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Series Preview: Mariners (16-19) at Blue Jays (18-17)

The Mariners take an international trip with a three-game set in Toronto.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After waving goodbye to the Mets, the M’s continue their East Coast road trip with a visit to Toronto to face the slumping Blue Jays.

Due to Canada’s current travel policy, only fully vaccinated members of the team will be able to make the trip across the border. As such, Scott Servais has intimated that “a couple players” will be required to stay home. We’ll find out exactly what that means for the M’s in the coming hours.

At a Glance

Mariners Blue Jays
Mariners Blue Jays
Game 1 Monday, May 16 | 4:07 pm
RHP Chris Flexen LHP Yusei Kikuchi
40% 60%
Game 2 Tuesday, May 17 | 4:07 pm
RHP Logan Gilbert José Berríos
41% 59%
Game 3 Wednesday, May 18 | 4:07 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Kevin Gausman
32% 68%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Blue Jays Mariners Edge
Overview Blue Jays Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 96 (8th in AL) 113 (5th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) 2 (7th) 2 (6th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 87 (2nd) 119 (14th) Blue Jays
Bullpen (FIP-) 102 (10th) 100 (8th) Mariners

The Blue Jays enter the series over .500, but their winning record belies a brutal month of May — they’ve lost each of their past four series to the tune of a 3-9 record. Injuries and cold streaks have taken a toll on the lineup; in May, the Blue Jays have had the 4th-worst team wRC+ in MLB, ahead of only the Tigers, Cubs, and A’s.

On the pitching side, the only reason Toronto has even been in the neighborhood of league average is because of one man: Kevin Gausman. The Blue Jays ace has handily been the American League’s best pitcher in 2022, in no small part due to the fact that he has walked exactly TWO batters all year. More on him in a moment.

Mercifully the M’s will miss Alek Manoah and his 1.75 ERA this series, but they will still have to contend with some talented pitchers in Kikuchi, José Berríos, and Gausman. Let’s just hope the Blue Jays lineup remains dormant for a few more games.

Blue Jays Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
George Springer CF R 135 0.291 140 1.1
Bo Bichette SS R 153 0.301 80 -0.2
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B R 142 0.298 140 -0.8
Teoscar Hernández DH R 51 0.286 87 0.7
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. LF R 137 0.265 79 0.4
Matt Chapman 3B R 135 0.213 77 0.7
Santiago Espinal 2B R 124 0.333 129 0.4
Danny Jansen C R 205 0.233 105 -0.5
Raimel Tapia RF L 110 0.284 54 1.2
Jansen’s stats from 2021

Toronto sported one of the league’s most formidable offenses in 2021, fueled by an MLB-best 262 homers. Things haven’t clicked to that same degree in 2022.

On paper it might seem like they miss the bat of Marcus Semien after his career-high 45 dingers in 2021— though he has yet to hit a single one as a Ranger this year. Blue Jays fans can at least feel grateful that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and George Springer have looked more or less like their typical superstar selves. (Springer did exit Friday’s game against the Rays with an ankle sprain after attempting a leaping catch against the wall, but returned to the lineup on Sunday as DH, so we’ll see what kind of role he’ll play in this series).

The biggest surprise of the year has been infielder Santiago Espinal, who currently leads all Blue Jays hitters in fWAR, thanks to his 130 wRC+ and elite defense at second base. The rest of the lineup, on the other hand, has been mediocre to terrible. Bo Bichette (85 wRC+) and Lourdes Gurriel (79 wRC+) have started off slow. Same goes for new addition Matt Chapman (77 wRC+). The other Jay with a big league pedigree, Cavan Biggio, has been demoted to Triple-A. Toronto hopes to get much-needed spark from All-Star Teoscar Hernandéz, who is still returning to form following a 21-game absence due to an oblique injury.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Game One-Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Guardians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Yusei Kikuchi

26 23.7% 14.9% 16.7% 52.2% 4.15 5.01
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 48.5% 94.9 2288 150 132 79
Cutter 12.8% 91.2 2298 114
Changeup 12.2% 87.4 1650 63
Slider 26.6% 86.5 2369 122 73 84

After both the Mariners and Yusei Kikuchi declined their mutual options this past offseason, Kikuchi went out and signed a frontloaded three-year deal with the Blue Jays in March. After watching him throw in Seattle for the past three seasons, we should all be familiar with what he brings on the mound. He pairs an extremely hard fastball with a hard cutter and a sweeping slider. Unfortunately, his command of his repertoire comes and goes and he’s prone to long bouts of wildness and ineffectiveness. Since joining Toronto, he’s cut back on the usage of his cutter in favor of a revamped hard slider. His control of that new pitch isn’t any better, but it appears to pair well with his fastball better than either of his older secondary pitches.

RHP José Berríos

34 15.3% 7.0% 12.2% 31.9% 5.82 5.15
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 34.5% 94.0 2254 96 87 98
Sinker 24.4% 93.6 2118 101 57 92
Changeup 11.7% 84.5 1518 140
Curveball 29.4% 82.7 2272 116 94 98

After joining the Blue Jays at the trade deadline last year, José Berríos has had a rough time in his first full season in Toronto. After running a strikeout rate a hair below 24% during his first six seasons of his career in Minnesota, it has dropped to 15.3% this year. There isn’t one glaring issue either, he’s lost just a bit of effectiveness across all of his pitches leading to a big drop in overall results. If there was one thing to point to it would be his four-seam fastball. He’s increased the usage of that pitch by nearly 10 points this year and opposing batters have really teed off against it. He’s allowed a batting average of nearly .400 off his heater and an ugly .484 wOBA. It’s by far his least effective pitch and he’s throwing it more often than ever.

RHP Kevin Gausman

45 30.9% 1.1% 0.0% 44.9% 2.40 0.86
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 49.5% 94.1 2243 139 73 93
Splitter 34.7% 84.5 1587 134 148 93
Slider 12.5% 83.5 2248 100

Kevin Gausman reinvented himself in San Francisco over the last two years by really leaning into his splitter as a deadly out pitch while also adding a bit of velocity to his fastball. That one-two punch has become completely unhittable this year. In seven starts this year, he’s run a ridiculous 54:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio and he didn’t allow his first walk until his sixth start of the year. As Michael Ajeto explained on FiveThirtyEight a few weeks ago, much of Gausman’s success this year can be attributed to optimally locating all three of his pitches. That has left opposing batters completely helpless when trying to make contact with any of his pitches. His 0.86 FIP is not a typo; it reflects just how dominant he’s been to start this season.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 23-12 0.657 -- W-W-W-L-W
Angels 24-13 0.649 -- L-W-L-W-W
Mariners 16-19 0.457 7.0 W-L-W-L-W
Rangers 14-19 0.424 8.0 L-W-L-L-W
Athletics 15-22 0.405 9.0 W-L-W-L-L

After righting ship with a satisfying series win against the Mets, the Mariners sit at 16-19, good for third place in the division. The M’s maintain a narrow lead over the Rangers, who have earned the privilege of getting to face the Astros once and the Angels twice over their next three series (Houston is a smoldering 12-2 on the month, while the Halos are a decidedly balmy 10-5).

The Athletics, as anticipated, bring up the rear. They’ll come to town next week for their first tangle with the M’s in 2022.