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Series Preview: Mariners (67-56) at Phillies (54-70)

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The Mariners look to continue their hot streak in Philadelphia.

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Otto Greule Jr

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Monday, August 18

4:05pm

Mariners

LHP Roenis Elias

Phillies

RHP Jerome Williams

Tuesday, August 19

4:05pm

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Phillies

RHP A.J. Burnett

Wednesday, August 20

10:05am

Mariners

LHP James Paxton

Phillies

LHP Cole Hamels

Mariners

Phillies

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

91 (13th in AL)

86 (14th in NL)

MARINERS

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

19.3 (6th)

-24.7 (14th)

MARINERS

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

99 (5th)

108 (12th)

MARINERS

Bullpen (FIP-)

82 (1st)

96 (9th)

MARINERS

In a rare surprise, the Mariners find themselves facing a team they hold an advantage over in all phases of the game. The Phillies are not a good team. Their starting pitching, once as strong as any in the NL, has been gutted by injury and ineffectiveness. The Mariners have the privilege of seeing their lone bright spot on Wednesday when they face Cole Hamels.

The Mariners continue to play well in August -- they're 11-4 so far this month -- and they should continue their hot streak against their opponent from the senior circuit.  In their last ten games, the Mariners offense has awoken to the tune of 5.8 runs scored per game. With this series win against the Tigers, they haven't lost a series since facing the Orioles at the beginning of the month and their playoff odds are now over fifty percent!

The Phillies:

The Phillies won 102 games in 2011 and placed first in the NL East. That year capped off five straight years of playoff appearances, two World Series appearances, and one championship. Since 2011, they've steadily fallen in the standings and now find themselves in last place. They have the fourth worst record in the National League.

The same core that made up those playoff teams still makes up the core of today's roster and that's not a good thing. The management hasn't been able to infuse the team with young, new talent and their old standbys are all on their last legs. I was in Philadelphia last summer and took in a game at Citizens Bank Park and the atmosphere felt like a Mariner game in 2008, an air of hopelessness and defeat.

Key Players

SP Cole Hamels - The lone bright spot on this team, Cole Hamels overcame an injury scare early in the season and is now posting a career best 2.95 FIP. His first three starts of the year were pretty rough -- 13 runs in 16 2/3 innings -- but since then (May 11) observe his dominance: 134 2/3 innings pitched, 135 strikeouts (25.3%), .208 opponent's batting average, 1.87 ERA, 2.76 FIP. Because of the absurd numbers Clayton Kershaw is putting up, Hamels won't challenge for the NL Cy Young award but, make no mistake, he's one of the best pitchers in the National League and he's pitching better than ever before.

2B Chase Utley - Chase Utley has finally put all of his health concerns behind him and has stayed off the disabled list this year for the first time since 2009. At one point, he was in the conversation for the best all-around position player in the National League -- between 2005 and 2009 he averaged 7.5 WAR per year. His skills are a far cry from his peak but he's still a dangerous bat in the heart of the Phillies lineup and he hasn't lost a step in the field. His 4.2 WAR is ninth best in the NL for position players this year.

SS Jimmy Rollins - Age seems to be the common refrain when talking about the Phillies. Jimmy Rollins has been a Phillie (Philly?) since 2000 and it seems like they're going to be perfectly content rolling him out at shortstop until he retires. This year, his bat has rebounded to league average (97 wRC+) and his glove is still providing a little bit of value on the field (UZR has him at 2.5 runs above average, DRS has him saving just a single run with his glove).

Probable Pitchers

RHP Jerome Williams

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

63

16.3%

6.9%

12.5%

44.7%

6.43

4.39

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Sinker

Slider

Curveball

Changeup

90.9 mph;

27.5%

88.9 mph;

21.5%

91.7 mph;

23.9%

80.8 mph;

12.8%

77.3 mph;

2.8%

84.7 mph;

10.7%

Jerome Williams has been around the block. Most of you will recognize the former Angel since he filled the long-relief/spot starter role for our division rival for the past three years but he's been in the league since 2003. He's bounced around the league this year and finds himself on the Phillies after stints with the Astros and the Rangers earlier in the season. That alone should tell you how good he's been this year. He throws six different pitches, none of them well, and his velocity has dropped a few miles per hour this year after peaking at 92 last year.

RHP A.J. Burnett

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

163 1/3

19.0%

10.1%

10.4%

50.3%

4.35

4.09

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Knucklecurve

Changeup

91.5 mph;

23.1%

91.6 mph;

34.8%

81.6 mph;

32.2%

86.6 mph;

9.8%

A.J. Burnett enjoyed a career renaissance in Pittsburgh in 2012 and 2013 but, after signing a one-year, last hurrah contract with Philadelphia in the offseason, it's pretty clear he's on his last legs. His strikeout rate has dropped below twenty percent (for the first time since 2004, excepting an outlying 2010) and his walk rate is at a five-year high. His velocity is at a career low and batters just aren't fooled by his stuff anymore. Stick a fork in him, he's done.

LHP Cole Hamels

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

151 1/3

24.4%

7.4%

7.1%

47.0%

2.44

2.95

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Curveball

Changeup

91.8 mph;

54.5%

88.2 mph;

13.6%

77.8 mph;

9.4%

84.0 mph;

22.2%

I covered how well Cole Hamels has pitched this year above, but it bears mentioning again, he's pitching better than ever. Hamels best pitch is his circle-changeup and it's been dominant this year. According to PITCHf/x, it has been worth 10.2 runs this year. To compare, Felix's changeup has been worth 15.5 runs this year. In fact, since 2010, the first year Felix started throwing the deadly version of his change, only Cole Hamels and Jason Vargas (!) have received more value out of their changeups. Hamels' changeup has been so good because he's been able to locate his fastball with precision. He'll also throw a cutter which he treats like a slider, throwing it mostly to lefties, and a curveball.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Angels

72-50

.590

-

L-W-W-W-W

Athletics

73-51

.589

-

L-L-L-L-L

Mariners

67-56

.545

5.5

W-L-W-W-W

Astros

52-73

.416

21.5

W-L-W-L-L

Rangers

48-76

.387

25.0

W-L-L-L-L

The Athletics have lost five games in a row and are now tied atop the AL West in a virtual tie with the Angels. Just a week ago, the Mariners were ten games behind the A's and now they're just five and a half back after an incredible two weeks. The Angels will travel to Boston for a four-game series while the A's take on the Mets at home in a brief two-game series.

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Athletics

73-51

.589

+5.5

L-L-L-L-L

Mariners

67-56

.545

-

W-L-W-W-W

Tigers

66-56

.541

0.5

L-W-L-W-W

Yankees

63-59

.516

3.5

W-W-L-L-L

Blue Jays

64-61

.512

4.0

L-W-L-L-L

After almost an entire season of seeing the Angels at the top of the Wild Card standings, it's really weird to see another team in that spot. The Mariners and the Tigers swapped spots in the standings after the series win over the weekend. The Tigers have fallen a game and half behind the Royals in the AL Central. The Tigers will travel to St. Petersburg to face the Rays while the Royals wrap up their series against the Twins today and then travel to Denver to take on the Rockies in a short, two-game series. The Yankees are still hanging around in the race after taking two of three from the Rays; they travel to Houston on Tuesday. The Blue Jays continue their free fall and are now four games behind in the Wild Card race; they'll play two against the Brewers to start the week.

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