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Series Preview: Mariners (0-0) vs. Giants (0-0)

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The Mariners start the 2021 season with a three-game set against the San Francisco Giants.

What is time? Is it the inexorable march of hours, days, and years? Or is it the subjective experience of moments long past and closely cherished? If anything, this past year has taught us quite pointedly that time is both of these things. The slow burn of isolation and grief made 2020 feel like it lasted a lifetime. We asked ourselves if society would ever return to normal. Yet here we are on April 1, the beginning of a regular season of baseball. Regular takes special meaning now. After the sprint of a 60 game season that was anything but regular, MLB has set out to complete a full, 162 game season in 2021. Perhaps it’s aspirational to call this season regular. After all, America still has fresh wounds and open scars from the pandemic. Just this morning, the Mets and the Nationals had to postpone their Opening Day game because of a couple of positive COVID tests. No, this season won’t be regular despite our desire to cast it as normal.

This year was supposed to be the year the Mariners broke out of their “step back” to finally make a push for the postseason. A lost year of development and an economic environment greatly impacted by the pandemic gave the team some convenient excuses to move the goalposts. Instead, this season will serve as a proving ground for the collection of young talent that Jerry Dipoto has assembled. We’ll see Taylor Trammell make his debut on Opening Day, and Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert should make their debuts as soon as the team has secured an extra season of control over them. There are plenty of storylines to follow this year. Barring a miracle, breaking the 20 year playoff drought won’t be one of them. Instead, we’ll wait one more year. After two decades of disappointment that have all blurred together, Mariner fans have learned that hope and time aren’t so closely tied together.

At a Glance

White Sox Mariners
White Sox Mariners
Game 1 Monday, April 5 | 7:10 pm
LHP Carlos Rodón LHP Justus Sheffield
48% 52%
Game 2 Tuesday, April 6 | 7:10 pm
RHP Lucas Giolito LHP James Paxton
53% 47%
Game 3 Wednesday, April 7 | 1:10 pm
LHP Dallas Keuchel RHP Justin Dunn
52% 48%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview White Sox Mariners Edge
Overview White Sox Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 113 (2nd in AL) 91 (12th in AL) White Sox
Fielding (DRS) 27 (1st) 14 (5th) White Sox
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 102 (8th) 98 (4th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 88 (5th) 132 (15th) White Sox
2020 stats

Welcome to another year of series previews. If you’re a regular Lookout Landing reader, welcome back. If you’re a new face, welcome home. This will be my eighth year writing these previews—a passage of time I can hardly believe. Above, you’ll see a brief overview of the upcoming series: probable pitchers, game times, and a rundown of the Mariners and their opponents. Below, you’ll see the Mariners’ opponents laid out in more detail: projected lineups, key players, and pitcher analysis. You may have seen the new Stuff+ metric I introduced a few years ago—you’ll see those scores integrated into my pitcher analysis throughout the year. Finally, you’ll get a view of the big picture: AL West and Wild Card standings. As always, I appreciate your feedback and hope that these features continue to be helpful and educational.

The Mariners begin their season with a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants. In a weird scheduling quirk, they’ll have an off day on Easter Sunday, the only two teams who won’t be playing that day. Marco Gonzales will make his third consecutive Opening Day start, cementing his status as the unquestioned leader of the pitching staff for the foreseeable future.

The Giants have the privilege of playing the NL West with two unquestioned juggernauts atop the projected standings. There’s very little chance they’ll challenge for the division crown so their sights are set on the Wild Card race. It’s a little unfortunate because they’ve put together a rather interesting roster with plenty of depth all around. Their offense has been led by Mike Yastrzemski the past two years but they’ve managed to build a competent and deep lineup around him. And their pitching staff has a number of intriguing arms that could be poised to take big steps forward this year.

White Sox Projected Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Tim Anderson SS R 221 0.383 142 0.8
Luis Robert CF R 227 0.300 101 1.7
José Abreu 1B R 262 0.350 166 -1.0
Yoán Moncada 3B S 231 0.315 96 3.0
Yasmani Grandal C S 194 0.299 116 -2.4
Andrew Vaughn LF R 245 0.311 141
Adam Eaton RF L 176 0.260 75 -0.3
Yermín Mercedes DH R 387 0.328 153
Nick Madrigal 2B R 109 0.365 112 -4.7
2020 stats; Vaughn’s stats from 2019 MiLB (Rookie+Low-A+High-A), Mercedes’ stats from 2019 MiLB (Double-A+Triple-A)

After making his debut without much of a prospect reputation, Yastrzemski has now put together over 600 major league plate appearances with a 134 wRC+. The projection systems are still discounting his major league performance because it’s come in his age 28 and 29 season and was split between a half season in 2019 and whatever 2020 was. But at some point, we have to recognize that he’s shown he can capably handle major league pitching and is likely one of the better outfielders in the game. Around him, the Giants have a lineup filled with platoon options. With two left-handed starters lined up, we probably won’t see much of Tommy La Stella, Alex Dickerson, or Brandon Belt this series. It’s a flexible way to build a roster and should give them room to build on a surprisingly potent offense from last year.

Probable Pitchers

Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Francisco Giants Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Carlos Rodón

34 2/3 29.1% 10.8% 11.4% 43.0% 5.19 3.62
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 51.8% 91.4 2154 55 63 92
Changeup 10.8% 84.1 1714 91 163 136
Slider 37.4% 83.8 2452 93 120 107
2019 stats

Kevin Gausman put together the best season of his career in San Francisco last year. All it took was getting out of Baltimore and changing his pitch mix to feature his split-finger fastball far more often. He also enjoyed a spike in fastball velocity back to where it was earlier in his career. Those two changes helped him post the highest strikeout rate and the lowest FIP of his career. The Giants offered him a qualifying offer this offseason and he quickly accepted. He’ll lead their staff this season in the hopes that he can carry over his success from last year to secure a long-term contract from the Giants.

RHP Lucas Giolito

72 1/3 33.7% 9.7% 13.3% 41.3% 3.48 3.19
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 50.6% 94.0 2349 119 141 99
Changeup 33.7% 80.9 1414 113 139 129
Slider 14.7% 84.9 2095 83 150 104
2020 stats

After missing most of the 2018 and ‘19 seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, Johnny Cueto was finally healthy in 2020. With his peak long behind him, he’s embraced his new role as a crafty righty. A fantastic changeup has always been part of his repertoire but he’s doubled down on deception by emphasizing the multitude of looks he can bring with his windup. He’ll mix and match a hesitation move with a quick pitch and use changing speeds to keep his opponents off balance. It’s not the most effective approach, but it makes the most of his arsenal that has greatly deteriorated with age.

LHP Dallas Keuchel

63 1/3 16.3% 6.6% 4.7% 52.8% 1.99 3.08
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 2.3% 88.3 2218 41
Sinker 32.3% 87.2 2089 81 97 88
Cutter 30.9% 84.8 2206 101 82 102
Changeup 27.9% 78.6 1705 113 114 115
Slider 6.6% 75.8 2280 48
2020 stats; Keuchel’s four-seam and slider did not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Logan Webb is one of those intriguing arms that could be ready to take a big step forward this year. His ascent through the Giants organization was interrupted by a positive PED test back in 2019. After serving his suspension, he made his major league debut in August of that year. In just under 100 big league innings, he’s been perfectly serviceable, with a 5.36 ERA that far outpaces his 4.15 FIP. This spring, he introduced a revamped changeup to pair with his bowling ball sinker and decent slider. The result was a 17/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 scoreless innings in Arizona. His development will be key if the Giants want to make any noise in the NL Wild Card race.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 4-0 1.000 -- W-W-W-W
Angels 3-1 0.750 1.0 W-L-W-W
Mariners 2-1 0.667 1.5 W-L-W
Rangers 1-2 0.333 2.5 L-L-W
Athletics 0-4 0.000 4.0 L-L-L-L

The AL West looks like it’ll be wide open for the taking this year. Houston is favored by all the pre-season projections but their pitching staff is extremely shallow and could be their downfall if any more of their starters get injured. The A’s lost Marcus Semien and Liam Hendricks this offseason, but their deep roster will be just as dangerous as they’ve been the last few seasons. And the Angels have rebuilt their pitching staff with a bunch of new starters and relievers and are counting on a healthy season from Shohei Ohtani. I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of those three teams took the division crown this year and the runners up should be in the middle of the Wild Card conversation as a consolation.