After a prolonged winter filled with labor drama and existential questions about the health of the game, we’ve finally made it back to the familiar rhythms of spring. Baseball is back and none too soon. But this spring feels a little different than the ones that have come before. You’ve probably felt it already. The bubbling anticipation that can be felt throughout the city. After winning an astonishing 90 games last year but falling short of the playoffs by just two games, the Mariners are primed to take their biggest step forward in 2022. The young phenom Julio Rodríguez has made the Opening Day roster and he’s joined by a host of new acquisitions that have raised the talent level on the roster considerably. The Mariners asked us to believe during their improbable run last fall. Normally that belief fades over the winter — we’re no strangers to perseverance — but for the first time in a while, the Mariners seem like they’re ready to follow through on the hype.
At a Glance
|Game 1||Friday, April 8 | 1:10 pm|
|LHP Robbie Ray||RHP Joe Ryan|
|Game 2||Saturday, April 9 | 11:10 am|
|RHP Logan Gilbert||RHP Sonny Gray|
|Game 3||Sunday, April 10 | 11:10 am|
|LHP Marco Gonzales||RHP Bailey Ober|
|Game 4||Monday, April 11 | 4:40 pm|
|RHP Chris Flexen||RHP Dylan Bundy|
|Batting (wRC+)||101 (8th in AL)||94 (10th in AL)||Twins|
|Fielding (OAA)||4 (7th)||-6 (8th)||Twins|
|Starting Pitching (FIP-)||113 (13th)||111 (12th)||Mariners|
|Bullpen (FIP-)||102 (11th)||89 (4th)||Mariners|
Welcome to another year of series previews. If you’re a regular Lookout Landing reader, welcome back. If you’re a new face, welcome home. This will be my eighth year writing these previews—a passage of time I can hardly believe. Above, you’ll see a brief overview of the upcoming series: probable pitchers, game times, and a rundown of the Mariners and their opponents. Below, you’ll see the Mariners’ opponents laid out in more detail: projected lineups, key players, and pitcher analysis. You may have seen the new Stuff+ metric I introduced a few years ago—you’ll see those scores integrated into my pitcher analysis throughout the year. Finally, you’ll get a view of the big picture: AL West and Wild Card standings. As always, I appreciate your feedback and hope that these features continue to be helpful and educational.
After their originally scheduled Opening Day game was postponed due to *checks notes* snow, the Mariners and Twins will finally get their seasons started a day late. Not only did this series feature a scheduled off day on Friday — now filled with today’s game — it’s also a rare four-game series that wraps around the weekend.
The Twins slogged through an incredibly disappointing season last year. After making the playoffs in three of the last four years, they stumbled to an 89-loss season. Their pitching staff in particular was to blame for their struggles. Kenta Maeda injured his elbow midseason and succumbed to Tommy John surgery. The back end of their rotation was filled with starters with ERAs beginning with six, seven, or eight. At the trade deadline, they traded away their ace José Berríos.
Instead of throwing in the towel and continuing to tear down their roster, the Twins surprisingly acted like a contender this winter. They signed Byron Buxton to a huge extension, banking on trying to keep him healthy; they bolstered their rotation with trades for Sonny Gray and Chris Paddack, and signed Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer; and they engineered a pair of trades with the Rangers and Yankees, allowing them to bring in Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela. The biggest surprise was landing Carlos Correa, signing him to a huge contract filled with annual opt-outs. If the Twins can find the form that helped them win the AL Central two years in a row from 2019–’20, Correa might be inclined to stick around. They’ve got top end talent but the depth is somewhat lacking.
The Twins brought back most of their core group of position players who led them to so much success a few years ago. Buxton, Jorge Polanco, Miguel Sanó, and Max Kepler are all holdovers from those teams. Supplementing that core with Correa, Sánchez, Urshella, and top prospect Alex Kirilloff gives their lineup tons of potential to be one of the best run scoring units in the American League. Last year, Byron Buxton looked like the superstar everyone thought he could be as a prospect, but his incredible season was cut short by injury again. He’s played in more than 100 games in a season just once in his career, but the incredibly high quality production when he is on the field makes him their best player.
RHP Joe Ryan
Joe Ryan’s repertoire is the perfect example of why evaluating pitches simply via their raw characteristics — velocity, movement, spin rate — doesn’t tell the whole story. He doesn’t have overpowering velocity (though it was up by a couple of ticks this spring), and his movement profile on his fastball isn’t great. Despite the unimpressive raw stuff, Ryan has run gaudy strikeout totals at every stop throughout the minors; he compiled a 36.7% career strikeout rate in the minors and posted 30% rate in his first taste of the majors last year. The reason he’s been so successful is a fastball that is thrown at an extremely flat approach angle. That allows the pitch to surpass its raw physical characteristics and provides a fantastic foundation for the rest of his arsenal. He also possesses an excellent slider, a pretty good curveball, and excellent command of all four pitches in his repertoire. He’s 25 years old with just 30 big league innings under his belt, but the Twins felt good enough about him to give him the Opening Day start this year.
RHP Sonny Gray
Pitching was a clear need for the Twins this offseason and their biggest acquisition to fill that gap was Sonny Gray. A member of the Reds for the last three seasons, he put up a 3.49 ERA backed by a 3.57 FIP while in Cincinnati. A few minor injuries caused him to miss a few starts last year and could have contributed to his ERA jumping up over four. His signature pitch is his big curveball, but his repertoire is deep and varied. Prior to his time in the Queen City, his strikeout rate sat around 21%, good but not great for a starter. It’s jumped up to 28.5% over the last three years and that mostly coincides with his decision to start using his sinker as his primary fastball.
RHP Bailey Ober
Bailey Ober is another one of the Twins promising young pitchers who made his debut last year. Like Ryan, his raw stuff isn’t all that impressive until you realize he’s 6-foot-9 and has the seventh highest release extension in the major leagues. That helps his entire repertoire play up, adding more than 2 mph of effective velocity to his fastball alone. He also completely revamped his slider in the middle of last season, helping differentiate it from his curveball a little more. The new slider was just as effective as the old one but it really helped his curveball become vastly more effective. With three excellent pitches, a changeup that was graded his best pitch as a prospect, and excellent command, Ober is primed to build on his promising debut in 2022.
RHP Dylan Bundy
In his first season away from Baltimore, Dylan Bundy put together a career year for the Angels. He set career bests in strikeout and walk rates, ERA, and FIP during the shortened season in 2020. Everything came crashing down last year. His ERA shot up over six and his strikeout rate fell to a career low. Once MLB started enforcing the use of sticky substances, every pitch in Bundy’s repertoire lost at least 160 rpms of spin. With a diminished arsenal, Bundy just couldn’t replicate his success from his first year in Anaheim. He signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Twins this offseason in the hopes that he can rediscover the grip that helped him so much in 2020.
The Big Picture:
The AL West
|Team||W-L||W%||Games Behind||Recent Form|
|Team||W-L||W%||Games Behind||Recent Form|
|Mariners||90-72||0.556||5.0||So Close, Yet So Far|
For more on what the Mariners’ division rivals were up to over the offseason, check out our AL West preview from last week: