Baseball

Series Preview – Cubs vs. Mariners: Into The Grey

vs.

RECORDS: Cubs 14-12   Mariners 18-13

GAMETIMES: 9:10 Tuesday, 5:40 Wednesday

TV: NBCSN Tuesday, WGN Wednesday

FRANCES FARMER WILL HAVE HER REVENGE: Lookout Landing

PROBABLE PITCHERS

Cole Hamels vs. Felix Hernandez

Jon Lester vs. Marco Gonzales

CUBS PROBABLE LINEUP

Daniel Descals0 – 2B

Kris Bryant – LF

Anthony Rizzo – 1B

Javier Baez – SS

Jason Heyward – RF

Willson Contreras – C

Albert Almora – CF

Kyle Schwarber – DH

David Bote – 3B

PROBABLE MARINERS LINEUP

Mitch Haniger – CF

Domingo Santana – LF

Dan Vogelbach – DH

Edwin Encarnacion – 1B

Jay Bruce – RF

Tim Beckham – SS

Omar Narvaez – C

Ryan Healy – 3B

Dee Gordon – 2B

 

When they designed inter-league play, this wasn’t a matchup they were thinking about. Still, the way it’s worked out it’s become kind of intriguing, and not just because the Cubs end up in Seattle twice a decade. The Mariners are the surprise team in the American League, if not the whole of MLB, and the Cubs are rounding into sharpness.

So what are the Mariners doing crashing the private party that the AL West was supposed to be for the Astros again so far? Well, they’re pretty weird. They’ve had an offensive bonanza, with basically every fly ball they hit landing out beyond various walls. Four players are currently seeing a quarter of their flies turn into homers, and six are seeing 20% or above. That’s almost unheard of, even in this era of baseball where they’re using swollen Titleists as baseballs. You’d think that has to come down at some point. Jay Bruce’s .192 average and yet .552 slugging is particularly goofy.

And yet, there is some validity to some of it. Bruce, large adult son Dan Vogelbach, and Brewers castoff Domingo Santana are all hitting the ball extremely hard and aren’t benefitting from a bloated BABIP or anything like it. Santana has done this before in Milwaukee, and then was squeezed out by the Yelich and Cain acquisitions, as well as Jesus Aguilar‘s emergence (how’s that look now?). Vogelbach always threatened this in the Cubs’ system, he just needed a DH spot to do it at the top level as putting a glove on him would cause various air-raid sirens to sound off.

Tim Beckham might see his bubble burst, but Omar Narvaez’s on-base skill aren’t on luck either. Edwin Encarnacion is apparently not dead. and Mitch Haniger has been a plus-plus as well.

The flip side to this is that the Mariners are one of the worst defensive teams in recent history, as they have three or four players who should be only a DH for their own safety but only one spot occupied by Vogelbach. So Encarnacion has to be in the field. So does Bruce. Dee Gordon has to be at second, and he played himself out of there once already in his career. You know what Tim Beckham at short looks like. They’ve given up an unearned run per game so far this year.

The staff that has to work around this includes yet another undead ballplayer in Felix Hernandez. There was a real fear of what watching Hernandez this season could be in spring training, such has been his decline since being maybe the best pitcher in the American League for a minute. But Felix has been able to be better than simply a seat-filler or place-holder so far by cutting his walks down to next to nothing and upping the grounders he gets. He’s using his curve more for both, and pounding the strike zone with the rest of his arsenal.

The other hurler the Cubs will see is Marco Gonzales, who’s been magnificent through not giving up homers at all. He doesn’t get a lot of grounders but a lot of harmless flies. Gonzales flashed this a bit last year with a 3.5-fWAR season no one noticed, and being let down by a dreadful defense. The last part is still there of course, but he’s doing even better by also throwing nothing but strikes.

The pen is something of a cast of thousands, with six different yahoos collecting at least save. Old friend Zac Rosscup is here but he can’t hit a bull in the ass with a snow-shovel at the moment, which has helped him collect Ks but a ton of walks. Roenis Elias and Brandon Brennan have been the best out of there. The rest have benefitted from fortune, and this is the unit probably headed for a collapse first.

The Mariners have been fun thanks to all the fireworks, but they’re likely to not out-homer their Python-esque defense or Felix’s age for too much longer. But until then, it’s a fun ride.

 

 

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