Expectations are a funny thing. Mariners fans have 20 long reasons to hold our hopes close to our hearts, ensuring we’re not too hurt when the inevitable frustration sets in during the summer. That guarded posture was blown out the window last year, with the dream of October baseball finally fulfilled. After two 90-win seasons in a row and a dramatic postseason run last year, the expectations have been raised through the roof. Julio is the face of the future of baseball, La Piedra is the foundation of a phenomenal pitching staff, and the rest of the roster is filled with resilient goons who are ready to take the next step forward. It’s an exciting time to be a Mariners fan.
At a Glance
|Game 1||Thursday, March 30 | 7:10 pm|
|RHP Shane Bieber||RHP Luis Castillo|
|Game 2||Friday, March 31 | 7:10 pm|
|RHP Hunter Gaddis||LHP Robbie Ray|
|Game 3||Saturday, April 1 | 6:40 pm|
|RHP Aaron Civale||RHP Logan Gilbert|
|Game 4||Sunday, April 2 | 1:10 pm|
|RHP Cal Quantrill||LHP Marco Gonzales|
|Batting (wRC+)||99 (8th in AL)||107 (4th in AL)||Mariners|
|Fielding (OAA)||15 (3rd)||1 (10th)||Guardians|
|Starting Pitching (FIP-)||101 (7th)||106 (8th)||Guardians|
|Bullpen (FIP-)||86 (3rd)||95 (7th)||Guardians|
Welcome to another year of series previews. If you’re a regular Lookout Landing reader, welcome back. If you’re a new face, welcome home. This will be my ninth year writing these previews. Above, you’ll see a brief overview of the upcoming series: probable pitchers, game times, and a rundown of the Mariners and their opponents. Below, you’ll see the Mariners’ opponents laid out in more detail: projected lineups, key players, and pitcher analysis. Finally, you’ll get a view of the big picture: AL West and Wild Card standings. As always, I appreciate your feedback and hope that these features continue to be helpful and educational.
The Guardians surprised a lot of people by making a late season run into the playoffs last year with the youngest roster in baseball. Not only did they make it to October baseball, but they were a win away from knocking off the Yankees and advancing to the Championship Series. With a roster filled with youngsters, they didn’t have much work to do this offseason, adding Josh Bell to serve as first baseman and designated hitter and Mike Zunino to knock dingers. With a lineup that excels at making contact, adding some power was a real concern that they addressed with those two moves.
Cleveland has been hard at work handing out contract extensions to key members of their young core, signing Andrés Giménez to a seven-year deal and Trevor Stephan to a four-year deal. They’re also in “advanced negotiations” with a number of other players. With an excellent farm system and a proven development program that continues to spit out homegrown talent, the Guardians are poised to stick atop the AL Central for years to come.
The Guardians lineup is built around José Ramírez. He’s the engine that drives the train. He played through a hand injury for the entire second half of the season, causing his production to drop to a 107 wRC+ after sustaining the injury in mid-June. Now that he’s fully healthy, he should regain his place as the most dangerous hitter in their lineup. Cleveland posted the lowest team strikeout rate in baseball last year to go along with the second lowest isolated power in the American League. No one exemplified that team-wide approach more than Steven Kwan. He batted nearly .300 in his rookie campaign with absolutely no power to speak of, but managed to post a 124 wRC+ thanks to a strong penchant for getting on-base by any means possible. The Guardians rewarded Giménez’s breakout season last year with a big payday. He had always shown excellent bat-to-ball skills throughout his career but figured out a way to add some power to his profile, slugging 17 home runs and posting a 140 wRC+.
This year, I’ll be using Eno Sarris and Max Bay’s Stuff+ model in my pitching previews instead of my own model I had been using in recent years. Their model is a little more robust than mine and it finally got an easily sortable leaderboard over on FanGraphs.
RHP Shane Bieber
Shane Bieber’s fastball was down nearly two ticks last year, averaging just 91.3 mph. After a nagging shoulder injury held him to just 16 starts in 2021, the warning alarms were blaring. Instead of succumbing to the rigors of modern pitching, he made 31 starts, threw 200 innings, and his overall performance barely took a hit. He was around 25% better than league average in league- and park-adjusted ERA, FIP, and xFIP, which perfectly aligns with his career norms. His strikeout rate did fall a bit, from 33.1% in 2021 to just 25% last season, but he managed to curtail enough hard contact against him that he made up the difference anyway. With a pair of fantastic breaking balls and excellent command of his entire repertoire, he proved that he doesn’t need velocity to succeed.
RHP Hunter Gaddis
Triston McKenzie was scheduled to start the second game of the season for the Guardians, but he was placed on the Injured List with a shoulder strain after leaving his final spring training start after just one inning. In his place, Cleveland will turn to Hunter Gaddis to fill the hole in their rotation. Gaddis made his major league debut last year, making two spot starts during the summer, allowing 15 runs in just 7.1 innings. He was ranked 37th in FanGraphs’s latest prospect list for Cleveland with some significant reliever risk in his profile due to poor command. He’s got a screwball-esque changeup, a cutter that acts more like a slider, and slow, loopy curveball to round out his arsenal.
RHP Aaron Civale
Aaron Civale wasn’t healthy last year; two separate trips to the IL forced him to miss almost two months of the season and held him to just 20 starts. When he was on the mound, the results just didn’t go his way. His ERA outpaced his FIP by more than a full run thanks to an extremely low strand rate and a high BABIP allowed. His underlying metrics were actually pretty decent; he posted the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career and finally honed his deep repertoire down to his best three pitches. Never content with his pitches, he introduced a sweeping slider to his pitch mix late in the season, a pitch that could give him a second swing-and-miss weapon to pair with his excellent curveball.
RHP Cal Quantrill
The Guardians have a penchant for developing valuable starters out of pitchers with subpar raw stuff. Cal Quantrill is the latest example of this development pipeline. He doesn’t find success through big swing-and-miss stuff, he simply has a knack for generating weak contact. That pitch-to-contact approach means that his actual results will always outpace his peripherals. The margin for error is razor thin, however. He doesn’t possess a bowling ball sinker like Framber Valdez and doesn’t strikeout enough batters to sneak his way out jams when the batted balls start falling for hits. Cleveland’s excellent defense behind him certainly helps, and eating innings will always be an undervalued skill on a competitive roster, it’s just not the most exciting profile for a pitcher.