We start a series with the Seattle Mariners tonight, a home game at Safeco Field. Well, when you are there it feels like a home fame. The Mariners are 62-55, 3rd in the AL West. They have the same record as the Jays, we are both 1.5 behind the Royals for the second Wild Card spot.
Your guys and our guys and a handful of other teams are in the running for a wild card spot. How confident are you that there will be playoff action for the Mariners?
I'm pretty in line with the playoff odds from Fangraphs, which have been hovering around 30% since the Mariners have gotten hot again. Their September schedule is brutal, so it really has more to do with how teams like Kansas City and Toronto perform down the stretch because I can't see the M's going above .500 in the final stretch of games. At this point, the Mariners are playing meaningful baseball in mid-August for the first time in forever, so even watching every game this closely is like the playoffs themselves.
Who is your favorite Mariner to watch?
Kyle Seager is a joy to watch. He's one of the most underrated players in baseball, does everything well and when he's on a hot streak, it's a beautiful thing. One of the sweetest left-handed swings in the game (and we know something about sweet left-handed swings in Seattle.)
Who was the Mariners biggest disappointment this year?
The failed development of many Mariners prospects has been continually disappointing. Justin Smoak is finally back in Tacoma after toiling for yet another season, Dustin Ackley, while he's starting to heat up, has been wildly inconsistent. Jesus Montero showed up to camp out of shape and is now blocked by Kendrys Morales...the list goes on and on. But the biggest disappointment this year has been Corey Hart, who the Mariners really needed to provide some right-handed pop in the middle of the order. He just hasn't had his legs under him all year long, unable to generate any power from his lower half. Signing him to a one-year deal didn't have a lot of risk, and it was a great move for that reason -- but it turns out his body just wasn't ready to contribute yet. With so few sources of power in this lineup, his potential production has been sorely missed.
Can you give us a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers we are going to see? I don't suppose you have some hints on how to beat Hernandez?
There isn't much left to say about Felix Hernandez other than he's quite simply the best right-handed pitcher in baseball this year. Despite losing some velocity over the past few years, Felix is better than ever, thanks to devastating movement and pinpoint control. He's now set an MLB record for "ultra-quality starts" - 15 starts in a row with 7 IP and 2 ER or less - so if you want to beat him, you'd better find a way to reach base and advance on wild pitches. Felix's only weakness is that sometimes he buries his change a bit too much, so if runners get on base, they'll advance from time to time when he spikes one.
Hisashi Iwakuma is an even greater control artist, as he's only walked 11 guys all year. He hasn't been quite as sharp as he was last year, but he's still outstanding -- he'll pepper his splitfinger all day long, generating a ton of ground balls and whiffs with it. He'll occasionally leave that split up a little too much, and that's where a team like Toronto can and will punish him. Iwakuma has allowed more home runs than walks this season.
Chris Young is a magician, as his peripherals (FIP, SIERA, etc) paint him out to be a terrible, replacement-level pitcher, but Young's ERA is way, way below. Finally healthy after years of struggles, Young is back to his old tricks -- coming way over the top with his delivery. He only throws in the mid 80s, but because of his reach, batters have a very hard time getting around on balls. He'll work the upper half of the strike zone a ton, as his game is getting guys to pop-up or fly out. He's been outstanding in Safeco Field and just ok on the road, but because Safeco suppresses fly balls so much, it's a perfect fit for his skillset. He's really remarkable to watch -- you'll wonder why Toronto doesn't crush every single fastball he lobs in there. He's truly been one of the first true metric-breaking pitchers. He makes no sense, but it's very fun to see him constantly live on the edge with warning track shots. Against Toronto's sluggers, that might not work.
How is Fernando Rodney doing? Are you confident when he comes into the game or can we hope for a blown save this series?
Rodney has been excellent this season, though he's struggled a bit lately. He lost a game in extra innings for the Mariners on Saturday, and has taken a dangerous path to his past few saves. He's pitched a lot over the last several days, so chances are he's going to be limited or unavailable for the first game or two of this series. With Rodney, it's the same as it's been over the past few years -- ripping fastball with pretty poor command, and a sideways-moving change-up that's among the most devastating pitches in baseball. He doesn't have much control, but he's very difficult to hit.
How is our old friend Danny Farquhar doing?
Farquhar has been excellent again, and while he isn't missing quite as many bats as he did the year before, he's still a major part of the most dominant bullpen in baseball. For a guy who had peripherals that looked Kimbrel-esque last year, it's amazing that Farquhar isn't even the primary set-up man for the Mariners, who go 8 deep and can hold a 3-run lead with ease if you hand it to them by the 5th inning.
Is there anything else we should know about the M's?
The Mariners are exactly who they appear to be -- a team that doesn't allow any runs but can't score any either. If this series is a slugfest, the Mariners are in trouble. But if the M's can get out in front early with the pitchers they're starting this week with that great bullpen behind them -- it might be bad news for Toronto.