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Series Preview: Mariners (84-75) vs. Angels (98-61)

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This is it. The last series of the year. To keep their playoff hopes alive, the Mariners must face the Angels three times over the weekend.

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Jeff Gross

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Friday, September 26

7:10pm

Angels

RHP Jared Weaver

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Saturday, September 27

6:10pm

Angels

RHP Cory Rasmus

Mariners

LHP James Paxton

Sunday, September 28

1:10pm

Angels

LHP C.J. Wilson

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Mariners

Angels

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

92 (12th in AL) | 92

111 (1st in AL) | 113

ANGELS

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

6.6 (7th) | 16.1

25.2 (4th) | 20.9

ANGELS

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

103 (10th) | 101

101 (7th) | 102

ANGELS

Bullpen (FIP-)

89 (3rd) | 83

96 (8th) | 95

MARINERS

After a disastrous end to their epic, eleven-game road trip, the Mariners' playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. They return home for the final three games of the year against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It's a long shot -- FanGraphs has the Mariners' playoff odds at just 1.1% -- but there's a chance.

I'll go through all of the scenarios below but, suffice it to say, the Mariners will need a ton of help from other teams and a massive dose of good fortune.

The Angels and the Mariners just recently faced each other a week ago and split a four-game series in Anaheim. For this three-game series, we're throwing out our three best pitchers. If we're going down, we're going down with a fight. This is it, ladies and gentlemen. There's at least one more meaningful game at Safeco this year. Savor it.

The Angels:

Since playing the Mariners last, the Angels have gone 3-3 against the Rangers and the Athletics. Their magic number for clinching home field advantage throughout the playoffs is just one so they still have something to play for. The Orioles are playing the Blue Jays and an Oriole loss would wrap up homefield advantage for the Angels too. Still, they're probably going to rest a few of their starters throughout this series to prepare for the playoffs. It won't be a full on Triple-A-fest like last Thursday, but I'd expect to see one or two starters rested each game this weekend.

Key Players

2B Howie Kendrick - Howie Kendrick has bounced between very good years and simply average years but that's averaged out to around 3.5 WAR a year for the last five years. This year has been one of Kendrick's very good years and it's been driven by better plate discipline. His strikeout rate has continued to drop for the fourth consecutive year and his walk rate is at a career high. That adds up to a 114 wRC+ to go along with his above average fielding.

SS Erick Aybar - A first time All-Star this year, Erick Aybar hasn't been able to match his excellent first half of the year in the second half. An 88 wRC+ in the second half has dropped his batting line back to his career average, just above league average. Much of his value is tied to his glove and the advanced metrics are uncertain how valuable his fielding has been. This year, UZR has rated him above average but DRS has him a bit below average but, last year, both metrics thought he was a poor fielder.

LF Josh Hamilton - Last year, Josh Hamilton signed a five-year contract with the Angels worth $123 million. After just a single year with the team, it was clear that the contract was an albatross. After two years with the team, it's clear that the contract is a complete disaster. Hamilton has been worth a total of just 3.1 WAR in those two years. He hasn't hit and he hasn't fielded well. To be fair, he's dealt with his fair share of injuries this year and that's kept him off the field more often than not. It's likely the Angels will sit him for the entirety of the series to rest him for the playoffs.

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 Jared Weaver

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

207 1/3

19.1%

7.3%

8.2%

33.1%

3.52

4.05

Pitches

Four-seam

Two-seam

Slider

Curveball

Changeup

86.8 mph;

21.9%

85.9 mph;

24.6%

79.4 mph;

9.8%

69.4 mph;

19.3%

77.7 mph;

20.0%

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 Mariners managed to avoid facing Weaver the last time around, on account of the massive hangover that plagued the Angels after they clinched the AL West.

RHP Cory Rasmus

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

53

25.5%

7.6%

8.2%

38.7%

2.38

3.22

Pitches

Four-seam

Two-seam

Slider

Curveball

Changeup

92.7 mph;

43.3%

91.6 mph;

0.4%

83.5 mph;

21.7%

76.1 mph;

14.8%

85.7 mph;

19.4%

Normally a reliever, Cory Rasmus will make his sixth spot start of the year on Saturday. This will be another bullpen day for the Angels but Rasmus has been able to go a bit deeper into games recently. He's lasted through the fourth inning in his last two starts and he was able to throw just under 60 pitches on Sunday. 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. The last time he faced the Mariners, Rasmus was able to shut them down, allowing just one hit and striking out four over four innings. It was only after he came out of the game that the Mariners were able to score 13 runs against the Angels bullpen.

LHP C.J. Wilson

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

169 2/3

20.2%

11.1%

11.6%

47.6%

4.61

4.30

Pitches

Four-seam

Two-seam

Cutter

Slider

Curveball

Changeup

90.6 mph;

29.5%

90.9 mph;

23.4%

88.4 mph;

7.5%

82.5 mph;

9.8%

76.5 mph;

17.3%

85.1 mph;

12.1%

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. Wilson was also able to shut down the Mariners when he faced them last Wednesday. He threw a one-hitter over seven innings, striking out seven while walking three. There is a possibility that the Angels would skip his turn in the rotation to set their playoff rotation but since there are three days between the last day of the season and the beginning of the division series, that's probably unlikely.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Angels

98-61

.616

-

W-L-L-W-W

Athletics

86-73

.541

12.0

W-W-L-L-L

Mariners

84-75

.528

14.0

L-L-L-L-W

Astros

69-90

.434

29.0

W-W-L-L-L

Rangers

66-93

.415

32.0

W-W-W-W-W

After being swept by the Angels on September 11, the Rangers have gone 12-1 since then. They're the hottest team in the majors and they're hosting the Athletics for four games to end the season. They already won once in walk-off fashion yesterday and we should be rooting for them to win out.

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Royals

87-72

.547

+1.0

L-W-W-L-W

Athletics

86-73

.541

-

W-W-L-L-L

Mariners

84-75

.528

2.0

L-L-L-L-W

Indians

83-76

.522

3.0

W-W-L-L-W

The Mariners basically need to win every single game from here on out to ensure their playoff hopes stay alive. Here are the playoff scenarios if the Mariners win out:

  • If the Royals lose out, they will be tied with the Mariners for a Wild Card spot. A potential Game 163 may be required to break the tie but not in every scenario. Kansas City started a four-game series against the White Sox in Chicago yesterday and won. The White Sox have Hector Noesi, John Danks, and Chris Bassitt scheduled to start over the weekend. I'd say this probably the least likely scenario.
  • If the Athletics lose out, the Mariners will hold a Wild Card spot outright. I mentioned above that the A's and Rangers are facing each other this weekend. The Rangers are playing well and have Nick Tepesch, Derek Holland, and Nick Martinez scheduled to pitch against Scott Kazmir, Jeff Samardzija, and Sonny Gray. If the Athletics win a single game, a tie for the second Wild Card (and a tiebreaking Game 163) remains a possibility if the Mariners win out and the Athletics lose their remaining two games. This may be the most likely scenario.
  • If the Mariners lose a single game, they can still force a tie for the second Wild Card spot if the Athletics lose out and the Mariners win their remaining two games.

Needless to say, we're all Ranger fans this weekend (and White Sox fans too). This will be the most exciting end to a season for the Mariners since 2000. Go M's.

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