Welcome back to the Weekend Preview!
This time, the Red Sox travel to the rainy Pacific Northwest to take on a team that got plenty of love in the spring, as a fair number of people saw them as AL West pennant winners. For the first time this season on Weekend Preview, here are the Seattle Mariners.
Seattle Mariners – Current Record: 15-19 – Projected Record: 83-79
The Mariners, perhaps tired of being stuck in the middle of the Western pack for the last few years, attempted a jump-start this offseason with the signing of Nelson Cruz to being their primary DH. Along with Cruz’s signing, the emergence of a good bullpen was all but expected to happen, as Seattle’s front office stuffed it with with a lot of high velo, lots-of-movement relievers. With their starting pitching being their rock, the Mariners looked to finally push themselves over the hill and win their first pennant since 2001. Has it worked? The Cruz signing, for the most part, has paid off handsomely so far. The bullpen? Not so much. Slumps from Seattle regulars haven’t helped, and now the Mariners are looking up at .500.
Clay Buchholz vs. J.A. Happ, Friday, 10:10 p.m. EDT
Good news, everyone! Clay Buchholz has the most promising peripherals of his major league career! If only his 5.73 ERA could change to show it. They say beauty is only skin-deep, but the more I look into Buchholz’s stats, the more I like it. A 10.27 K/9, a 3.09 FIP, and a 10.9% swinging strike rate should cut that ERA down to size in no time, with the added benefit of an insanely high .393 BABIP coming down as well. His LOB% is 62.3%. That’s almost Wade Miley-level bad, and – stop me if you’ve heard this before – due for a little rebound. Buchholz has a chance to be really good for the rest of the season. Just give the man time and starts. On the other hand, his hairstyle deserves to take some flak.
On the surface, J.A. Happ seems like back-end rotation filler. A middling K/9, a BB/9 in the “meh” range, inconsistent grounder generation, and an FIP that hasn’t seen the low side of a 4.00 in his career. For 2015, however, Happ is well on his way to posting the best season of his career. His BB/9 has been cut in half & sits at 1.88, his FIP is at a solid 3.46, and he’s posted the highest groundball rate of his career at 44%. Maybe he really did need to move out of the Rogers Centre. We’ll have to wait & see if that 78% LOB% falls, but a 32/8 K/BB certainly doesn’t hurt his chances of being decent in 2015, if not simply good.
Rick Porcello vs. Felix Hernandez, May 9th, 9:10 p.m. EDT
Could Rick Porcello have finally found his groove? The man has allowed just four runs in the last 19 innings (3 starts), with a 15/3 K/BB. Not only that, Porcello has improved in the the most crucial statistical area: zero home runs allowed in that span, as opposed to the six dingers he allowed in his first four starts. Sure, he’s not getting his prescribed dose of wormburners yet, as his GB% sits at a relatively lousy 41.9%, but the good news is that everything else that made him look terrible early on is coming back down to earth. Rick Porcello is finally starting to look like the Rick Porcello the Sox were expecting.
No preview of Felix Hernandez is really complete without a kiloton of superlatives. He marks all the boxes off on the Good Pitcher Checklist: strikes out a lot of guys (9.25 K/9), doesn’t walk many (1.48 BB/9), gets grounders (59.8%), and keeps the ball in the yard (0.74). Unsurprisingly, Hernandez and his 1.85 ERA is well on his way to being a strong Cy Young candidate once again. You can see the .244 BABIP and say he’s gotten lucky, sure, but then you see that only 13% of batted balls he’s allowed have been line drives. Regression? I’m not gonna put a bet on that horse. The Red Sox are coming at the King, and they best not miss.
Steven Wright vs. James Paxton, May 10th, 4:10 p.m. EDT
You know what you’re getting with Wright: knuckleballs and more knuckleballs. Just be prepared to see a heaping helping of walks and grounders with strange spins. Wright is hard to predict, as knuckleballers usually are, but the only solace I can give you here is that he’s not soft-tossing Justin Masterson. That alone should give you some hope. Sure, Wright’s fastball goes only 84 MPH, but when you use that pitch only 2% of the time, velocity isn’t gonna be important. Keeping the knuckler low and moving is the name of the game.
Paxton hasn’t had the best start to the season, and he hasn’t really helped himself out a whole lot either. His K/9 sits a shade under 8, which is good, but a 3.69 BB/9 and a 1.13 HR/9 have torpedoed his season thus far. The southpaw thrived the last two seasons by keeping baseballs in the yard, but Paxton seems to have lost control of that this year. All of that has resulted in a 4.31 ERA with a 4.23 FIP. You’d hope that he’d improve, but after looking at those numbers, there’s not much he can do when it comes to luck. Paxton simply has to pitch better, like he’s done the last few starts, or he’ll be stuck in the back end of a rotation.
The Sox aren’t rolling out any lefty starters this weekend, so what we saw on Thursday is what we’re likely to get from here on out.
Seth Smith – RF – L – .267/.327/.456, .299 TAv
Brad Miller – LF – L – .253/.318/.424, .309 TAv
Robinson Cano – 2B – L – .268/.311/.370, .288 TAv
Nelson Cruz – DH – R – .361/.414/.744, .432 TAv
Kyle Seager – 3B – L – .246/.299/.405, .277 TAv
Logan Morrison – 1B – L – .237/.313/.432, .290 TAv
Mike Zunino – C – L – .180/.245/.370, .225 TAv
Dustin Ackley – CF – L – .191/.213/.326, .206 TAv
Chris Taylor – SS – R – .143/.200/.143, .135 TAv (in 30 PA)
The Mariners can go pretty lefty-heavy, and the loss of Austin Jackson to injury has made that even more apparent. While you can fear the 3-6 spots of that lineup, the rest is relatively terror-free, as long as you can keep Zunino from teeing off and pitch inside to Seth Smith.
Unlike the last weekend, don’t expect all of the runs here. Both offenses are struggling, and both teams will run out pitchers who can easily deny them from touching home plate. You may want to avert your eyes from the Sox offense when they face Hernandez on Saturday, but all-in-all, the Red Sox have a good chance at leaving the West Coast with a winning record for the first time in a long while.
Photo by David Butler II/USA Today Sports Images