Breaking news: Seattle Mariners starting pitchers have struggled this year. That’s been a surprise, given that they were expected to be much better than this. Minnesota Twins starting pitchers have also struggled this year, but that’s not a surprise. That’s just the Twins for you. And now the Twins are in Seattle to take on the Mariners for a nice weekend series! How perfectly pleasant.
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At 6-9, the Twins and Mariners come into this series tied with the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox for the AL’s worst non-Cleveland Indians record. Did you know that only six AL teams are currently above .500? And that one of those teams is the Astros? Never mind Seattle’s slow start. Everyone’s off to a slow start.
The Twins are coming off a year where they paired their typically underwhelming pitching with some strangely quality hitting. They got above-average offensive production from all nine positions in the field without anyone noticing, and seemed like a good sleeper for this season. Youth everywhere, coming off a season full of positives… seems like a winning combination.
As of right now, the Twins’ position players rank dead last in MLB with -0.7 combined WAR. They’re batting .228/.286/.321 with a 68 wRC+. That’s the same wRC+ James Jones posted with the Mariners a year ago. That’s worse than John Buck‘s 2014 batting line with Seattle. That’s miserably, unthinkably bad.
Not that their pitching is making up for anything. The Minnesota arms have a 4.64 ERA/4.55 FIP, good for 0.3 WAR – only third-worst in MLB this time! Nice work, Twins! For years, the Twins have been a punchline due to their starter’s disinterest in strikeouts. Right now their staff K/9 is 4.85 – a charicature of the typical Twinkie ineptitude, and way, way worse than the 29th-ranked Diamondbacks (5.96).
Ever since the Twins unexpectedly fell apart in 2011, they’ve been waiting for a breakthrough year. Last year’s offensive gains were overshadowed by another fifth place finish, and so far this year they’ve been trending the wrong way. Looks like another year at the bottom, probably. Maybe one day Minnesota will break out of this funk. It took them almost an entire decade of being lousy to build their last steady contender.
Meanwhile, the Mariners enter the series right in the middle of the pack pitching-wise, which must seem very unexpected given the results their arms have had thus far. But for every Hisashi Iwakuma start there’s been a Felix Hernandez start, and J.A. Happ is taking a lot of the sting from Taijuan Walker and James Paxton away. The M’s rank 15th by FIP and 25th by ERA, so yeah, there’s probably loads of positive regression on the way.
And what better time for that than now? The Mariners get to throw Felix, Paxton, and Iwakuma over the next three days. The Twins counter with Phil Hughes, Trevor May, and Kyle Gibson. Fine pitchers, in theory. So far this season, not so much.
Hughes had a historic 2014, emerging as an ace and earning himself a contract extension after only the first year of his deal with the Twins. Three starts in and he still isn’t walking anybody, but everyone’s been taking him out of the park, and the strikeouts aren’t where they were last season. Hughes is looking more like his old Yankee self than he is an ace, but it’s only been 18 innings and the whole no-walks thing is plenty impressive.
May is actually walking less batters than Hughes so far, and has a 3.07 FIP to go with an ugly 4.76 ERA. He’s always been a highly-rated prospect, so who knows, maybe he beats up on the Mariners. Then there’s Kyle Gibson. Over 15.1 innings, Gibson has a 1.76 K/9 and a 5.28 BB/9. He’s a charicature of a Twins charicature, and I absolutely love it.
Mariners hitters, meanwhile, have a 99 wRC+, just about league average and tied with the New York Mets for 11th-best in the big leagues. They’ll get a nice opportunity to beat up on inferior competition, which the Twins pitching staff absolutely is. If the bats do their thing, this should be fun to watch.
Happy Felix Day! Felix Hernandez vs. Phil Hughes tonight to kick things off. Game starts at 7:10pm. A sweep and the Mariners are back to .500. Remember, the Astros still lead the AL West at 8-7. The division is still a sputter-fest, and a nice series could put the M’s right back at the top of the heap. Against these Twins, a nice series isn’t really all that much to ask for.
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