Series Preview #23: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Seattle Mariners

Tickle Fight!

You probably haven't thought much about the Seattle Mariners recently. Don't feel bad, most people haven't, and those who have are probably (justifiably) bitter people. This is because the Mariners have been very bad lately, featuring offenses that are best viewed by cutting a hole in some cardboard and looking at the reflection to avoid permanent eye damage.

However, as some of you know, I go to school less than an hour outside of Seattle, which means that I end up paying more attention to the Mariners than I do to most AL teams. Obviously, I don't follow them the way that I follow the Diamondbacks; I didn't freak out about Dustin Ackley's slow start and I haven't written any hate mail to Miguel Olivo yet. But I've paid enough attention to them to know that they really aren't as bad as they've looked so far.

Despite having the second-worst record in the American League, the Mariners have only been outscored by 17 runs on the season, giving them the profile of a 32-35 team. But more than that, they just haven't looked as hopeless as they looked in the past few years. The Mariners have averaged 534 runs per season over the last two years. For context, the 2004 Diamondbacks scored 615 runs, and the 2004 Diamondbacks were the worst thing ever.

Last year, their hitter who accumulated the second most PAs on the team was a 32-year-old Miguel Olivo with his OBP of .253. The year before it was Chone Figgins. But now at least, they have a burgeoning core of young players who they can at least dream on, so the whole thing feels more respectable than it has in past seasons.

What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):

Arizona
(32-34)

Seattle
(28-39)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 91 87
Arizona
Pitching (FIP-):
93 108
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
14.5 21.3 Seattle

See? The Mariners' offense is just garden-variety putrid this year rather than the record-settingly putrid it's been for the last few years. Their batting average is 25th in baseball, for what that's worth, but their walk rate is right in the middle of the pack, and their 19th-ranked ISO% has to do with the run-suppressing environment of Safeco Field as much as anything. The non-Felix portion of the Mariners' rotation is pretty poor, ranking in the bottom third for most park-adjusted metrics. And the team has particularly struggled to get strikeouts, with their rotation ranking 26th in K/9.

Starting Lineups

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Willie Bloomquist, SS
2. Aaron Hill, 2B
3. Justin Upton, RF
4. Miguel Montero, C
5. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
6. Jason Kubel, LF
7. Chris Young, CF
8. Ryan Roberts, 3B

Seattle Mariners

1. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
2. Dustin Ackley, 2B
3. Kyle Seager, 3B
4. Jesus Montero, C
5. Michael Saunders, LF
6. Justin Smoak, 1B
7. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
8. Brendan Ryan, SS

  • The Mariners lead the league in part-time catchers who can kind of start a little. Here's a quick rundown: John Jaso- has hit well this year, probably okay at catching; Jesus Montero- hits well, can't catch; Miguel Olivo: can't hit, consistently leads the league in passed balls.
  • In order of how many starts they've each made at catcher: Olivo, then Montero, then Jaso. Now Eric Wedge knows infinitely more about his team than I do, so I should probably defer to his wisdom. I'll do no such thing. This is really dumb.
  • I love Ichiro. I've honestly never talked to a baseball fan who doesn't love Ichiro as a player, because the dude is just so fun to watch. For that reason, it's uncomfortable to see him struggle like this. He has an OPS of .654 a year after posting an OPS of .645 in over 700 PAs. I know that's not really the gist of his game, but he has an OBP of .286 in the leadoff spot, which is awful and unlikely to improve much, with him being 38 and all. I'm so used to seeing Ichiro be unique that it's frankly disconcerting to see him age like a normal player.
  • Kyle Seager was a glove-first infield prospect who had a .691 OPS in about 200 PAs last season. Michael Saunders was a failed former top prospect who was given one final shot to break out of triple-A Tacoma this spring. These are currently the Mariners' two best starters by OPS. I have no idea if it will continue for either of them, but it's pretty cool that it happened in the first place.
  • Mariner fans have waded through 200 losses in the past two years on the basis that the young hitters currently in place will bring something better than what they've seen. Two of the most important of these hitters, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak, currently have OPSes below .700. It's not a death sentence for either of them, but fans have to be getting a bit nervous, particularly about their first basemen, who has been more Smoak than fire (sorry), since coming over in the Cliff Lee trade.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: Wade Miley (7-3, 2.39) vs. Hector Noesi (2-7, 5.54)

Insightful Commentary: There was no reason why Wade Miley should have succeeded against the Rangers. He was facing a lineup filled with hitters who punish balls in the strike zone in one of the most homer-friendly ballparks in baseball. He responded by giving up one run in seven innings. Said run scored on a dubious grounder that Ryan Roberts probably should have at least kept in front of him. He's walked one guy in his last three starts (23 innings), while striking out 17. He's been great all season, but his good results have gotten a little less fluky recently, which is always good to see.

Hector Noesi has an ERA over 5.5 and a BABIP of .223, which is somewhat difficult to do. For those of you who don't follow other team's prospects, the Mariners have a trio of excellent pitching prospects in Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. They might not quite be Bauer/Skaggs/Bradley, but they belong in the same conversation. They're all in Double-A for now, and they'll start trickling up to the majors in 2013. But until then, guys like Hector Noesi get no shortage of opportunities to work out the kinks in their game.

Tuesday: Daniel Hudson (3-1, 5.67) vs. Erasmo Ramirez (0-1, 4.50)

Insightful Commentary: Hudson desperately needed a start like his last one. The win was nice, as was the quality start, but he also had seven strikeouts, a season high, against a very good offense. For my money, Daniel Hudson is the second-most important player (behind Upton) to the Diamondbacks' playoff hopes this year. This rotation suddenly looks a lot better with Hudson pitching like he did last year.

There are two different Erasmo Ramirezes who have pitched in the major leagues recently. This is weird and confusing because seriously how many people would name their son "Erasmo?" We'll see the one who isn't a former Rangers reliever on Tuesday, and he's making his second career major league start. He doesn't have a top-line fastball, but his change-up has drawn rave reviews, and he's shown good control in the minors.

Wednesday: Trevor Cahill (5-5, 3.08) vs. Jason Vargas (7-6, 3.95)

Insightful Commentary: Cahill has given up two runs in his last three starts. Two thoughts: 1. Wade Miley laughs at this performance and 2. It's still really, really good. His strikeouts are way up in his last two games, which generally means that his sinker has been moving a ton of late. As long as that's the case, Cahill will be fine.

The interesting thing about Jason Vargas as a pitcher is...

Haha, little joke. Jason Vargas is a perfectly garden-variety left hander who doesn't strike anyone out, doesn't get any swings and misses, but also doesn't walk many, and has an ERA of right around 4. In other words, Vargas is about as much of a Padres Pitcher (TM) as anyone can be without actually pitching for the Padres.

Final Verdict: The Diamondbacks probably have the three best starting pitchers in this series, which is always a good thing. The offense has looked miserable in the last 18 innings, but if they can't get things going against Noesi, Ramirez and Vargas, then it's officially time to panic. But for now, I'll say Diamondbacks two games to one.

It isn't easy to be a Mariners' fan, but Jeff and Matthew over at Lookout Landing make it just a bit more fun. Head over if you wish, but for god's sake be sure to use the subject line, you animals.

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