The Yankees continue their homestand fresh off winning a series against the Orioles the hard way, taking the last two after losing the series opener. They have now won 3 series in a row and are 16-8 in their last 24 games, which is tied with Tampa for the best record in the league in that timespan. They look to keep the good times rolling against the enigmatic Seattle Mariners this weekend.
The Mariners are always an interesting team that sticks around the Wild Card race for a while before fizzling out in the end. Right now, they are only 1 game behind the Yankees (2 in the loss column) for in Wild Card standings which makes this a huge series. Winning 3 of 4 will go a long way towards burying Seattle’s postseason chances and helping the Yankees reach their October goals.
Time for the Yankees’ first west coast swing of the season. The Yankees are in Seattle for a three-game series against the upstart Mariners. It’s an important series, too. The Yankees are chasing (!?) Seattle in the Wild Card hunt.
With a couple of 10:05pm starts forthcoming, I’m sure a bunch of you won’t watch, for better or worse. Possibly for the better! Especially given how the Yanks have played this season. But as usual, we’ll have all the coverage of this series over the next few days. So with that said, let’s get to know the 2021 Mariners.
You’ve tried the best, now try the rest! The Yankees go from MLB-leading Los Angeles to Seattle, where they have won a playoff game more recently than the Mariners.
Their Story Thus Far
At 56-75, the Mariners have the seventh-worst record in baseball and are 19.5 games out of a playoff spot. After an 11-1 start to the season, they’ve tailed off completely and have sold most of their useful pieces by this year’s deadline. Their pitching staff has the second-worst fWAR in baseball and their bullpen is worse than at the start of the season thanks to those trades.
Here are the players they sold off this season: Edwin Encarnacion, Cory Gearrin, Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elias, Mike Leake, Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak. They still have OFs Domingo Santana and Mitch Haniger, as well as 3B Kyle Seager and a few other intriguing pieces.
However, the Mariners should be mired in a rebuild for a couple more seasons. They still have to build out most of a pitching staff around LHP Marco Gonzales, who the Yankees miss this series, and their best player, Haniger, is recovering from an awful injury.
Haniger has been out since June with a ruptured testicle and his rehab assignment was halted by back stiffness. Meanwhile, Santana just went on the IL with elbow-inflammation. 3B/1B Ryon Healy and RHPs Arodys Vizcaino and Chasen Bradford are done for the season.
Also on the 10-day IL: RHPs Austin Adams, Dan Altavilla, Brandon Brennen and Connor Sadzeck with OF Braden Bishop also on the shelf.
Player Spotlight: J.P. Crawford
Right now, the Mariners’ best and hottest hitter is Seager, who is batting .252/.327.500 in just 75 games after missing the start of the season. The veteran third baseman is 31. While he’s under contract through at least 2021, it’s hard to know if he’ll be on the next good Mariners team.
On the current roster, Crawford might be as good a bet as any to play on the next Mariners postseason entry. The shortstop came over from the Phillies in this offseason’s Jean Segura trade after he struggled at the plate over 72 games from 2017-18 in Philadelphia.
He’s still developing at 24, hence why he got ample time in Triple-A Tacoma to start the year. His statcast numbers (85.1 avg. exit velo, 27.5% hard hit rate) are below average, but he’s shown promise with both his bat and glove. He gets the platoon advantage as a lefty-hitting shortstop and he has a strong eye at the plate, walking in 11 percent of plate appearances.
Even if his bat doesn’t become a consistent force to meet his prospect status, he still has an MLB-ready glove that has helped him produce value already. He’s one of the better shortstops to watch field right now.
Mallex Smith, RF (.232/.301/.348, 78 wRC+)
J.P. Crawfrod, SS (.254/.337/.420, 105 wRC+)
Austin Nola, 1B (.299/.361/.514, 134 wRC+)
Kyle Seager, 3B (.252/.327/.500, 120 wRC+)
Omar Narvaez, C (.286/.358/.471, 124 wRC+)
Daniel Vogelbach, DH (.218/.347/.474, 121 wRC+)
Tim Lopes, LF (.288/.387/.404, 120 wRC+ in 18 games)
Jake Fraley, CF (.133/.188/.200, 5 wRC+ in four games)
Dee Gordon, 2B (.280/.306/.373, 82 wRC+)
With a lefty on the mound, Lopes may shift to the leadoff spot and Vogelbach may be on the bench. On said bench, the Mariners have catcher Tom Murphy (140 wRC+), utliity man Dylan Moore (87 wRC+) and journeyman outfielder Keon Broxton (41 wRC+).
Milone is a journeyman lefty who is on his sixth team and his fifth in the last four years. The 32-year-old is striking out more batters than ever before (8.1 per nine) and has a 4.84 ERA in 83.2 innings. Both the ERA and innings are his best since 2015.
Milone is successful through two routes: Limiting hard contact and avoiding walks. His walk rate is in the 94th percentile in baseball. However, he gives up a fair number of barrels and allows two homers per nine, which is part of why the M’s won’t let him face the top of the order in the first inning.
The southpaw averages just 87.1 mph on his fastball and complements it with a low-spin changeup, mid-70s curve and a slider. The changeup has been his best offering this year as he goes to it a third of the time.
Going into a sure-to-be-hyped matchup of two Japanese starters, the 28-year-old Kikuchi has had a disappointing debut season in the States, marred by a sky-high home run rate. However, the southpaw is coming off his best game of the year in which he two-hit the Blue Jays for a 96-pitch Maddux. That Jays lineup is no slouch, as you saw against the Yankees.
In 26 starts in his first MLB season, Kikuchi has a 5.19 ERA (5.71 FIP) with 103 strikeouts and 43 walks in 135.1 IP. He’s allowed 31 homers, or 2.06 per nine, high even for this power-heavy era.
The left-hander attacks primarily with his 92-mph fastball and mid-80s slider, also working in a mid-70s curve and mid-80s changeup. He was able to stymie a very different Yankees lineup in May and hold them to one run in 7.2 IP. That should give Kikuchi confidence going into his matchup with the Yanks and Tanaka.
Wednesday (4:10 PM ET) James Paxton (vs. Mariners) vs. Justus Sheffield
This pitching matchup seems preordained. Neither Sheffield nor Paxton were on the 25-man roster when the two teams met in May, and Sheffield was called up Friday to take his first start since April. In that start, he alllowed seven hits and three walks over four innings, though he held the Jays to just three runs.
In four months between MLB appearances, Sheffield was in the Minor Leagues. He had an ERA above 6.00 in the Pacific Coast League, so the M’s had him pitch for Double-A Arkansas in the more forgiving Texas League. The former Yankee southpaw carved up Double-A, consistently posting high strikeout totals and working deep into games.
Now he’s back in the Majors, facing his former team. I’m going to write more about this matchup before the game Wednesday, but needless to say, this is exciting. Sheffield couldn’t quite make it in the Bronx, and now he gets to show the Pinstripers that they dealt him too early.
Here’s who they have:
RHPs: Anthony Bass, Matt Magill, Reggie McClain, Erik Swanson, Sam Tuivailala, Matt Wisler LHPs: Taylor Guilbeau, Wade LeBlanc
As mentioned in the top grafs, they’ve traded just about all of their relievers, including Gearrin to the Yankees. That leaves Magill as the closer, where he is four for five in save chances. McClain, Swanson and Guilbeau are rookies (Swanson was part of the Paxton deal) while LeBlanc is a recently demoted starter capable of going long.
Wisler is a former Braves starter who has taken to relief and opening for the M’s while Bass and Tuivailala may be late-inning options after the veterans have shown promising stats in their Seattle stints.
Sheffield and Swanson were part of the package for Paxton, as was OF prospect Dom Thompson-Williams. Thompson-Williams hit OK as Sheffield’s teammate in Arkansas this year.
LeBlanc was a Yankee for all of one game in 2014 and joined them in Spring Training in 2018. Vizcaino was part of the 2010 Yankees-Braves deal that sent Javy Vazquez to the Bronx and Melky Cabrera to Atlanta.
On the 40-man roster, Shed Long was a Yankee for all of a brief few minutes or so, acquired in the Sonny Gray deal this offseason before going to Seattle for MiLBer Josh Stowers.
Bullpen coach Jim Brower closed his nine-year MLB career with three appearances on the 2007 Yankees.