Fann: Mariners’ ice-cold bats will get no relief vs Guardians
It’s hardly rational to panic about a team that FanGraphs gives an 87% chance to make the postseason. And yet, based on what we’ve seen from the Mariners (67-57) over the last four games, there are undeniable question marks that could make one wonder just how well they’ll be able to navigate the final 38 games of the regular season.
Seattle has dropped three of its last four games – two to the Athletics then one to the Nationals on Wednesday. The common thread in each defeat has been an offensive power outage, a theme Mariners fans are far too accustomed to. Seattle is averaging a lackluster 2.75 runs per game over these last four contests and failed to push a single run across the plate against Nationals starter Aníbal Sánchez on Wednesday. Sanchez owned a 6.43 ERA entering the matchup and still tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings.
The Mariners rank 29th with a .253 batting average on balls in play in the month of August. There’s some bad luck there, but Seattle also ranks 26th in hard hit percentage (27.2%) in that span.
It’s enough to make even the most optimistic M’s fan a bit queasy. The road certainly won’t get any easier this weekend against the AL Central-leading Guardians (66-56). Cleveland’s pitching staff ranks second in fielding independent pitching (2.91) and third in strikeout percentage (26.4) since Aug. 1.
Below is a rundown of the starters that Seattle will see during the upcoming four-game series that begins on Thursday afternoon at T-Mobile Park. It should be noted that in addition to a standout starting rotation, Cleveland’s bullpen is anchored by star closer Emmanuel Clase, who has registered 29 saves this season and owns a sterling 1.20 ERA.
Thursday: Triston McKenzie (vs. Marco Gonzales)
Scouting report: McKenzie utilizes just three pitches, and he throws his fastball 57% of the time. His mixes in his breaking stuff evenly with his curveball at 22% and his slider at 21%. The traditional numbers are exceptional, but he does rank in just the 10th percentile in average exit velocity and 29th percentile in hard hit percentage.
Summary: The red-hot McKenzie has been one of baseball’s best starters since July. The 25-year-old right hander has allowed two earned runs or less in seven of his nine starts in that span. McKenzie owns a 1.91 ERA with 65 punchouts in 61 1/3 innings and recently pitched eight scoreless innings against the Astros in a 1-0 Guardians victory.
You can confidently give Cleveland the starting pitching edge in Game 1, and Gonzales will have his work cut out for him in order to keep Seattle in this game.
Friday: Shane Bieber (vs. Logan Gilbert)
Scouting report: Bieber throws a healthy mix of all five of his pitches, led by the fastball at 34% and his slider at 32%. He’ll rarely walk anybody, and he ranks in the 73rd percentile in chase rate.
Summary: While no longer the perennial Cy Young candidate, Bieber is still a dependable top-of-the-rotation starter. He’s been in good form of late as well, having allowed just six earned runs over his last five starts with a 1.62 ERA.
Seattle has had moderate success historically against the Guardians ace. Bieber owns a 3.75 ERA against the Mariners in four career starts. Still, Bieber’s turn in the rotation will make it two straight games to open the series with a significant pitching advantage, especially when you consider Gilbert’s recent struggles.
Saturday: Zach Plesac (vs. Luis Castillo)
Scouting report: Seattle will see a lot of breaking balls from Plesac as he throws his fastball just 42% of the time. His advanced metrics aren’t strong as he ranks in the 17th percentile in hard hit percentage and in the 10th percentile in barrel percentage.
Summary: While Cleveland has the notable edges in Games 1 and 2, Seattle owns a similar advantage to close out the series. Although Castillo was disappointing against Oakland last weekend (four earned runs in five innings), the Mariners should still like their odds with him against Plesac.
Plesac has had an up-and-down season with a 4.43 ERA, and he’s allowed at least four earned runs in three of his last four starts. He’s averaging just 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings, which is markedly lower than both McKenzie (8.8) and Bieber (8.9).
Sunday: Aaron Civale (vs. Robbie Ray)
Scouting report: Civale throws his cutter (32%) more than his fastball (31%) while also going to his curve frequently (27%). He ranks in the 96th percentile in regard to the spin on his curveball.
Summary: Civale has been much sharper of late than his 5.37 season-long ERA would suggest. He has allowed just five earned runs over his last 22 2/3 innings pitched with 25 punchouts. Still, Civale remains the weakest of the four starters Seattle will see in this series.
He also rarely pitches deep into games, only completing five innings in one of his last four starts. That could end up asking a lot of Cleveland’s bullpen, especially if they’re needed in Games 1-3 (which is admittedly a big if).