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Series Preview: Mariners (78-68) at Royals (66-80)

The Mariners head to Kansas City with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

After three straight series losses and a crushing pair of losses to the Red Sox, the Mariners playoff hopes are all but gone. Technically, they’re only four games behind Boston for the second Wild Card spot, but they’d have to leapfrog two other teams to even think about challenging for that last postseason slot. They head into their final road trip of the season needing a miracle to stay relevant in the playoff picture.

At a Glance

Mariners Royals
Mariners Royals
Game 1 Friday, September 17 | 5:10 pm
RHP Chris Flexen RHP Jon Heasley
49% 51%
Game 2 Saturday, September 18 | 4:10 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi LHP Kris Bubic
52% 48%
Game 3 Sunday, September 19 | 11:10 am
RHP Logan Gilbert RHP Jackson Kowar
54% 46%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 89 (14th in AL) 91 (12th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) 15 (6th) -2 (9th) Royals
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 107 (10th) 110 (12th) Royals
Bullpen (FIP-) 101 (10th) 88 (2nd) Mariners

The Royals will be the Mariners last non-division opponent of the season. Back in late August, when hopes for a potential playoff push were at their highest, the Mariners lost a critical four-game series to this Kansas City squad. Now, with their hopes hanging by the slimmest thread, they face these same Royals hoping for better luck this time out.

After that fateful series in Seattle, the Royals have continued to play the role of spoiler, winning a series against the White Sox and nearly winning a series against the A’s. But with the rest of their schedule filled with non-competitive AL Central teams, this is their last opportunity to affect the AL playoff picture.

Royals Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Whit Merrifield 2B R 649 0.308 93 7.4
Nicky Lopez SS L 499 0.351 108 8.5
Salvador Perez C R 600 0.301 130 -1.4
Andrew Benintendi LF L 476 0.310 103 0.0
Carlos Santana 1B S 597 0.230 88 -1.0
Adalberto Mondesi 3B S 85 0.349 127 1.1
Ryan O'Hearn DH L 243 0.268 67 -1.9
Hunter Dozier RF R 485 0.274 75 -1.6
Kyle Isbel CF L 49 0.444 101 0.1

Salvador Perez nearly single-handedly defeated the Mariners during that series in late-August. He hit a home run in each of the four games in Seattle and three of them either tied the game or helped the Royals take the lead. He’s hit a homer in three straight games entering this series and just broke the American League record for home runs hit in a single season by a catcher. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think the Mariners should give him the Barry Bonds treatment during this series. Since the All-Star break, Nicky Lopez has collected 2.6 fWAR, the second highest mark in the American League. He’s slashed .340/.393/.432 in that time and has stolen 12 bases to pair with his excellent defense at short.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Minnesota Twins Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Jon Heasley

105 1/3 27.7% 7.9% 16.2% 38.9% 3.33 4.58
Double-A stats

Brady Singer was supposed to make the start for the Royals on Friday night but he was placed on the COVID IL this morning. In his place, Jon Heasley was called up from Double-A and will make his major league debut in a spot start against the Mariners. The 29th ranked prospect in Kansas City’s organization, Heasley is a spin-rate darling. He never really had much success in college, but his underlying pitch data looked promising enough for the Royals to draft him in the 13th round in the 2018 draft. In addition to his high-spin slider, he also possesses an above average changeup that plays well off his fastball. He was in the midst of a solid season in his first taste of Double-A but will be thrown into the fire for his first major league start.

LHP Kris Bubic

110 21.0% 11.2% 20.8% 46.3% 4.99 5.45
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 50.7% 90.8 2061 45 93 110
Changeup 31.9% 79.9 1603 144 87 86
Curveball 17.4% 78.4 2617 112 63 93

From a previous series preview:

Kris Bubic was the 40th overall pick in the 2018 draft and quickly moved through the Royals organization. After a phenomenal minor league season across two levels in 2019, he made his major league debut during the shortened season last year. Without an overpowering fastball, he profiles as a back-end starter, but he does have a few positive traits that give him some promise. His throwing motion presents some natural deception which helps his already excellent changeup play up. That pitch has an elite velocity differential that hides a rather average pitch shape. He’ll need an improvement in some other aspect of his profile to really make an impact in the majors but the changeup is a real weapon to build off of.

Bubic wasn’t very sharp at all in his previous start against the Mariners. He allowed five runs on nine hits and four walks and lasted just 4.1 innings. Of course, that was the same game where Carlos Hernández threw 5.2 innings of scoreless relief after Bubic’s ugly start.

RHP Jackson Kowar

80 2/3 34.0% 10.1% 11.5% 43.7% 3.46 3.06
Triple-A stats

Between Singer (18th overall), Jackson Kowar (33rd), Daniel Lynch (34th), and Bubic (40th), the first round of 2018 draft provided the Royals with a ridiculous amount of pitching talent. All four of those arms have made their major league debuts within the last two seasons, with Kowar being the latest debutant. He was called up back in June but struggled across two starts and three appearances and was sent back down to Triple-A. He was recalled once rosters expanded in September and has made three more starts to varying degrees of success. He’s got a solid fastball and a fantastic changeup but his curveball is merely okay. His breaking ball and fastball don’t really play well off each other; his heater has more of a sinker shape to it and his curve has 12-6 action that would pair well with a riding four-seamer.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 86-60 0.589 -- W-W-L-W-W
Athletics 79-67 0.541 7.0 L-L-L-W-W
Mariners 78-68 0.534 8.0 L-L-W-L-L
Angels 72-74 0.493 14.0 W-L-L-W-W
Rangers 54-92 0.370 32.0 W-L-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Blue Jays 82-64 0.562 -- W-W-W-L-W
Red Sox 83-65 0.561 -- W-L-L-W-W
Yankees 82-65 0.558 0.5 L-W-W-W-L
Athletics 79-67 0.541 3.0 L-L-L-W-W
Mariners 78-68 0.534 4.0 L-L-W-L-L

Each of the AL Wild Card contenders are playing teams with records below .500 this weekend. The Blue Jays won their three-game series against the Rays earlier this week, maintaining their grip on the top spot in the Wild Card race; they face the Twins at home this weekend. The Red Sox return to Boston to face the Orioles. Baltimore just lost their series to the Yankees, barely avoiding a sweep with a walk-off win in extra innings yesterday. New York hosts Cleveland this weekend. The A’s won their own series against the Royals earlier this week and will travel to Los Angeles to face the Angels.