clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Series Preview: Mariners (67-57) vs. Guardians (66-56)

The newly renamed Guardians are in town for a big weekend series.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Cleveland Guardians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners host the Cleveland Guardians for the first time this season (and technically the first time ever, since the last time these two teams faced each other during the regular season Cleveland’s team wasn’t called the Guardians). It’s a four game series in late August between a team holding their division lead by a handful of games and a team sitting in the last wild card spot; the baseball matters. To make things even more interesting, if the season ended today, these two teams would meet up in the Wild Card round, though the three-game playoff series would be played in Cleveland since they’d be the higher seed. After splitting a two-game set against a Nationals team they should, on paper, have swept, and with key players slumping, the pressure is on for the M’s.

However, the spotlight this weekend won’t be on the current team, but on a Mariners legend of teams gone by, with Ichiro entering the Mariners Hall of Fame on Saturday and events honoring him scheduled Friday-Sunday. The weekend inspires both glee and dread in many Mariners fans as we reflect on our fortune in having Ichiro as a Mariner for so many years, but also on the price we often seem to pay for sold-out, celebratory weekends. Please perform your preferred superstitious practices to encourage this one to be different.

At a Glance

Guardians Mariners
Guardians Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, August 25 | 1:10 pm
RHP Triston McKenzie LHP Marco Gonzales
51% 49%
Game 2 Friday, August 26 | 7:10 pm
RHP Shane Bieber RHP Logan Gilbert
53% 47%
Game 3 Saturday, August 27 | 7:10 pm
RHP Zach Plesac RHP Luis Castillo
35% 65%
Game 4 Sunday, August 28 | 1:10 pm
RHP Aaron Civale LHP Robbie Ray
43% 57%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Guardians Mariners Edge
Overview Guardians Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 100 (10th in AL) 106 (5th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) 13 (3rd) 6 (6th) Guardians
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 100 (7th) 109 (10th) Guardians
Bullpen (FIP-) 89 (4th) 96 (7th) Guardians

The Guardians sit atop the AL Central, three and a half games above the Twins and four above the White Sox, though their win percentage is just one point above the Mariners’. The team’s success at this point in the season comes as a surprise, having started the year at 7.5% division title odds, according to FanGraphs. Since the All Star Break, Cleveland has won or split every series they’ve played, and they are coming off a two-game sweep of the Padres. Our sister site, Covering the Corner, recently broke down three reasons the team has outplayed expectations: “Young players have outperformed expectations,” “Starting pitching has been quietly effective,” and “Catchers have provided more offense recently.” Speaking of young players, the Guardians are the youngest team in MLB!

Guardians Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Steven Kwan LF L 460 0.325 123 1.3
Amed Rosario SS R 505 0.322 107 1.1
José Ramírez 3B S 510 0.272 152 4.2
Josh Naylor 1B L 351 0.281 123 -2.7
Andrés Giménez 2B L 404 0.364 152 2.3
Oscar Gonzalez RF R 206 0.369 129 1.6
Ritchie Palacios DH L 96 0.296 74 0.5
Austin Hedges C R 250 0.200 51 -2.0
Myles Straw CF R 466 0.241 57 4.8

Cleveland’s lineup includes several formidable bats to watch. Topping the list is José Ramirez, whose 5 fWAR and 152 wRC+ lead the team. The four-time All Star signed an extension over the off-season that will keep him with the Guardians through 2028. Andrés Giménez joined Ramirez (and pitcher Emmanuel Clase) in representing Cleveland in the All Star Game last month. The shortstop is having an absolute breakout season and making a significant impact in the team’s success. Two rookies have made headlines in the Guardians’ playoff run as well: Oscar Gonzalez has been an unexpected success, having been graded below average before the season, but now boasting a 129 wRC+. Left fielder Steven Kwan is the third name in AL Rookie of the Year conversations; the high-contact-rate and defensively stellar left fielder trails only Julio Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman in rookie fWAR.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Triston McKenzie

141 2/3 25.2% 6.4% 11.3% 32.4% 3.11 3.85
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 56.8% 92.4 2308 97 92 102
Curveball 21.9% 79.6 2186 79 145 81
Slider 21.3% 87.5 2185 131 72 83

Triston McKenzie is throwing his fastball harder than he did last year and is throwing his pitches in the zone more than ever. Those were the two big questions looming over him after he failed to follow up his tantalizing debut in 2020 with a lackluster sophomore effort last year. McKenzie isn’t blessed with overpowering velocity so every tick matters. Last year, his fastball dipped from 92.8 mph to 92.1 mph and batters took advantage. His velocity is back up to 92.4 mph this year and 92.7 mph over the last two months. Locating in the zone more often is probably the bigger adjustment however. That newfound command has allowed him to cut his walk rate from 11.7% last year to 6.4% this year. His strikeout rate isn’t as gaudy as it was back in 2020, but he’s well on his way to replicating the overall success he enjoyed during his rookie campaign.

RHP Shane Bieber

145 24.7% 5.5% 8.7% 47.3% 3.10 2.82
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 34.4% 91.1 2212 85 65 100
Cutter 12.3% 86.8 2525 85 99 115
Changeup 2.9% 86.4 1555 69
Curveball 17.9% 82.0 2172 115 125 95
Slider 32.5% 84.9 2513 90 114 113

After establishing himself as one of baseball’s best pitchers over the last few years, Shane Bieber has had to reinvent himself after an injury-filled season last year. A nagging shoulder injury that required two separate stints on the IL limited him to just 16 starts last year, though his overall numbers didn’t suffer all that much. He’s been completely healthy this year, but his fastball velocity has dropped by nearly two ticks. He’s been able to survive by relying on his two phenomenal breaking balls. So while batters have pounded his suddenly hittable fastball to the tune of a .349 wOBA, they’ve also whiffed against his breaking balls nearly 40% of the time. His strikeout rate has fallen to 24.7%, the lowest it’s been since his rookie season in 2018, but his ERA and FIP are well within range of his career norms.

RHP Zach Plesac

120 17.8% 7.1% 10.9% 40.8% 4.43 4.35
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 42.2% 91.9 2149 100 69 99
Changeup 22.4% 85.8 1629 64 50 83
Curveball 10.4% 79.3 2182 66 78 107
Slider 24.8% 85.4 2126 100 108 89

Zach Plesac enjoyed a breakout year during the shortened 2020 season but has struggled to maintain that kind of success since then. The biggest issue has been the deterioration of his secondary offerings. His fastball has never been the highlight of his repertoire so he had to rely on his breaking balls and changeup to carry nearly all of his success a few years ago. The problem is that batters are now much less likely to chase his breaking balls out of the zone since they know they can sit on his fastball and find success. He’s countered by throwing his pitches in the zone far less often, though that’s only partially helped him; his strikeout rate is up slightly but so is his walk rate. Without an overpowering or even average fastball, Plesac is stuck trying to nibble his way around the zone.

RHP Aaron Civale

68 2/3 23.4% 6.0% 10.1% 37.9% 5.37 3.69
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 9.3% 90.6 2346 27 48 78
Sinker 22.2% 91.1 2319 63 60 80
Cutter 32.6% 86.3 2603 102 88 73
Splitter 4.6% 85.4 1833 41
Curveball 27.1% 75.6 2962 120 138 88
Slider 4.3% 80.5 2819 95

Aaron Civale’s promise has always exceeded his actual results on the field during his brief major league career. His career ERA and FIP are within a couple of decimal points of each other, but in each individual season, one has always seriously outpaced the other. This year, his ERA is more than a run and half higher than his FIP thanks to an extremely low strand rate and a high BABIP allowed. Every year, he’s made significant adjustments to his deep repertoire; this year, it’s leaning heavily into his cutter and curveball at the expense of his four-seamer, splitter, and slider. He’s generating a career-high whiff rate off his curve and that’s a big reason why his strikeout rate is up to 23.4%, also a career-high.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 80-45 0.640 -- L-L-W-W-W
Mariners 67-57 0.540 12.5 W-L-L-W-L
Rangers 57-67 0.460 22.5 W-W-W-L-W
Angels 52-72 0.419 27.5 L-L-L-L-L
Athletics 46-79 0.368 34.0 W-W-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rays 68-55 0.553 +1.5 W-W-W-W-W
Blue Jays 67-55 0.549 +1.0 W-W-L-W-W
Mariners 67-57 0.540 -- W-L-L-W-L
Orioles 64-59 0.520 2.5 W-L-W-W-L
Twins 62-60 0.508 4.0 L-L-L-L-L
White Sox 63-61 0.508 4.0 L-W-L-L-W

The Mariners continue to sit in a well-spaced second place in the AL West, with ten or more games separating them from both the first-place Astros and the third-place Rangers. After yesterday’s loss, Seattle is hanging on to the third AL Wild Card spot, sitting a game and a half behind the Rays for the first slot. The Orioles, Twins, and White Sox are nipping at the M’s heels from two to four games back. The Astros and Orioles play a three-game series this weekend, while the Rays play in Boston, the Blue Jays host the Angels, the Twins host the Giants, and the White Sox host the Diamondbacks.