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Series Preview: Mariners (21-22) at Braves (27-16)

The Mariners head to Atlanta to face one of the best teams in the National League

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Texas Rangers Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

After enduring the annual Drubbing at Fenway (the worst Dropkick Murphys song), the Mariners head down south to face the scary-good Atlanta Braves for some more interleague action. With the Mets tripping over their own feet and last year’s champs in the Phillies also stumbling out of the gate early, the Braves are currently comfortably in control of the NL East, with the upstart Marlins the closest team to them.

At a Glance

Mariners Braves
Mariners Braves
Game 1 Friday, May 19 | 4:20 pm
RHP Bryce Miller RHP Bryce Elder
43% 57%
Game 2 Saturday, May 20 | 4:15 pm
RHP Logan Gilbert RHP Charlie Morton
40% 60%
Game 3 Sunday, May 21 | 10:35 am
RHP George Kirby LHP Jared Shuster
50% 50%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Braves Mariners Edge
Overview Braves Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 116 (1st in NL) 96 (10th in AL) Braves
Fielding (OAA) -16 (15th) 10 (1st) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 83 (1st) 82 (3rd) Braves
Bullpen (FIP-) 87 (4th) 74 (1st) Mariners

The outcome of this series will mostly depend on how well Seattle’s strength in their pitching plays against Atlanta’s strength, their high-octane offense. The bats have been propping up Atlanta so far this season, with their offense ranking the best in the NL. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s pitching numbers are bolstered by phenom Spencer Strider, who has already accrued an eye-popping 1.8 fWAR this season and is somehow striking even more batters out than last season–an incredible 41.5% K rate. Luckily, the Mariners will miss Strider this go-round, while getting to throw their best starter in George Kirby. Unluckily, they’ll still have to face Nick Anderson provided the games are close, who’s been one of the best relievers in baseball this season, as the 32-year-old is enjoying a career resurgence after a series of injuries.

Braves Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Ronald Acuña Jr. RF R 197 13.7% 13.2% 0.268 181
Matt Olson 1B L 196 32.1% 16.8% 0.261 132
Sean Murphy C R 155 21.9% 13.5% 0.307 162
Austin Riley 3B R 190 27.4% 10.5% 0.162 99
Eddie Rosario LF L 129 24.0% 4.7% 0.171 88
Ozzie Albies 2B S 181 16.6% 3.9% 0.241 113
Marcell Ozuna DH R 117 21.4% 12.8% 0.255 89
Orlando Arcia SS R 84 17.9% 8.3% 0.250 169
Michael Harris II CF L 81 18.5% 9.9% 0.097 60

While Atlanta’s pitching might be described as “Spencer Strider and the Striderettes”, the offense in Atlanta is a smorgasbord of slugging starpower. There are not one, not two, not three, but six players in Atlanta slugging .500 or better (I’m giving Matt Olson and his .491 SLG a boost here, to be fair). Finally healthy, Ronald Acuña Jr. seems intent on reminding the baseball world exactly how bright his star shines. There’s probably some regression coming–he’s currently striking out almost as often as he’s walking, which if it holds would be a full ten-point drop from his lowest ever season K%—but it’s hard to find a hotter player in baseball right now. The attack continues with a pair of old ex-Athletics foes: Olson and what I (Kate) consider the most unappealingly aesthetic stance in baseball, and slugging catcher Sean Murphy, so we’ll all get a moment of appreciation for Oakland having traded those two away while we’re watching them drive baseballs out of the park. Ozzie Albies rounds out the group of Braves players in the 10+ homerun club; he’s basically exactly the player he was last year but now with new improved homering action. Seriously, what is in the water in Atlanta, and can the Mariners please get some of this?

As far as weak links in this chain, there aren’t many, but there are some spots the Mariners pitchers will need to attack in order to stave off the onslaught of the big boppers. Austin Riley is three shy of being part of the 10 homer club; he’s a power threat but strikes out almost a third of the time. Rookie of the Year Michael Harris III is off to a slow start this year, having been hampered by injury early, which has been especially damaging as he’s a rare lefty bat in this righty-heavy lineup, with the other lefty bats being Mashin’ Matt Olson and Eddie Rosario, who’s also been just okay. The Braves also have a problem that will be familiar to Mariners fans in that they’re getting little to no production out of their DH, Marcell Ozuna, who has eight homers because apparently that’s just standard for Braves players but is providing little else of value, hitting well below the Mendoza Line.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Bryce Elder

46 1/3 20.7% 7.4% 10.0% 56.8% 1.94 3.56
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 13.6% 90.6 66 135 95 0.498
Sinker 37.6% 89.4 85 107 70 0.383
Changeup 11.4% 84.3 47
Slider 37.4% 82.3 93 82 124 0.234

With the Braves rotation decimated by injuries, they’ve had to call on their deep stable of young starters from the minors to fill in the gaps. Bryce Elder has been the most consistent of the bunch, making eight starts this year after a promising debut last summer. He relies primarily on a sinker/slider combination that produces a ton of groundball contact. He also throws a four-seamer exclusively up in the zone, though batters have crushed that pitch when they make contact with it. In fact, outside of his breaking ball, he’s allowing tons of hard contact but his results haven’t felt the impact yet. He’s getting pretty lucky with a low BABIP, and I’m sure all the groundballs are helping suppress the potential damage, but his 1.94 ERA significantly outpaces his FIP, xERA, and xFIP.

RHP Charlie Morton

47 1/3 23.8% 8.7% 8.7% 49.3% 2.85 3.60
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 32.3% 94.9 74 86 109 0.394
Sinker 10.3% 94.2 92
Cutter 2.6% 89.1
Changeup 8.9% 86.5 106
Curveball 45.9% 82.4 146 128 83 0.213

Outside of Spencer Strider’s excellence, Charlie Morton has been one of the few constants in the Braves rotation. Even at 39 years old, he’s still finding ways to get batters out with his excellent curveball. Since his resurgence back in 2017, the whiff rate on his curve has sat right around 40% and it’s still there this year. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of his four-seam fastball has waned a bit as he’s aged, losing some velocity and some ride. It’s sitting much closer to the dreaded dead zone where none of its characteristics really stand out from your average heater.

LHP Jared Shuster

24 2/3 21.5% 13.1% 7.7% 39.1% 3.28 4.34
Triple-A stats

Jared Shuster is another young rookie who is covering for an injured starter in the Braves rotation. He’s been up-and-down between Triple-A and the big leagues this year, making two rough starts in April before being recalled this week to fill in for the injured Max Fried. He was Atlanta’s first round pick in the 2020 draft and has quickly risen through their organization. He’s got an okay fastball that isn’t that overpowering and a pair of secondary offerings that grade out much better; a diving slider and a straight changeup.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rangers 26-17 0.605 -- W-W-L-W-L
Astros 24-19 0.558 2.0 L-W-W-W-W
Angels 23-22 0.511 4.0 L-W-L-L-W
Mariners 21-22 0.488 5.0 W-L-W-L-L
Athletics 10-35 0.222 17.0 L-W-L-W-L

The Mariners remain mired in second-to-last in the division, which if we’re being honest is really last because the A’s don’t count. The Angels remain just over .500 after splitting a series with the Orioles, and will have a similarly tough task ahead this week with a series against the division-leading Twins. Meanwhile, the Rangers keep rolling despite a series loss to these same Braves and will get the pleasure of beating up on the Rockies in their next series. It brings me no joy to report that the Astros look to have gotten back to form, with a 3-1 series win against the White Sox followed by a sweep against the Cubs, and now they get to kick around the A’s for a series. Sorrows.