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Series Preview: Mariners (77-60) vs. Braves (86-51)

The Mariners play host to the Braves in a rare East-West, AL/NL matchup.

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MLB: Atlanta Braves at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

In this series with the Atlanta Braves, the Mariners face the winningest team they’ll face for the rest of the year. On the plus side, it’s all downhill from here (as far as opponent records go). However, the weakness of our late-season schedule and the recent series loss to the White Sox make the challenge of facing the Braves feel particularly potent. Particularly with the Blue Jays playing the Rangers this weekend, each Mariners’ loss risks ground ceded in the Wild Card race (just as each win is an opportunity for ground gained). I gotta say, it feels good and also very distracting to play with stakes in September!

Incidentally, this is only the sixth series ever in which the Mariners and Braves have played one another. I learned that fact in Battery Power’s preview of this series from Atlanta’s perspective.

At a Glance

Braves Mariners
Braves Mariners
Game 1 Friday, September 9 | 6:40 pm
RHP Charlie Morton LHP Robbie Ray
53% 47%
Game 2 Saturday, September 10 | 6:10 pm
LHP Max Fried RHP George Kirby
55% 45%
Game 3 Sunday, September 11 | 1:10 pm
RHP Jake Odorizzi LHP Marco Gonzales
52% 48%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Braves Mariners Edge
Overview Braves Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 111 (4th in NL) 106 (5th in AL) Braves
Fielding (OAA) 6 (5th) 8 (4th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 89 (4th) 105 (8th) Braves
Bullpen (FIP-) 84 (2nd) 94 (7th) Braves

The Atlanta Braves won the World Series last year. Yes, this is the series against the reigning MLB champions. After winning the NL East with a .547 win percentage last year, the Braves are second in their division today despite a much higher .628 win percentage. Atlanta has been dancing behind the Mets all year, finally pulling themselves into a tie for the division lead last week. Though they’ve fallen a half game back again, they’re all but guaranteed a playoff spot, eleven games ahead of the second wild card team.

The Braves sweep into Seattle having won seven in a row with several brilliant pitching performances. Many of those games were against significantly inferior teams, but make no mistake: the Braves are a challenging team to face (note in the chart above that they rank above the Mariners in all categories except fielding). Luckily for the M’s, we won’t face their star rookie pitcher Spencer Strider, but we do face their rotation anchor Max Fried and all of the many strong bats in their lineup.

Braves Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Ronald Acuña Jr. DH R 443 0.344 117 4.0
Dansby Swanson SS R 589 0.368 117 3.4
Austin Riley 3B R 590 0.325 150 -1.0
Matt Olson 1B L 600 0.277 121 -1.3
Travis d'Arnaud C R 354 0.301 120 -2.4
Michael Harris II CF L 344 0.381 143 4.7
Vaughn Grissom 2B R 103 0.389 164 1.5
Marcell Ozuna LF R 467 0.246 83 -2.4
Robbie Grossman RF S 414 0.285 78 -0.5

You’ll notice, if you haven’t watched Atlanta play since last year’s playoffs, that the Braves’ lineup looks surprisingly different from last year’s. Former clubhouse and offensive leader Freddie Freeman went to the Dodgers this year, but the Braves’ core has resolidified in his absence. Veteran first baseman Matt Olson, Freeman’s replacement, is putting up a strong season with a 121 wRC+ in 600 plate appearances. The team’s fWAR leaders are shortstop Dansby Swanson and third baseman Austin Riley, the latter of whom has an eye-opening 150 wRC+. Swanson and Riley are just two of Atlanta’s five All-Stars this year, the others being ACL-healed Ronald Acuna Jr., late blooming catcher Travis d’Arnaud, All-Star brother William Contreras, and ace pitcher Max Fried.

Atlanta also has three rookies to watch. Two are duking it out for NL Rookie of the Year: Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider. Strider seems to be the current favorite; he has an ERA below 2.70 and a whopping 38% strikeout rate, where Harris has a 143 wRC+ and over 4 fWAR. Both bring a positive clubhouse presence, as does contact hitter Vaughn Grissom, whose hitting stats reveal a dramatic entrance to the MLB stage since being called up a month ago. All three will be players to watch in future years (when the Mariners will see them yearly no matter what team they are on), so this Braves lineup has plenty to recommend tuning in to a game or two.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Charlie Morton

146 28.7% 8.5% 15.0% 39.6% 4.01 3.96
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 33.5% 95.0 2381 120 98 82
Sinker 10.3% 94.7 2195 133 48 81
Cutter 10.1% 88.4 2554 105 108 166
Changeup 8.1% 87.1 2161 138 112 86
Curveball 38.0% 81.1 3071 135 133 85

Charlie Morton flirted with retiring after the 2020 season but decided to sign with the Braves, the team that had drafted him way back in 2002, and was rewarded with a World Series ring. He enjoyed pitching in Atlanta so much, he signed a one-year extension in September before the ‘21 regular season was over. His follow-up campaign hasn’t gone as well as his championship season last year. He still relies heavily on one of the best curveballs in the majors and has continued to strike out a healthy number of batters. Unfortunately, he’s lost about half a tick on his fastball and he simply hasn’t been as sharp; his walk rate is up and more of his batted balls are being elevated and are flying over the fences more often.

LHP Max Fried

163 1/3 23.1% 4.3% 6.3% 52.5% 2.48 2.49
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 32.9% 94.1 2138 69 70 132
Sinker 12.9% 93.6 2027 105 118 84
Changeup 13.3% 86.6 1410 87 115 83
Curveball 21.4% 74.2 2726 103 127 112
Slider 19.6% 87.3 2394 143 84 78

Max Fried won’t blow you away with gaudy strikeout totals. Instead, he does almost everything else a pitcher’s supposed to do well. Keeps batters off base by limiting walks? Check. Keeps the ball on the ground when it’s put in play? Check. Pitches efficiently and lasts deep into games? Check. Fried doesn’t need to rack up strikeouts because the rest of his approach is so solid. His deep repertoire is headlined by two excellent breaking balls and a recently developed changeup to keep right-handers at bay. His fastballs aren’t great, but they get the job done and allow his secondary offerings to play up.

RHP Jake Odorizzi

85 1/3 18.3% 6.7% 9.3% 33.5% 3.90 4.21
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 52.6% 92.2 2149 94 100 102
Cutter 19.7% 87.8 2084 80 90 103
Splitter 15.2% 85.3 1350 73 78 70
Curveball 4.4% 71.9 2205 80
Slider 8.1% 82.8 2068 83 57 60

From a previous series preview:

Jake Odorizzi has struggled through a wonky path through the middle of his career. A top prospect with the Rays to start, he never really put everything together in Tampa Bay. His big breakout came in Minnesota in 2019; he posted a career-high 27.1% strikeout rate that year and 4.3 fWAR. He was tagged with a qualifying offer that offseason and accepted it, returning to the Twins on a one-year deal. Unfortunately, injuries cost him most of the shortened 2020 season, making just four starts for Minnesota. He signed a two-year deal with the Astros late last spring but a handful of minor injuries again held him back from repeating the success he enjoyed in 2019. With a prototypical modern fastball with tons of carry, he’s been a bit homer prone in his career. His secondary offerings are all inconsistent at best, making him overly reliant on his heater.

Odorizzi was traded to Atlanta at the trade deadline because the Astros were looking forward to activating Lance McCullers Jr. off the IL. He gives the young Braves pitching staff another veteran arm to soak up some innings down the stretch, though his performance hasn’t exactly stood out since the trade. He’s made five starts as a Brave and has posted a 4.26 ERA and a 5.64 FIP, both marks up from what he was posting with the Astros.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 88-49 0.642 -- L-W-W-L-W
Mariners 77-60 0.562 11.0 W-W-L-W-L
Angels 60-77 0.438 28.0 W-L-W-W-L
Rangers 59-77 0.434 28.5 L-L-L-W-L
Athletics 50-88 0.362 38.5 L-W-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rays 77-58 0.570 +1.5 W-L-W-W-W
Mariners 77-60 0.562 +0.5 W-W-L-W-L
Blue Jays 76-60 0.559 -- W-W-W-L-W
Orioles 72-65 0.526 4.5 L-L-L-W-L
Twins 69-67 0.507 7.0 W-L-L-L-W
White Sox 70-68 0.507 7.0 L-W-L-W-W

Circumstances remain unchanged in the AL West standings; the Astros have been 10-12 games ahead of the Mariners since before the All Star Break, and the other three teams have steadily lost ground since then. The Angels finally surpassed the Rangers in the standings now that Mike Trout is healthy, though that harms their chances of getting a top draft pick in the new draft lottery. The other major news from this week is that the Athletics became the first AL team to be mathematically eliminated from 2022 playoff contention.

In the AL Wild Card race, the Mariners have been bumped back down to the second slot, one game back of the Rays and a half-game up on Toronto. If the season ended now, the Rays would host the Mariners in Tampa for a three-game playoff series, and the Blue Jays would play a similar three-game series in Cleveland (who’ve taken a game-and-a-half lead over the Twins and White Sox in the AL Central). If Mariners fans root in the team’s interests this weekend, we’ll have to hold our noses, since the Rays are playing three games at Yankee Stadium and the Blue Jays three against the Rangers in Texas. Less distastefully, the Orioles host the Red Sox for a three-game series as well.