The Mariners head out on their first road trip of the season beginning with a three-game series in Minnesota.
Salvaging a win in the final game of their opening homestand is a small consolation for the Mariners. James Paxton’s elbow injury looms large and the prognosis doesn’t look good. With injury issues mounting, the Mariners will have to dig deep into their reserves — it’s clear the team won’t accelerate the timelines of Jarred Kelenic or Logan Gilbert now that they have open roster spots on the team. It looks like Evan White will only be sidelined a few days with his quad issue and Kyle Lewis looks like he’s on track to rejoin the team after this road trip. In the meantime, we’ll see more of José Marmolejos, Sam Haggerty, and Nick Margevicius than we likely want to this early in the season.
The Mariners continue their early season matchups with AL Central opponents with a three-game series against the Twins. Thursday will be the home opener in Minnesota and Friday is a scheduled off-day in case of a rainout. The Twins have built an impressive roster over the last few years and have dethroned Cleveland in their division. Unfortunately, despite playoff appearances in three of the last four seasons, they’ve been easily bounced out of the postseason each time. In fact, they haven’t won a playoff game since 2004 and haven’t won a playoff series since 2002.
If the Mariners were dreaming of an organization to mirror as they come out of their rebuild, the Twins would probably be at the top of the list. Minnesota’s roster is filled with tons of homegrown talent — half of their 26-man roster was developed in house via the draft or international free agency. They’ve punctuated all that young talent with key free agent signings in Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, and Andrelton Simmons. If the Mariners are going to truly build a contender, that’s the roadmap they need to follow.
Back in 2019, the Twins set the major league record for home runs hit by a team in a single season, earning their “Bomba Squad” nickname. They weren’t nearly as productive last year with Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver, and Miguel Sanó taking serious steps back. But when Nelson Cruz is launching rockets in the middle of your lineup, many of those issues can be glossed over. Byron Buxton looks like he’s finally developing into the hitter many saw him becoming as a prospect and he managed to stay relatively healthy last year. Josh Donaldson had a rough season last year and he’s already dealing with a hamstring injury this year.
José Berríos has always had the talent and stuff to be a frontline starter but he’s struggled to really take the next step forward. A career FIP of 4.05 in five seasons is nothing to be ashamed of but it really seems like he should be better than that. Last year, he posted the highest strikeout rate of his career but his walk rate spiked alongside it. The biggest difference for him last year was the continued development of his changeup. That pitch gives him another above average secondary pitch that he can use against left-handed hitters. In his first start of this season, he held the Brewers hitless over six innings, striking out 12. Perhaps this is the year he takes his big step forward.
Michael Pineda’s PED suspension couldn’t have come at a worse time. He was caught using a masking agent, though an appeal clarified he wasn’t using the banned substance to hide PED use. Because of the shortened season, his suspension ended up being a much larger percentage of the season than it otherwise would have been. He returned to the mound in September and made five starts for the Twins down the stretch. His fastball velocity has dipped significantly from it’s peak with the Yankees but his pinpoint command of his entire arsenal has allowed him to stay successful. Since joining the Twins, he’s started pounding the top of the zone with his fastball while keeping his diving slider low in the zone. It’s been a successful approach but it’s led to a huge dip in his groundball rate.
The last time Matt Shoemaker was fully healthy was 2016, and that season ended prematurely after a freak line drive off the bat of Kyle Seager struck him in the face. Since then, he’s dealt with a long list of arm injuries limiting him to just 166 innings and 32 starts over the last four years. His splitter is a true weapon and gives his repertoire a strong foundation. His slider has also developed into an above average secondary offering but he’s always struggled to leverage those two pitches against a mediocre fastball. He’s primarily used a sinker in the past, but opposing batters have just crushed it. In his first start with the Twins, he used his four-seam fastball 26 times versus just 10 sinkers. Perhaps that change in pitch mix will help him regain the form he showed in 2014-16 when he posted a 3.77 FIP across three seasons with the Angels.
The Big Picture:
The Athletics finally won a game with a come-from-behind victory against the Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon. They didn’t hold a lead in a game until the first inning of their sixth game of the season, and promptly lost that lead the very next inning. Their roster that looked deep in spring training suddenly looks extremely shallow as they’ve dealt with a handful of injuries to start the season. To make matters worse, they get to face the Astros for the second time this season this weekend. The Angels split a two-game series with the Astros and travel to Florida (?) to face the Blue Jays at “home” this weekend. The Rangers are off today after taking two of three from Toronto and host the Padres in a three-game series beginning Friday.