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Series Preview: Mariners (41-42) vs. Blue Jays (45-38)

The Canadians are in town for four games in a huge matchup between AL Wild Card hopefuls.

Toronto Blue Jays v Oakland Athletics Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Mariners continue to grind out solid wins despite missing a ton of players due to injury or suspension. Between the six two-out RBIs on Tuesday and Julio Rodríguez’s continued excellence, they looked surprisingly competent against one of the best teams in the National League. And because all of their direct competitors in the AL Wild Card race stumbled this week, they’ve made some significant jumps in the standings too. Now they play host to the team holding the final Wild Card spot and have an opportunity to really get into the middle of the competitive picture.

At a Glance

Blue Jays Mariners
Blue Jays Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, July 7 | 7:10 pm
RHP Casey Lawrence LHP Marco Gonzales
51% 49%
Game 2 Friday, July 8 | 7:10 pm
RHP Ross Stripling RHP George Kirby
49% 51%
Game 3 Saturday, July 9 | 7:10 pm
RHP Alek Manoah LHP Robbie Ray
52% 48%
Game 4 Sunday, July 10 | 1:10 pm
RHP Kevin Gausman RHP Chris Flexen
61% 39%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Blue Jays Mariners Edge
Overview Blue Jays Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 112 (4th in AL) 107 (5th in AL) Blue Jays
Fielding (OAA) 2 (11th) 3 (10th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 97 (5th) 110 (12th) Blue Jays
Bullpen (FIP-) 104 (12th) 100 (8th) Mariners

Since the last time these two teams met in Toronto back in mid-May, the Blue Jays have gone 25-20. That’s a pretty good record and they’ve been right in the middle of the very competitive AL East race — and consequently the AL Wild Card race too. Despite collecting those wins, they have had some trouble finding any consistency after an incredibly difficult early season schedule. They’ve limped to an 8-12 record over their last 20 games and just recently lost a series to the A’s in Oakland. The biggest reason for the Blue Jays recent struggles has been their pitching staff. During this 20-game swoon, their team ERA sits at an ugly 5.29, fourth worst in baseball. The Mariners, by the way, lead the league in team ERA during this period.

Blue Jays Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
George Springer CF R 316 0.262 123 2.0
Bo Bichette SS R 368 0.311 104 -0.1
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. DH R 353 0.275 133 -2.4
Alejandro Kirk C R 267 0.320 157 -2.1
Teoscar Hernández RF R 241 0.331 113 0.0
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. LF R 290 0.341 118 0.2
Matt Chapman 3B R 304 0.257 101 1.4
Santiago Espinal 2B R 317 0.308 102 -0.4
Cavan Biggio 1B L 145 0.329 119 1.5

Toronto’s lineup hasn’t had much trouble scoring runs during this rough patch. Led by a huge breakout from Alejandro Kirk, they’ve scored 4.9 runs per game over their last 20 games, the fifth highest mark in baseball. Kirk has been a huge boon to the Blue Jays lineup. He combines fantastic plate discipline with an excellent ability to make contact and enough power to put fear into opposing pitchers — it’s actually pretty similar to Ty France’s skillset with a touch more power. His breakout has covered up some of the struggles from some of the other youngsters populating Toronto’s lineup. Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernández, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have all taken a step back relative to their excellence last year. Even Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has taken his lumps this season, though it’s unreasonable to expect him to fully replicate his near-MVP caliber season from a year ago. The raw talent is certainly still present on the roster, but one of the reasons the team has had a rough time finding any consistency is because of the uneven performances from their young stars.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

RHP Casey Lawrence

73 23.9% 4.8% 9.9% 46.4% 2.22 3.54
Triple-A stats

Kevin Gausman was scheduled to start the opening game of this series but he’s still feeling the effects of a comebacker that hit off his ankle during his last start. In his place, the Blue Jays will likely call on an old friend to make a spot start: Casey Lawrence. A long-time member of the Blue Jays organization, he spent part of two seasons with the Mariners in 2017–’18. After his stint in Seattle, he bounced over to Japan for a season with Hiroshima Toyo Carp and then missed all of the 2020 season due to the canceled minor league season. He rejoined Toronto in ‘21 and finally made it back to the majors earlier this year. He’s been used primarily as a starter in the minors, putting up pretty good numbers in Triple-A this year, but this will be his first start in the majors since April 27, 2017.

RHP Ross Stripling

62 1/3 19.4% 5.1% 7.8% 49.2% 3.32 3.21
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 33.8% 91.9 2116 65 95 94
Sinker 7.2% 90.0 1982 61
Changeup 25.3% 82.5 1672 124 102 117
Curveball 9.9% 76.0 2386 97 43 129
Slider 23.8% 86.9 2303 137 50 112

Ross Stripling has bounced between the rotation and bullpen for most of his career. That flexibility served him well during the first four seasons of his career while playing for the Dodgers. He was traded to Toronto in 2020 and really struggled in 24 games last season. Some of that can be chalked up to a couple of injuries that required two separate month-long trips to the IL. This year, he’s been completely healthy and he’s looked a lot more like the pitcher who put up a 3.51 ERA across four seasons in Los Angeles. He doesn’t have a true put-away pitch, instead relying on a solid five-pitch repertoire and excellent command to keep batters off-balance. The result is a decent strikeout rate, a good groundball rate, and an elite walk rate.

RHP Alek Manoah

100 1/3 22.5% 5.3% 8.0% 38.0% 2.33 3.32
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 37.9% 94.0 2367 98 115 94
Sinker 22.9% 93.1 2171 96 118 92
Changeup 10.3% 86.6 1964 74 70 173
Slider 28.9% 81.2 2222 82 91 93

After getting drafted in the first round of the 2019 draft, Alek Manoah made his major league debut just two years afterwards. He made just nine career minor league starts before getting the call up to the big leagues, skipping High-A and Double-A completely. Of course, the canceled minor league season in 2020 had a lot to do with that lack of low level experience, but he’s more than proven that he was ready to make the leap at such a young age. He possesses a stellar slider, two hard fastballs, and changeup that’s improved by leaps and bounds during his short professional career. It’s that fourth pitch that’s helped him have so much success early on, giving him a deeper repertoire to work through lineups multiple times.

RHP Kevin Gausman

88 27.0% 4.3% 2.4% 42.5% 2.86 1.68
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 49.0% 94.8 2259 152 74 86
Splitter 34.5% 85 1578 134 148 96
Slider 13.9% 84 2243 79 123 80

From a previous series preview:

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 months 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.

If Gausman is able to heal from his ankle injury quickly, he’ll likely take Yusei Kikuchi’s spot in the rotation on Sunday. The Mariners really forced Gausman to work in his previous outing against them, collecting seven hits and a walk in five innings.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 53-28 0.654 -- W-W-W-W-L
Mariners 41-42 0.494 13.0 L-W-W-W-W
Rangers 37-43 0.463 15.5 W-L-L-L-L
Angels 38-45 0.458 16.0 L-L-L-L-W
Athletics 28-56 0.333 26.5 L-L-W-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 45-37 0.549 +0.5 L-W-W-L-L
Rays 45-37 0.549 +0.5 W-W-L-W-W
Blue Jays 45-38 0.542 -- L-L-L-L-W
Guardians 40-40 0.500 3.5 W-L-L-L-L
Mariners 41-42 0.494 4.0 L-W-W-W-W
White Sox 39-41 0.488 4.5 W-W-L-L-W

The midseason ZiPS standings were released by FanGraphs earlier this week and the computer projects the AL Wild Card winners — all three of them — to be right around 87 or 88 wins. The Mariners are projected to hit 84 wins with a 40% chance of making the playoffs. That’s a bit better than their 81 wins given by the preseason projections, and better than what FiveThirtyEight and Baseball Prospectus are projecting.

Benefitting the Mariners, most of their direct competitors in the Wild Card race lost their series this week. The Rangers were swept by the Orioles in Baltimore, with two wild, back-and-forth affairs resulting in extra-inning, walk-off wins on Monday and Tuesday. Texas returns home tomorrow to host the Twins. The Angels split their two-game series in Miami and will travel to Baltimore to face the suddenly competitive Orioles for four games this weekend. The Rays and Red Sox faced each other earlier this week with Tampa Bay taking two of three games. Boston plays host to the Yankees this weekend while the Rays head to Cincinnati.

SB Nation has partnered with DraftKings to sponsor select series previews this season. Here are the betting odds for this series.

DraftKings Series Odds

Series Outcome Odds
Series Outcome Odds
Mariners win +250
Series tied +155
Blue Jays win +165