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Series Preview: Mariners (76-58) vs. White Sox (67-67)

The Mariners return home for their biggest and most difficult homestand left in the regular season.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Chicago White Sox Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a rough way to start a homestand, with a day game after eleven innings of baseball, a four and a half hour rain delay, and a flight home from Cleveland the previous night. However, the Mariners return triumphant, having swept their entire six-game road trip against the Tigers and Guardians. Staff writer Zach Mason points out that if the team plays .500 ball the rest of the season, they’ll win 90 games!

The homestand that begins today with a series against the Chicago White Sox marks the final major challenge of the season for the M’s (caveat, of course, that bad teams beat good teams all the time). These eight games will be the last Seattle plays against non-losing teams: the White Sox enter the day with a .500 record, and the Braves and Padres both have winning records. This series is also the last time the Mariners will go head-to-head in the regular season against another AL team with playoff hopes; a series win would go a long way to giving the team a leg up and shoving the competition lower.

At a Glance

White Sox Mariners
White Sox Mariners
Game 1 Monday, September 5 | 3:40 pm
RHP Lance Lynn LHP Marco Gonzales
52% 48%
Game 2 Tuesday, September 6 | 6:40 pm
RHP Johnny Cueto RHP Logan Gilbert
45% 55%
Game 3 Wednesday, September 7 | 1:10 pm
RHP Michael Kopech RHP Luis Castillo
36% 64%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview White Sox Mariners Edge
Overview White Sox Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 102 (9th in AL) 106 (5th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) -13 (15th) 9 (4th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 99 (6th) 105 (8th) White Sox
Bullpen (FIP-) 90 (5th( 94 (7th) White Sox

The White Sox were heavily favored to win the AL Central this year, but the last month of the season finds them third in a three-way race with the Twins and Guardians. As of this morning, the Guardians and Twins have identical records, and the White Sox are two games behind. Only one of the three is likely to make the playoffs, because the two that don’t win the division slot into fifth and sixth place in the Wild Card race, five-plus games back of a spot. Of the three teams, Chicago has the weakest strength of schedule, at 25th in MLB (the M’s sit pretty at 29th of 30).

Seattle lost two of three in Chicago for the White Sox’s first series at home in April; since then, some key faces on the team have changed, but they’ve continued to be offensively productive (see below for more on that). One notably missing face is that of Chicago’s manager, Tony La Russa, who is out indefinitely for unspecified medical reasons. Most recently, the White Sox took two of three games from the Twins, winning Saturday’s game by a whopping 13-0. Our sister site, South Side Sox, calls this series against the Mariners “pivotal” in the team’s race to the postseason.

White Sox Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Elvis Andrus SS R 451 0.275 102 2.2
Andrew Vaughn LF R 465 0.315 125 -2.2
Luis Robert CF R 378 0.343 124 4.7
José Abreu 1B R 573 0.355 142 -0.9
Eloy Jiménez DH R 224 0.342 138 -0.1
Gavin Sheets RF L 331 0.285 111 -2.3
Yasmani Grandal C S 305 0.256 74 -5.2
Josh Harrison 3B R 362 0.288 96 -1.8
Romy Gonzalez 2B R 47 0.364 105 -0.3

The White Sox have a hard-hitting lineup of sluggers; though the team has somewhat underperformed expectations, seven of the primary starting nine have above-average wRC+, and five of the nine are above 120. José Abreu leads the team with a 143 wRC+ and 3.5 fWAR and leads the league in hits with 156; Abreu is one of only a handful of non-Aaron-Judge players leading the AL in any offensive category. A few spots in the White Sox lineup look quite different than would have been anticipated earlier in the season: Yoán Moncada has missed a lot of time due to injuries this year (he’s currently out with a hamstring strain), and so Josh Harrison has gotten the majority of starts at third. Speedy shortstop Tim Anderson had surgery in early August to repair a ligament in his finger, and the White Sox were able to sign veteran Elvis Andrus as a free agent to replace him.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Chicago White Sox David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Lance Lynn

84 1/3 25.7% 3.7% 17.6% 42.3% 4.70 4.14
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 43.7% 93.0 2428 55 162 90
Sinker 15.0% 91.6 2316 87 118 83
Cutter 22.9% 89.0 2598 123 109 98
Changeup 4.8% 85.8 1836 72
Curveball 8.1% 82.4 2517 95 103 83
Slider 5.5% 86.7 2542 133

Lance Lynn missed more than two months to start the season after a spring knee injury sidelined him right before Opening Day. He returned to the mound in mid-June but really struggled after being activated off the IL. His peripherals all look like they’re in line with his career norms with his 3.26 xFIP really standing out. He’s been really burned by the long ball as his ERA is nearly a run and a half ahead of his xFIP. He’s lost about a mile per hour off his two primary fastballs and their shape has deteriorated this year as well. Those small changes to his repertoire could be the big reason behind his struggles.

RHP Johnny Cueto

129 15.7% 5.2% 8.6% 44.6% 2.93 3.88
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 17.2% 91.5 2196 52 108 110
Sinker 25.9% 91.4 2116 94 67 122
Cutter 16.4% 86.9 2186 67 42 96
Changeup 21.7% 82.6 1329 120 71 80
Slider 18.6% 83.6 2233 101 58 94

Johnny Cueto was signed by the White Sox immediately following Lynn’s knee injury but has managed to pitch well enough to stick around in Chicago all season long. After finishing off his six-year stint in San Francisco with his best and most healthy season since 2017, Cueto is following it up with an even better performance this year. His strikeout rate isn’t anywhere close to where it was during his peak, but he’s figured out how to utilize his deep arsenal and deceptive mechanics to limit hard contact against him, fully transforming into a late-career contact manager.

RHP Michael Kopech

110 2/3 21.4% 12.0% 9.0% 35.9% 3.58 4.45
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 61.8% 94.9 2534 145 125 118
Changeup 1.2% 85.2 1625
Curveball 10.4% 78.4 2401 67 79 90
Slider 26.7% 84.3 2389 93 59 82

Michael Kopech was a key member of the White Sox bullpen last year but had developed into a top prospect as a starter. Chicago committed to inserting him back into the starting rotation this spring and the big question was whether or not his top tier stuff would translate back into longer outings. His strikeout rate isn’t great, and he’s walking far too many batters, but overall, he’s been a solid mid-rotation starter in his first full season in the rotation. The biggest problem is that he doesn’t have a consistent third option in his repertoire and his best secondary pitch, his slider, has taken a major step back this year. His fastball is still one of the best in the majors and he leans on it heavily. A knee injury forced him off the mound in late August but he should be activated after spending the minimum amount of time on the IL in time to make the start on Wednesday.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 86-48 0.642 -- W-W-W-L-W
Mariners 76-58 0.567 10.0 W-W-W-W-W
Rangers 58-75 0.436 27.5 L-L-L-L-L
Angels 58-76 0.433 28.0 L-W-L-W-L
Athletics 50-85 0.370 36.5 L-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Mariners 76-58 0.567 +2.0 W-W-W-W-W
Rays 74-58 0.561 +1.0 W-W-W-W-L
Blue Jays 73-59 0.553 -- W-L-W-W-W
Orioles 71-62 0.534 2.5 W-W-W-W-L
Guardians 68-64 0.515 5.0 L-L-L-L-L
Twins 68-64 0.515 5.0 W-L-L-L-W
White Sox 67-67 0.500 7.0 W-W-W-W-L
Red Sox 67-68 0.496 7.5 W-W-W-W-W

In the AL West, last preview’s notes still apply: The division 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. This week the Astros host the Rangers for a three-game series.

In the Wild Card race, the Mariners have risen to the first slot! They have a one-game lead over the Rays and two over the Blue Jays, in the second and third slots. If the season ended now, the Mariners would host the Rays for a three-game playoff series in Seattle, and the Blue Jays would play a similar three-game series in Cleveland (who would win the AL Central due to having won the season series against the Twins at this point). There’s room for plenty of intrigue this week with a bunch of AL East matchups providing opportunities for those teams to beat up on each other. Over the next few days, the Rays will host the Red Sox for three, the Blue Jays will head to Baltimore to play the Orioles for four, the Guardians play three at the Royals, and the Yankees host the Twins for four.