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Series Preview: Mariners (11-14) at Blue Jays (16-9)

The Mariners head to Toronto for the first time since their historic playoff victory last year.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Indulge yourself and remember where you were the last time the Mariners played the Blue Jays, the last time you saw this team at Rogers Center in their road grays. October 8, 2022. I was at home watching the game by myself, and stopped paying much attention when we were down eight to one. But then things started to happen. When Cal Raleigh singled in the eighth inning to make it 9-6, I knew I needed to see the rest of this in company. I jumped in the car and positively flew to my closest sports bar. It’s the last time I cried in a restaurant, and the last time I hugged complete strangers. The last time these two teams faced one another, the Mariners brought playoff baseball back to Seattle.

This time, the stakes are less urgent, and the M’s are hoping for a reset after five straight interleague series, a wasted gem by George Kirby, and Robbie Ray’s season-ending injury news.

At a Glance

Mariners Blue Jays
Mariners Blue Jays
Game 1 Friday, April 28 | 4:07 pm
RHP Luis Castillo RHP Alek Manoah
47% 53%
Game 2 Saturday, April 29 | 12:07 pm
RHP Chris Flexen RHP Kevin Gausman
34% 66%
Game 3 Sunday, April 30 | 10:37 am
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Chris Bassitt
37% 63%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Blue Jays Mariners Edge
Overview Blue Jays Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 117 (1st in AL) 107 (4th in AL) Blue Jays
Fielding (OAA) 4 (5th) 1 (10th) Blue Jays
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 92 (3rd) 106 (8th) Blue Jays
Bullpen (FIP-) 100 (10th) 95 (7th) Mariners
2022 stats

While Seattle has played .500 ball the past two weeks, the Blue Jays come into the series hot. Toronto has won six of their eight series so far, most recently sweeping the White Sox at home. After finishing 92-70 in 2022, second in the AL East and first AL Wild Card, the front office made offseason moves to improve the team’s defense (particularly with the addition of Kevin Kiermaier’s and Daulton Varsho’s stellar outfield gloves) and pitching (acquiring Erik Swanson and Chris Bassitt). Swanson, of course, came to Toronto in the trade that brought Teoscar Hernández to Seattle; both players will face their former teams for the first time this weekend.

With strength in both lineup and pitching, the Blue Jays should be just as good this year. Manoah and Gausman are a formidable one-two in the rotation, and the offensive core (other than Matt Chapman) all have multiple years left in their contracts. This year’s question, then, is: will they be good enough to go all the way, especially playing in the hyper-competitive AL East? At this point, Toronto’s 16-9 record would top any other division in the league, but has them trailing both the Orioles and the Rays in their own.

Blue Jays Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
George Springer RF R 583 17.2% 9.3% 0.205 132
Bo Bichette SS R 697 22.2% 5.9% 0.179 129
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B R 706 16.4% 8.2% 0.205 132
Matt Chapman 3B R 621 27.4% 11.0% 0.204 117
Daulton Varsho LF L 592 24.5% 7.8% 0.207 106
Alejandro Kirk C R 541 10.7% 11.6% 0.130 129
Brandon Belt DH L 298 27.2% 12.4% 0.138 96
Whit Merrifield 2B R 550 15.5% 6.9% 0.125 88
Kevin Kiermaier CF L 221 27.6% 6.3% 0.141 90
2022 stats

The Mariners don’t get a break from good-hitting opponents this weekend. Toronto ranks sixth in the majors for team wRC+ and hitters up and down the lineup have come through this past week. At the head of the pack are shortstop Bo Bichette and third baseman Matt Chapman. Bichette led the Blue Jays with 4.5 fWAR in 2022 and is projected for 4.7 this year. After 25 games, he has posted a 157 wRC+ and ignited the offense in Toronto’s last game, going 3-for-4 with a home run. Chapman currently boasts a team-leading 209 wRC+ over 24 games and projects to lead the team in fWAR this year (5.2).

The rest of the Blue Jays lineup features notable players including: 2022 All-Star catcher Alejandro Kirk entering his prime, star infielder Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., and veterans Whit Merrifeld, Kevin Kiermaier, and George Springer. Guerrero’s 167 wRC+ trails only Chapman’s at this point in the season. Kiermaier’s strong offensive start is surprising and delighting many Blue Jays fans who thought they were getting a waning fourth outfielder and are currently looking at a 120 wRC+ and .7 fWAR in 20 games. Springer, on the other hand, has been playing decent baseball and getting nothing to show for it.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Alek Manoah

196 2/3 22.9% 6.5% 7.1% 37.5% 2.24 3.35
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 35.9% 93.9 103 123 93 0.310
Sinker 25.8% 93.3 95 105 95 0.270
Changeup 11.2% 86.5 72 71 147 0.267
Slider 27.1% 81.5 111 91 95 0.272
2022 stats

Alek Manoah produced a phenomenal sophomore season last year, finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting and serving as the Blue Jays ace. His ERA fell a full run from his rookie campaign despite a strikeout rate that fell by five points. He was able to outperform his peripherals thanks to some extremely fortunate results on events that are largely out of his control. His BABIP was just .244 thanks to some skill at inducing weak contact, but he also stranded a huge amount of runners and his xFIP (3.97) was more than a run higher than his ERA. He’s really struggled to start this season, but not because of BABIP regression or poor luck on batted balls. Instead, his command has completely evaporated, leading to a serious degradation of his strikeout-to-walk ratio.

RHP Kevin Gausman

174 2/3 28.3% 3.9% 8.5% 39.2% 3.35 2.38
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 48.8% 95.0 111 77 82 0.358
Splitter 35.5% 85.2 116 145 97 0.200
Slider 14.4% 84.4 89 105 80 0.310
2022 stats

Kevin Gausman suffered from almost the exact opposite problems that Manoah benefitted from last year. His FIP was almost a run lower than his ERA thanks to an astronomically high BABIP. Not only was it the highest among qualified starters last year, it was the second highest in a single season by any qualified starter since 1901. A career-high strikeout-to-walk rate led to his career-best FIP and it’s unfortunate that all that improvement was sabotaged by all that bad batted ball luck. His BABIP has fallen back towards league average this year and he’s maintained his improved strikeout-to-walk ratio, giving him an ERA that closely matches his fantastic FIP.

RHP Chris Bassitt

181 2/3 22.4% 6.6% 10.9% 48.8% 3.42 3.66
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 13.1% 93.2 80 129 103 0.263
Sinker 33.5% 92.8 96 99 106 0.327
Cutter 17.3% 89.0 103 115 123 0.292
Changeup 6.1% 85.4 69 57 123 0.329
Curveball 13.9% 71.6 107 84 121 0.210
Slider 8.0% 82.7 110 69 97 0.323
Sweeper 8.2% 75.2 110 101 102 0.246
2022 stats

Chris Bassitt was traded to the Mets during Oakland’s fire sale last offseason and he performed capably during his lone season in New York. With an already deep repertoire, Bassitt added a sweeper to his arsenal last year and started leaning into his effective four-seam fastball over his sinker a bit more. He’s able to shape and vary his pitches so his six-pitch repertoire often feels a lot bigger, helping him keep batters off balance.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 14-11 0.560 -- W-W-L-W-W
Rangers 14-11 0.560 -- W-L-L-L-L
Angels 14-12 0.538 0.5 W-L-W-W-W
Mariners 11-14 0.440 3.0 W-L-W-L-L
Athletics 5-21 0.192 9.5 L-W-L-L-L

The Mariners have gained half a game in the standings since Tuesday; the Rangers now hold the AL West by only half a game after getting swept by the Reds and then losing to the Yankees yesterday. They host New York for three more this weekend. The second-place Astros took two of three from the wildly hot Rays this week and host the Phillies this weekend. Houston is still without Yordan Alvarez as he deals with neck tightness. The Angels and Oakland played four this week, of which the Angels won three. Shohei Ohtani continues to pull outrageous feats, while rumors swirl seemingly weekly. The Angels head to interleague play in Milwaukee this weekend, while the A’s will battle the Reds at home.