With the exception of Oakland, the Tigers will be the only team that the Mariners have played in more than one series so far this season, If you suffer from memory loss, you may not remember the beautiful time just about two weeks ago when the Mariners were 11-10 after sweeping the same Tigers. Here's the thing though; that was then, and this is now. The Tigers desperately need wins and will refuse to let the Mariners humiliate them again. Since the Tigers series, the Mariners have three wins, one a no business comeback against the Blue Jays and two other ones that probably shouldn't count for all intents and purposes against the Twins.
Two other key differences make me nervous about this series. One, the Mariners host the Tigers at Safeco. This normally should help, but for some reason, the M's absolutely own the Tigers in Detroit. The Mariner offense in Detroit over the last two years has been ridiculous. Not so much at home. I would look for the stats that go with this point, but I know I'm right, and this point isn't nearly as important as my second one. And that is who the Tigers have pitching. And the Mariners for that matter. In Detroit, the Tigers threw out Max Scherzer, Adam Wilk (still don't know who he is), and Rick Porcello. The Mariners sent Jason Vargas, Felix Hernandez, and Hector Noesi to the hill. On paper, I would call that a push, a huge advantage for the M's, and a slight advantage for the Tigers.
Rarely in baseball do you play a team outside your division in two three-game series within two weeks. Even more rarely does that team throw three completely different pitchers out in the second series. Unfortunately, the Tigers have that luxury in this series. Instead of the motley crew of Scherzer, Wilk (who?), and Porcello, the Tigers will call on Doug Fister, Justin Verlander, and Drew Smyly this week. Yikes. The Mariners have Blake Beavan, Kevin Millwood, and Vargas. Double yikes. To me, that looks like three advantageous match ups for the Tigers, with an almost automatic win on Tuesday. Felix vs. Wilk (still don't know him) probably was a little more lopsided, but this is an almost no doubter without having been played. That's why they play the games I guess.
May 7: Ham Sandwich (1-3, 4.45) vs. Mister Fister Blister (Season Debut)
Welcome back to Seattle Doug Fister! What the Hell happened to you? You were so preciously average and such a comfortable number four starter. You were like…like Blake Beavan! Such a precious little ham sandwich. But now you're all good and stuff. Fister closed the season 8-1 after leaving the M's at the deadline for the collective awesomeness of Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin, and Francisco Martinez. Wow, that's a lot for a fourth starter. But it paid off. Fister's health, which came into question when he strained his "left costochondral" (I guess that's a muscle in a person's side), will be crucial for the Tigers chances in September, as he holds the number two spot in their rotation. What an interesting time we live in that Doug Fister and Jason Vargas are number two starters. But really, as Jeff Sullivan wrote yesterday on Lookout Landing, Blake Beavan is almost exactly what Doug Fister used to be. The keys to this matchup will be Fister's readiness to return to true form as well as how well the M's remember how to hit him. On paper, this game isn't that interesting, but taking into account all of the story lines, I'm really looking forward to it.
May 8: Old Man Jenkins (0-3, 5.34) vs. The Reigning, Defending AL Cy Young and MVP (2-1, 2.38)
Allow me to get personal for a moment: I love Saturday Night Live. One of my favorite all time series of skits is the Celebrity Jeopardy skits hosted by Will Ferrell's Alex Trebek. "Automatic Points" frequently appears as a category on the Double Jeopardy board during the skits. To me, this Millwood vs. Verlander game feels like automatic points for the Tigers. Except the Tigers actually know how to play Jeopardy and the Mariners are Sean Connery, just making jokes at Trebek the whole time and having no chance of winning (or accidentally winning like Connery does). I usually don't like to include my predictions in this part of the preview, but let's be real, I'd have to be crazy, deaf and blind to pick Millwood to beat Verlander. Who knows, maybe Millwood throws a perfect game. Maybe he throws a no-hitter and loses. Most likely though, he'll get hit pretty good for a couple innings and give up four runs and Verlander will shut down the M's in eight or nine innings. This one won't be pretty. Also, for what it's worth, Millwood's nickname is a Spongebob Squarepants reference and Verlander's nickname should be said in the voice of the UFC fight announcer.
May 9: Mr. Consistency (3-2, 3.09) vs. Drew Smyly (1-0, 1.61)
I don't think Smyly has pitched enough in the MLB to earn a nickname yet. Plus, all the nicknames I could think of had something to do with smiles, and that's lame. What isn't lame is Smyly's 1.61 ERA. Damn. That's solid. He opposes Jason Vargas and that dominating Mariner's offense that only Detroit seems to know about. Would anyone get really worried about the mental state of Detroit's pitching if the M's just went off again in this series? I would. If the M's win more than one game the Tigers will need to check themselves. That would just be embarrassing. Especially since they are regarded as one of baseball's best. Of the three matchups in this series, this one probably most favors the Mariners. Jason Vargas may have shaken his inconsistencies. Anthony predicted that this start will be Vargas' blow up start. I'm not convinced.
Three to Watch:
Kyle Seager: Kyle Seager can hit. Kyle Seager can field. What can't Kyle Seager do? Ok, that's a little bit of a stretch, but the guy has carried the offense of late. His last five games at a glance: .389 with four homers and 10 RBIs. Wow. Has any Mariner hit four home runs in five games since Casper Wells last August? Doubtful. His hitting has given the M's something to feel good about recently. I also think that his hitting means that he could play third base for a future contender. I don't remember when I typed this before, but he definitely has a little David Wright (pre-inury) in him. Now that I think about it, it was tweet on Saturday I think. I hope Seager hits well in this series. The M's will need him badly.
Justin Smoak: Let's talk about Justin. This is getting bad. Smoak has sucked so far in 2012. He was supposed to come back with a vengeance this year, but we haven't seen anything close to that. Justin Smoak through exactly 100 ABs my friends: .180/.241/.280, three homers (not terrible, I guess) and 10 RBIs. Kyle Seager has done that in 18 ABs over the last five games. Justin's Smoak's 2012 has sucked so far. He doesn't get anymore help in this series either, facing off against some great pitching. It would be nice if he could jack Doug Fister tonight or something. Get the confidence back up. As the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee deal, his return is key for the M's future success.
Austin Jackson: Austin Jackson can hurt the opposition in many ways. His .311 average suggests he gets hits, and his .388 OBP suggests he draws walks as well. His four stolen bases seems low, since he can hurt teams with his speed as well. But not only does he get on base, he shows off some pretty good pop too. Four homers may not sound like a lot, but how many Mariners do you know with four home runs? That would be three. Jesus Montero, Seager, and Michael Saunders all have four. So Austin Jackson would tie for the lead in homers on the Mariners. I hate my life.
If the Mariners win two games in this series, I think they can say for sure that they own the Tigers. I just can't see that happening. Justin Verlander pretty much guarantees the Tigers a win, and then the M's will have to play close to perfect to win any of the other games. They need to not only hit Fister and Smyly early and often but also Beavan and Vargas have to pitch in rare form. More rare for Beavan than Vargas. This series could humble the M's, since a sweep looks possible and maybe even likely. I wish the M's had swept the Twins so that they could make up for it with less pressure on this series. Even so, the suddenly streaking (two games against the Twins, I know) M's have to win one of these games, right? I'll say they win tonight, spoiling Doug Fister's return, by a final of 5-3. They will lose to Verlander 6-1 in the "automatic points" game. And in a close game, Drew Smyly out pitches Jason Vargas for the 4-2 victory. Then it's off to Yankee Stadium for a Friday night Felix showdown against Hiroki Kuroda. I like the sound of that. Go M's.