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Series Preview: Mariners (32-35) vs. Twins (26-39)

The Mariners return home to face the Twins for three games.

MLB: New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a saying in my family: “No Whining on the Yacht.” Not that we have a yacht, obviously; it’s more of a reminder to count your blessings and be grateful for what you do have, because somewhere out there is someone who has it worse. Mariners fans have had plenty to complain about this season, but a visit from the last-place Twins, who were projected by several outlets to win their division or at the very least be involved in a thrilling two- or three-team race with the White Sox and Cleveland, might be a good reminder that there’s no whining in T-Mobile Park, however tempting it might be.

At a Glance

Twins Mariners
Twins Mariners
Game 1 Monday, June 14 | 7:10 pm
RHP Kenta Maeda LHP Marco Gonzales
50% 50%
Game 2 Tuesday, June 15 | 7:10 pm
LHP J.A. Happ RHP Chris Flexen
54% 46%
Game 3 Wednesday, June 16 | 7:10 pm
RHP Bailey Ober LHP Justus Sheffield
50% 50%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Twins Mariners Edge
Overview Twins Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 106 (6th in AL) 86 (14th in AL) Twins
Fielding (OAA) 9 (4th) -4 (10th) Twins
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 116 (13th) 118 (15th) Twins
Bullpen (FIP-) 111 (13th) 93 (5th) Mariners

It hasn’t been the season Twins fans envisioned, to say the least. The team prepared this off-season to contend for a World Series berth; instead, the suggestion that this might be the most disappointing Twins team of all time has started cropping up, with the Twins and Yankees slugging it out for the dubious honor of 2021’s Most Disappointing Team. Injuries have played a role in the team’s sad start, with every Opening Day starter spending at least some time on the injured list aside from Willians Astudillo, Nelson Cruz, Mitch Garver, Ryan Jeffries, and Jorge Polanco (and Polanco, Cruz, and Garver have all been banged up without an official IL stint). The pitching has been healthier, but that hasn’t been a tremendous help, as the pitching staff ranks dead last in fWAR, mostly due to a sinking ship of a bullpen that makes Seattle’s bullpen adventures look like a charming ride in a rowboat.

Twins Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Jorge Polanco 2B S 245 0.263 107 1.8
Josh Donaldson 3B R 215 0.254 127 -2.9
Byron Buxton* CF R 98 0.417 220 2.4
Nelson Cruz DH R 223 0.302 145 -1.3
Trevor Larnach LF L 114 0.373 131 0.3
Miguel Sanó 1B R 196 0.221 96 -0.9
Alex Kirilloff RF L 126 0.310 96 1.0
Ryan Jeffers C R 69 0.270 69 0.0
Andrelton Simmons SS R 188 0.299 88 -2.0
*Buxton is currently on the Injured List but could be activated during this series.

Minnesota’s injury issues have caused manager Rocco Baldelli to run out several different lineups this season. Obviously the headliner here is Wonderful Human Nelson Cruz, who should receive a warm welcome in Seattle, although the team leader by fWAR is Byron Buxton, who was on his way to an MVP-caliber season before being derailed by a hip injury in early May. Buxton is currently on a rehab assignment and traveled with the team to Seattle, where he’ll likely be activated just in time to face the Mariners. Hooray. Luis Arraez, also on a rehab assignment, might rejoin the team as well during this trip; Max Kepler is still a bit behind those two. Old Enemy Josh Donaldson has also been a mainstay in the lineup since returning from an injury suffered exactly one inning into the season; he’s not hitting for average super-well, but he has 10 HRs, third on the team behind big boppers Cruz and Sano, and his BB/K is top 20 in MLB. The Twins also got some admirable fill-in performances in their outfield from rookies Alex Kirilloff and Oregon State alum Trevor Larnach, although it’s likely one of them will be optioned down to make room for Buxton.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Kenta Maeda

42 2/3 20.5% 5.8% 21.4% 43.0% 5.27 5.05
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 21.4% 91.0 2237 46 138 80
Sinker 7.7% 90.2 2197 101
Splitter 27.2% 84.6 1485 68 89 81
Curveball 2.6% 76.1 2558
Slider 41.1% 82.7 2526 62 73 102
Maeda’s sinker and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

In his first year in Minnesota after being acquired from the Dodgers, Kenta Maeda put together a phenomenal season that ended with a distant second-place finish in the AL Cy Young voting. The biggest difference for him last year was a commitment to use his slider far more often than ever before. Between that pitch and his splitter, he threw his two best secondary offerings more than 70% of the time. The result was career-bests in strikeout rate, walk rate, ERA, and FIP. This year, his pitch mix is essentially unchanged, but he’s really struggled with the location of his slider in particular. Instead of burying the pitch low in the zone like he had been last year, he’s leaving far too many of them up in the zone and batters are crushing the pitch. After making nine forgettable starts, he was placed on the Injured List with groin and arm issues. He’ll be making his first start off the IL on Monday night.

LHP J.A. Happ

56 1/3 16.0% 7.0% 11.2% 34.4% 5.75 5.09
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 55.9% 90.7 2358 69 84 100
Sinker 13.4% 88.3 2217 61 39 71
Changeup 10.8% 86.9 1953 36 46 47
Curveball 2.3% 77.0 2315
Slider 17.7% 82.9 2300 89 60 76
Happ’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for Stuff+ or pitch arsenal scores.

With Jake Odorizzi and Rich Hill moving on to new teams this offseason, the Twins signed J.A. Happ to fill one of their holes in their rotation with a veteran presence. He’s been a consistent and healthy arm for nearly a decade, capably eating innings in Seattle, Pittsburgh, Toronto, and New York. But now that he’s 38 years old, some of his effectiveness has started to slip. His fastball velocity has dropped by nearly a full mile per hour and his strikeout rate has fallen to a career low. His velocity was already on a three-year downward trend, but this latest loss is the biggest drop of that period. Without those strikeouts to offset the hard contact he’s always been prone to allow, his ERA and FIP have really suffered.

RHP Bailey Ober

13 26.3% 3.5% 17.6% 21.1% 4.85 4.54

With little fanfare, Bailey Ober had a phenomenal minor league season in 2019. Across three different levels (including two rehab starts in rookie ball), he allowed just 12 total runs in just under 80 innings pitched, striking out an even 100 batters. He wasn’t invited to the Twins alternate site last year but was added to their 40-man roster over the offseason anyway. FanGraphs ranked him 22nd on their preseason organization prospect list. His 6’ 9” frame gives him a ton of extension, helping his below average fastball velocity play up. And after sitting in the upper-80s in the minors, his fastball is now averaging 92 mph this year. Scouts graded his changeup as his best pitch but his slider has shown the most promise in his brief time in the majors.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Athletics 40-27 0.597 -- W-L-W-W-W
Astros 37-28 0.569 2.0 W-L-W-L-W
Angels 33-32 0.508 6.0 W-W-W-W-W
Mariners 32-35 0.478 8.0 W-L-L-L-W
Rangers 25-41 0.379 14.5 L-W-L-W-L

Minnesota is fresh off a 14-3 shellacking in the finale of their losing series against the Astros, who remain nonetheless in second place in the AL West thanks to the ever-plucky A’s, winners of the last four series in a row (KC, ARI, COL, SEA). The Angels continue to Angel, floating around .500, pushed up to that record by a series sweep of Arizona, who are another good example of not whining on the yacht. The Rangers remain firmly in control of last place in the AL West and are engaged in a tight battle with Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Arizona for the top pick in the 2022 MLB draft.