The Mariners hold a title that the Royals once held. They now have the longest playoff drought of any team in North American sports. They haven’t been the postseason since the 2001 season when they won 116 games but lost in the ALCS, so they’re itching to get back and they do have some talent on this team. The offense has a chance to be pretty good, though a Nelson Cruz injury doesn’t help things. The rotation probably relies too much on pitch to contact guys, but the bullpen has some really good arms in there as well, so I think it’s not crazy to think they could find their way to one of the wild cards this season. I don’t think they will, but they do have some talent up and down their roster. And hey, they brought Ichiro back, so that’s pretty cool.
Note: All statistics are from the 2017 season.
|Record||78-84, 3rd Place, AL West|
|Team SP DRA||4.95|
|Team RP DRA||4.54|
|Team WARP Leader||Nelson Cruz, 4.0|
|2017 Record vs. Royals||2-5|
Royals vs. Mariners
Mariners Projected Lineup
We have a crafty lefty alert in game one of this series, which has seemed to be a bit of a bugaboo in past season for the Royals. That’s the good news of the turnover on this team, I guess. We don’t really know what gives them trouble, other than “all pitching other than first inning James Shields” so far this year. He had an outstanding spring in seven starts, and pitched fairly well in his first start of the year after a solid minor league season in 2017 split between the Mariners and Cardinals organizations. He’s limited hits well in his minor league career, though that hasn’t yet carried over to the big leagues. Basically he’ll go as far as his changeup takes him because without it, guys like Whit Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert should be able to do some damage against him. His fastball is low-90s, so without movement there, he becomes easy to hit. Of course, we’ve seen this movie too many times to expect anything but the best from Gonzales in this one.
After spring training, I wondered how Junis could live up to the hype. He was better than it, going seven shutout innings against the Tigers in helping the Royals get their first win of the year. You can argue that it was the cold (and that didn’t hurt) and that it was just so tough to pitch, but even so, it’s pretty clear that Junis belongs. This is a much bigger test for him, though, even without Cruz available for the Mariners, so we’ll see a little bit more about him in this one. He had his best start of the season last year against the Mariners in game two of a doubleheader, going eight innings and giving up just one run on four hits with seven strikeouts and no walks. He was masterful and that’s really what set him up for the excellent finish to his season. The Mariners have a lot of power, but Junis has actually been able to limit the power of lefties pretty well, so that should help him to minimize the contributions of Seager and Cano at least.
King Felix hasn’t yet abdicated his throne in Seattle, though it’s pretty clear he’s moving on to a different phase of his career. He’s still good, but he’s not the dominant guy he once was. We’ve already seen him miss starts over the last two years and in the very early going of this season, he’s struggled with control with seven walks in 9.1 innings. Of course, it’s a tale of two starts for him so far with one pretty good one on Opening Day and then a complete disaster his next time out against the Giants. His fastball is now 89-91, but his changeup is still a weapon even without much of a discrepancy in velocity between it and the fastball. Even with that good changeup, lefties crushed him last year to the tune of a .306/.361/.493 line, so if the weather allows it, Mike Moustakas and Lucas Duda could have some luck. No Royals have had a ton of luck against him, though the samples on those matchups is pretty small. Whit Merrifield did lead off the game on July 4th last year against him with a home run, so maybe he’ll ambush early.
I don’t see it with Skoglund, but the organization was very pleased with him in spring training and that gave him first crack at the rotation spot that was vacated by Nate Karns with his injury. Skoglund had that electric debut against the Tigers last May, but was really pretty horrible the rest of the time. I just don’t think he has a plus pitch in the big leagues, though early in the season when the weather suppresses offense would be the time that he’d be able to do some damage. He walked a ton of guys in the big leagues last year, but his control is his calling card with just 90 walks in 367.2 minor league innings. What’s interesting is that Skoglund only faced a lefty hitter 11 times in his work in the big leagues last year, but he got worked over by righties. He did not face the Mariners last year, but it’s worth noting that the Mariners did struggle against lefties last year with a .244/.320/.396 line.
As Hernandez enters another stage of his career, the best pitcher on the staff is pretty clearly Paxton, who had a big time breakthrough season last year. The issue with him has always been health, which is why you can see above that he only made 24 starts and threw 136 innings. Still, they were excellent and when he’s healthy and pitching, he’s fantastic. He throws a lot of fastballs, and they’re good, averaging about 96 MPH. He gets a lot of strikeouts on that, but his curve also does a lot of the job for him as it’s a very good pitch as well. I keep harping on left-right splits, I feel like, but Paxton’s are pretty incredible. He’s very good against righties, but lefties hit just .198/.242/.221 against him last year, which is insane. He’s even still pretty good the third time through, allowing just a .388 slugging percentage. He’s a tough one.
I think things looked up a bit for Duffy after his last start, though his first inning was a complete disaster. He couldn’t throw any strikes with his four-seam fastball basically and ended up giving up an early 2-0 lead. He settled in after that and almost finished the sixth, but he had to go back to his two-seamer, which was lesser velocity again and he also started pitching from the windup again with nobody on base, which I’m surprised wasn’t reported on more by those covering the team daily. I have to say that I’m not confident in Duffy right now, even after he was so much better after that horrific first inning on Friday, so this’ll be a start I watch with big time interest. He has a very good 2.67 career ERA against the Mariners in 33.2 innings and was 1-1 last year in two starts with a 3.97 ERA. Hitters of note for the Mariners against Duffy include Robinson Cano with a .300/.333/.450 line against him in 21 plate appearances and Kyle Seager at .294/.333/.471 in 18 plate appearances.
It looks like we might see something resembling baseball weather in this series, which is a welcome sight after the first week plus of the season. I really don’t think we know much about this Royals team yet because of all that, but I still don’t think they’re especially good and I think the Mariners are okay. I’ll keep up my streak of predicting a losing series for the Royals and say they drop two of three.