
Sinker 8.8% 92.7 2205
Changeup 7.6% 84.6 2281
Curveball 14.9% 76.8 2386 115 86 92
Slider 27.3% 85.8 2320 119 104 113
Stuff+ Explainer; Duffy’s sinker and changeup do not have large enough sample sizes for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

Back when he broke out in 2016, Duffy was averaging 95 on his fastball, spurred by a brief stint in the bullpen. That velocity has dwindled down to 92 after suffering a number of injuries in the years since. A shoulder injury kept him off the mound until late-April, but he’s returned with a little more promise than last year. He’s cut his walk rate by a couple of points, though it isn’t as low as it was a couple of years ago. He has managed to avoid getting hurt by the long ball so far, but with a fly ball heavy approach, that could quickly change. After a down year, he is throwing his slider as often as he was back in 2016 and 2017. That pitch has been a weapon for him in the past, but without premium velocity on his fastball, his ceiling seems rather capped.

RHP Homer Bailey

67 20.8% 9.9% 12.9% 44.7% 5.37 4.29
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 45.8% 93.5 2066 81 83 103
Splitter 25.7% 84.6 1122 76 131 128
Curveball 10.1% 78.9 1953 102 75 75
Slider 16.2% 87.7 1844 92 78 62

From the previous series preview:

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.

Bailey has surprisingly stuck around in the Royals rotation this year. He’s made 14 starts with a 4.30 FIP, which is much better than many expected. His splitter is his only pitch that generates above average results, propping up both his strikeout rate and groundball rate. Back when the Mariners were in the midst of their season opening hot streak, they crushed seven runs off Bailey in five innings.

RHP Brad Keller

93 15.8% 11.5% 5.7% 51.4% 3.97 4.11
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 39.3% 93.8 2276 96 109 110
Sinker 24.5% 93.3 2082 120 78 113
Changeup 1.9% 88.9 1808
Slider 34.2% 85.2 2527 128 90 100
Keller’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

After excelling as a Rule 5 pick last year, Brad Keller has clearly established himself as the Royals staff ace. That might say more about the state of the Royals organization, but if you squint, you can glimpse a bit of early-career Dallas Keuchel in Keller. He relies heavily on a bowling ball sinker, helping him keep the ball on the ground, and more importantly, inside the park. Since the beginning of last season, Keller has the lowest home run rate in the majors, and it isn’t even close. He’s allowed just 11 home runs in just over 200 career innings. His slider also showed some promise last year, running a whiff rate over 50% in September of last year. That pitch hasn’t been as good this season but there could be some hidden strikeout upside if he ever figures it out again.

The Big Picture:

AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 48-24 0.667 -- W-L-W-W-L
Rangers 38-33 0.535 9.5 L-L-W-W-L
Athletics 36-36 0.500 12.0 W-W-L-W-L
Angels 35-37 0.486 13.0 W-W-L-W-L
Mariners 31-44 0.413 18.5 W-L-W-L-W

Frankly, the most interesting thing about the AL West right now is the Rangers, who continue hang in second place, though not contention for the division title. The Mariners remain firmly lodged in the cellar, though their recent run of play against good teams may have artificially depressed their record.

Wild Card

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rays 43-28 0.606 +5.0 L-L-W-L-W
Rangers 38-33 0.535 -- L-L-W-W-L
Red Sox 39-34 0.534 -- W-W-W-W-W
Cleveland 37-33 0.529 0.5 W-L-W-W-W
Athletics 36-36 0.500 2.5 W-W-L-W-L

The Rangers and Red Sox somehow are holding the second wild card spot and it’s hard to say which of those things is more surprising. The Red Sox, like Cleveland, have been on a torrid pace lately and have swiftly regained a favorable position, though they have much more work to do. The Rays, meanwhile, are closer to the division lead than they are to their pursuers.