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Series Preview: Mariners (0-0) at Twins (0-0)

Welcome back, baseball.

Seattle Mariners v. Minnesota Twins Photo by Jordan Johnson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

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

Mariners Twins
Mariners Twins
Game 1 Friday, April 8 | 1:10 pm
LHP Robbie Ray RHP Joe Ryan
47% 53%
Game 2 Saturday, April 9 | 11:10 am
RHP Logan Gilbert RHP Sonny Gray
41% 59%
Game 3 Sunday, April 10 | 11:10 am
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Bailey Ober
43% 57%
Game 4 Monday, April 11 | 4:40 pm
RHP Chris Flexen RHP Dylan Bundy
45% 55%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Twins Mariners Edge
Overview Twins Mariners Edge
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
2021 stats

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.

Twins Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Byron Buxton CF R 254 0.344 169 4.4
Jorge Polanco 2B S 644 0.282 122 3.1
Carlos Correa SS R 640 0.308 134 -0.6
Luis Arraez DH L 479 0.323 103 0.7
Miguel Sanó 1B R 532 0.291 110 -2.2
Max Kepler RF L 490 0.225 95 5.0
Gary Sánchez C R 440 0.230 99 -3.5
Alex Kirilloff LF L 231 0.295 93 -0.2
Gio Urshela 3B R 442 0.329 96 -6.0
2021 stats

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.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Minnesota Twins Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Joe Ryan

26 2/3 30.0% 5.0% 11.8% 28.1% 4.05 3.43
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 65.8% 91.2 2175 71 96 65
Changeup 10.4% 83.3 2071
Curveball 7.8% 72.7 2374
Slider 16.0% 80.7 2209 97
2021 stats; Ryan’s changeup, curveball, and slider did not have large enough sample sizes for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

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

135 1/3 27.0% 8.7% 16.5% 47.2% 4.19 3.99
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 23.8% 92.3 2423 64 80 107
Sinker 29.4% 92.4 2316 92 135 121
Cutter 5.2% 83.9 2584 67 148 74
Changeup 3.1% 88.1 1826 42
Curveball 22.8% 79.3 2748 130 96 99
Slider 15.6% 82.0 2618 87 114 109
2021 stats; Gray’s changeup did not have a large enough sample size for Pitch Arsenal scores.

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

92 1/3 25.3% 5.0% 16.8% 33.1% 4.19 4.56
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 58.0% 92.3 2177 72 117 102
Changeup 13.0% 84.7 1862 100 60 99
Curveball 10.6% 75.0 2302 98 89 87
Slider 18.4% 81.5 2158 58 79 81
2021 stats

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

90 2/3 21.2% 8.6% 19.2% 40.7% 6.06 5.51
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 34.3% 90.7 2489 77 91 84
Sinker 17.3% 90.7 2322 62 77 80
Changeup 13.7% 83.2 1547 74 91 93
Curveball 13.6% 74.0 2441 91 75 77
Slider 21.1% 79.9 2655 61 103 98
2021 stats

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
Astros 95-67 0.586 -- AL Champion
Mariners 90-72 0.556 5.0 So Close, Yet So Far
Athletics 86-76 0.531 9.0 Rebuilding Time
Angels 77-85 0.475 18.0 LOL
Rangers 60-102 0.370 35.0 $$$

For more on what the Mariners’ division rivals were up to over the offseason, check out our AL West preview from last week: