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Series Preview: Mariners (57-67) vs. Athletics (54-71)

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It’s a battle of cellar-dwellers as the Mariners face the Athletics to start the week.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Monday, August 24

7:10 pm

Athletics

LHP Felix Doubront

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Tuesday, August 25

7:10 pm

Athletics

RHP Jesse Chavez

Mariners

LHP Mike Montgomery

Wednesday, August 26

12:40 pm

Athletics

RHP Chris Bassitt

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Mariners

Athletics

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

99 (9th in AL)

95 (12th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-20.2 (12th)

-47.6 (14th)

Mariners

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

108 (10th)

93 (3rd)

Athletics

Bullpen (FIP-)

109 (11th)

104 (9th)

Athletics

Heading into this season, both the Mariners and the Athletics were expected to compete for the AL West division crown. The projected outcomes for both teams had big ceilings but neither team came anywhere close to those projections. Instead, we’ve seen both teams hit their floor and it hasn’t been pretty.

For the Athletics, that floor has been primarily driven by a complete failure from their bullpen. Overall, their relievers haven’t been completely terrible but when they face a high leverage situation, everything falls apart. As a group, the A’s relievers are sporting a 12.06 ERA in high leverage situations, more than four times higher than their 2.75 ERA in all other situations. So, despite a positive run differential and one of the best starting rotations in the league, the Athletics find themselves in the cellar of the American League because of a bullpen that only gives up runs at the worst possible moments.

The Athletics:

The Athletics are the worst team in the American League but their record is better than six National League teams. They sold Ben Zobrist and Scott Kazmir at the trade deadline and are clearly focused on rebuilding for next year.  They’ve won three of their last five games after a seven-game losing streak in the middle of August.

Key Players

3B Brett Lawrie Brett Lawrie has never been able to replicate the gaudy numbers he put up in 43 games during his rookie year. His high energy playing style has led to a myriad of injuries that have forced him to miss 38% of his games over the last three years. The Athletics are hoping that getting him off the turf in Toronto will lead to a healthier year for Lawrie. When he is on the field, Lawrie has provided league average offensive production. A career low walk rate last year is particularly concerning. He isn’t particularly known for his patience, but if he’s not getting on base more often and isn’t hitting for as much power, it’s hard to see how he’ll produce an above average line at the plate.

1B Billy Butler Signing Billy Butler was a perplexing acquisition at the time. Butler had seen two straight years of declining offensive production in Kansas City and wasn’t about to provide any value in the field or on the basepaths. Throwing money after a declining bat-only player seems like a fool’s errand. Yet, the Athletics might have added some diversity to their lineup with a relatively rare offensive skillset.

C Stephen VogtI believe in Stephen Vogt. He made his major league debut when he was 28 and didn’t start receiving regular playing time until he was 30, but the A’s traded away Derek Norris so that Vogt could become their everyday catcher. His walk rate has jumped up to match his low strikeout rate this year and he’s hitting for more power than ever before. His home run rate should fall from its lofty heights but the plate discipline looks like it’s for real—he’s swinging at a much lower rate but still making contact at a rate similar to his career average.

RF Josh ReddickJosh Reddick suffered through an injury-plagued season last year. He’s returned with a vengeance this year but he looks like a completely different player at the plate. His strikeout rate is a miniscule 9.8% which is around half of his career average. Like Vogt, he’s swinging at the lowest rate of his career but he’s making more contact than ever before. His BABIP is fairly high but it matches his 22.1% line drive rate. The Athletics promoted a new hitting coach this year and it looks like he’s been able to instill a new hitting philosophy that values swinging to make hard contact. Both Vogt and Reddick have benefitted from this new approach and it seems like the improvements have stuck.

SS Marcus SemienMarcus Semien was acquired this offseason from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade. He’s made the transition to full-time shortstop this year after primarily playing second and third in the minors. Defensively, he hasn’t been very impressive—he leads the league in errors and UZR thinks he’s the worst shortstop in the game. DRS is a bit more optimistic, pegging him right around league average, but I think we can safely say his defense isn’t a strength. Offensively, he’s been right around league average with a little bit of pop in his bat. Overall, that combination makes for a league average shortstop which isn’t bad considering he’s only 24-years-old.

1B Mark CanhaA rare Rule 5 draft pick who has been better than replacement level, Mark Canha has seen his playing time increase as the year has gone on. He’s hitting for a decent amount of power and his plate discipline is right around league average. Despite being pegged as a platoon partner for Ike Davis, he’s actually hit right-handed pitching better than lefties. With Davis out for the year, Canha looks like he’s the undisputed starter for the rest of the season and will look to capitalize on an already surprising season.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Felix Doubront

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

39 1/3

15.4%

7.1%

5.1%

56.9%

3.89

3.45

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Splitter

Curveball

91.4 mph;

38.6%

91.8 mph;

16.4%

87.2 mph;

18.3%

83.6 mph;

4.1%

84.6 mph;

7.8%

75.9 mph;

14.6%

Felix Doubront has always struggled with his control, but now he’s also struggling to generate whiffs. His strikeout rate has fallen from around 20% to 15% the last two years and it’s his changeup that looks like the culprit. That pitch has steadily become less effective since 2013. He’s almost completely abandoned the changeup in favor of a splitter this year. That pitch as well as some mechanical adjustments have helped him flip his batted ball profile. He’s inducing grounders at the highest rate of his career which has helped him keep the ball in the park.

RHP Jesse Chavez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

139 1/3

20.5%

6.7%

9.5%

41.3%

3.75

3.60

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

92.8 mph;

14.7%

92.4 mph;

20.8%

91.3 mph;

35.2%

85.4 mph;

18.4%

84.0 mph;

6.9%

76.9 mph;

3.9%

Chavez PA

Jesse Chavez has pitched for five different teams in his eight years in the Majors but was never really given a shot to start until last year. He made 21 starts for the A’s last year and his results didn’t suffer as much as might be expected from a career reliever. Much of his success can be attributed to his willingness to change his arsenal to maximize his strengths. With the A’s, he started to rely heavily on his cutter and it’s been a decent pitch for him. His other two fastballs are used to give batters different looks with good velocity and he’s able to generate a good amount of whiffs with his four-seamer. At this season has progressed, Chavez has slowly moved away from his curveball in favor of a slider. The last time he faced the Mariners, he gave up four runs on nine hits and struck out only four batters.

RHP Chris Bassitt

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

69

19.4%

7.0%

7.1%

41.3%

2.48

3.70

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.7 mph;

24.9%

93.8 mph;

34.0%

88.2 mph;

4.9%

83.9 mph;

6.5%

85.7 mph;

15.4%

72.0 mph;

14.3%

Bassitt PA

Chris Bassitt was acquired by the Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija trade this offseason and toiled away in Triple-A for the first half of the season. There, he was able to refine his command and showed an impressive ability to generate additional whiffs. Since joining the major league rotation, his strikeout rate has jumped over 20% and his walk rate has fallen below 5%. Much of that newfound success stems from increasing his average fastball velocity by almost two miles per hour. He’ll also mix in a slider and a plus curveball and has recently added a cutter as well.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

69-56

.552

-

W-L-W-W-W

Rangers

64-59

.520

4.0

W-L-W-W-W

Angels

63-61

.508

5.5

W-L-L-L-L

Mariners

57-67

.460

11.5

W-L-L-L-W

Athletics

54-71

.432

15.0

W-W-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Yankees

68-55

.553

+4.0

W-L-L-W-L

Rangers

64-59

.520

-

W-L-W-W-W

Angels

63-61

.508

1.5

W-L-L-L-L

Twins

63-61

.508

1.5

L-W-W-W-W

Orioles

62-61

.504

2.0

W-L-L-L-L

The Blue Jays swept the Angels over the weekend launching them into first place in the AL East, half a game ahead of the Yankees. That sweep continues a stretch of poor play from the Angels and they now find themselves in third place in the AL West and a game and a half back in the Wild Card race. The team that’s taken their place? The Texas Rangers. They won three of four against the Tigers over the weekend and will host the Blue Jays starting tomorrow. Meanwhile, the Astros swept the Dodgers over the weekend, beating both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke; they travel to New York to face the Yankees three times.