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Series Preview #15: The Mariners Sail into the Desert

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Lefty Caleb Smith Debuts for the Diamondbacks

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On August 18th the Mariners and Diamondbacks appeared to be two teams heading in opposite directions. They were, just not how we imagined. The Mariners had just dropped a two game set to the Dodgers to fall to 7-18, and were in last place in the AL West. The Diamondbacks had just won six straight to get to 13-11, and were in a Wild Card Position in the NL Standings.

Since then the Mariners have gone 12-6, improving to 19-24 and are 3 games out of an AL Wild Card spot. The Diamondbacks have gone 3-18 to fall to 16-29 and have the 2nd worst Win Percentage in the NL, (27th in MLB) are are now playing for a #1 first round draft pick, (If Rob Manfred doesn’t screw things up that is)

Seattle Mariners Baseball Reference Page

The Mariners had their recent six game winning streak snapped in San Francisco. The Giants cooled them off a bit winning 6-5 on Tuesday and then giving them a 10-1 beatdown on Wednesday.

Their Pythagorean W-L is 17-26, two games worse than their actual record, and they have a -43 run differential. But during their 12-6 stretch they’ve outscored opponents 89-82

This is all to say, don’t dismiss the Mariners as a weak opponent. They’ve been playing much better over the last 3+ weeks and are on the periphery of contention despite making some deadline sell deals themselves and giving a lot of playing time to young players. So expect them to come in playing hard.

Veteran Kyle Seager continues to be a main cog in the middle of the Mariners order, batting .271 with a .855 OPS , 7 HR, 32 RBI and a 138 OPS+. He might not be the defender he once was, but is still a well above average player at age 32.

Young centerfielder Kyle Lewis has emerged as the newest star on this team. The 25 year old, who was a 2016 first rounder, is batting a robust .307/.399/.497 with 9 HR, good for a 150 OPS+

They’re also getting a good season from utility man Dylan Moore, who has a .283 BA and 152 OPS+. in 112 PA. He’s given them good pop off the bench smacking 6 homers to go along with 8 doubles.

The Mariners exchanged catchers with the Padres at the trade deadline, moving hot hitting Austin Nola for 24 year old Luis Torrens.

One particular weakness for Mariners is they’ve struggled mightily against Left Hand Pitching.

The Mariners pitching has not been good this year. Their team ERA is 5.33, 27th in MLB and has been over 5 all year. Their bullpen has been especially bad, posting a 6.36 ERA, 28th in MLB. So while we often bemoan the D-backs 4.97 Bullpen ERA (23rd in MLB) it could be a lot worse. Righty Yohan Ramirez has taken over the closer role since August 30th. Former D-back Yoshihisa Hirano is pitching for the Mariners as well.

Arizona Diamondbacks Baseball Reference Page

The Diamondbacks finally won a game, defeating the Dodgers last night 5-2. That snapped a five game losing streak. The youth movement is in full swing, and the team is giving significant playing time to rookies and second year players, with mixed results. The team is hardly recognizable to many fans these days. They sold at the trade deadline, moving veterans Robbie Ray, Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, and new comer Starling Marte. Ketel Marte is on the IL with a sore wrist and Jake Lamb was just DFA’d.

The roster is now populated with unfamiliar names to casual followers of the team.

Daulton Varsho, Pavin Smith, Josh VanMeter, Wyatt Mathisen, & Josh Rojas are on the roster currently and Andy Young and Kevin Cron have made appearances. All of these players offer position flexibility, and you can expect them to show up in different positions around the diamond over the final 15 games. After a very slow start Varsho’s bat has come around a bit. The others are all struggling so far. In fact, while each individual sample size is very small, the cumulative performance of these players at the major league level calls into question perhaps how things are being done at the alternate sight to get them ready.

On the pitching side newcomers Riley Smith, Keury Mella, Joel Payamps, and Travis Bergen are currently on the roster have been getting innings out of the bullpen. Smith got his first career win and Bergen got his first career save last night vs. LA.

Series Starting Pitching Matchups

Note: Highlighted pitcher names link directly to pitcher’s Baseball Savant/Statcast page

Yusei Kikuchi is in his second season since coming over from Japan. Last year the lefty threw four seam, slider, curve and change. This year he dumped the curveball, which was getting absolutely hammered, (.622 slugging against) and replaced it with a 92 MPH cutter, which been a far more effective pitch this year. (.310 slugging against) He’s also added 2+ MPH to his four seamer. While the ERA might not show it, his FIP is way down and he’s actually been pitching pretty good.

Caleb Smith is making his Diamondbacks debut and only his second start of the season. Coming over in the trade with Miami for Staring Marte, Smith throws a Four seam, Slider, & Changeup. The fastball sits averages around 92, down a couple of ticks from his rookie season. The slider has been his best put away pitch the last few seasons. The four seam gets a lot of Horizontal Break, but not much vertical. He strikes out a lot of guys, but walks and especially homers have been a problem. This might sound familiar.

Justus Sheffield throws a Sinker, Slider, Changeup combo. His fastball was classified as a four seamer last year. In either case it’s a low 90’s offering, and it’s the slider that does the heavy lifting in his repertoire, providing him with very high Whiff and Put away percentages. The 24 year old is pitching well this year, limiting homers and walks better than last year, and his FIP is over a run lower than his ERA.

Zac Gallen saw his MLB record streak of 23 games to begin a career allowing three runs or less snapped in his last outing vs. the Giants. He was cruising through the 5th, but lost command in the 6th and failed to record an out in that inning. He throws a Four Seam, Cutter, Change, and Curve. He gets the most swing and miss with the Change, but when he misses tends to miss up and it can get hit hard at times too. The batting against numbers are lowest against the Fastball and Curveball.

Justin Dunn , another 24 year old, throws a four seam, curve, slider, and changeup. The curve was just added this year, and that pitch has been crushed. When I went to Savant to look him up , having seen his walk and hits allowed, I expected to see a guy that throws high 90’s heat. Instead his 4 seam averages just 91. Despite that his Fastball and Slider have been very effective pitches for him. He walks a ton of guys, AND gives up a lot of homers, so it would seem that 2+ run gap between his FIP and ERA should start to close. The D-backs that starts in their favor on Sunday.

Luke Weaver’s up and down season continues. After a horrific start, he’s had a two steps forward, one step back type of recovery from last year’s elbow injury. He’s throwing harder than ever. His spin rates are as good or better than ever. But the results are just not there for him yet. It’s notable for his career his ERA is .65 Runs higher than his FIP. He’s allowed too many hits for a guy with his stuff and allows too many homers at the wrong times. Less than the sum of his parts. I still think he would make an elite closer and create a lot of value doing that. D-backs should consider