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Series Preview: Mariners (46-46) vs. Twins (48-46)

The Mariners host the Twins in a big four-game series this week.

MLB: JUL 05 Royals at Twins Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A series loss to the Tigers was a pretty disappointing way to start the second half of the season. At some point, this agonizing flirtation with .500 is going to sink the Mariners season. They’re still within striking distance of a playoff spot but something will need to change soon if they really want to make a run for it this year. Here’s Paul Sewald telling it like it is after yesterday’s victory:

At a Glance

Twins Mariners
Twins Mariners
Game 1 Monday, July 17 | 6:40 pm
RHP Sonny Gray RHP Logan Gilbert
45% 55%
Game 2 Tuesday, July 18 | 6:40 pm
RHP Bailey Ober RHP Bryan Woo
42% 58%
Game 3 Wednesday, July 19 | 6:40 pm
RHP Kenta Maeda RHP Luis Castillo
39% 61%
Game 4 Thursday, July 20 | 12:40 pm
RHP Pablo López RHP George Kirby
44% 56%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Twins Mariners Edge
Overview Twins Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 99 (8th in AL) 99 (9th in AL) Twins
Fielding (OAA) -9 (11th) 10 (3rd) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 85 (1st) 91 (3rd) Twins
Bullpen (FIP-) 94 (7th) 87 (2nd) Mariners

In so many ways, the Twins are built exactly like the Mariners, only they have the benefit of playing in the weakest division in baseball. Both teams have elite pitching staffs that are carrying much of the load this season — they rank first and second in strikeout-to-walk ratio and in park-adjusted FIP — and both teams have been sunk by inconsistent and frustrating offenses — they rank first and second in strikeout rate and sport matching 99 wRC+s. Minnesota’s run differential is one run higher than Seattle’s but the midwest team is currently in first place in their division, 2.5 games ahead of the Guardians, while the Mariners are stuck in third place in the AL West behind two extremely strong teams.

Twins Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Carlos Correa SS R 355 22.8% 9.3% 0.176 98
Edouard Julien 2B L 157 32.5% 10.2% 0.234 142
Byron Buxton DH R 311 30.9% 10.6% 0.218 94
Alex Kirilloff 1B L 208 24.5% 10.6% 0.139 123
Donovan Solano 3B R 263 21.7% 11.8% 0.141 127
Max Kepler RF L 239 23.0% 7.9% 0.191 88
Christian Vázquez C R 210 22.9% 9.5% 0.069 65
Joey Gallo LF L 239 40.6% 14.2% 0.286 115
Michael A. Taylor CF R 252 34.1% 4.8% 0.192 84

Carlos Correa’s struggles this year have rightly received most of the attention when it comes to the Twins disappointing offense. A foot issue has certainly impacted his ability to hit consistently, though it should be noted that most of his batted ball peripherals seem to be in line with his career norms and a career-low .276 BABIP seems to be the root of a lot of his struggles. The focus on Correa’s down season has masked some of the problems the Twins’ other superstar is suffering through. In an effort to keep Byron Buxton on the field as much as possible, he has spent the entire season as Minnesota’s regular designated hitter. Unfortunately, the prodigious power he’s shown over the last three years hasn’t shown up this season. He’s still striking out at an extremely high rate and his batted ball peripherals look solid, but his isolated power is only .218, 100 points lower than his recent three-year average.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Baltimore Orioles v Minnesota Twins Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

RHP Sonny Gray

99 2/3 24.1% 9.3% 3.7% 48.5% 2.89 2.85
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 24.0% 92.8 102 62 124 0.362
Sinker 16.7% 92.6 85 149 78 0.357
Cutter 15.7% 87.6 118 120 115 0.326
Changeup 6.6% 87.4 85 50 135 0.291
Curveball 19.8% 79.3 89 100 110 0.332
Sweeper 17.3% 83.9 126 117 79 0.193

Since joining the Twins last year, Sonny Gray has evolved as a pitcher. He’s gained a much greater understanding of his pitch arsenal and how each pitch plays off each other. He’s even added a cutter to his repertoire to split the difference between his fastballs and his breaking balls. That new pitch sits in the perfect middle zone between his other pitches, giving him multiple layers of movement and velocity within his arsenal to keep batters off balance. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is right in line with his career norms but his ability to generate weak contact has improved tremendously. With such diversity in his pitch mix, batters have been simply unable to barrel up any of his pitches with regularity and he’s reaped the rewards.

RHP Bailey Ober

82 2/3 24.6% 5.6% 7.1% 31.8% 2.61 3.39
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 44.4% 91.3 72 122 93 0.320
Changeup 25.6% 83.6 94 89 101 0.245
Curveball 8.7% 77.8 97 47 68 0.235
Slider 21.4% 81.3 79 90 64 0.349

Bailey Ober’s season is the perfect example of how deep the Twins starting rotation has been this year. He started the year off in the minor leagues and didn’t claim a regular role in the majors until Tyler Mahle was lost for the season with an elbow injury. Since then, he’s posted the same strikeout-to-walk ratio and FIP as Pablo López across 14 starts. Ober’s gigantic 6-foot-9 frame helps him impart a ton of effective velocity on his pitches, with his elite extension “adding” more than 2 mph in perceived velocity. That, combined with some pretty good carry, allows his fastball to play up well over its below average velocity. He revamped his slider in the middle of his rookie season in 2021 and that breaking ball has been a standout pitch for him ever since. He also possesses a fantastic changeup that he uses to keep left-handed batters at bay.

RHP Kenta Maeda

36 26.6% 7.8% 8.3% 34.3% 5.50 3.45
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 23.2% 90.1 71 133 79 0.362
Sinker 5.6% 89.4
Splitter 32.2% 83.6 128 99 76 0.275
Curveball 4.2% 75.6
Slider 34.8% 81.5 103 93 70 0.299

Kenta Maeda was the Cy Young runner-up in 2020 in his first season in Minnesota but injured his elbow the following year and missed all of last year after Tommy John surgery. He was healthy to start the season but missed two more months after straining his triceps in late April. His ERA is heavily skewed by a 10-run disaster against the Yankees in which he injured his arm — remove that game from his ledger and his ERA falls to 3.27. He’s lost a bit of velocity thanks to all those troubles with his arm but his three primary pitches have continued to be pretty effective.

RHP Pablo López

116 2/3 30.2% 6.9% 11.6% 39.5% 4.24 3.36
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 35.8% 94.9 102 143 79 0.318
Sinker 10.2% 94.5 102 90 149 0.352
Changeup 20.7% 88.4 89 90 98 0.257
Curveball 12.8% 82.4 97 129 59 0.255
Sweeper 20.4% 84.3 112 96 114 0.201

Pablo López was the Twins headlining acquisition in the big offseason trade that sent Luis Arraez to Miami. Amazingly enough, both players represented their new teams at the All-Star Game. While his actual results have been inconsistent this year — just look at his two starts bookending the All-Star break for example: a complete game shutout against the Royals on July 5 followed by a seven-run stinker against the A’s on July 15 — López’s peripherals are better than ever. He’s running a career-high strikeout rate thanks to a new sweeper he added to his repertoire this year. Paired with his excellent fastball and changeup, that gives him three consistent weapons to attack batters with.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rangers 55-39 0.585 -- L-L-W-W-W
Astros 52-42 0.553 3.0 W-L-W-L-W
Mariners 46-46 0.500 8.0 L-W-L-L-W
Angels 46-48 0.489 9.0 L-L-L-W-L
Athletics 25-70 0.263 30.5 L-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Orioles 57-35 0.620 +6.0 W-W-W-W-W
Blue Jays 53-41 0.564 +1.0 L-W-W-W-W
Astros 52-42 0.553 -- W-L-W-L-W
Red Sox 50-44 0.532 2.0 W-W-W-L-W
Yankees 50-44 0.532 2.0 W-L-L-W-L
Mariners 46-46 0.500 5.0 L-W-L-L-W

Seattle’s little faceplant against the Tigers was ill-timed, as their proximity to the top of the division has waned. The Rangers swept the Guardians, ostensibly hurting a Wild Card competitor but on the whole putting Seattle in a greater bind. They’ll now face a gauntlet of good teams, followed by a slate of massively underwhelming ones, hosting the Rays and Dodgers before taking on the Astros, Padres, and White Sox. The Astros took two of three from the Angels in a see-saw series and now get a squishy road trip to Colorado and Oakland for six games. Anaheim faces down a pivotal final two weeks before the trade deadline by continuing their homestand with the Yankees and Pirates. Oakland hosts Boston and the Astros, which is bad news for Seattle by extension.