Now that the Seattle Mariners have won twelve of their last eighteen to climb all the way back to relevance, we kind of have to stop talking about them as a disappointment. The team’s in second place with a .500 record, and in a top heavy league that actually puts them right on the border of playoff position. They’re now coming home to face the Cleveland Indians, who we still get to refer to as a disappointment, fairly or otherwise.
The Tribe are 21-25, no longer buried in last place (thanks, White Sox) but certainly not yet where they want to be. They’re in town to play four, and I’m sure someone in Cleveland has made note of the fact that a sweep gets them to .500. And while it’s easy to laugh at Cleveland’s misfortunes, perhaps we shouldn’t be so hasty to declare this team a flop.
The Dodgers have been by far the best-hitting team in the majors this year, and behind them is a four-way tie for second. You’ve got a the Giants, Tigers, Blue Jays, and… there are the Indians, tied with those other three with a 110 wRC+. They’ve given a lot of it back with their 29th-ranked defense, but hitting isn’t their only strength. By WAR they’ve got the majors’ second-best rotation. Top two offense and starting pitching, and they’re four games under .500?
The bullpen ranks 24th, but that’s also one spot ahead of the Mariners. The M’s are also only one slot ahead of them defensively, but in the other big areas Cleveland has Seattle beat by a mile. The Mariners have the 14th-best offense in the game, which is a lot better than most of us probably realized while also being a far cry from their weekend opponents. And the Mariners rotation, for all it’s done lately, ranks 17th in the game. The M’s have the better win-loss record, but the Indians have a strong case that they’re the better of the two teams.
The biggest eyebrow-raiser from the above list of strengths is probably the rotation ranking. Maybe you saw that and thought “yeah, sounds about right” given the names in the rotation. Cleveland’s rotation was supposed to be good, and by one measure, it’s lived up to it’s billing. But the rotation also has a 4.57 ERA that is the game’s sixth-worst. How is that okay? And how on earth does that unit also boast the third-best FIP (3.34) in baseball?
A lot of it has to do with composition. Cleveland has used eight starting pitchers this year. The top four have been pretty consistent, and of them their ERAs range from 3.02 to 4.24 while their FIPs go from 2.17 to 3.53. It’s been an excellent group up top, even if the ERA-FIP gap still lurks. But the other four starters have made a real impact – they’ve combined to make nine starts, and the best of them has an 8.68 ERA. The worst of them is at 13.15. The top’s been strong but unlucky, and the bottom has been unthinkably terrible while also being unlucky.
It all starts with Corey Kluber, reigning Cy Young winner no matter how much of a bummer it is to type that sentence. Kulber’s got a pedestrian ERA and an AL-best 2.17 FIP. He’s second to Max Scherzer in WAR, though fortunately his bad luck with run prevention should keep him out of Cy conversations for now. After that the team has gotten strong years from Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer, though Carrasco has Kluber’s problem – great FIP, everyman ERA.
This is one of the most strikeout-heavy rotations in recent memory – Kluber leads the league with 83 strikeouts, and he’s joined by some of his rotation-mates at the top of the AL leaderboards. After Kluber we run into Chris Archer, Felix Hernandez, and Michael Pineda. But Salazar is sixth, and Carrasco is seventh. Bauer comes in twelth, barely behind the likes of Scott Kazmir and David Price.
It’s a good rotation, if one that’s still waiting to be rewarded for their strong work thus far. The smart money says things will start working out for them, because that’s just how this happens. Maybe today, maybe later. Hopefully later, for the M’s sake.
Who’s been the best position player in the American League? Why, Jason Kipnis, of course! The Indians second baseman is receiving plus marks for his defensive work, and has been trashing pitchers to the tune of a 168 wRC+ built on a .342/.412/.537 line. He’s been better than every hitter in the game except Bryce Harper. Figured that should be mentioned somewhere in here.
Michael Brantley is also giving the Tribe a huge season, just as he did a year ago. Carlos Santana is hitting. The team is getting what they want from their role players. It’s surprising to see where this team is right now, but I guess this is 2015 and the Tigers are still awesome and the Royals and Twins are the two best non-Astros teams in the league. 2015 is almost too weird for me.
Today it’s James Paxton vs. Corey Kluber, as the M’s lefty looks to continue his hot streak. Hopefully the team’s batters have an answer to Kluber, and hopefully that answer is a shelling in retribution for the result of last year’s Cy Young voting. It’s arguable whether or not the players are even thinking about that, but I’d like to hope they are. Kluber beat the King? How weak is that?!
Tomorrow we get Taijuan Walker and Trevor Bauer in the battle of prospects who either took a while to put it together or once looked like they had put it together but now clearly don’t look that way anymore. Saturday’s game stars Roenis Elias and Shawn Marcum, and the series closes out Sunday afternoon with J.A. Happ and Danny Salazar.
If the Mariners sweep this series and the Astros lose their next four straight then the M’s will be two games out of first. It could happen! After crossing our fingers for a sweep time and again, we were rewarded yesterday with a sweep. Now I’m just being greedy, sure, but when you’re greedy for baseball wins, greed can be good.
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