(1090 The Fan) — After dropping two to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Seattle Mariners are looking to rebound in Minneapolis this weekend against the Twins.
The Mariners sit at 20-20 heading into Friday’s game and are 4.5 games behind the first-place Oakland A’s. The Texas Rangers are right on Seattle’s tail at 20-21.
No one is more excited to step into the batter’s box than Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano, who has reached base in 23 consecutive games. During the streak, he has 11 runs, six doubles, a triple and 14 RBIs on top of a .337 average. Perhaps Dustin Ackley is itching to get the bat in his hands too — the outfielder is hitting .341 in his past 14 games with seven runs, two doubles, three home runs and six RBIs.
Minnesota could help serve up an offensive explosion for the Mariners who have managed just one run in their previous 18 innings. The Twins pitching staff has struggled, boasting a 4.67 ERA so far this season and is allowing opponents put up a .276 average.
Get more stats in our Head to Head Analysis
Friday: Chris Young, RHP – 3-0, 2.63 ERA, .183 BAA, 18 SO, 16 BB, 37 2/3 IP vs. Kyle Gibson, RHP – 3-3, 4.74 ERA, .267 BAA, 17 S0, 18 BB, 38 IP
Young is defying logic with his 85 mph fastball and what appears to be below-average control – he’s issued 16 bases on balls, allowed three home runs and thrown two wild pitches. But he’s yielded just two walks in past 55 batters faced and has found a way to limit the number of times batters have squared up pitches and produced line drives.
Young has had some good luck, too, considering his BABIP against of .179 – his career BABIP is .251 – but staying out of the middle of the plate and mixing up his fastball and slider. Chances are, if the veteran is unable to utilize his changeup a little more, left-handed batters in particular will find some hits, suggesting Twins star Joe Mauer and veteran bat Jason Kubel are two key matchups for Young.
Gibson, a 2009 draftee, is a four-pitch right-hander with a 90-92 mph fastball — up to 95 at times – two breaking balls and a changeup. He’s using the two-seamer more than the four-seam variety, and has turned to the slider over the curveball latter in his minor league career and almost exclusively in the big leagues.
His two-seamer is key; when he spots it and gets ground balls with it, the slider becomes a weapon against both lefties and righties. The former Missouri star has surrendered just one long ball this season, an unsustainable feat that is bound to start catching up with him, despite a strong ground ball attack.
Gibson’s changeup has been fringy at best, limiting his arsenal versus left-handed hitters. His curveball can be effective in these instances, but his feel for the pitch comes and goes.
If he’s healthy, Michael Saunders may be an ideal matchup for Gibson, based on pitch type – Saunders excels versus average velocity, right-handed sliders — and many lefty sticks have an advantage against pitchers that lack a third pitch, and he homered off Gibson in three at-bats a year ago. Brad Miller went 2-for-2 with a walk off Gibson last year.
Saturday: Roenis Elias, LHP – 3-2, 3.69 ERA, .254 BAA, 42 SO, 20 B, 46 1.3 IP vs. Samuel Deduno, RHP – 0-2, 3.64 ERA, .278 BAA, 25 SO, 12 BB
Elias has exceeded all expectations thus far, but still is learning to pitch in the majors and as a result of his inexperience and inconsistencies, the untimely walks and spotty command have hurt him on some outings. The stuff continues to be above-average; he’s siting 91-92 mph with his fastball, touching 93 at least a handful of times each start and the rookie is not afraid to bust out the curveball in any count.
Elias has given up five home runs, all but one to right-handed batters, but he’s otherwise done well against righties. He’s using more of a true slider versus left-handed batters, dropping down slightly and sweeping the ball across the plate and away from the hitter. I’d prefer to see him stay with the true curveball. It’s a better pitch and he’s very good at keeping it down.
The more changeups and two-seamers Elias uses, the better, as it’s a different look than the curveball and is more likely to yield ground balls.
Deduno possesses an average fastball at 89-90 mph, but throws a lot of 88-89 mph cutters to set up a curveball and changeup. He’s a ground ball pitcher, but his strikeout rate is up this year from 2013 and his command has been more consistent. When he misses, he’s missing well off the plate and more often down, assisting him in keeping the ball in the yard; he, to, has yielded just one home run this season, though he’s spent most of the year pitching in a relief role.
Kyle Seager is 3-for-6 with three walks against Deduno, Robinson Cano is 2-for-7 and Brad Miller is 1-for-3. Justin Smoak is 0-for-7 career versus the Twins right-hander, including two walks and three punchouts.
Sunday: Felix Hernandez, RHP – 4-1, 3.03 ERA, .237 BAA, 60 SO, 12 BB, 59 1/3 IP vs. Ricky Nolasco, RHP – 2-3, 5.51 ERA, .314 BAA, 34 SO, 12 BB, 50 2/3 IP
Hernandez, despite the final line, was back to his old tricks versus the Tampa Bay Rays in his last start and boasts a 2.50 FIP for the season. He’s allowing fewer baserunners and fewer home runs than ever before, and if he commands his stuff down the way he did Monday that will continue at spacious Target Field.
Hernandez’s two-seamer, which is generally classified as a sinker, has been terrific and he’s split his slider and curveball up well, throwing each around 12 percent of the time. He had his changeup back in his last start, which does not bode well for the Twins, and his curveball selection has been just as important as the bite and location; the curveball has been Hernandez’s second-best pitch this season, right behind the sinker.
Right-handed batters have hit just .218 off the M’s ace this season, another bad sign for the Twins, whose hottest hitters include the right-handed Kurt Suzuki, Brian Dozier, Josh Willingham and switch hitter Eduardo Escobar, who have feasted on right-handers over the first six weeks.
Willingham, however, has homered off Hernandez in 12 at-bats. Suzuki is 11-for-35 versus The King, Mauer is 14-for-33 with two long balls.
Nolasco uses an array of fastballs – two-seam, four-seam, cutter, splitter – and looks to get the strikeout with his above-average slider and curveball. His command of the two breaking balls is on and off – usually his slider is his go-to offering with two strikes because he’s very good at burying it down in the zone or below the shins of the batter.
The heat sits in the 88-91 mph range, occasionally grazing 93, and the slider is a slurvy, 79-83 mph type. The curveball is a slow, low-70s breaker with shape but it lacks depth. The split and circle change are each below-average pitches, and he’s using the latter less and less due to command issues.
Nolasco hasn’t faced the Mariners but once, with Dustin Ackley going 0-for-2 with a walk and strikeout against him, and Justin Smoak collecting a single in six tries. Corey Hart faced Nolasco a lot, though, and is 5-for-15 with a home run against him lifetime. John Buck is 2-for-5 with a double.
The M’s are 20-20 after 40 games. Based on some of their roster adjustments, a shabby AL West outside of Oakland, a shabby AL in general outside of Detroit, the return of Kuma — and potential return of Walker, Paxton or both — it wouldn’t shock me if they were to be a game or two over .500 after another 40 games.
Lloyd McClendon drives us batty sometimes how he manages his bullpen and lineup, but among the things he has been consistent with: giving enough time for a guy to sink or swim. He gave Abe Almonte more than enough time — too much for me — before ending that experiment. I feel if Brad Miller doesn’t show any progress on this road trip, he’ll be in Tacoma, and a different shortstop will be out there when the Mariners return for their home stand next Thursday. Nick Franklin will be that guy, since the other shortstop, Chris Taylor, is on Tacoma’s DL with a broken pinkie finger. McClendon is refreshingly honest, to the point where he said “I don’t know,” how or if Brad Miller’s struggles could be corrected at this time.
If the M’s don’t put some runs up this road trip, I will be pretty disappointed. They’re coming off scoring just one run combined in the two losses to Tampa at home, and now they’re face a Minnesota team that has had all sorts of trouble pitching, from the rotation on down to and through its bullpen. Runs to be had this series — as well as a chance to put crooked numbers up during a mini two game series at Texas early next week.
I’ll put the watch (or Sandmeyer jinx) on Dustin Ackley to have a nice road trip. He put a few good swings on the ball in the Tampa series and will face a run of mediocre at best right-handed pitchers over the next several games. It sets up pretty nicely for him.
Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
The Seattle Mariners have piled up 329 strikeouts in 40 games this season, but rank just fifth worst in that category. The Minnesota Twins are third worst with 357 punchouts. One of the main offensive differences between the two clubs, however, is the Twins rank No. 2 in walks drawn at 173 while Seattle ranks No. 13 with just 102. This explains the 26-point difference in on-base percentage and the 19-run advantage to Minnesota, despite having played one fewer game … Since breaking out of his slump April 23, Kyle Seager is 21-for-67 (.313) with a .387 OBP and .657 slugging percentage. He ranks No. 7 among American League third basemen in batting average at .237, but is fifth in OBP at .335 and third with a .443 slugging … Mike Zunino’s six home runs tie him for the league lead among catchers and his .495 slugging percentage ranks No. 1 among the circuits backstops … Since the 8-game losing streak, OF/DH Corey Hart is 12-for-69 (.174) but has upped his line drive percentage in May to 18.6 percent … Danny Farquhar ranks ninth in the AL in batters faced at 90, one ahead of Tom Wilhelmsen. The team’s closer, which is supposed to be the club’s best reliever, has faced just 78 – just one more than Yoervis Medina and seven more than Dom Leone, who didn’t even start the season in the big leagues … The Twins won four of seven meetings between the two clubs in 2013 after Seattle won eight of 10 in 2012 … This will be just the fifth game the Mariners have played against the AL Central this season and just the 13th game outside their own division … The M’s are 15-13 versus the AL West, 9-14 versus right-handed starters and 11-6 versus left-handed starters.