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Series Preview: Mariners (71-56) vs. Royals (41-88)

The Mariners try to add some cheese to these Royals.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Kansas City Royals Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Seattle Mariners squared off against the Kansas City Royals, the M’s were coming off a disappointing loss that had nonetheless not quashed what had been a brilliant stretch of play, slingshotting them back into playoff contention. It appears to be deja vu for the boys in Northwest Green, as KC stumbles in having gone 2-4 since they went their separate ways from Seattle. That rate is actually ahead of their season-long pace, which would likely feel better if one of the series losses hadn’t come to the only team below them in the standings anywhere, the Oakland Athletics. Despite this, as the M’s experienced in Kansas City, the young, aggressive Royals are hardly prone to rolling over, and they’ve taken a series from the Dodgers, Twins, Padres, Mets, and White Sox this year, all of whom, at least in some capacity, have good players and can be competitive at a minimum.

At a Glance

Royals Mariners
Royals Mariners
Game 1 Friday, August 25 | 7:10 pm
RHP Brady Singer RHP Bryce Miller
38% 62%
Game 2 Saturday, August 26 | 1:10 pm
RHP Jordan Lyles RHP Logan Gilbert
28% 72%
Game 3 Sunday, August 27 | 1:10 pm
RHP Alec Marsh RHP Luis Castillo
27% 73%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Overview Royals Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 85 (15th in AL) 107 (3rd in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) 18 (1st) 9 (3rd) Royals
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 114 (14th) 91 (3rd) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 106 (14th) 85 (2nd) Mariners

While the Royals aren’t having as poor a season as the A’s, at least Oakland has some sort of direction for their future (even if it’s out of town and a long way off). Kansas City is floundering in the worst way, seemingly stuck in a rebuilding cycle that shows no signs of ending anytime soon. They graduated a trio of offensive prospects last year but only Bobby Witt Jr. has shown any signs of positive development this year; Vinnie Pasquantino is out for the season with a shoulder injury and MJ Melendez has been frustratingly inconsistent. They currently have the 28th ranked farm system per FanGraphs with exactly zero prospects in the Top 100. Their pitching staff is an even worse mess. Organizational failures have squandered all the talent they had added through the draft over the last few years. It really feels like they’re starting this rebuild from scratch despite this cycle starting half a decade ago.

This was the writeup from the recent series preview, and little has shifted. KC still runs like the dickens and plays stellar defense, led by likely Gold Glove winner Bobby Witt Jr. at shortstop. They still hit scrappily but ultimately with too little thump or plate discipline. And they still need to count their lucky stars for the atrocity of the A’s pitching staff, keeping them out of the cellar.

Royals Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Maikel Garcia 3B R 385 21.0% 6.8% 0.092 90
Bobby Witt Jr. SS R 551 18.3% 5.1% 0.226 120
Michael Massey 2B L 360 21.9% 5.6% 0.136 69
Salvador Perez C R 474 22.8% 3.8% 0.173 90
MJ Melendez LF L 494 28.7% 8.7% 0.157 87
Nelson Velázquez DH R 68 25.0% 4.4% 0.359 129
Drew Waters RF S 244 33.2% 7.8% 0.164 86
Matt Beaty 1B L 48 14.6% 8.3% 0.095 113
Kyle Isbel CF L 246 18.3% 3.7% 0.137 70

If there’s one thing to provide Royals fans with some amount of hope, it’s the development of Bobby Witt Jr. this year. Through June, he was posting an 87 wRC+, a pretty disappointing follow up to his uneven rookie campaign. He’s really come on strong since the calendar flipped to July, posting a .336/.370/.636 slash line (a 169 wRC+) over the last month and a half and he’s now tied for second in fWAR (4.2) among all MLB shortstops. Maikel Garcia has also been a bright spot for Kansas City this year. Their top ranked prospect in the preseason, he’s produced a .286/.330/.384 slash line (a 94 wRC+) across 84 games while providing a spark at the top of the lineup. And then there’s Salvador Perez, a fixture in their lineup for more than a decade, continuing to provide veteran leadership and a bit of power as their everyday catcher.

We’ve seen the stardom of Bobby Witt Jr. on display, while the plucky approaches of Maikel Garcia and the rest of the largely-contact-heavy offense can create mayhem. It’s worth noting that while such an approach is well-suited to the windy, open outfield of Kauffman Stadium, it could not be less well-suited to the small surface area of T-Mobile Park and its minimal wind and oft-cooler-than-average temperatures. To wit(t), the Royals have a 32 point difference in wOBA as a team between playing at home and on the road — comparable to the home-road split of the Rockies.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Boston Red Sox Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Brady Singer

139 1/3 19.7% 7.1% 11.2% 48.5% 5.04 4.05
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Sinker 51.3% 92.3 89 77 89 0.371
Changeup 6.2% 87.8 50 33 76 0.286
Slider 41.9% 84.1 87 96 99 0.307

Brady Singer seemingly broke out last year after making some key adjustments to his sinker while dropping his walk rate to just 5.6%. Well, his walk rate is back up again, his strikeout rate has fallen by more than five points, and he’s suffered from some poor batted ball luck this year. The result is an ERA that sits more than a run above his FIP, a frustratingly inconsistent season after his big step forward last year. His biggest issue continues to be a lack of a third pitch. He’s worked on developing a changeup but it’s clearly not an effective big league weapon yet. His slider is a wipeout pitch but one plus offering can only take him so far.

Apparently “only so far” for Singer last time out against the M’s was “into the 7th inning with a no-hitter” in the only game the Royals won of the four-game set. Expect a similar approach for the former University of Florida star.

RHP Jordan Lyles

139 1/3 15.8% 6.3% 13.8% 33.8% 6.20 5.59
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 32.8% 91.3 76 69 109 0.360
Sinker 10.6% 90.5 79 113 111 0.373
Cutter 7.3% 86.7 94 63 85 0.425
Changeup 10.4% 85.7 68 74 81 0.315
Curveball 15.0% 79.3 93 66 96 0.305
Sweeper 23.8% 80.2 99 68 85 0.326

Jordan Lyles is performing that often overlooked and underappreciated role of innings eater for a rebuilding club. His ERA is up over six and he has a 3-13 record, but the Royals continue to throw him out there every five days. Kansas City is his third rebuilding club he’s thrown for over the last four seasons and he’s reliably thrown nearly 550 innings during that span. He doesn’t strike out that many batters but he also doesn’t walk that many either. He actually has pretty decent contact management peripherals with a hard hit rate allowed in the top 20% in the majors. He does allow a lot of fly ball contact and far too many barrels leading to a big home run problem which is the source of all of his woes.

13 years Jordan Lyles has pitched in the majors. If you look at FanGraphs, they’ll tell you he’s been largely replacement level or a step above, but over the course of that time accrued enough innings and value to match 1998 Randy Johnson. Do not look at what Baseball Reference has to say about this man, who yielded four tanks to the M’s in five frames last time they matched up.

RHP Alec Marsh

43 2/3 24.6% 12.3% 21.1% 30.8% 5.56 6.75
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 42.5% 94.2 95 105 68 0.411
Changeup 15.1% 86.8 79 81 54 0.407
Curveball 16.9% 80.8 98 107 84 0.316
Slider 25.5% 86.3 103 117 75 0.322

Alec Marsh entered this season as the third ranked prospect and best pitching prospect in the Royals organization. He saw a huge velocity jump after putting in a ton of off field work during the lost 2020 pandemic season. Even with the added oomph behind his fastball, it’s really weird shape and spin characteristics make it surprisingly hittable. Rather than using his heater to establish the count early in an at-bat, Marsh will often pitch backwards, using his secondary offerings early and finishing off batters with his fastball. It’s an odd approach that worked in the minors but he’s had trouble translating to the big leagues across his first six starts.

Working around a whole mess of walks, Marsh actually went five frames last time with just a single run yielded. Though this is subject to change, Marsh seems the likeliest fit for the third game of this series.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rangers 72-55 0.567 -- L-L-L-L-L
Mariners 71-56 0.559 1.0 W-W-W-W-L
Astros 72-57 0.558 1.0 L-W-W-L-L
Angels 61-67 0.477 11.5 W-L-L-L-L
Athletics 37-91 0.289 35.5 L-W-W-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Tampa Bay 78-51 0.605 +6.0 L-W-W-W-W
Mariners 71-56 0.559 -- W-W-W-W-L
Astros 72-57 0.558 -- L-W-W-L-L
Blue Jays 70-58 0.547 1.5 W-W-W-L-L
Red Sox 68-60 0.531 3.5 W-L-L-W-W

It is a testament of the supremacy with which the Los Angeles Angels have acted against the universe’s sense of equilibrium that in a week where the Texas Rangers lost their seventh straight game, in utter free fall out of what once seemed a locked up division title, Texas can say with confidence that they did not have the worst week of any AL West club. In fact, while the injuries to Ohtani and Trout, alongside an unceremonious home sweeping by the Reds are embarrassing, Anaheim can look north with solace. That’s because the most hated current man in baseball, Oakland A’s owner John Fisher, who inherited his fortune from his parents through their founding and running of clothing brand The Gap, actually opened his mouth again, forcing Forbes (Forbes!) to write about his lying and opening another round of scrutiny of the A’s ownership’s slapdash efforts to move to Las Vegas. Houston, unless I missed another exposé, merely lost a series to the Red Sox, albeit one in a massive blowout. Ahead lies a trip to Detroit for the Astros, while Texas continues their four-game set in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays dropped two of three to the Orioles, offering Seattle a morsel of cushion in the Wild Card but solidifying the likely unavailability of the WC1, particularly as the Rays rattled off a sweep of their own at home against the wretched Rockies. Tampa hosts the Yankees this weekend, while Toronto welcomes the Guardians north of the border. The O’s take their turn against the poor kids from Colorado, while Boston welcomes home Mookie Betts and the Dodgers.