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Series Preview: Mariners (80-68) at Angels (93-56)

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The Mariners season hangs in the balance as they travel to Anaheim for a four-game series against the Angels.

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Harry How

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Monday, September 15

7:05pm

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Angels

RHP Matt Shoemaker

Tuesday, September 16

7:05pm

Mariners

LHP Roenis Elias

Angels

RHP Cory Rasmus

Wednesday, September 17

7:05pm

Mariners

LHP James Paxton

Angels

LHP C.J. Wilson

Thursday, September 18

7:05pm

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Angels

RHP Jered Weaver

Mariners

Angels

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

92 (11th in AL)

112 (1st in AL)

ANGELS

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

16.3 (6th)

22.0 (4th)

ANGELS

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

102 (8th)

102 (9th)

MARINERS

Bullpen (FIP-)

83 (1st)

95 (7th)

MARINERS

There are two weeks left in the season and half of the remaining schedule is filled with games against the Angels. After a very disappointing weekend series against the A's, the Mariners will have to beat the best team in baseball to secure their ticket to the postseason. That task will be tough to overcome. The Angels are a very good ball club and they're peaking down the stretch in August and September.

The season is far from over for the Mariners. The Royals had a similarly disappointing weekend against the Red Sox and are just a game ahead of the Mariners (it's really a half a game ahead because of a suspended game that has the Indians ahead of the Royals by two runs in bottom of the tenth; that game will be continued a week from today). The Mariners head out on the road for eleven games where the Mariners have won 60% of their games. That's the best road record in the AL and the second best road record in the majors.

The Angels:

The Angels have been the best team in baseball since July. Their record since then? 48-20. That's right, they've won over 70% of their games since July 1. No other team even comes close to that mark in that time period. In September alone, they've only lost three games (all to the Astros) and had a ten-game winning streak until Houston snapped it yesterday.

For all the things that went wrong last year for the Angels, there have been twice as many things that have gone right for the Angels this year. A healthy Albert Pujols has added some potency to a lineup that includes the best player in baseball, Mike Trout. Breakout years for Garrett Richards (who will miss the rest of the year after a freak leg injury) and Matt Shoemaker have solidified a rotation once filled with question marks. This is as complete a team as the Mariners will see this year.

Key Players

CF Mike Trout - Yes, Mike Trout is still the best player in the majors. His WAR total is down a bit from his otherworldly totals the last two years. Since becoming a full-time centerfielder, DRS and UZR have not been impressed with his work on the field (DRS has him at -7 this year and UZR at -6.3). His offensive profile is also a bit different but no less valuable. He's focused on hitting for power and he's already exceeded his career highs in home runs and his isolated power is the highest it's ever been. This has come at the cost of his high stolen base totals and a jump in his strikeout rate to over 25%.

1B Albert Pujols - Reports of his early demise last year were greatly exaggerated. He may not be the best in the majors anymore (that title is reserved for his teammate), but he's still a dangerous hitter in the middle of this lineup. The myriad of lower body injuries have taken their toll and it shows in his batting average on balls in play and his power output. Still, his offensive numbers compare favorably with his first year with the Angels in 2012. That year, he was good for 3.8 WAR and a 134 wRC+. This year, he's been worth 3.3 WAR and is running a 124 wRC+.

RF Kole Calhoun - Calhoun has emerged as a capable right fielder and leadoff man for the Angels this year. He isn't built in the traditional leadoff hitter mold however. His high line drive rate has helped him run a high batting average on balls in play but his walk rate is a paltry (for a leadoff hitter) 7.3% leading to an on base percentage that's buoyed by his high batting average. He does have some decent power in his bat and that has certainly helped him to a 132 wRC+ this year.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Matt Shoemaker

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

128 1/3

23.0%

4.6%

9.9%

41.1%

3.16

3.34

Pitches

Four-seam

Two-seam

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

90.5 mph;

25.3%

90.4 mph;

25.6%

83.8 mph;

21.3%

81.4 mph;

18.0%

75.7 mph;

9.9%

Matt Shoemaker is a 27-year-old, undrafted rookie and he might be the best pitcher currently in the Angels' rotation. He's split his time between the rotation and the bullpen this year, but he's been lights out no matter where he's pitched. Never a standout in the minors, his control has improved by leaps and bounds the last two years culminating in a K-BB ratio that ranks 18th in the majors this year. He's armed with a dangerous splitter and his pitch arsenal is reminiscent of our own Hisashi Iwakuma (they face off against each other tonight). In fact, if you compare Shoemaker with the recent Japanese imports, they are near clones of each other. His other pitches are fairly average but his slider has allowed him to neutralize righties to some extent leading to a notable platoon split.

RHP Cory Rasmus

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

45

25.5%

8.2%

9.8%

38.5%

2.80

3.48

Pitches

Four-seam

Two-seam

Slider

Curveball

Changeup

92.7 mph;

43.9%

90.6 mph;

0.3%

83.4 mph;

22.1%

76.0 mph;

15.2%

85.6 mph;

18.0%

A reliever for all of his major league career, Cory Rasmus will make his fourth spot start of the year on Tuesday. This has all the makings of a bullpen day for the Angels as Rasmus hasn't been a regular starter since 2011 in Double-A and hasn't thrown more than 50 pitches in any of his previous starts this year. Because he's been able to throw as if he was coming out of the bullpen in each of his starts, his numbers haven't suffered in the transition to the rotation. His changeup (30% whiff rate!) and slider are his best pitches and he'll use both of them to rack up strikeouts against both lefties and righties.

LHP C.J. Wilson

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

162

20.2%

10.7%

12.1%

47.1%

4.61

4.30

Pitches

Four-seam

Two-seam

Cutter

Slider

Curveball

Changeup

90.6 mph;

29.4%

90.8 mph;

23.6%

88.4 mph;

7.5%

82.4 mph;

9.7%

76.5 mph;

16.9%

85.1 mph;

12.3%

A familiar lynchpin in the Angels rotation, C.J. Wilson has struggled and has posted his worst year as a starter this year. There isn't anything that stands out in his peripherals that might indicate the reason behind his sudden decline. His strikeout rate and walk rate are right in line with his career averages. The batting average on balls in play against him is a bit high at .315 and he's given up his fair share of home runs. These two factors have combined to run his ERA and FIP over 4.00. Digging a little deeper, it seems like batters are really teeing off on his offspeed offerings, particularly his curveball and changeup. He's never really possessed a plus fastball so if his secondary pitches aren't working for him, he seems to be in some trouble.

RHP Jered Weaver

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

200 1/3

18.8%

7.4%

8.4%

32.8%

3.50

4.13

Pitches

Four-seam

Two-seam

Slider

Curveball

Changeup

86.8 mph;

21.6%

85.8 mph;

28.9%

79.4 mph;

9.8%

69.4 mph;

19.4%

77.7 mph;

20.1%

Jered Weaver's velocity has steadily declined since 2010 and now it sit at the lowest point of his career. If Matt Cain was once the poster boy for pitchers who were able to outperform their peripherals to drive their ERA down, Jered Weaver may have taken his place. The difference between his ERA and FIP is the fourth largest in the AL and he's continued to be effective despite a lower strikeout rate and spike in his walk rate. It all begins with his fastball. Despite its lower velocity, the amount of vertical movement he's able to get with it compares favorably with Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Young, all of whom have been able to outperform their peripherals like Weaver has.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Angels

93-56

.624

-

W-W-W-W-L

Athletics

83-66

.557

10.0

L-L-L-W-W

Mariners

80-68

.541

12.5

L-L-W-L-L

Astros

66-83

.443

27.0

W-W-L-L-W

Rangers

57-92

.383

36.0

L-L-W-W-W

The Angels' magic number to wrap up the AL West is just 4. After the Mariners, the Angels face the Rangers and then the Athletics before wrapping up with the Mariners again. That last series against the A's won't matter much, at least with regards to the AL West.

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Athletics

83-66

.557

+1.5

L-L-L-W-W

Royals

81-67

.547

-

W-L-L-W-L

Mariners

80-68

.541

1.0

L-L-W-L-L

Toronto

77-71

.520

4.0

W-W-L-W-L

Indians

76-72

.514

5.0

W-W-L-L-L

Luckily for the Mariners, the Royals had just as terrible of a weekend. They lost three of four to the Red Sox and have fallen out of first in the AL Central. They face the White Sox at home as they try to right the ship. The Mariners sit just a game behind the Royals for the second wild card. The Tigers swept the Indians over the weekend to regain their throne in their division. The Tigers face the Twins while the Indians face the Astros to start the week. Due to the Indians losses, the Blue Jays find themselves in the fourth position in the Wild Card race. They'll take on the Orioles who will be looking to wrap up the AL East in the next few days. The Athletics are off today and then start a three-game series against the Rangers at home.

Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $18,000 Fantasy Baseball league tonight, and you can win up to $2,000. Join today!