A Red Sox fan going sleepless in Seattle on a road trip

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 17: Hector Velazquez #76 of the Boston Red Sox gets a high five from Sandy Leon #3 after closing out the game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on June 17, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. The Boston Red Sox beat the Seattle Mariners 9-3. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 17: Hector Velazquez #76 of the Boston Red Sox gets a high five from Sandy Leon #3 after closing out the game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on June 17, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. The Boston Red Sox beat the Seattle Mariners 9-3. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images) /

A quick synopsis of a recent Boston Red Sox road trip to Seattle to watch the surprising Mariners. Just how good are they? A view of selected players and a prediction.

A cross-country Red Sox road trip certainly can skewer your internal clocks, but I have never really had a significant adjustment problem. My adjustment is one of baseball culture and seeing and talking to fans elsewhere. There just seems a certain ‘uniqueness” to Red Sox fans and that may apply to east coast fans. I will cautiously leave it at that.

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Safeco Field is large – very large – with a retractable dome and this was my first visit. I had once toured the Kingdome which, in a surge of civic pride and sanity, was demolished. Maybe the same will someday happen to Tropicana Field? I do, however, go back far enough to have seen a game at Sick’s Stadium that was, for one season, home to the Seattle Pilots.

Team Overview

Just what is this Seattle team like? Is there a potential fear factor for Boston if we duel in the playoffs? The Red Sox split the series and should have taken one other game that had a bullpen meltdown. I still have minimal confidence in Heath Hembree and a bit more with Matt Barnes.

At first glance, the Mariners can hit. They are third in the American League with a .259 team average – just behind the Red Sox at .261. Going deeper it changes – especially with the more traditional figures. They are eighth in the AL in runs (315) and home runs (88). The advanced metrics are higher and the M’s are fourth with a 108 wRC+.

The Mariners have pitching and statistically their starters are ranked fifth in the AL and the bullpen collectively is fourth. Two “numbers” that attract me like shiny keys are xFIP and BB/9. The M’s are excellent in both categories with a team 2.66 BB/9 and 3.87 xFIP. Then there is the third number – home and road splits. The M’s are equally proficient at winning at Safeco as on the road.

Offensively, defensively, and with pitching the Mariners trail the usual suspects in the AL – Boston, New York, and Houston, but I also look at the individuals. Players that we in the east hear about, but rarely observe.

Selected players at a glance: The hitters

There are the usual known suspects when looking at the Mariners such as Nelson Cruz. Cruz would be just fine at Fenway Park with a Boston uniform on with his .336 career average. Cruz has long enjoyed tormenting Red Sox pitching and expect no less when the M’s come to town. Robinson Cano is, however, on the suspended list for a PED issue. But there are little-known names for the average fan on the M’s roster.

Just who is this Jean Segura who apparently wishes to take a batting title away from Mookie Betts? Watching him defensively at short the term “average” comes in. But at the plate, he can hit. A low 3.8 BB% is mitigated by a low 13.8 K%. Segura is no one season wonder, hitting .300 in 2017 and .319 for Arizona in 2016. This is one tough out.

Dee Gordon lost some ethics points going the PED route, but I always liked his style. Gordon’s game is speed and putting the ball in play. The Red Sox saw that. Don’t expect walks as Gordon has only four in 62 games. And as a lefty he hits left-handed pitching almost as well as he tags righties. The proverbial pest in the lineup. Keep him off the bases!

Kyle Seager is another lefty hitter who does not shy away from lefty pitching. Seager – like much of the Seattle lineup – can hurt you with the long ball as he routinely churns out 25+ a season. Defensively Seager once won a Gold Glove and you can see why: He’s very quick – especially to his right.

Ryon Healy (1B) and Mitch Haniger (RF) both are very similar with right-handed power that seems designed to make a pitcher pay for a mistake. But my impression is they can both be handled. Ditto for the catcher Mike Zunino. All three are lumbering types who can clog the bases.

Selected players at a glance: The pitchers

Felix Hernandez is in a transition from power pitcher to finesse pitcher. On Thursday “King Felix” was excellent mixing up a change, curve, and barely 90 MPH fastball. This, however, has not been a business as usual season as Hernandez’s 5.44 ERA will attest.

Lefties James Paxton and Boston’s Drew Pomeranz had breakout seasons in 2017. This season for Pomeranz it has been a breakdown season while Paxton may be an All-Star. Paxton throws hard (96.3) and mixes in a cutter and curve. On Friday it was a combination of Red Sox bats and a self-destructing Mariners defense that did Paxton in.

Wade LeBlanc tossed a career game against Boston on Saturday and certainly deserved a well-pitched win. LeBlanc is a 33-year-old journeyman lefty who has now slipped into the M’s rotation. This is the type of pitcher that traditionally gives the Red Sox fits, especially this season.

Denard Span has surfaced in Seattle and that means trouble when the Red Sox are around. Span is a career .313 hitter against Boston and it seems every one of his hits has been a knife to the Red Sox heart. I’d take Span over our current center fielder.

Fear Factor – Post Season

What if the Red Sox face off against Seattle in the playoffs? I think that the distance between the two teams – especially in starting pitching – is where the first solid Boston edge exists.

The M’s can throw three lefties at Boston. And Boston seems to have lefties on the hill in the same category as a letter from the IRS. Simply put at this stage of the season Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez and David Price are far more conducive to starting success than the Seattle triumvirate. Our three against their three. If the M’s wish to start Mike Leake I would most certainly welcome it. And Hernandez? Let’s wait until September to see how that works out.

Red Sox fans delight in negativity towards our bullpen. And that was on full display with a classic meltdown on Friday. The reality is that is an exception, and we have a tendency to ignore a string of superlative efforts and focus on the singular dysfunction. Seattle knows they have an issue and got Alex Colome from the Rays. I’d give a slight edge to Boston as of today.

Boston’s lineup is far more balanced from just my cursory look. The M’s are good – very good – offensively. But they still remain below the run-producing capabilities of the Red Sox. They also have no Betts.

Next: Look to the Padres for bullpen help

Seattle will now swing east and be greeted by the twin terrors of the American League East – the Yankees and Red Sox. This will be a further test for the surprising M’s. Looking at the M’s I expect the bubble will not burst, but it will slowly deflate.

Stats: Fangraphs