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Series Preview: Mariners (19-24) at Diamondbacks (16-29)

The Mariners head to the desert for a three-game set against the Diamondbacks.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Bad first: what a deflating series. It’s hard not to feel a little like the high water mark of the season may have been the milliseconds before Ljay Newsome was struck by a line drive in Oracle Park, leading to the bullpen just winnowing away his lead. Weirdly, the Mariners are in only a marginally worse position than they were just a few days ago: the Astros lost their last two, as well, meaning the Mariners lost ground on the last wild card spot held by the Yankees, but not on the 2nd division wild card spot held by the Astros. Trying to follow these playoff standings while slightly smoke suffocated is more than enough to make your head spin. To fire-free Arizona we go!

At a Glance

Mariners Diamondbacks
Mariners Diamondbacks
Game 1 Friday, September 11 | 6:40 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi LHP Caleb Smith
43% 57%
Game 2 Saturday, September 12 | 5:10 pm
LHP Justus Sheffield RHP Zac Gallen
39% 61%
Game 3 Sunday, September 13 | 1:10 pm
RHP Justin Dunn RHP Luke Weaver
44% 56%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Diamondbacks Mariners Edge
Overview Diamondbacks Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 78 (14th in NL) 93 (12th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (DRS) -1 (9th) 9 (5th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 120 (14th) 94 (4th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 112 (12th) 139 (15th) Diamondbacks

I have to be honest: I’m fairly shocked to see these game odds. I wouldn’t have expected us to be favored, but with 2 of our 3 very good pitchers going up this weekend, I did expect something more in the mid or high 40s for those games at least. But then I remember that mostly, these percentages try to be balanced in how they predict a pitcher will perform, and based on their history, Justus and Yusei likely need to show this talent for longer. Anyway, Arizona has been absolutely wretched this year: despite projecting right around .500 to open the year with about even playoff odds, they’ve already all but locked up a losing season on the basis of their poor performance, well, everywhere. They can’t hit, they can’t pitch, and they can barely field. Last year, they were able to parlay middling pitching and hitting with excellent fielding to an 85 win season. This year, they’ve lost all of those gains and then some.

Diamondbacks Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Josh Rojas 2B L 39 0.292 25 0.2
Nick Ahmed SS R 167 0.309 90 0.9
Christian Walker 1B R 180 0.320 112 0.7
Kole Calhoun RF L 173 0.196 104 -0.5
Eduardo Escobar 3B S 173 0.230 57 -0.9
David Peralta DH L 170 0.339 95 -0.9
Daulton Varsho LF L 66 0.184 49 0.2
Carson Kelly C R 92 0.230 46 -0.5
Tim Locastro CF R 55 0.303 107 1.0

As you’d expect from what I just wrote, this isn’t exactly pretty. Josh Rojas was part of the return in the Greinke trade, though not the centerpiece, and thus far has been entirely underwhelming in 200 big-league PA. Daulton Varsho is both an Evan White-class of prospect (#55 in the FanGraphs 100) and an Evan White-level performer to date, with his bat slowly trending in the right direction after a poor start. You may be wondering if Ketel Marte’s presence would make this lineup look better. The answer is not really: after his shocking 2019, he has regressed to the same useful but not amazing player he’s been throughout his career, with a 93 wRC+ and thoroughly vanished power. Marte is on the IL with wrist inflammation, and the team says they are “hoping” he will return by year’s end, though with their hopes for a playoff spot essentially nil (a full five teams and seven games separate them from a wild card), you would expect they won’t rush him back and risk aggravating the injury.

Probable Pitchers

Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Francisco Giants Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Caleb Smith

153 1/3 26.0% 9.3% 15.6% 26.1% 4.52 5.11
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 53.8% 91.6 2425 95 122 84
Changeup 14.7% 82.6 1918 128 103 110
Slider 31.6% 83.5 2297 87 89 104
2019 stats

Through the first half of 2019, Caleb Smith looked like he was following up a solid 2018 campaign with an exciting breakout fueled by a 31.1% strikeout rate. But a hip injury and subsequent decreased fastball velocity gave way to an ugly 5.75 FIP in the second half of the year that spoiled his overall line. He made one start for the Marlins before getting caught up in the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year. While he was sidelined, he was included in the Starling Marte trade and will now be making his debut for the Diamondbacks on Friday. He has the talent to be a mid-rotation starter but his health and long layoff will likely affect his ability to be effective for the rest of this season.

RHP Zac Gallen

55 27.9% 7.9% 13.3% 45.9% 2.29 3.45
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 36.4% 93.1 2393 118 91 85
Cutter 27.5% 87.1 2347 92 113 108
Changeup 18.1% 84.9 1549 137 131 116
Curveball 17.7% 81.3 2415 144 120 150

Another former Marlin, Zac Gallen was traded to the Diamondbacks for Jazz Chizholm last year. It was an interesting move at the time — essentially one top prospect for another — but Gallen’s continued success in the desert has made the swap look a little lopsided. Chizholm still has plenty of time to establish himself in the majors but Gallen has already elevated himself into the conversation as one of the best starters in the National League. His four-pitch mix provides an excellent foundation with all three of his secondary pitches generating above average whiff rates. The most encouraging development this year has been his improved command of his secondaries in and around the zone. That’s allowed him to drop his walk rate by nearly three points while throwing his fastball less often this year.

RHP Luke Weaver

36 2/3 24.1% 8.2% 16.1% 31.9% 7.12 5.36
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 50.1% 94.2 2462 126 86 70
Cutter 14.3% 88.7 2384 73 105 47
Changeup 27.8% 85.0 1668 111 131 87
Curveball 7.8% 79.2 2279 125
Weaver’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Luke Weaver’s breakout season last year was another contributor to the Diamondbacks surprising 85-win season. He posted a career-best 4.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio leading to an excellent 3.07 FIP. Unfortunately, an elbow injury derailed his season and he hasn’t been able to replicate that success this year. The strikeouts are still there but his walk rate has jumped up three points, back to where it was when he was with the Cardinals earlier in his career. He’s also developed a rather concerning home run problem. It’s not hard to diagnose why either. His fly ball rate has increased to a career high this year and he’s grooving way too many fastballs in the heart of the zone. That’s a really poor combination.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Athletics 27-15 0.643 -- W-W-L-W-W
Astros 22-23 0.489 6.5 L-L-W-L-L
Mariners 19-24 0.442 8.5 W-W-W-L-L
Angels 18-27 0.400 10.5 W-W-L-L-W
Rangers 15-28 0.349 12.5 L-L-W-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Cleveland 26-18 0.591 +3.5 W-W-L-L-L
Yankees 22-21 0.512 -- L-L-L-L-W
Orioles 20-22 0.476 1.5 W-W-W-W-L
Tigers 20-23 0.465 2.0 L-W-L-L-W
Mariners 19-24 0.442 3.0 W-W-W-L-L

Well, like I said up top, it could be worse? The Astros have won just one of their last five and two of their last ten, putting them below .500 and essentially out of the AL West division race. Instead, they’ll find themselves hoping they don’t end up in a battle with the upstart Mariners or even the suddenly surging Angels, who have pulled themselves out of the cellar and in a distant but not impossible 4 game deficit to Houston. It will be a strange, smoke-filled sprint to the finish for these three clubs, and anything goes.