clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Series Preview: Mariners (48-48) vs. Blue Jays (54-43)

The Blue Jays are in town for the annual Canadian Invasion.

San Diego Padres v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

This week’s series against the Twins felt like a turning point in the Mariners season, and not in a good way, with Kelenic’s injury, two demoralizing losses, and Jerry Dipoto telling it like it is. And yet, the final game of the set was a satisfying win behind George Kirby’s stellar pitching, and we are back to exactly .500. It’s debut season, with Devin Sweet and Cade Marlowe making theirs against Minnesota, and Prelander Berroa poised for his this weekend. As playoff aspirations become frail, attention shifts to the promise represented by these young players.

The Mariners and Blue Jays played three games in Toronto at the end of April; the Mariners lost two of them and both teams scored twelve runs. This weekend, Canada comes to Seattle in a series that features, each year, home games that feel like away games and a lot of traffic (made worse by the Taylor Swift concerts at Lumen Field this weekend).

At a Glance

Blue Jays Mariners
Blue Jays Mariners
Game 1 Friday, July 21 | 7:10 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi RHP Bryce Miller
43% 57%
Game 2 Saturday, July 22 | 1:10 pm
RHP Kevin Gausman RHP Logan Gilbert
51% 49%
Game 3 Sunday, July 23 | 1:10 pm
RHP Alek Manoah RHP Bryan Woo
47% 53%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Blue Jays Mariners Edge
Overview Blue Jays Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 108 (4th in AL) 99 (9th in AL) Blue Jays
Fielding (OAA) 0 (9th) 11 (3rd) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 98 (4th) 91 (3rd) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 91 (3rd) 90 (2nd) Mariners

The 2023 Blue Jays are an inconsistent team made up of good players in a formidable division. They’re ranked 9th in the majors in batting by fWAR and 10th in pitching, and currently hold the second American League Wild Card spot. The AL East is strong this year, with all five teams well above .500 and within ten games of one another. Toronto is smack dab in the middle of that crowd, five-and-a-half games back of the Orioles, who hoisted themselves into first place yesterday after the Rays dominated the first half of the season.

The Blue Jays don’t have a standout superstar hitter, but rather a lineup of good bats at varied points in their careers. For a team that wants to repeat and exceed 2022’s postseason appearance, that may not be good enough, but there aren’t any clear holes to patch at the trade deadline. The rotation’s one-two punch of Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman split in opposite directions early in the season, with Gausman now leading all of baseball in pitching fWAR (4.0) and Manoah struggling to the tune of a month in the minor leagues. The team’s inconsistency has continued since the All-Star Break, as the Blue Jays swept the Diamondbacks and then lost two of three to the Padres.

Blue Jays Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
George Springer RF R 407 16.7% 7.6% 0.148 110
Bo Bichette SS R 428 18.2% 4.2% 0.176 135
Brandon Belt DH L 249 37.3% 15.7% 0.168 123
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 1B R 409 15.6% 8.3% 0.179 120
Matt Chapman 3B R 393 27.0% 11.2% 0.198 124
Whit Merrifield 2B R 354 16.9% 7.1% 0.108 109
Daulton Varsho LF L 366 23.8% 7.4% 0.147 76
Danny Jansen C R 211 21.8% 6.6% 0.226 100
Kevin Kiermaier CF L 258 20.5% 7.4% 0.146 107

The Blue Jays boast three 2023 All-Stars in their starting lineup: Bo Bichette, Whit Merrifield, and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. Bichette has stupendous counting stats this season, with 130 hits (second in baseball) and 16 home runs (leading his team). Guerrero’s production has varied month to month, and he’s been worth just 0.2 fWAR on the year… but he won the Home Run Derby, so there’s that. Matt Chapman is the story of the month, having blazed through April, slumped through May and June, and heated up again recently; his wRC+ so far this month is 168. Merrifield, too, is having a great July, with 12 RBI and a 151 wRC+. Every bat in the lineup has the potential to do damage, but few have consistently done so across multiple weeks this year.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Toronto Blue Jays v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

LHP Yusei Kikuchi

98 24.3% 7.3% 18.8% 37.0% 4.13 5.18
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 44.2% 95.3 121 140 98 0.334
Changeup 13.8% 88.8 85 63 84 0.331
Curveball 16.1% 83.4 100 93 131 0.257
Slider 25.9% 89.0 105 86 98 0.363

This will be the first time Yusei Kikuchi returns to Seattle since departing for Toronto via free agency after the 2021 season. He’s largely the same pitcher who showed flashes of brilliance as a Mariner punctuated by frustrating bouts of inconsistency. His raw stuff is still intact; he’s continued to hone his pitches, though his command of them continues to waver. That lack of control leads to all the problems that have plagued him throughout his time in the major leagues. He’s gotten his walk rate somewhat under control this year, though he’s still struggling with a big home run problem.

RHP Kevin Gausman

115 2/3 32.6% 6.2% 8.5% 43.0% 3.03 2.46
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 51.3% 94.7 113 80 92 0.346
Splitter 37.5% 86.1 114 139 91 0.218
Slider 10.9% 84.0 91 112 99 0.305

From a previous series preview:

Kevin Gausman suffered from some pretty extreme bad luck from a run prevention standpoint 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, 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.

Gausman threw one of his best starts of the season against the Mariners in his previous outing against them. He held them scoreless across seven innings, allowing just six hits and one walk while striking out 13.

RHP Alek Manoah

67 17.3% 14.6% 13.6% 37.6% 6.18 6.28
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 28.3% 92.8 92 119 97 0.417
Sinker 29.6% 92.7 94 77 129 0.405
Changeup 13.0% 86.1 71 62 87 0.355
Slider 29.1% 80.8 95 74 101 0.301

From a previous series preview:

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.

This will be Manoah’s third start since being recalled from his minor league development reset. He was fine in his previous start against the Mariners, holding them to two runs in five innings while striking out seven.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rangers 58-39 0.598 -- W-W-W-W-W
Astros 54-43 0.557 4.0 L-W-L-W-W
Angels 49-48 0.505 9.0 W-L-W-W-W
Mariners 48-48 0.500 9.5 W-W-L-L-W
Athletics 27-72 0.273 32.0 L-L-W-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Tampa Bay 60-40 0.600 +4.5 L-L-L-L-L
Astros 54-43 0.557 -- L-W-L-W-W
Blue Jays 54-43 0.557 -- W-W-L-L-W
Red Sox 51-46 0.526 3.0 L-W-W-L-L
Yankees 50-47 0.515 4.0 W-L-L-L-L
Angels 49-48 0.505 5.0 W-L-W-W-W
Mariners 48-48 0.500 5.5 W-W-L-L-W

All three of the Mariners’ AL West competitors (sorry, Oakland) gained ground ahead of them this week. Most notably, the Angels leapfrogged into third place in the West with a sweep of the Yankees. The Wild Card race held pretty steady around the M’s, though the top slot did change hands as the AL East race changed. The West-leading Rangers effected said change by sweeping the Rays; they’ll host the Dodgers this weekend. Houston split a quick two-gamer in Colorado, and won their first of four in Oakland yesterday. The Angels play an interleague series against the Pirates starting today.