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Series Preview: Mariners (41-38) at Blue Jays (40-36)

The Mariners head north — but not that far north — to face the Blue Jays in Buffalo.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners continue to play extremely well against some of the toughest teams in the American League. With their latest series win over the White Sox, Seattle has now gone 22-22 against teams with records over .500 — and 19-15 against American League opponents with winning records. It’s encouraging to see this team put up strong performances against the best the league has to offer.

At a Glance

Mariners Blue Jays
Mariners Blue Jays
Game 1 Tuesday, June 29 | 4:07 pm
RHP Chris Flexen LHP Robbie Ray
36% 64%
Game 2 Wednesday, June 30 | 4:07 pm
LHP Justus Sheffield LHP Steven Matz
38% 62%
Game 3 Thursday, July 1 | 10:07 am
LHP Yusei Kikuchi LHP Hyun Jin Ryu
38% 62%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Blue Jays Mariners Edge
Overview Blue Jays Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 111 (2nd in AL) 90 (12th in AL) Blue Jays
Fielding (OAA) -12 (11th) -2 (9th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 112 (12th) 114 (13th) Blue Jays
Bullpen (FIP-) 105 (10th) 89 (3rd) Mariners

It’s wild to even think about this, but this series against the Blue Jays has some interesting Wild Card implications. Both teams are neck and neck in the standings behind Cleveland and the A’s for the second Wild Card spot. The Yankees are also lurking just behind Seattle and a series with New York is on the docket next week. In fact, after this series in Toronto Buffalo, the Mariners head into the All-Star break with a nine-game homestand against the Rangers, Yankees, and Angels. They’ve played extremely well at home this year so if everything goes right, they could be in a really interesting position in the standings at the halfway mark.

The Blue Jays were one of the most aggressive teams this offseason. They’ve recently graduated a bunch of their top prospects — Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio the headlining trio — and saw an opportunity to supplement their homegrown core with some key free agents. They signed George Springer to a massive six-year contract and Marcus Semien to a one-year deal, and added a number of other supplementary pieces to their pitching staff. They currently have the fourth best run differential in the American League, and their offense has been one of the best in baseball. They’ve underperformed a bit due to a thin pitching staff that’s struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness.

Blue Jays Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Marcus Semien 2B R 344 0.327 134 0.8
Bo Bichette SS R 338 0.329 120 3.6
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B R 327 0.349 200 0.3
Teoscar Hernández DH R 245 0.377 127 -1.1
George Springer CF R 39 0.150 114 0.4
Cavan Biggio 3B L 209 0.301 101 -1.6
Randal Grichuk RF R 306 0.302 106 -3.4
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. LF R 269 0.294 82 -1.4
Reese McGuire C L 92 0.400 125 -0.4

Guerrero Jr. is doing everything he can to wrestle the MVP award away from Shohei Ohtani. He currently leads the majors in fWAR, wRC+, and RBIs, and is tied with Ohtani for the home run lead. He has a real shot at capturing the first Triple Crown since Miguel Cabrera did it back in 2012. He’s the centerpiece of the Blue Jays lineup but they have potent bats from one to nine too. Marcus Semien has been the best second baseman in baseball after a rather disappointing last season in Oakland. Moving over to the keystone has helped him provide tons of value defensively and his bat looks just as potent as it was during his 2019 breakout. George Springer was sidelined for almost three months with a quad injury that he suffered during spring training. He played four games at the end of April but aggravated the injury and just recently returned from his second stint on the Injured List.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Robbie Ray

80 2/3 31.0% 6.3% 22.5% 44.0% 3.35 4.31
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 56.9% 95.2 2268 136 105 106
Changeup 4.5% 87.9 1688 55
Curveball 9.6% 82.5 2131 80 137 75
Slider 28.7% 89.1 2219 110 126 103
Ray’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

For years, Robbie Ray put up elite strikeout rates in Arizona but was often undone by issues with his control and too much loud contact allowed. His two breaking balls are good enough to earn plenty of whiffs when located out of the zone, but trying to nibble with his fastball with his poor control was a recipe for disaster. All those problems came to a head last year as his walk rate exploded up to 17.9% leading to an ERA and FIP both above 6.50. This year, he’s completely reinvented himself. His walk rate has fallen to 6.3% after deciding to simply pound the strike zone with all of his pitches. He’s still allowing tons of loud contact as batters have continued to launch his fastball over the fence at an alarming rate. But since he’s allowing far fewer baserunners, those home runs aren’t doing as much damage as they had been before.

LHP Steven Matz

69 2/3 24.8% 7.0% 14.5% 46.5% 4.26 3.79
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 47.3% 94.9 2166 119 136 81
Changeup 23.8% 85.7 2240 140 81 96
Curveball 16.6% 77.9 2342 103 109 74
Slider 12.4% 88.8 2092 125 67 87

After never really living up to his potential as a member of the Mets, Steven Matz has put together a solid season for the Blue Jays. Acquired via trade during the offseason, Matz has harnessed all that raw stuff that made him such an interesting prospect in New York and is finally seeing positive results with it. His sinker-heavy approach has helped him keep the ball on the ground and a trio of above average secondary offerings give him plenty of options later in the count. He’s been sidelined on the COVID Injured List for the past two weeks and will be making his first start off the IL against Seattle.

LHP Hyun Jin Ryu

89 2/3 20.0% 5.3% 14.0% 48.9% 3.41 3.92
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 28.8% 89.5 1932 51 94 94
Sinker 3.9% 88.5 1901
Cutter 25.4% 85.5 1981 58 97 97
Changeup 28.2% 79.0 1482 157 60 86
Curveball 12.6% 73.2 2465 97 95 113
Slider 1.1% 79.8 2017
Ryu’s sinker and slider do not have large enough sample sizes for Stuff+ or pitch arsenal scores.

The Blue Jays signed Hyun Jin Ryu to a huge contract last year to front their rotation during their transition from rebuilding to contending. It was a lot of money to guarantee a pitcher who turned 33 right before the first season of the four-year pact. He rewarded their faith in him by putting together a fantastic campaign in 2020. This year, those results have slipped a bit. His strikeout rate has fallen to the lowest it’s been since his rookie year in 2013 and he’s struggled to suppress hard contact against him. His fastball velocity has dropped a bit and his changeup has been surprisingly ineffective this year. It all adds up to a profile that’s merely good instead of the great results Ryu had been putting up over the last three seasons.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 48-31 0.608 -- W-L-W-L-L
Athletics 47-33 0.588 1.5 L-W-L-L-W
Mariners 41-38 0.519 7.0 W-L-W-W-L
Angels 38-40 0.487 9.5 L-L-L-W-W
Rangers 30-48 0.385 18.0 W-L-W-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rays 47-32 0.595 +0.5 W-W-W-W-L
Athletics 47-33 0.588 -- L-W-L-L-W
Cleveland 42-33 0.560 2.5 L-W-L-L-W
Blue Jays 40-36 0.526 5.0 W-W-L-W-W
Mariners 41-38 0.519 5.5 W-L-W-W-L
Yankees 40-38 0.513 6.0 W-L-L-L-L

Seattle’s marvelous run of play lately has put them in interesting company, but they’re still well back from the division’s main competitors. The Houston Astros and Oakland Athletics continue to spar for preeminence, and despite dropping the first game of their series with Baltimore, Houston has a good shot to add some wins this week. The A’s are in good shape as well, hosting the large metal shed cellar-dwelling Rangers. Anaheim, meanwhile, is locked in a Bronx-based battle of underachievers, having won game one of a three-game set against the spiraling Yankees.

The Wild Card race is beginning to take shape, with most teams at or just games shy of the season’s midway point. The AL East seems unsurprisingly likely to feature at least one of the two best non-division winners, though it’s a surprise to see Seattle closer to a playoff berth than the Yankees. Together with Toronto, the M’s and Yanks have a ways to go to snag a spot from the A’s and Rays. Tampa Bay reversed their fortune following their surprise sweep in Seattle, and is pushing the division leading Red Sox, while Cleveland also continues to hang around despite a dismal offense and a rotation now missing its top three starters.