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Series Preview: Seattle Mariners @ Milwaukee Brewers

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A familiar face returns to Miller Park, shining once again with a guaranteed starting role

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Seattle Mariners Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

For a few years, the Seattle Mariners have seemed to be on the cusp of a breakout. Unfortunately, they share a division with a juggernaut in the Houston Astros and they’ve fallen just short in competitive AL wildcard races.

Last year, it came to a head with a very good 89-win season ending with a third-place finish. Now it seems like it’s back to rebuilding -- the Mariners tore things down, trading away James Paxton, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and Ben Gamel and letting Nelson Cruz walk in free agency. Now sitting in last place in the AL West at 35-47, the fire sale is starting up again, with the Mariners trading Edwin Encarnacion to the Yankees 10 days ago.

It’s a good thing that Domingo Santana has found his groove with the bat, because the rest of the Mariners’ lineup has largely been disappointing, hurt, or both.

Seattle planned on building around former Brewers farmhand Mitch Haniger, but he’s been struggling this year with a .220/.314/.463 before landing on the injured list this past week with a ruptured, uh, sensitive area. Another power threat, Ryon Healy, is on the IL with spinal stenosis. Outfield prospect Braden Bishop is on the IL with a lacerated spleen.

That’s basically left Santana and Daniel Vogelbach (.251/.388/.523 with 18 home runs) as the only big power threats in the lineup, while catcher Omar Narvaez (.295/.372/.479 with 11 home runs) has also hit well.

Probable Pitchers

Tuesday, June 25th - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Marco Gonzales vs. Zach Davies

A former first round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals, the lefty has been solid this year with a 4.38 ERA (4.14 FIP) in 17 starts so far. His numbers would look a lot better if he weren’t left out to give up 10 runs in 4.2 innings against the Angels on June 2nd. He’s bounced back to allow just 5 total runs in his last three starts.

Wednesday, June 26th - 7:10 p.m. CDT
Wade LeBlanc vs. Adrian Houser

LeBlanc is listed as the starter here, but his last 4 outings have come as the second pitcher in the game following an opener. In his last outing, he threw 6.1 shutout innings of “relief” of Tayler Scott while striking out 7.

Thursday, June 27th - 1:10 p.m. CDT
Mike Leake vs. Chase Anderson

Leake has allowed an MLB-leading 22 home runs in 16 starts, which is hard to do considering how pitcher-friendly the stadium in Seattle can be. Luckily for him, the damage isn’t as bad as it could be, thanks to his low walk rate. Leake works in the zone *a lot*, so it could be one of those games where it would be a good idea to swing early and often.

Player to Watch

So this is where we talk about Domingo Santana.

Finally given a chance to play every day on a team with no expectations, Santana has bounced back from a forgettable end to his time in Milwaukee to hit .282/.347/.503 with 17 home runs and an AL-leading 59 RBI in 347 plate appearances so far.

Still only 26 years old, he’s back to showing the offensive potential we all saw in 2017 when he hit 30 home runs as a 24-year-old. But he’s also showing plenty of the attributes that led to it being hard for him to get playing time in Milwaukee: he’s struck out league-leading 100 times -- almost 30% of his plate appearances -- and has been so bad defensively that despite the strong offensive numbers, he’s only been worth 0.8 fWAR to this point in the season.

For the sake of comparison, Ben Gamel has been worth just slightly less -- 0.5 fWAR -- despite getting only about 55% of the plate appearances Santana has (a reminder that WAR is cumulative, so with more playing time, it’s possible Gamel could have ended up with the higher WAR).

We’ve spent a lot of digital ink on trying to decide who’s gotten the better end of the deal at this point, and this isn’t meant to try to argue either side “won.” In fact, this might be the kind of trade that actually benefits both teams -- the Mariners needed power, the Brewers needed a fourth outfielder who could play defense and get on base. Santana struggled with the fourth outfielder role for much of last season and needed playing time, Gamel has exceled in it.

With that said, the Scooter Gennett Corollary says we can definitely expect Santana to homer at least once this week against the Brewers.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs