AL Wildcard preview: Mariners. Playoff. Baseball.

For the first time in 21 years, and the first time in this blog’s history, the No. 5 Seattle Mariners (90-72) are in the postseason. They travel up to the land of maple to face the No. 4 Toronto Blue Jays (92-70). This is the first time that the 1977 expansion siblings will face each other in the playoffs.

The path that both teams took to get here is divergent, to put it midly.

Toronto was one of the league’s most consistent teams throughout the season. This is despite the fact that Vlad Guerrero Jr. and George Springer had slightly down seasons. But the emergence of Bo Bitchette has been a revelation that carried the Blue Jays offense alongside a resurgent pitching staff to the third best record in the American League. Despite the team’s relative consistency, the Jays fired manager Charlie Montoyo shortly after they were swept in a four game series in Seattle, Wash. — that series capped stretch were Toronto had lost nine of ten games.

Nine of ten sounds like a cake walk when you consider the absolutely horrific May and June that the Seattle Mariners put together. At the end of those two months, Seattle was 29-39 and not only effectively out of the division race…but it felt like the M’s were also out of the wildcard race too. Manager Scott Servais stayed the course, and third baseman Eugenio Suárez’s attitude of good vibes only kept the club house steady. The club was rewarded with a 14 game win streak into the All Star break, which put them into one of the three wildcard spots; it was a position Seattle would not relinquish throughout the closing months.

It cumulated in Cal Raleigh’s historic home run on Friday night to end the drought and put the Mariners on a plane to the Great White North.


Probable pitchers

Friday October 7th at 1:07 PM

Luis Castillo RHPStatsAlek Manoah RHP

This, right here, is exactly why president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto expended so much prospect capital to go out and get Luis Castillo at the trade deadline. He’s an explosive pitcher with nasty stuff that strikes out batters at a high clip while allowing a few walks to help limit the traffic on the base path. While Castillo’s numbers look alright, not great, they are partially inflated by the time spent at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Ohio; since the trade the 29 year old has cut his ERA down to 3.17 with a batting average against of .226 and a wOBA of .281 (that is extremely low). Castillo has been fantastic since he came over in the trade and now he’s gets to take the bump in Seattle’s first playoff game since he was eight.

Alex Manoah is one of the more exciting arms in Major League Baseball, but he’s benefited a defense that has assisted him in stranding 82.6% of runners (six points higher than it was in his rookie year) which left him with a BABIP against of .244 — last year it was .246. Now part of the reason he has such a low BABIP against is because Manoah is good at generating weak contact that tends to be either a fly ball or a grounder. The 24 year old doesn’t give up a lot of line drives which is an effective way to give your defense time to make a play on the ball; he also doesn’t give up a lot of home runs either.

Saturday, October 8th at 1:07 PM

Robbie Ray LHPStatsKevin Gausman LHP

The 2021 AL Cy Young winner struggled with walks and dingers this season, which is a combination that tends to lead to bad results. And, at times this season, Robbie Ray has struggled mightily with the big inning. There have been starts where he’ll lose command of his stuff which leads to walks and then a pitch right down main street. Against the Blue Jays, that can absolutely not happen; fortunately, this is a lineup that doesn’t walk a ton…but it does have a lot of power.

Kevin Gausman was who Toronto signed to replace Ray after he left for Seattle. He’s been the better pitcher as he struck more batters and walked less. And against a M’s line-up that loves to draw walks, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens in this game. If Gausman is on top of his game, and limits walks, then the Mariners are going to struggle to generate traffic for their big power bats as they did on Friday afternoon. However, if Gausman struggles with his command — like Manoah did — then Seattle’s bats will feast again.

Sunday, October 9th at 11:07 AM (if needed)

Logan Gilbert RHPStatsTBD

In his second full season in the big leagues, Logan Gilbert was absolutely dominant for stretches. His starts over the last month of the regular season were a major reason that the team was able to clinch with six games left on the schedule. The righty has a ton of movement on his fastball and an absolutely nasty slider that induces a ton of weak contact. If his dominance from September continues into the Wildcard round…I really like the M’s chances in the third game (if it’s needed).

*This article has been updated to reflect the released probable starters for Seattle. Toronto has yet to confirm its game two and three pitchers.


Bullpen comparison

Seattle MarinersToronto Blue Jays

The emergency of Matt Brash, and Andrés Muñoz, at the back end of the bullpen — and their filthy sliders — has been a huge key for the resurgence of Seattle’s bullpen; if you don’t believe me, here’s this series preview from May. With Paul Sewald having successfully resumed his 2021 form, and the surprising effectiveness of Eric Swanson, the M’s have got a plethora of arms to turn to if they need them in this series.

Toronto’s bullpen has struggled in the band boxes that the AL East calls ballparks, which you can see by the high home run rate and the fact that the xFIP is about 14 points lower than the Jays FIP. The Jays also lack the same strikeout stuff that Seattle has and also allow more walks too.

If this series comes down to a battle of the bullpens, I have to like Seattle’s chances — but cringe at what will happen in the ALDS. Seattle has a clear advantage in talent, stuff, and depth out of the pen which has to feel good for Servais.


Offensive comparison

Seattle MarinersToronto Blue Jays
Batting Avg./OBP/SLG.230/.315/.390.264/.329/.431
Runs per game4.264.78

The Blue Jays offense is heavily built off of power and thump. They rely on their ability to hit the ball to get on base as they walk a little bit under the league average rate. It works because Toronto just does not strike out. It’s been a recipe for success for the Blue Jays and they’ll need to stay within their approach to be effective, particularly against Seattle’s pitching staff.

As for the M’s offense, it’s entirely predicated on being able to get on base and then hitting dingers. Seattle has struggled to string together hits throughout the season, partially aided by that low BABIP, which means they’ve particularly dedicated themselves to hitting home runs whenever they can. It’s led to some hilariously ugly at bats with runners in scoring position…and you can expect to see more of that on national television.


Series outlook

Both of the announced starters for game one of the AL Wildcard series are fully capable of eating up seven or eight innings to keep both bullpens out of the game. Game two, and potentially game three, are currently the question mark. If this series comes down to a battle of the bullpens, I have to think Seattle’s got the advantage here. The M’s bullpen is uniquely equipped to shut down Toronto’s offense.

The concern is if Seattle’s starters implode and stick its offense in a hole. Seattle has the plate discipline to get the guys on, but if the Mariners’ bats can’t get their home runs throughout the series than it would get ugly fast.

Of course, we could be treated to three straight pitchers duels where the starters are just fantastic. The playoffs are when you really need to rely on your starters to be at their absolute best and keep your offense in the game. Unfortunately, that’s been Toronto’s strength throughout the season. If that’s how this goes, the advantage belongs to the Blue Jays.

My prediction

Fuck it, I’m gonna be a homer. M’s in three.

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