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Series Preview: Mariners (2-2) at White Sox (2-1)

The Mariners continue their Midwest road trip with a stop in Chicago.

MLB: APR 10 White Sox at Tigers Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Mariners’ march through the Midwest continues, looking a little grimmer after two straight losses in Minnesota where the pitching got rocked and the offense failed to do anything. It’s also a tough schedule for the M’s, who, after having their game postponed on Thursday, had to play four straight games in the Minnesota cold, including a Monday evening game that began less than 24 hours before they’re slated to play their first game in Chicago. There’s also a strong possibility that Wednesday’s game will be rescheduled, as the forecast calls for thunderstorms with an over 70% chance of precipitation. Love an early-season road trip to the Midwest, said no one ever.

At a Glance

Mariners White Sox
Mariners White Sox
Game 1 Tuesday, April 12 | 1:10 pm
RHP Matt Brash RHP Vince Velasquez
45% 55%
Game 2 Wednesday, April 13 | 4:10 pm
LHP Robbie Ray LHP Dallas Keuchel
50% 50%
Game 3 Thursday, April 14 | 11:10 am
RHP Logan Gilbert RHP Dylan Cease
40% 60%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview White Sox Mariners Edge
Overview White Sox Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 109 (4th in AL) 94 (10th in AL) White Sox
Fielding (OAA) -9 (9th) -6 (8th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 85 (1st) 111 (12th) White Sox
Bullpen (FIP-) 85 (1st) 89 (4th) White Sox
2021 stats

The Mariners weren’t favored to win a single one of the games they played against the Twins and yet wound up with a series split thanks to some good old Chaos Ball-era one-run magic. However, in their two losses they were outscored by 10 runs, a reminder that “fun differential” is one of those euphemisms to cover up something that feels kind of icky, like “financially constrained” or “previously enjoyed” or “resources being unallocated.” That offensive penury won’t fly against the high-flying White Sox offense, who scored 19 runs in their opening three-game series against Detroit, including scoring 10 runs—the sum total of offense produced by the Mariners over a four-game series–in one game.

The White Sox are the popular pick to run away with the AL Central title this year, although that series against Minnesota showed the division won’t simply be handed to them. Like their neighbors to the north (north? Or is this one of those tricky parallels things? I attempted to look it up and the internet told me Rome is on the same latitude as Chicago and I need to lie down now), the White Sox have a lineup built for mashin’ and a lockdown bullpen, as well as possessing one of the strongest rotations in the division. On paper, they are significantly better than the Mariners in basically every way (defense doesn’t count) and even the gaps that look close, like the bullpen, feel less close after this past series where Seattle’s starters not named Robbie Ray worked a combined 11 innings. Yikes. Or as Logan Gilbert, who held down five of those 11 innings, might say: Zoinks.

White Sox Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Tim Anderson SS R 551 0.372 120 6.1
Luis Robert CF R 296 0.394 157 1.4
José Abreu 1B R 659 0.293 126 -4.5
Yasmani Grandal C S 375 0.246 159 -4.7
Eloy Jiménez LF R 231 0.293 101 -1.6
AJ Pollock RF R 422 0.326 137 0.6
Andrew Vaughn DH R 469 0.271 94 -3.6
Josh Harrison 3B R 558 0.313 103 -0.5
Leury García 2B S 474 0.333 98 3.4
2021 stats

Of all the many strengths of this White Sox club, the lineup might be their strengthiest. It begins with the shot of adrenaline at the top of the lineup that is Tim Anderson, a speed threat who can also hit for average, followed by the thundering bat of Luis Robert, who hits the ball harder than 99% of the league, and the equally thunderous bat of José Abreu. It’s sluggers all the way down in this lineup, Leury García notwithstanding, and even he came in within shouting distance of a league-average wRC+ last year — though he’s only in the lineup because Yoán Moncada strained his oblique this spring. The White Sox traded away their big contact threat Nick Madrigal in favor of an Oops! All Sluggers lineup and simply overpowering opponents both in the box and on the mound; so far, it appears to be paying dividends. Why bother acquiring a diverse portfolio if you have a few heavy-hitters who cover all the bills?

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Chicago White Sox v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

RHP Vince Velasquez

94 1/3 24.2% 11.8% 19.0% 31.2% 6.30 5.88
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 49.9% 93.2 2370 98 125 82
Sinker 4.2% 92.0 2187 55
Changeup 15.4% 89.0 1570 21 97 112
Curveball 16.6% 82.0 2444 105 66 92
Slider 13.8% 85.0 2442 95 92 101
2021 stats; Velasquez’s sinker did not have a large enough sample size for Pitch Arsenal scores.

With all of the injuries on their pitching staff, the White Sox will rely on Vince Velasquez and Johnny Cueto to provide some innings early this season. The latter was signed during the offseason after six largely disappointing years in Philadelphia that ended with a DFA in August last year. His fastball is easily his best pitch and it possesses all the traits of a modern four-seamer: tremendous ride giving it a relatively flat approach angle, located up in the zone for tons of whiffs. Velasquez’s problem is finding a consistent secondary offering to pair with his plus fastball. His hard changeup — reminiscent of Félix’s cambio — and his slider have shown promise in the past, but neither are good enough to form a full arsenal to work through a lineup multiple times.

LHP Dallas Keuchel

162 13.2% 8.2% 17.9% 54.9% 5.28 5.23
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 2.2% 89.0 2207 11
Sinker 37.9% 87.8 1985 89 86 87
Cutter 24.4% 85.1 2213 61 71 96
Changeup 28.6% 79.6 1630 131 98 106
Slider 7.00% 77.8 2374 59 122 54
2021 stats; Keuchel’s four-seamer did not have a large enough sample size for Pitch Arsenal scores.

Dallas Keuchel’s Cy Young award back in 2015 feels like a lifetime ago now. Baseball has changed and evolved by leaps and bounds since then and his style of pitching now feels like a vintage approach. And for the most part, batters have figured him out. He posted his lowest strikeout rate since his rookie year in 2021 and his ERA and FIP suffered. Because he mainly finds his success through contact management, he does his best to avoid the heart of the strike zone while trying to induce weak contact on swings at the edges of the zone. That’s a really fine line to walk, especially if Keuchel’s command wanes, and he paid for it dearly last year.

RHP Dylan Cease

165 2/3 31.9% 9.6% 11.3% 33.3% 3.91 3.41
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 46.8% 96.7 2543 159 108 104
Changeup 7.4% 78.1 1641 104 156 73
Curveball 15.2% 79.9 2754 114 128 76
Slider 30.6% 85.9 2880 107 143 98
2021 stats

Dylan Cease finally got his walk rate under control last year and let his excellent repertoire work for him. He increased his zone rate by two points and simply challenged opposing batters to hit his nasty stuff. The result was a walk rate that dropped below 10% for the first time in his career and a strikeout rate that rose by nearly 15 points up to 31.9%. Armed with a mid-90s heater that plays well up in the zone, he finally found the consistent mechanics to be able to locate it where he wanted to. Paired with a nasty slider that batters missed more than half the time they offered at it, and a changeup that features the largest velocity differential in baseball, he has plenty of options to continue racking up strikeouts. The only thing that could hold him back would be a lapse in command.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 3-1 0.750 -- W-W-L-W
Mariners 2-2 0.500 1.0 W-W-L-L
Athletics 2-2 0.500 1.0 L-L-W-W
Angels 2-3 0.400 1.5 L-L-W-L-W
Rangers 1-3 0.250 2.0 L-L-W-L

Houston ripped through the Angels over the weekend, earning a Monday off. They’ll head to Arizona to tangle with the Diamondbacks this week before coming up to Seattle for the M’s home opener this weekend. Oakland throttled the Rays last night after dropping two of three to the Phillies. They’ll match up again at Tampa Bay for a few more games. Anaheim’s series with the Marlins got off to a smooth start with a 6-2 win on Monday, though Mike Trout was sidelined with stomach illness. Texas suffered a loss in their home opener in controversial fashion to the Rockies, but will have another chance to crack those, er, rocks before hosting the Halos for four this weekend.