SB Nation Blog
The Opponent in one sentence
The Mariners drastically overhauled their roster this winter with a slew of deals that included one sending Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz to the Mets, but they still have enough solid veterans that they shouldn’t totally bottom out.
Red Sox 0, Mariners 0
Up. Oddly enough, although it’s Opening Day around the league the Mariners have already played this year. Kicking the season off against Oakland last week, Seattle won both ends of the short series across the Pacific. It’s only two games and the first two of the year, never mind coming on another continent, but they are the top team in the league for right now at least.
3/28: Chris Sale vs. Marco Gonzales, 7:00 PM ET (ESPN)
There were no surprises as for who got the call for the Red Sox’ first game of the year, even if some idiots would have argued otherwise. No, Boston is going to hand the ball to their newly-extended ace and Sale is looking for a strong start to the year. Obviously the second half of 2018 didn’t exactly go according to plan with the southpaw battling shoulder issues and inconsistencies. As we start this 2019 season, look for the velocity to be down a bit as he eases his way into the year and don’t be surprised if his first few outings are a bit shorter than we’re used to. If he can dominated over five or six innings, though, I think we’ll take it. Like every other year, Sale is a legitimate Cy Young contender in 2019.
Taking the mound for Seattle in this first game is Marco Gonzales, who also started their first game over in Japan. It was the first time since 2008 that a pitcher other than Félix Hernández made the Opening Day start. Gonzales, a lefty, is a former Cardinals prospect who came to Seattle in the summer of 2017. He made 29 starts for the M’s last year, pitching to a 4.00 ERA but with peripherals (3.46 FIP and 3.58 DRA) that were a bit better than that. Gonzales won’t miss a ton of bats, but he has great control and when he’s at his best he’ll get plenty of ground balls as well. The 27-year-old will feature a low-90s fastball along with a changeup, a curveball and a slider. In 2018, he mixed those pitches almost exactly evenly. In one game against Gonzales last year the Red Sox scored five runs in six innings.
3/29: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Yusei Kikuchi, 10:10 PM ET
David Price was likely originally planned Game Two starter, but he was set back a bit with illness in spring training. So, he’ll be pushed back to the start of the Oakland series with Nathan Eovaldi getting the ball for Friday’s game in Seattle. The righty was, of course, a postseason hero last year before being brought back on a four-year, $68 million deal. He was great last season, and not just with the Red Sox but also before that with the Rays. The hope is that his adjustments will carry over into 2019, and that hitters won’t be able to counter-adjust. If he has that same high-90s cutter he showed off in big spots last year, it’s hard to imagine any way hitters can adjust to that.
The newest pitcher on the Mariners, Kikuchi came over from Japan through the posting process this past winter. Seattle saw him as the right age to still be with them and at his peak during their next contention window. The 27-year-old allow two runs (one earned) over 4 2⁄3 innings in his major-league debut against Oakland. Kikuchi relies mainly on a low-90s fastball and a slider, though he’ll also mix in a curveball and a changeup.
3/30: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Mike Leake, 9:10 PM ET
It was a bit of a surprise to see Rodriguez slotted into the third spot in this rotation after he was the only started not used in the playoff rotation last year. However, it is less about status in the rotation and more about splitting the lefties. Had Rick Porcello gotten this start, the Red Sox would have gone with three straight lefties the next few days. I don’t think that’s a huge deal, but teams generally try to avoid it if they can. As for Rodriguez, well, it’s been the same story for years now. We know the talent is there, it’s not time for him to put it together and make consistently efficient starts.
Leake is back in the middle of Seattle’s rotation, and he’s just about the same guy he’s been throughout his career. It’s not the most exciting pitcher in the world, but he has the ability to get the job done. Leake generally finishes a bit below average, to be fair, but he makes 30+ starts a year and that’s worth something. The righty won’t miss many bats at all and can get into some problems with the long ball, but he’s also not going to give up free baserunners. Leake will sit in the high-80s/low-90s with his fastball while also featuring a cutter, changeup and slider. In two games last year the Red Sox scored five runs off Leake in 14 innings (3.21 ERA).
3/31: Rick Porcello vs. Wade LeBlanc, 4:10 PM ET
Finishing off the series for the Red Sox will be Rick Porcello, who kind of gets overshadowed a bit for his performance last postseason. Nathan Eovaldi gets the pub for his work both in the rotation and in the bullpen, and that is of course entirely deserved. However, Porcello was that guy earlier in the postseason and came up huge in the ALDS against New York. Entering the final year of his contract, it seems like a good bet that this will be his last year in Boston. He’d like that to not be the case, but if it is let’s hope he can go out on a strong note starting with this night in Seattle.
In 2018, there weren’t many pitchers that were as surprisingly effective as Wade LeBlanc was. The lefty had been mediocre-at-best for the majority of his career and was coming off a down year spent entirely in the bullpen. In 2018, he stepped up when Seattle needed starts early in the year and ended up with 162 innings with a 3.72 ERA. Now, the peripherals (4.31 FIP and 5.07 DRA) don’t really support that ERA, but the sample isn’t nothing. Nothing really stood out for LeBlanc, as his strikeout rate was a little low and his walk rate was good but not great. He induced a lot of weak contact, though, to go with a little luck. The southpaw will feature a mid-to-high-80s two-seamer along with a changeup and a cutter. In two games against LeBlanc last year the Red Sox scored six runs in 12 1⁄3 innings (4.38 ERA).
Roenis Elías was acquired from Seattle a few years back in the Carson Smith/Wade Miley deal, but he never really stuck with the Red Sox. After a couple seasons of toiling away in Pawtucket with a few stints as a long reliever in the bigs, Elías was sent back to Seattle last summer. He’ll pitch out of their bullpen to start this year.
Hunter Strickland never made it to the big leagues with the Red Sox, but he was an 18th round draft pick back in 2007. He was eventually traded a couple years later for Adam LaRoche before landing in San Francisco. This will be his first season in Seattle.
Gerson Bautista is another guy who never made it to the majors with Boston. An international signee in 2013, he emerged a couple years ago before being included in the deal that brought Addison Reed to Boston in 2017. He was then part of the big Canó deal this winter to get him to Seattle.
Notable Position Players
Mitch Haniger is the best position player for the Mariners at this point. He’s coming off an underrated year in 2018 in which he hit for big power while drawing a bunch of walks. There’s a decent chance at some BABIP regression that will bring his value down, but Haniger is going to be a nuisance in the two-slot for Seattle all year.
Edwin Encarnación was sent to the Mariners this past winter in a deal that sent Carlos Santana to Cleveland and a few players to Tampa Bay. Encarnación was never expected to actually play in Seattle, but he’s still around and will be in the middle of their lineup. The veteran is still good, but he’s on the downturn in his career.
Mallex Smith is a former Ray who came over in the Mike Zunino trade. Smith is coming off a breakout year where he hit more than ever while showing off the same athleticism that’s always been there.
Jay Bruce is coming off a rough year with the Mets last year, but the Mariners hope he can recover enough to be the power-hitting platoon bat he’s been his whole career.
Domingo Santana was squeezed out of regular playing time in Milwaukee and the Mariners are betting that more consistent at bats will bring back the big bat he showed off in 2017.
Omar Narvaez is replacing the aforementioned Zunino, and he’s going to have to hit to make up the difference between their respective defensive skillsets.
Dee Gordon is going to put the ball in play and can do a ton of damage on the base paths, but he’s seen wild fluctuations with his BABIP in recent years that have been heavily tied to his overall value.
Strickland was mentioned in the Old Friends section, and he’s the favorite to take over as closer this year. It’s a tall task for the former Giant as he’s replacing arguably the best reliever in the game in Díaz.
Matt Festa and Cory Gearrin are likely to start the year as the top two setup men in the bullpen. The former has just eight innings of major-league experience but had big strikeout rates in the minors. The latter has been in the bigs for a while and is solid though doesn’t stand out in any specific area.
Zac Rosscup has battled injuries his entire career but he has big stuff and should get the chance to be the top lefty in this Mariners bullpen.
The aforementioned Gerson Bautista will start the year on the IL with a pectoral strain, but the Mariners hope to have him back at Triple-A in a couple weeks.
Kyle Seager tore a tendon in his hand that is going to keep him out for the first two months of the season.
Anthony Swarzak should be a big part of Seattle’s bullpen this year, but he’s starting the year on the IL with a shoulder injury. They hope to have him back at some point in April.
Shawn Armstrong is another reliever opening the year on the IL, but like Swarzak they are hoping for a short absence.
Sam Tuivailala tore his Achilles towards the end of last year and is hoping to make it back around the middle of this season.
The newly-named T-Mobile park has a retractable roof, meaning weather isn’t a huge concern here. It shouldn’t be needed to shield from rain, though, with the forecast calling for some clouds but no precipitation. It may be on the cooler side, though, particularly later in games.