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Series Preview: Mariners (26-24) vs. Pirates (25-24)

Sails and a black flag on the horizon.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ahoy, mateys! The good ship Mariner finally got back on course with a four-game sweep of the A’s. Alas, the entire schedule can’t be filled with games against Oakland. The M’s will face their maritime nemesis this weekend; a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates is on the horizon. They’ve maneuvered around the doldrums of April and finally find themselves with the wind at their backs. If they’re able to hold fast against these eastern scallywags, they’ll be in a good position to finish the month with a record above .500.

On the Horizon

Pirates Mariners
Pirates Mariners
Game 1 Friday, May 26 | 7:10 pm
RHP Mitch Keller RHP George Kirby
41% 59%
Game 2 Saturday, May 27 | 1:10 pm
RHP Roansy Contreras RHP Luis Castillo
35% 65%
Game 3 Sunday, May 28 | 1:10 pm
RHP Vince Velasquez LHP Marco Gonzales
44% 56%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Ship Rigging

Overview Pirates Mariners Edge
Overview Pirates Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 97 (10th in NL) 98 (9th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) -3 (10th) 11 (1st) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 90 (2nd) 80 (2nd) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 90 (7th) 71 (1st) Mariners

The Pirates raced out to a fast start this season, going 20-9 through the end of April. They’ve luffed a bit in May, winning just five of their 20 games this month. Their pitching staff has continued to show great promise, led by a breakout season from Mitch Keller and resurgent performances from their veteran duo in Rich Hill and Vince Velasquez. Unfortunately, their offense, which drove a lot of their success during the first month of play, has really backslid recently. It doesn’t help that Oneil Cruz, their tooled up shortstop of the future, injured his ankle in late April and will be sidelined for the majority of the season. Still, their early season success provided some hope and forward momentum to a franchise that’s been stuck in rebuilding mode for a while.

Pirate Crew

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Andrew McCutchen DH R 179 20.7% 13.4% 0.179 120
Bryan Reynolds LF S 202 17.8% 6.9% 0.199 117
Jack Suwinski CF L 155 31.6% 15.5% 0.219 114
Carlos Santana 1B S 193 17.6% 13.0% 0.120 92
Ke'Bryan Hayes 3B R 197 14.2% 7.6% 0.116 74
Tucupita Marcano SS L 86 11.6% 7.0% 0.162 109
Connor Joe RF R 152 28.3% 11.2% 0.235 134
Ji Hwan Bae 2B L 141 24.8% 6.4% 0.085 84
Austin Hedges C R 89 22.5% 7.9% 0.038 21

Instead of trading him to the Mariners (or any other team) for whatever half-cooked trade proposal someone came up with during the offseason, the Pirates signed Bryan Reynolds to an eight-year extension, the largest contract in their history. They were able to lock him up for the foreseeable future and he’ll be the centerpiece of their roster as they look to break out of their rebuilding cycle in the next few years. He got off to a fantastic start to the season, posting a 143 wRC+ in April, but like the rest of the team, he’s been stuck in a prolonged slump in May. That’s the same story for Jack Suwinski (167 wRC+ in April, 51 in May) and Connor Joe (159, 95) too. The one consistent producer in their lineup has been Andrew McCutchen, who signed a one-year homecoming deal with Pittsburgh this offseason. He’s posting his best offensive numbers since 2019 and has been a feel good story for the Pirate faithful who grew up watching him turn into a superstar during the first half of his career.

Officers On Deck

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Baltimore Orioles Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Mitch Keller

62 2/3 30.7% 5.6% 9.4% 44.9% 2.44 2.67
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 25.1% 95.5 107 147 69 0.195
Sinker 21.2% 94.2 102 64 83 0.246
Cutter 24.7% 90.6 95 90 106 0.327
Changeup 4.2% 90.7
Curveball 12.1% 78.0 89 51 113 0.412
Slider 12.7% 83.1 145 82 78 0.237

Mitch Keller had a really rough introduction to the major leagues but has incrementally improved each year since his debut in 2019. He’s in the middle of a huge breakout this year fueled by an increase in fastball velocity and a new cutter that’s given him a secondary weapon to pair with his heater. In fact, his entire repertoire now looks unrecognizable from his debut. His four-seamer can now be counted among the best in the game and his deep and varied repertoire plays off that riding fastball. The result is the eighth highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors and career bests in ERA and FIP.

RHP Roansy Contreras

50 16.4% 10.8% 7.6% 35.5% 4.50 4.62
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 41.8% 94.1 88 35 89 0.450
Changeup 4.2% 89.1
Curveball 11.0% 76.5 98
Slider 43.0% 83.6 106 100 89 0.263

After a promising major league debut last year, Roansy Contreras has taken a pretty significant step back this season. Most of that slide is related to a 1.5 mph drop in fastball velocity. It’s now dropped back to where it was back in 2019 when he was a teenage prospect in the Yankees organization. Without that extra oomph, his heater is simply getting crushed. His two breaking balls are actually pretty good weapons to earn swings and misses but he’s often unable to get deep enough into the count to break them out. Opposing batters are all too eager to attack his fastball, leading to a spike in contact rate allowed and a significant drop in strikeout rate.

RHP Vince Velasquez

35 1/3 23.0% 8.8% 9.3% 31.3% 3.06 4.01
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 42.2% 93.3 109 111 48 0.437
Changeup 12.4% 88.7 59
Slider 43.9% 83.3 101 89 117 0.216

It seems like just yesterday that Vince Velasquez was one of the headlining prospects headed from the Astros to the Phillies in the big Ken Giles trade in 2015. He never really lived up to the hype in Philadelphia and has bounced around from the Padres to the White Sox over the last two years. He signed a one-year deal with the Pirates during the offseason and is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in Pittsburgh. The biggest change for him is a new reliance on his slider as his primary pitch. His usage of his breaking ball is higher than ever and he’s throwing it more often than his fastball this year. That’s good because his heater is still pretty mediocre despite its higher than average whiff rate.

Fleet Deployment:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rangers 31-18 0.633 -- W-W-L-W-W
Astros 28-21 0.571 3.0 W-W-W-L-L
Angels 28-23 0.549 4.0 L-W-W-W-W
Mariners 26-24 0.520 5.5 L-W-W-W-W
Athletics 10-42 0.192 22.5 L-L-L-L-L

The Rangers just took two of three from the Pirates earlier this week in Pittsburgh and travel to Baltimore to face the red hot Orioles this weekend. After scoring 12 runs in their first game against the Brewers this week, the Astros were shut out in the other two games, snapping their eight-game win streak. They’ll head to Oakland to get another win streak started. The Angels swept the Red Sox at home and will wrap up their long homestand with a three-game series against the Marlins over the weekend.