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Series Preview: Mariners (18-19) vs. Cleveland (20-14)

The Mariners return home to find some brand new presents sitting under the T-Mobile roof.

Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

It’s probably a bit of hyperbole to say that this series is the biggest for the organization in years. It doesn’t have any playoff implications like that final series of the season against Oakland back in 2016, but with both Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert set to make their major league debuts on Thursday night, this series has huge implications for the near future of the club. It’s finally time to start talking about the substance of this rebuild rather than the hypothetical prospecting we’ve been used to for the past few years.

At a Glance

Cleveland Mariners
Cleveland Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, May 13 | 7:10 pm
57% 43%
Game 2 Friday, May 14 | 7:10 pm
RHP Aaron Civale RHP Chris Flexen
58% 42%
Game 3 Saturday, May 15 | 6:10 pm
RHP Triston McKenzie LHP Justus Sheffield
51% 49%
Game 4 Sunday, May 16 | 1:10 pm
RHP Shane Bieber TBD
59% 41%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Cleveland Mariners Edge
Overview Cleveland Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 85 (14th in AL) 87 (13th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) 2 (7th) 6 (4th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 104 (8th) 118 (14th) Cleveland
Bullpen (FIP-) 96 (7th) 98 (8th) Cleveland

Less than a week ago the Cleveland baseball team was no-hit by Wade Miley. Yes, that Wade Miley. Personally, that feels like enough information to paint an accurate picture of this club, but you still look hungry, so here’s a little more. Their 20-14 record is an aberration - playing in the AL Central will fast-track you to 20 wins in the blink of a Tiger’s eye. Their futility in the face of Wade’s wiles was also the second time they’ve been no-hit this year, and they’re now the third team in MLB history to be no-hit twice within their first 31 games of the season. They have a veritable ace in Shane Bieber (whom the M’s will see in the final game of this four-game series), a dominant bullpen helmed by Emmanuel Clase, Bryan Shaw and James Karinchak, and an offense being hoisted once more upon José Ramírez’s chariot.

Cleveland Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Cesar Hernandez 2B S 147 0.238 87 0.3
Jake Bauers 1B L 64 0.238 53 -0.8
José Ramírez 3B S 142 0.216 140 0.5
Eddie Rosario LF L 128 0.253 73 1.3
Franmil Reyes DH R 124 0.324 141 -0.7
Josh Naylor RF L 117 0.317 92 -0.4
Harold Ramirez CF R 24 0.286 77 0.0
Andrés Giménez SS L 83 0.220 44 0.8
Austin Hedges C R 47 0.182 27 0.4

You thought Dipoto was an active GM? Currently, no position players on Cleveland’s active roster were drafted by the team and only two on the roster have been with the team their entire careers - Ramírez and Yu Chang, both of whom were international free agent signees.

Their lineup is an exercise in extremes, in much the same way the team’s performance has been. They’ve got a number of familiar-sounding, would-be, could-be former prospects (hello, you lugubrious Rumble Pony, Andrés Giménez), the aforementioned Ramírez, and a conspicuous absence of Smile power. The emergence of Franmil Reyes has soothed the pain of the latter, with the enormous designated hitter tallying a 142 wRC+.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

RHP Zach Plesac

40 19.3% 4.3% 10.3% 55.4% 3.83 3.45
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 39.4% 93.2 2039 99 101 85
Changeup 22.8% 85.7 1619 85 49 111
Curveball 12.3% 80.6 1926 77
Slider 25.5% 87.4 2059 110 77 105
Plesac’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Zach Plesac broke out in a big way during his sophomore season last year. He’s a prime example of the type of pitcher Cleveland’s pitching development program has been able to churn out over the last decade. His breakout was fueled by an increase in usage and effectiveness of his secondary offerings. Cleveland has targeted pitchers with projectable secondary offerings with good command who might be overlooked because they lack an overpowering fastball. They teach them how to use their whole repertoire effectively and reap the rewards. For Plesac, that meant leaning on his slider and changeup to generate whiffs and using the pinpoint command of his fastball to keep his walk rate miniscule.

RHP Aaron Civale

46 1/3 18.1% 7.7% 12.8% 51.9% 2.91 4.12
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 26.8% 91.3 2309 52 91 109
Sinker 7.8% 91.6 2307 51
Cutter 21.1% 87.4 2478 117 78 99
Splitter 14.6% 84.9 1610 60 54 111
Curveball 16.8% 76.9 2757 88 100 89
Slider 13.0% 83.0 2721 117
Civale’s sinker and slider do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

Aaron Civale was another beneficiary of Cleveland’s development program. He had a fantastic debut back in 2019 but was roughed up in his follow up campaign in 2020. This year, he looks completely different on the mound. He’s adopted a new, shorter arm path — the same mechanical change that led to Lucas Giolito’s breakout — and has revamped his pitch mix. He’s throwing a riding four-seam fastball now instead of his sinker and has changed the grip on his changeup to a split-change grip. The splitter hasn’t really worked out — it’s getting tons of ground ball contact but batters aren’t swinging and missing against it. But the swapped fastball has really helped him limit hard contact, even though batters are elevating it more often than his sinker. The result is an excellent ERA that far outpaces a FIP that hasn’t really budged.

RHP Triston McKenzie

23 2/3 32.1% 20.8% 17.2% 16.3% 4.94 5.76
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 68.1% 91.1 2223 70 127 59
Changeup 4.2% 86.0 1597
Curveball 13.1% 78.8 2087 67
Slider 14.7% 86.3 2160 129
McKenzie’s pitches do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

With such a slight frame, there were plenty of questions about whether or not Triston McKenzie could handle a heavy workload as a starter. Cleveland has stuck with their plan and he made his major league debut last year as a starter. It was his first competitive action since 2018 after injuries held him out of the entire 2019 minor league season. His fastball was pretty impressive, with tons of ride for a heater without elite velocity. He’s leaning on that pitch even more this season, but the rest of his repertoire has let him down a bit. He hasn’t been able to control any of his pitches and batters are elevating nearly everything they put in play off him. The raw talent and building blocks are there, but he might need some additional development time in Triple-A sooner rather than later.

RHP Shane Bieber

55 37.0% 7.8% 16.7% 42.7% 2.95 2.81
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 35.6% 93.0 2358 126 95 80
Cutter 2.2% 88.9 2597
Changeup 4.1% 87.9 1805
Curveball 31.3% 83.2 2475 139 138 85
Slider 26.9% 86.0 2706 87 135 104
Bieber’s cutter and changeup do not have large enough sample sizes for Stuff+ and pitch arsenal scores.

It’s too bad 2020 was a shortened season because it would have been fascinating to see if Shane Bieber could maintain his complete dominance over a full 30-start schedule. He was by far the best pitcher in baseball last year and unanimously won the AL Cy Young award. It would be nearly impossible to replicate that dominance, but he’s been nearly as good this year. He set a major league record for strikeouts recorded in the first month of a season and has struck out at least eight batters in a record 20 straight games. And the crazy thing is, he’s still trying to find the feel for his slider this year. The pitch’s physical characteristics have looked a bit off from it’s sheer dominance last year, but he’s still running a 50% whiff rate with it.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Athletics 23-15 0.605 -- W-W-L-W-W
Astros 20-17 0.541 2.5 L-W-L-W-W
Mariners 18-19 0.486 4.5 W-L-L-L-L
Rangers 18-20 0.474 5.0 L-W-W-L-L
Angels 16-20 0.444 6.0 L-W-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Cleveland 20-14 0.588 +1.0 W-L-W-W-W
Yankees 20-16 0.556 -- L-W-W-W-W
Blue Jays 19-16 0.543 0.5 L-W-L-W-W
Astros 20-17 0.541 0.5 L-W-L-W-W
Rays 19-19 0.500 2.0 L-L-W-L-L

The Angels couldn’t maintain their momentum against the Astros, losing the final two games of their series in Houston. They have a day off today and travel to Boston to take on the Red Sox this weekend. After their series win against the Angels, the Astros welcome the Rangers to Houston for a four-game, intrastate showdown. The A’s have won two straight against the Red Sox and play the final game of that series this afternoon. They travel to Minnesota afterwards for a three-game set against the Twins.