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Series Preview: Mariners (77-59) at Reds (71-68)

The Mariners play the upstart Reds in a three-game series in Cincinnati.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at San Francisco Giants Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

After such a ridiculously hot August, the Mariners stumbled a bit to begin the final month of the regular season. Thankfully, they had some help from the Twins and Yankees to keep their place atop the AL West. It does kind of feel like the long season is catching up to the M’s all at once. The attrition hasn’t been significant, but all the minor dings, bumps, and bruises are taking their toll as the season comes to a close. They’ll continue their long road trip with a stop in Cincinnati.

At a Glance

Mariners Reds
Mariners Reds
Game 1 Monday, September 4 | 1:10 pm
RHP Bryan Woo RHP Tejay Antone
60% 40%
Game 2 Tuesday, September 5 | 3:40 pm
RHP Bryce Miller RHP Connor Phillips
54% 46%
Game 3 Wednesday, September 6 | 3:40 pm
RHP Logan Gilbert RHP Lyon Richardson
59% 41%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Reds Mariners Edge
Overview Reds Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 94 (9th in NL 109 (4th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) -19 (15th) 10 (3rd) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 109 (13th) 91 (3rd) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 97 (10th) 86 (2nd) Mariners

The upstart Reds weren’t supposed to be competitive so quickly after tearing everything down to the studs last year. They had a wave of prospects in the high minors close to debuting, but a rebuilding cycle usually doesn’t have such a quick turnaround. Things didn’t really kick into high gear until they called up Elly De La Cruz in early June. Without him on the major league roster, they were 27-33; after he made his debut on June 6, they’ve gone 44-35. De La Cruz hasn’t been the only reason they’ve made such huge strides, rookies Matt McClain, Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, and Andrew Abbott have all been significant contributors during the second half of the season.

Despite the quick success of all their young talent, Cincinnati still finds itself in a heated battle for the final NL Wild Card slot, jockeying with the Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Giants for that position. After splitting a four-game series with the Cubs last weekend, they enter this week in a four-way tie with those other three teams.

Reds Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Jake Fraley DH L 337 18.1% 9.8% 0.207 118
TJ Friedl LF L 469 16.4% 7.2% 0.158 101
Spencer Steer 2B R 570 20.0% 10.4% 0.185 116
Elly De La Cruz SS S 341 35.8% 6.7% 0.187 86
Christian Encarnacion-Strand 1B R 167 29.9% 4.8% 0.143 88
Will Benson RF L 269 31.6% 13.4% 0.207 122
Tyler Stephenson C R 451 27.1% 10.0% 0.130 91
Noelvi Marte 3B R 54 29.6% 9.3% 0.082 62
Harrison Bader CF R 315 17.8% 4.4% 0.123 75

Despite the hype and the highlights, De La Cruz’s first taste of the majors has been a bit of a mixed bag. The elite tools are immediately evident as soon as you see him play — he’s truly a five-tool player in every sense of the concept — but he’s still a bit raw as a complete package. A 35.8% strikeout rate has undermined the incredible underlying batted ball data he’s putting up at the plate and his defense at shortstop (filling in for the injured McClain) has been buoyed by a cannon for an arm.

The Reds were one of the big winners of the waiver wire free-for-all last week; they claimed Hunter Renfroe from the Angels and Harrison Bader from the Yankees. That gives them a lot more depth in the outfield as well as some veteran leadership in the clubhouse as they make their run towards the postseason. They also called up Noelvi Marte in mid-August and he’ll get a shot at playing against the team that signed him as an international free agent.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Cincinnati Reds Spring Training Sam Greene/The Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK

RHP Tejay Antone

33 2/3 32.8% 10.2% 13.6% 47.1% 2.14 3.26
2021 stats

Tejay Antone is the listed starter for the Reds on Monday but he’ll be acting as an opener behind a bulk pitcher. It’s unclear who will be slated to follow the opener, but it’s possible it’ll be a full blown bullpen day for the Reds. As for Antone, he’s back in the majors after undergoing Tommy John surgery in early 2022. He had attempted to pitch through the forearm injury in 2021, compiling just 33.2 innings that season. It looked like he was in the midst of a big breakout as a high leverage reliever before getting injured. He made his first appearance in the big leagues in more than two years on Saturday.

RHP Connor Phillips

105 33.3% 12.3% 12.3% 43.2% 3.86 3.73
Combined minor league stats

Conner Phillips ended up being the surprising Player to Be Named Later in the big Jesse Winker/Eugenio Suárez deal ahead of the 2022 season. He’s continued his big breakout in Cincinnati’s organization, racking up more than 300 strikeouts in just 214.2 minor league innings over the last two years. His fastball has continued to be overpowering with an excellent curveball to pair with it. The biggest knock against him is his command that waxes and wanes — he managed to get his walk rate under 10% in Double-A this year but it shot back up as soon as he was promoted a level. Now, he’ll be making his major league debut against the team that drafted him back in 2020.

RHP Lyon Richardson

65 35.5% 11.1% 5.7% 47.3% 2.22 2.65
Combined minor league stats

Tommy John surgery interrupted a big breakout minor league season for Lyon Richardson back in 2021. He returned with a fastball sitting in the upper 90s — a huge increase over what he was throwing prior to his injury — and has been able to work a starter’s workload with that kind of velocity. More impressive have been the gaudy strikeout rates he’s compiled across three minor league levels this year. He made his major league debut in early August and has now made three starts in the big leagues. So far, those strikeout totals haven’t followed him to the highest level yet and he’s walked more batters than he’s punched out.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Mariners 77-59 0.566 -- L-W-L-W-L
Rangers 76-60 0.559 1.0 W-L-L-L-W
Astros 77-61 0.558 1.0 W-W-L-L-L
Angels 64-73 0.467 13.5 L-W-L-L-L
Athletics 42-95 0.307 35.5 W-L-W-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Tampa Bay 83-54 0.606 +6.5 W-W-L-L-W
Rangers 76-60 0.559 -- W-L-L-L-W
Astros 77-61 0.558 -- W-W-L-L-L
Blue Jays 75-62 0.547 1.5 L-W-W-L-W
Red Sox 71-66 0.518 5.5 L-L-L-W-W

The Twins and Yankees did the Mariners huge favors over the weekend. Minnesota traveled to Texas and won two of three against the Rangers in a series that included two drama-filled games on Saturday and Sunday. The Astros fared even worse against New York, getting swept in three games. Those two division rivals will have the opportunity to beat each other up this week as Houston travels to Arlington for a three game series. From a pragmatic point of view, it’s probably best to root for a Rangers sweep or series win since the Astros have an easier schedule down the stretch and the Mariners still control their destiny against Texas with their seven games remaining on the schedule.

In the AL Wild Card race, the Blue Jays gained a little bit of ground with a series win in Colorado over the weekend. They’ve got a pretty easy schedule this week with a trip to Oakland before hosting the Royals this weekend. The Rays lost two of three to the Guardians and will host the Red Sox to start this week, hoping to kick Boston out of the playoff picture completely.