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Series Preview: Mariners (73-58) at Guardians (68-61)

The Mariners head to Cleveland for a three-game series.

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Mariners are in Cleveland today to face the Guardians for the second weekend in a row. After taking three of four from said Guardians on Ichiro Weekend and then decisively sweeping the Tigers in Detroit, the Mariners are playing like a team that’s postseason bound. In case you missed it, rosters expanded yesterday and the Mariners added hometown lefty Matt Boyd and outfielder Taylor Tramell. Both made an appearance in yesterday’s game and may remain with the team for the rest of the season.

This series in Cleveland begins the most difficult stretch of games remaining on the Mariners schedule. They’ll play the Guardians three times, then return home to host the White Sox, Braves, and Padres. These four series mark the last time the Mariners will face an opponent with a record better than .500 and all four are in the midst of the playoff hunt. Emerging from this gauntlet with a solid position in the Wild Card race is paramount because Seattle wraps up the season with 20 straight games against bad teams.

At a Glance

Mariners Guardians
Mariners Guardians
Game 1 Friday, September 2 | 4:10 pm
RHP Luis Castillo RHP Zach Plesac
57% 43%
Game 2 Saturday, September 3 | 4:15 pm
LHP Robbie Ray RHP Aaron Civale
49% 51%
Game 3 Sunday, September 4 | 11:40 am
RHP George Kirby RHP Cal Quantrill
50% 50%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Guardians Mariners Edge
Overview Guardians Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 97 (11th in AL) 106 (5th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) 15 (2nd) 10 (4th) Guardians
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 100 (7th) 106 (10th) Guardians
Bullpen (FIP-) 88 (4th) 95 (7th) Guardians

The chase for playoff slots is on, and in addition to the standings section at the end of this article (which includes a rundown of who each contending team faces this weekend) we bring you a “what if the season ended today,” this time with 100% more accuracy. I (Lou) mismatched my ordinal numbers and got the seeds wrong in the last series preview; thanks to those who pointed out my error! If the season ended right now, the Astros, Yankees, and Guardians would win the AL divisions (seeded in that order). The Wild Card slots would go to the Rays, Mariners, and Blue Jays (seeded in that order). In the Wild Card Round, the Guardians would host the Blue Jays for a three-game series, and the Rays would host the Mariners.

In the past week, the Guardians’ lead in the AL Central has dropped from three and a half to just one game over the Twins. After losing three of four to your Seattle Mariners, the team dropped two of three to the Orioles, getting shutout in both losses. FanGraphs currently shows their playoff odds at 56.4%, which is disappointing compared to a week ago, but much higher than anticipated before this season began. Our sister site, Covering the Corner, recently broke down three reasons the team has outplayed expectations in 2022: “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 489 0.321 119 1.3
Amed Rosario SS R 534 0.326 103 1.3
José Ramírez 3B S 539 0.274 150 3.8
Josh Naylor 1B L 379 0.264 113 -2.5
Oscar Gonzalez RF R 235 0.343 108 1.2
Andrés Giménez 2B L 432 0.354 144 2.4
Richie Palacios DH L 107 0.288 70 0.5
Austin Hedges C R 264 0.214 55 -1.8
Myles Straw CF R 480 0.234 52 4.8

From last week’s preview, with statistical updates: Cleveland’s lineup includes several formidable bats to watch. Topping the list is José Ramirez, whose 5.6 fWAR and 150 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 112 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, Michael Harris II, and Adley Rutschman in rookie fWAR.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Cleveland Guardians v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

RHP Zach Plesac

127 18.1% 6.8% 12.3% 40.7% 4.39 4.50
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 42.4% 92.0 2151 101 69 103
Changeup 22.5% 85.8 1628 65 52 81
Curveball 10.4% 79.3 2179 66 78 108
Slider 24.5% 85.4 2125 99 108 87

From a previous series preview:

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.

Plesac allowed three hits — all solo home runs — in seven innings during his start in Seattle, striking out six.

RHP Aaron Civale

75 23.1% 6.2% 11.4% 38.0% 5.40 3.94
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 9.1% 90.7 2346 30 48 78
Sinker 22.1% 91.2 2317 62 55 75
Cutter 33.3% 86.3 2604 100 84 82
Splitter 4.4% 85.3 1839 42
Curveball 27.1% 75.7 2969 120 140 98
Slider 4.1% 80.5 2818 95

From a previous series preview:

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.

Civale was tagged for four runs in 6.1 innings in his last start against Seattle.

RHP Cal Quantrill

149 16.0% 6.7% 9.9% 41.6% 3.50 4.28
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 3.3% 93.4 2160 92
Sinker 45.0% 93.5 2093 80 79 127
Cutter 36.3% 88.3 2233 107 105 91
Changeup 11.8% 85.3 1522 104 80 82
Curveball 3.6% 82.3 2446 74

Cleveland has made a habit of taking starters with subpar raw stuff and helping them make a tweak or two to really get them to outperform expectations. Cal Quantrill is the latest example of this development pipeline. A former first-round draft pick in 2016 by the Padres, he made his major league debut in ‘19 as an up-and-down spot starter. He was traded to the Guardians in the big Mike Clevinger trade in 2020 and continued pitching out of the bullpen to start his time in Cleveland. After honing his command, he made the jump to the rotation in midseason last year and ended up making 20 solid starts during the summer, posting a 2.79 ERA and a 4.06 FIP. It’s been more of the same this season, with his ability to prevent runs outpacing his mediocre peripherals.

UPDATE, 1:00 PM PT: The Guardians are placing Zach Plesac on the IL with a fractured pinkie finger, and Aaron Civale is headed to the IL with forearm inflammation. RHP Cody Morris will be replacing Plesac tonight, making his major league debut after being added during roster expansions. We don’t know a ton about Morris, who is just coming off a 60-day IL stint, but he features a fastball (92-95 MPH) with plus spin but below-average movement, a changeup that flashes plus with late tumbling action but can also be inconsistent, and a power curveball; he’s also recently added a cutter. The Mariners hitters will likely struggle with this last-minute addition they haven’t been able to prepare for, but also Morris should be on a fairly strict pitch count; he’s only been working in two to three-inning spurts in Triple-A, so consider him more of an “opener”—not that Cleveland’s bullpen is any treat.

The Guardians also recalled RHP Xzavion Curry and LHP Kirk McCarty from Triple-A Columbus to take the place of Plesac and Civale on the roster. Curry has a plus, high-spin fastball that induces a ton of whiffs but no real standout secondary pitches. He will make the start in Saturday’s game, in place of Civale, and is much more stretched-out than Morris, regularly logging outings of four innings minimum in his Triple-A starts. McCarty has pitched 22 sub-par innings for the big-league club as a taxi squad player; none of his offerings are above-average, but he has a complete starter’s arsenal of six pitches, and is a lefty, so he could sneakily do well against a Mariners team that hasn’t seen him before.

Also, lol, lmao, things of that nature:

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 84-47 0.641 -- L-L-W-W-W
Mariners 73-58 0.557 11.0 L-W-W-W-W
Rangers 58-72 0.446 25.5 L-L-L-L-L
Angels 57-74 0.435 27.0 W-W-W-L-W
Athletics 49-83 0.371 35.5 W-W-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rays 72-57 0.558 +2.0 L-L-W-W-W
Mariners 73-58 0.557 +2.0 L-W-W-W-W
Blue Jays 70-59 0.543 -- L-L-W-W-L
Orioles 69-61 0.531 1.5 W-L-L-W-W
Twins 67-62 0.519 3.0 W-W-W-W-L
White Sox 65-66 0.496 6.0 L-L-L-W-W

The AL West standings seem firmly cemented at this point, with the Astros keeping 10-12 games ahead of the Mariners (and holding the best record in the American League). The Rangers have fallen a bit further behind the Mariners than they were last week, but no meaningful change has occurred within the divisional standings since before the All Star Break.

The Wild Card standings, on the other hand, are much more dynamic. The current first-seeded Wild Card Tampa Bay Rays host the Yankees this weekend; the Rays are six back of the Yankees in the East, so this series will also portend the chances of a battle for the division in this last month of the season. The third-seeded Wild Card Blue Jays play the Pirates in Pittsburgh this weekend. After taking two of three from the Guardians this week, the Orioles find themselves just one and a half back of a Wild Card spot, and hosting the Athletics for a series. Finally, the Twins and White Sox (three and six back from a playoff spot) play one another. It’ll be an interesting weekend, with three head-to-head series between contending teams and two opportunities for M’s fans to root for underdogs.