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Series Preview: Mariners (82-67) at Royals (61-89)

The Mariners head to Kansas City for their final road series of the regular season.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners hobble into Kansas City this weekend after two disappointing series losses against the Angels and A’s. Though the team still has a four-game cushion over Baltimore in the playoff race, the players have a whole lot of body parts that may need that cushioning. We will likely see more of Ty France at third base this weekend with Eugenio Suárez out, and all eyes are on Julio Rodríguez today, who will undergo an MRI after leaving yesterday’s game in the middle of the first inning with a recurrence of his back tightness that sidelined him last week. At the time of writing there is not yet word about what flavor of “concerning” he’s facing.

On the bright side, yesterday saw the Mariners produce nine runs on eleven hits, featuring in particular the first act of Jarred Kelenic’s vengeance tour. If the team can keep fueling that fire for the next few days, they’ll earn their off day on Monday before coming home to a thrilling ten (meaningful!) games in nine days to finish the regular season.

At a Glance

Mariners Royals
Mariners Royals
Game 1 Friday, September 23 | 5:10 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Brady Singer
48% 52%
Game 2 Saturday, September 24 | 4:10 pm
RHP Logan Gilbert LHP Kris Bubic
59% 41%
Game 3 Sunday, September 25 | 11:10 am
RHP Luis Castillo RHP Zack Greinke
64% 36%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 92 (12th in AL) 105 (5th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) 6 (7th) 6 (8th) Royals
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 118 (13th) 103 (8th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 109 (15th) 95 (8th) Mariners

The Mariners and Royals last faced each other at the other end of this season, April 22-24th in Seattle. The Mariners swept the Royals handily, scoring 22 runs to the Royals’ 12. In that series, Carlos Santana drove in two runs via the long ball… for Kansas City! In Jake’s preview all those five months ago, he wrote: “In many ways, the Royals are in a similar position as the Mariners organizationally.”

Boy, have times changed. The Royals entered this season with hopes high for contention, given their top-three-in-baseball prospect and core of solid veteran bats, but those hopes have not come to fruition. While the Mariners have played their way into an over 99.5% chance of going to the playoffs for the first time in the history of this website, the Royals have played their way into a fired GM and fourth place in their division. Actually, consensus places responsibility for the Royals’ failure to progress through their rebuild on their organizational development practices, including significant pitching development failures and reluctance to invest in analytics and data-driven decision-making. On Wednesday, Royals owner John Sherman announced the firing of 16-year General Manager Dayton Moore; the Royals’ new (to the role) GM JJ Picollo looks to usher in a more progressive era of analytics for the team.

Royals Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
MJ Melendez DH L 479 0.261 102 -1.0
Bobby Witt Jr. SS R 582 0.291 102 5.3
Salvador Perez C R 437 0.290 109 -2.8
Vinnie Pasquantino 1B L 245 0.280 124 -1.0
Michael A. Taylor CF R 429 0.327 94 0.5
Michael Massey 2B L 156 0.340 101 0.5
Edward Olivares RF R 129 0.360 133 0.4
Hunter Dozier LF R 472 0.293 87 -7.5
Nate Eaton 3B R 93 0.382 104 1.8

Offensively, the Royals have struggled to perform consistently this year, with a team wRC+ just under league average at 96. Shortstop Bobby Witt, Jr. (the aforementioned top prospect) started the year grouped with Adley Rutschman and Julio as a trio fighting to be baseball’s star rookie. Compared to the other two, Witt has been disappointing, worth 2.1 fWAR to Julio’s 4.9 and Rutschman’s 4.4. That said, his raw talent is visible: he’s hit 20 home runs, stolen 27 bases, and his fWAR does lead all other position players on the Royals.

Witt and catcher/designated hitter MJ Melendez both debuted this year and look like valuable young pieces on the Royals going forward. In terms of familiar veteran faces facing the M’s pitching staff, Salvador Perez leads Kansas City with 22 homers and Hunter Dozier… exists. First baseman Vinnie Pasquantino leads the team in wRC+ (126) for players with over 200 plate appearances, but the team hasn’t had any truly standout hitters this year apart from their sole All Star Andrew Benintendi, who was traded to the Yankees in July.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Brady Singer

140 2/3 23.9% 5.6% 13.4% 48.6% 3.07 3.53
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 54.0% 93.8 2293 118 94 112
Changeup 7.7% 86.9 2230 66 32 86
Slider 37.9% 85.5 2335 116 95 89

Brady Singer’s breakout season has been one of the few bright spots for the Royals this year. One of the many top draft picks the Royals have been blessed with during their rebuild phase following their 2015 World Series peak, he struggled to find much success during his first two seasons in the majors. His breakthrough isn’t the product of any sweeping changes to his repertoire; instead, he’s simply improved his approach. He’s locating his pitches in the zone far more often, leading to a dramatic drop in his walk rate. By filling up the zone, he’s allowing a bit more contact but it’s been offset by some improved results on his slider. That pitch is producing a career-high whiff rate and batters have had a terrible time if they put it in play.

LHP Kris Bubic

119 1/3 17.6% 10.7% 13.8% 41.3% 5.81 4.97
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 50.9% 91.8 2126 66 90 88
Changeup 27.8% 80.6 1687 159 86 78
Curveball 21.3% 79.3 2605 103 44 92

From a previous series preview:

Of their four first-round draft picks from 2018, Bubic has arguably had the most success at the major league level. He made his debut in 2020 and has compiled a 4.57 ERA across 41 appearances and 32 starts. His FIP sits over five, however, as he’s been particularly prone to the long ball. That’s not surprising since his fastball sits barely over 90 mph on average. Instead of overpowering batters, he relies on deception for most of his success — both mechanical and via his pitch mix. His changeup has one of the best velocity differentials in the majors, helping him keep batters off balance, though it’s led to more weak contact rather than whiffs.

Bubic hasn’t seen much improvement in his results this year. He has been able to push his home run rate towards league average but his ERA is still higher than ever. He allowed five runs on seven hits in two innings of work in his previous outing in Seattle in April.

RHP Zack Greinke

124 13.1% 4.7% 9.3% 41.7% 4.21 4.13
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 38.5% 89.2 2286 32 72 77
Sinker 2.5% 89.4 2186 82
Cutter 13.6% 85.9 2378 94 85 125
Changeup 16.1% 86.6 1636 54 55 92
Curveball 19.9% 72.1 2432 104 55 103
Slider 9.3% 82.2 2434 60 65 113

Zack Greinke’s reunion tour with the Royals at age 38 has gone about as expected. With his fastball velocity sitting lower than ever, his strikeout rate has fallen precipitously — only Marco Gonzales’s is lower among starters with at least 120 innings pitched. But this late-career version of Greinke is still effective for the same reasons Gonzales has been: a deep repertoire and phenomenal command. He’s also managed to improve his FIP by more than half a run over last year, nearly all of which can be traced back to a home run rate that’s been nearly cut in half.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 99-52 0.656 -- W-W-W-W-L
Mariners 82-67 0.550 16.0 L-W-L-L-W
Rangers 65-84 0.436 33.0 L-L-L-W-W
Angels 65-85 0.433 33.5 W-L-W-L-L
Athletics 55-95 0.367 43.5 W-L-W-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Blue Jays 84-66 0.560 +1.5 W-L-W-L-L
Rays 83-67 0.553 +0.5 W-L-L-L-W
Mariners 82-67 0.550 -- L-W-L-L-W
Orioles 78-71 0.523 4.0 W-L-L-W-W
White Sox 76-74 0.507 6.5 W-W-L-L-L

The Wild Card standings look very similar today to the last time we checked in. While the M’s played the Athletics, the Rays were swept by the Astros and the Jays split two games with the Phillies. Those three teams are in identical position to Tuesday, with Toronto a game ahead of the Rays, who are half a game ahead of the Mariners. The Orioles have gained one game on the M’s since then, because they beat the Astros yesterday. Though the Mariners’ slump has made their playoff hopes feel feebler, strength of schedule certainly favors them in these last couple of weeks; Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Baltimore all play multiple series against other playoff bound or contending teams (and the Red Sox).

If the season ended today, the Rays would travel to Toronto for a three game playoff series, while the Mariners would travel to Cleveland to play three against the Guardians.

This weekend, the Orioles host the Astros for three more. After the Rays beat the Blue Jays 10-5 yesterday, the two other likely Wild Card teams play three more times this weekend.