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Series Preview: Mariners (7-6) vs. Royals (5-6)

The Mariners wrap up their opening homestand with a three-game set against the Royals.

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Cleveland Guardians v Kansas City Royals Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Even though the game on Thursday night against the Rangers didn’t go very well, winning the first two home series of the season is a great way to start off the year. The Mariners outscored the Astros and Rangers by 15 runs during those six games and they’ll get a chance to beat up on the Royals to wrap up this long opening homestand.

At a Glance

Royals Mariners
Royals Mariners
Game 1 Friday, April 22 | 6:40 pm
RHP Brad Keller RHP Chris Flexen
47% 53%
Game 2 Saturday, April 23 | 6:10 pm
LHP Kris Bubic RHP Matt Brash
44% 56%
Game 3 Sunday, April 24 | 1:10 pm
RHP Carlos Hernández LHP Robbie Ray
39% 61%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 90 (14th in AL) 94 (10th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) 17 (4th) -6 (8th) Royals
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 108 (9th) 111 (12th) Royals
Bullpen (FIP-) 100 (10th) 89 (4th) Mariners
2021 stats

In many ways, the Royals are in a similar position as the Mariners organizationally. Both teams have a large crop of young prospects at or close to the major leagues led by a singular consensus top prospect; both teams sport a solid core of veteran players around to support that young talent; and both teams seem like they’re on similar trajectories as far as their contention windows go. Where they diverge is their affinity for embracing the newest trends and technologies in the sport. By all accounts, the Mariners seem to be one of the more forward-looking organizations in baseball. The Royals … are not. That’s really impacted the way they develop their pitchers, and with so many recent top draft picks populating their rotation, it’s meant they’ve really struggled to step up and contribute in a big way yet. Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, and Kris Bubic, who collectively comprise the Royals’ highly regarded first-round haul from 2018, have all made their major league debuts to varying degrees of disappointment. Those four pitchers are young enough that they have plenty of time to continue developing, and they’ve made some strides forward to modernize their organizational approach, but until they figure everything out, Kansas City is stuck in the weird middle ground between developing and actually contending.

Royals Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Nicky Lopez 2B L 565 0.347 106 8.2
Whit Merrifield RF R 720 0.309 91 7.4
Andrew Benintendi LF L 538 0.309 106 -0.1
Salvador Perez C R 665 0.298 127 -0.8
Carlos Santana 1B S 659 0.227 83 -0.8
Bobby Witt Jr. 3B R 564 0.326 143
Hunter Dozier DH R 543 0.276 82 -1.4
Adalberto Mondesi SS S 136 0.299 91 2.5
Michael A. Taylor CF R 528 0.319 77 0.3
2021 stats; Witt Jr.’s stats combined Double-A and Triple-A.

Like Julio Rodríguez, Bobby Witt Jr.’s raw talent is undeniable, but he’s collected just six hits in his first 11 games in the big leagues. He’s played phenomenal defense at third base so at least he’s contributing on that side of the ball. The last time the Royals visited Seattle, Salvador Perez single-handedly decimated the Mariners. In a four-game series last August, he blasted four home runs, including two grand slams, and drove in 12 runs. His transformation from a league average batter to a true offensive powerhouse has been fascinating. His ultra-aggressive approach at the plate means he’s able to ambush pitchers early in the count at the expense of his ability to consistently get on base if his batted balls aren’t falling in for hits or sailing over the fence.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Detroit Tigers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

RHP Brad Keller

133 2/3 19.6% 10.4% 14.9% 47.8% 5.39 4.72
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 29.8% 94.2 2327 73 106 100
Sinker 29.2% 93.7 2178 95 75 86
Changeup 6.1% 90.0 2001 21 82 90
Slider 34.9% 86.1 2581 127 86 88
2021 stats

Brad Keller is one of the few pitching success stories the Royals can boast about. A Rule-5 pick back in 2018, he’s been a solid contributor to their rotation over the last four years. His success is built on an above average groundball rate, contact management, and a low walk rate. Unfortunately, all three of those things took a significant turn for the worse in 2021; he posted career-worst groundball, hard hit, and walk rates. He did post a career-high strikeout rate last season and it’s even higher after two starts this year. He’s throwing his changeup a bit more often which should help him keep left-handed batters at bay. His best pitch is his slider which gets elite vertical movement, allowing him to generate both whiffs and groundballs with the pitch.

LHP Kris Bubic

130 20.5% 10.6% 18.3% 46.9% 4.43 5.14
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 51.9% 90.9 2070 46 98 109
Changeup 30.8% 80.0 1603 151 92 106
Curveball 17.3% 78.5 2619 113 63 95
2021 stats

Of their four first-round draft picks from 2018, Bubic has arguably had the most success at the major league level. He made his debut in 2020 and has compiled a 4.57 ERA across 41 appearances and 32 starts. His FIP sits over five, however, as he’s been particularly prone to the long ball. That’s not surprising since his fastball sits barely over 90 mph on average. Instead of overpowering batters, he relies on deception for most of his success — both mechanical and via his pitch mix. His changeup has one of the best velocity differentials in the majors, helping him keep batters off balance, though it’s led to more weak contact rather than whiffs.

RHP Carlos Hernández

85 2/3 20.7% 11.5% 7.3% 39.5% 3.68 4.08
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 48.5% 97.1 2369 175 102 92
Sinker 7.3% 97.4 2397 120 166 165
Changeup 9.2% 86.5 1265 93 75 144
Curveball 18.6% 81.7 2395 111 93 103
Slider 16.3% 85.3 2046 85 108 90
2021 stats

Carlos Hernández throws gas. A 97 mph fastball with an excellent shape forms the foundation of his pitch arsenal. Unfortunately, the rest of his secondary offerings lag greatly behind his heater. In shorter stints, his stuff really plays up; he has a 27.8% strikeout rate and 3.26 FIP as a reliever. As a starter, those marks fall to 14.9% and 5.04, respectively. He really struggles after facing a lineup once through because he’s so reliant on his fastball. His slider and curveball have shown a bit of promise in the past so there are certainly pieces there to help him find some success. He just hasn’t figured out how to put it all together yet.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Angels 8-5 0.615 -- W-W-L-W-W
Athletics 8-6 0.571 0.5 L-W-W-L-W
Mariners 7-6 0.538 1.0 L-W-W-W-L
Astros 6-6 0.500 1.5 W-L-W-L-L
Rangers 3-9 0.250 4.5 L-L-L-L-W

After beating up on the Rangers last weekend, the Angels won their series in Houston behind a phenomenal pitching performance from Shohei Ohtani (6 IP, 1H, 0 R, 12 K). After an off day, they return home to host the Orioles this weekend. Baltimore just lost three of four to the A’s earlier this week and now the Rangers travel to Oakland to face the surprisingly decent A’s. The Astros will try and get back on track with a three-game series against the Blue Jays.