Starting tomorrow, the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays face off in a three-game Wild Card series. For the up-and-coming Mariners, it’s their first postseason appearance since the team’s 116-win 2001 campaign. This year marks the Blue Jays’ second time in the playoffs since 2020, but only the third since the franchise won consecutive World Series in 1992-93. Both organizations will be vying to advance to the next round and take on the Houston Astros.

With this in mind, I thought it’d be fun to identify players on both teams I’m looking forward to watching. They’re not necessarily the best on each roster, although some are. That said, I do believe the success of their respective clubs may hinge on how they perform over the weekend.

Let’s start with the hometown nine.

Mariners

We have to start with Seattle’s budding superstar – Julio Rodríguez. The AL Rookie of the Year front runner led the Mariners in AVG/OBP/SLG and OPS+. He also clobbered the second most home runs (28) and doubles (25) on the team. Not bad for a hitter appearing in just 132 games.

Beyond the numbers, Rodríguez has quickly become the face of the Mariners franchise. So much so, he’s simply known a “Julio” in the Emerald City – impressive for a 21-year-old. This year’s Home Run Derby was Julio’s introduction to the national baseball audience. The AL Wild Card series could make Julio a household name for many years to come.

Other Seattle youngsters worth keeping an eye on include Cal Raleigh, Logan Gilbert, Matt Brash, and Andrés Muñoz.

After being demoted to the minors early in the season, Raleigh triumphantly returned in May to lock down Seattle’s catcher position for the foreseeable future. The switch-hitting backstop’s 27 home runs set a franchise record for catchers. Moreover, advanced defensive metrics suggest Raleigh is one of the best receivers in MLB.

With a 2.00 ERA over the final month of the season, Gilbert demonstrated he deserved to be in Seattle’s postseason starting rotation. I’m interested to see whether Gilbert continues his magnificence into postseason. If he does, his “Walter” alter-ego will become a recognizable figure across the league. Not just in the Pacific Northwest.

The dynamic duo of Muñoz and Brash could be the key to the Mariners’ bullpen this weekend. Dating back to August 1, the sliders of Muñoz and Brash respectively have the fifth and sixth lowest wOBA among 45 relievers throwing at least 150 sliders. From a conventional aspect, opponents had a .100 AVG against Brash’s slider over the final two months of the season, while Muñoz was equally brutal with opponents hitting just .115.

Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is a sabermetric version of on-base percentage (OBP) that credits hitters for how he reached rather than treating all on-base events as equals, as OBP does. For instance, a double is more valuable to run production than a single, a home run more than a double, etc.

As far as Mariners veterans go, first baseman/designate hitter Carlos Santana and reliever Matthew Boyd are on my radar.

It’s basically been feast or famine since Santana joined the Mariners in late-June. The 36-year-old is hitting just .192 in 79 games with his new club, although he’s clubbed 15 home runs. More importantly, Santana possesses the most postseason experience on Seattle’s roster. His veteran presence could matter in a big way for a young lineup playing its next three games in a hostile Rogers Centre.

In Boyd’s case, he’s simply a good news story worth rooting for. The Mercer Island, Washington native and Oregon State alum was acquired by the Mariners at the deadline even though he was still recovering from offseason elbow surgery. Now, Boyd gets to pitch for his hometown club in its first postseason series since he was about 11-years-old.

How cool is that?

Blue Jays

The hottest hitter on the Blue Jays is Bo Bichette. His .406 AVG over the final month of the season was highest in baseball. During this same timeframe, Bichette hit 7 home runs, 11 doubles, and boasted a 217 wRC+. Only Aaron Judge (260) and Rodríguez (246) were better.

Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with the league average after adjusting for park effects. League-average is always 100. Therefore, a wRC+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 wRC+ would be 20-percent below average.

The catcher rotation of Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen packs a formidable punch at the plate. So much so, Toronto’s catchers collectively rank first in AVG and OBP and third in SLG. According to the Baseball Reference of wins above replacement (bWAR), Kirk and Jansen have provided the second most value of any backstop tandem in the majors.

A word of advice; never sleep on George Springer when the postseason rolls around. Springer had a very nice season hitting 22 doubles, 25 home runs with a 132 wRC+ this season. That said, the 2017 World Series MVP has 15 doubles, 19 home runs with a .895 OPS in 63 playoff games.

Alek Manoah is Toronto’s Game 1 starter for good reason. Manoah’s 2.24 ERA was fourth best in the majors, while his 5.9 bWAR tied for fifth best with Astros ace Justin Verlander. Furthermore, his opponent .200 AVG and 0.99 WHIP were top-10. Something Mariners fans should keep an eye out for with Manoah – hit batters. He led the AL with 15.

Someone warn Ty France.

Teoscar Hernández makes my list because he hits the ball hard – really hard. His 53.3 hard-hit rate was fifth highest in MLB this season trailing only Judge (61.8%), Yordan Alvarez (59.8%), J.D. Davis (56.1%), and Kyle Schwarber (54.4%). Hernández’s propensity to make loud contact led to outstanding results – 35 doubles, 25 home runs, and an .807 OPS. That said, the 29-year-old does strikeout often (28.4%) and maintains a below-average walk rate (6.4%).

For me, Kevin Gausman is worth watching because of a cut finger he suffered in his last start. While the Blue Jays say Gausman will be ready to pitch this weekend, they haven’t named him to start Game 2 or 3 yet. Perhaps it’s nothing, but it’s important to remember the 31-year-old is a crucial piece in Toronto’s postseason rotation.

Finally, we have to include Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in our discussion. Guerrero is having another great year with 35 doubles and 32 home runs. Still, he had a meager .680 OPS and 92 wRC+ over the last month of the regular season. Am I doubting Vlad? Definitely not. If he were to heat up heading into the postseason, it would be bad news for Seattle pitchers.

A Few Dark Horses

Although he’s only 23-years-old, Jarred Kelenic has experienced quite a few ups and downs (mostly downs) since first debuting with the Mariners in May 2021. Still, the recently-recalled Kelenic appears ready to contribute with his bat. Even though he’s only hitting .180 in 58 appearances since rejoining Seattle on September 22, I believe he has a chance to finally breakthrough when his team needs him most.

There’s no denying Kelenic’s AVG isn’t pretty. However, his .363 xwOBA suggests he’s making quality contact that will eventually lead to productive results. We’ve already seen some of it with his 3 doubles and 3 home runs since returning from the minors. Plus, the left-handed hitter is striking out much less and drawing more walks. Perhaps October is Kelenic’s time to shine. We shall see.

Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing.

Another Seattle cast-off returning to help the Mariners is Luis Torrens. In limited September action, Torrens hit 2 home runs with a .395 xwOBA that was only bested by Rodríguez and Raleigh. Adding to the 26-year-old catcher’s value, a willingness to play wherever needed. Torrens has played second base and at both corner infield spots. He’s even pitched in relief. Hopefully, this skillset won’t be called upon in Toronto.

For the Blue Jays, I’m going with a veteran – Whit Merrifield. The 33-year-old has played well since joining Toronto on August 2. But he’s had a torrid September/October with a .338 AVG/.361 OBP/.588 SLG Slash-line for his new club. Although Whitfield doesn’t have big-time power, he could prove to be a valuable table-setter capable of sparking big innings.

New Kids In Town

A pair of prospects may find themselves playing for Seattle and Toronto this weekend. For the Mariners, it’s outfielder Cade Marlowe. The 25-year-old has yet to make his big-league debut. But he’s trending towards being on the team’s Wild Card roster. At the AA and AAA levels this season, Marlowe hit 23 home runs, stole 42 bases, and played all three outfield positions. His speed and versatility could help fill the void created by the loss of an injured Sam Haggerty.

Catcher Gabriel Moreno already played with the Blue Jays this year and was productive with a .319 AVG and .356 OBP in 78 plate appearances. Defensively, the top-100 prospect started behind the plate 19 times and started once in left field. He also had one appearance at third base and second base. Whether Toronto carries a third catcher is unknown. But assuming he gets the opportunity, Moreno would be a fun watch.

Here We Go!

Well, Seattle fans. You’ve waited two decades to watch your baseball team once again play meaningful October games. Personally, I’m hopeful the Mariners provide newly-minted memories to a deserving fan base that’s waited 20 years to root for their team in the postseason.

After all, isn’t about time we move past the 1995 and 2001 Mariners and talk about something new?

My Oh My…

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins