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Series Preview: Mariners (4-6) at Cubs (4-4)

The Mariners head to the northside of Chicago to play the Cubs in a three-game series.

MLB: APR 08 Rangers at Cubs Photo by John Smolek/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite yesterday’s crushing loss, the pulse of Mariners’ fandom feels quite a bit more optimistic than it did just four days ago. The M’s played three strong games against Cleveland, who project to be one of the stronger AL teams this year. A full-strength bullpen, a clasped glove, or a different bounce, and the Mariners would be looking at .500. As it stands, they go into a week of weaker opponents than they’ve faced thus far, starting with the Chicago Cubs. If you need any further evidence that the MLB schedule makers are silly, the M’s will play a string of five series against National League teams and won’t play another American League team until they travel to Toronto to close out the month. Balanced schedule indeed.

At a Glance

Mariners Cubs
Mariners Cubs
Game 1 Monday, April 10 | 4:40 pm
RHP Luis Castillo LHP Drew Smyly
60% 40%
Game 2 Tuesday, April 11 | 4:40 pm
RHP Chris Flexen RHP Hayden Wesneski
46% 54%
Game 3 Wednesday, April 12 | 11:20 am
RHP Logan Gilbert RHP Marcus Stroman
47% 53%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Cubs Mariners Edge
Overview Cubs Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 98 (9th in NL) 107 (4th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) -19 (11th) 1 (10th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 110 (13th) 106 (8th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 110 (14th) 95 (7th) Mariners

The Cubbies struggled last year to a 74-88 record, missing the playoffs for the third time in four years. They were plagued by inconsistent starting pitching and a poor bullpen to match, and their lineup failed to deliver anything near the pop needed to compensate. They took an interesting approach this offseason, reminiscent of both what the Mariners have often done under Jerry Dipoto and what the Rangers did last year.

The Jerry-ish moves included rolling the dice on lottery ticket veterans, including CF Cody Bellinger, 1B Eric Hosmer, and OF/1B Trey Mancini. Bellinger has been wrecked by injuries and run aground by inconsistency since his 2019 MVP campaign. He was one of the worst hitters in all of baseball in 2021, and only slightly bounced back last season with a wRC+ of 83, leading to him being unceremoniously non-tendered by the Dodgers. The Cubs signed him to a 1-year, $17.5 million “prove it” deal, but he’s off to a .185/.267/.296 start. Hosmer, meanwhile, hasn’t been worth a full WAR since 2017 and looks to be more of a stopgap at first base. Mancini sadly fell off a cliff last season after being traded to Houston. That didn’t stop the Cubs from guaranteeing him $14 million over two years, but he’s off to just as slow a start as Bellinger.

Unsurprisingly, the Rangers-esque moves were far more exciting: splashy free agents Dansby Swanson and Jameson Taillon came to the North side this winter. The Cubs will be hoping Taillon proves to be an upgrade over the departed Wade Miley, while Swanson slots into a lineup that desperately needs pop with Willson Contreras gone to St. Louis.

Considering the magnitude of their subtractions, the Cubs probably moved laterally this offseason. With their farm system ranked just 18th in baseball by FanGraphs, they might be stuck in purgatory for another couple of seasons barring a massive offseason splurge.

Cubs Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Nico Hoerner 2B R 517 11.0% 5.4% 0.129 106
Dansby Swanson SS R 696 26.1% 7.0% 0.170 116
Ian Happ LF S 641 23.2% 9.0% 0.169 120
Cody Bellinger CF L 550 27.3% 6.9% 0.179 83
Trey Mancini RF R 587 23.0% 9.0% 0.152 104
Patrick Wisdom DH R 534 34.3% 9.9% 0.220 104
Eric Hosmer 1B L 419 15.3% 8.8% 0.113 104
Nick Madrigal 3B R 228 11.8% 6.1% 0.033 70
Tucker Barnhert C L 308 24.0% 8.1% 0.046 63

Lifetime Cub Ian Happ led the team in hitting last season, and he projects to do so again. With his first All-Star appearance and a Gold Glove award to match, Happ put everything together after a down year in 2021. From a hitting perspective, Happ isn’t unlike Ty France: some power, but mostly propped up by a lot of line drives. A career year last season landed Dansby Swanson a $177 million payday, and he slots into the lineup above Happ. There’s not a lot of power in this lineup: Patrick Wisdom led the team in home runs last season with 25. As a result, the Cubs offense will likely rely on stringing together a lot of base hits. That won’t be made any easier by the absence of Seiya Suzuki. The former NBP All-Star and Gold Glover just began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa while working to return from an oblique strain. Parsing the Cubs beat, it seems blissfully unlikely that Suzuki will return in the series against the M’s.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Texas Rangers v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

LHP Drew Smyly

106 1/3 20.4% 5.8% 11.7% 40.1% 3.47 4.23
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 37.0% 92.6 2158 86 103 119
Cutter 19.7% 88.6 2103 79 59 107
Curveball 42.9% 78.7 2119 102 103 113

After missing two entire seasons with a soggy arm that led to Tommy John surgery, Drew Smyly has bounced around from team to team, never finding a long-ish term home until this year. Last season, he posted his best full season since 2014 for the Cubs and they brought him back on a two-year deal to continue filling out the back end of their rotation. The secret to his newfound success was heavy reliance on his curveball; he threw it 43.2% of the time last year, tops in the big leagues. His breaker doesn’t get that many whiffs, but he can command it in the zone to keep batters off balance. When he isn’t throwing the hook, he mixes in a flat sinker that seems more like a bad four-seamer and a mediocre cutter.

RHP Hayden Wesneski

33 25.0% 5.3% 8.3% 47.1% 2.18 3.20
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 25.7% 93.1 2148 81 114 107
Sinker 22.4% 91.9 2043 98 82 110
Cutter 12.3% 88.7 2398 101
Changeup 7.7% 87.2 1545
Slider 31.9% 81.2 2566 123 95 99

Of all the pitching prospects the Yankees traded away at the trade deadline last year, Hayden Wesneski might be the one they end up regretting the most. He was swapped for Scott Effross and made his major league debut in September, making four starts and compiling a fantastic 4.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio to go along with a 3.20 FIP. The key to his development was a pitch that he picked up while he was still in the Yankees organization: the whirly, their name for the kind of sweeping slider that’s swept through the game over the last few years. Armed with that kind of plus pitch, a decent fastball, and deep repertoire, he’s poised to have a breakout rookie season for the Cubs.

RHP Marcus Stroman

138 2/3 20.9% 6.3% 13.9% 51.7% 3.50 3.76
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 8.5% 92.6 2425 75 94 84
Sinker 40.2% 92.0 2265 104 100 114
Cutter 10.5% 90.0 2532 116 102 117
Splitter 12.0% 87.0 1715 67 79 79
Slider 23.8% 84.6 2673 125 89 108

Marcus Stroman was part of the Cubs early spending spree before last season when they really started to think about trying to short circuit their rebuilding cycle. He signed a three-year deal and then put up a season nearly perfectly aligned with his career norms which was only interrupted by a short stay on the Injured List with shoulder inflammation. He doesn’t run the elite groundball rates that he did earlier in his career, but they’re still solidly above average. He also doesn’t strike out all that many batters, but he never really did while he was pitching for the Blue Jays or Mets either. Instead, he relies on an efficient approach that minimizes base runners and loud contact.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Angels 5-4 0.556 -- L-W-L-W-L
Rangers 5-4 0.556 -- L-W-L-L-W
Astros 4-6 0.400 1.5 L-W-L-L-W
Mariners 4-6 0.400 1.5 W-L-W-W-L
Athletics 2-7 0.222 3.0 W-L-L-L-L

Coming off a series win, the Mariners gained a game in the standings – the Rangers, Angels, and Astros all went 1-2 in their weekend series. Most notably and Schadenfreud-y, the Angels blew a 6-0 lead to Toronto yesterday and ended up falling 12-11 in extra innings. They’ll face the putrid Washington Nationals in Anaheim. The Rangers will be facing the only-slightly-less putrid Kansas City Royals in Texas, while the Astros will be looking to rain on the Pirates’ early parade in Pittsburgh. Rounding out the division, the A’s will head to Baltimore while coming off a three-game sweep that saw the Rays outscore them 31-5.