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Series Preview: Mariners (74-79) at Angels (78-74)

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The Mariners get one last shot to spoil the Angels hopes for a playoff spot.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Friday, September 25

7:05 pm

Mariners

LHP Vidal Nuno

Angels

RHP Garrett Richards

Saturday, September 26

6:05 pm

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Angels

LHP Andrew Heaney

Sunday, September 27

12:35 pm

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Angels

RHP Jered Weaver

Mariners

Angels

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

103 (4th in AL)

94 (13th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-34.3 (13th)

0.2 (4th)

Angels

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

106 (11th)

110 (13th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

102 (10th)

94 (8th)

Angels

The Mariners have nine games left to play and the next six are against the two teams vying for second place in the AL West. They’re also just six games away from finishing the season with a winning record. The last time they finished with a winning record two years in a row was 2002–2003. These three games in Anaheim will be the last three games on the road before the Mariners return home to finish the season.

For as good as the Mariners offense has been in the second half, their pitching staff has been as bad. Their park adjusted FIP in the second half is 10% below league average but they've had an even harder time preventing runs. Their park adjusted ERA is 13th in the AL in the second half and they've allowed 5.08 runs per game. So despite all of the improvements they've enjoyed on offense, their run differential in the second half is -13.

The Angels:

The Angels have followed up their terrible play in August with their best month of the season in September. That’s helped them recover all of the ground they lost in the Wild Card race. They have 10 games left in the season but won’t get to face their primary rival, the Astros, again. The Mariners have gone 7-9 against them so far this season.

Key Players

CF Mike Trout Mike Trout "suffered" through his worst season as a Major Leaguer last year. He won the MVP award anyway. There’s no question that the Angels would look a lot worse without him in the lineup every day. He was mired in a prolonged slump for most of August which brought his overall offensive numbers down to his career averages. Think about that, a 101 wRC+ in 29 games brought his season wRC+ down to his career average. Prior to August his wRC+ of 188 was a career high.

1B Albert Pujols Albert Pujols is enjoying his highest offensive production since 2010 when he was still with the Cardinals. After a torrid June in which his wRC+ was 207 in 27 games, he’s fallen back to earth due to an August slump. He’s pounding the ball into the ground more often in the second half the season and that’s affected his power output and BABIP. He’s also dealing with a flare up of his plantar fasciitis that has relegated him to designated hitting for the rest of the year.

RF Kole CalhounKole Calhoun has already surpassed the 3.7 fWAR he accumulated last year, making him one of the most valuable outfielders in the league. A higher strikeout rate has pulled his overall offensive numbers down but he’s still hitting for a good amount of power and walking at a league average rate. His improvements in the field have provided the most additional value. UZR thinks he’s been the second best right fielder in baseball this year but DRS has him only two runs above average this year; the reality is probably somewhere in the middle.

3B David FreeseSince a wRC+ of 132 in his breakout year in 2012, David Freese’s offensive profile has settled in at around six percent above league average. He’s regained some of the power he hasn’t seen since that breakout year but that’s been offset by a dip in BABIP. Even though his ISO is at a three year high, he’s also putting the ball on the ground more often. Defensively, a horrendous 2013 where he was one of the worst third basemen in baseball seems more like an outlier now. He’s put together two years of average defense in LA and that’s helped him recover some of his overall value.

SS Erick AybarThere isn’t much that’s changed in Erick Aybar’s game. He’s still a slap hitter who has decent speed and is an average fielder at his position. Still, this year has been his worst year in the majors since 2010. What power he had in his bat has completely disappeared and he’s knocking the ball into the ground more than ever. He’s also whiffing more often which has driven his strikeout rate towards that low point in 2010.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Garrett Richards

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

188 1/3

19.7%

8.4%

11.5%

54.4%

3.73

3.87

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Slider

Curveball

96.2 mph;

48.2%

96.2 mph;

13.8%

87.9 mph;

32.3%

80.0 mph;

5.7%

Richards PA

Garrett Richards had shown promise as a prospect and in limited time in the majors so perhaps his breakout year last year shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. His incredible year last year was cut short by a nasty knee injury in August. He returned to the Angels ahead of schedule but his results haven’t returned to their otherworldly levels from last year. He’s throwing his four-seam fastball much more often, but despite that pitch’s above average whiff rate, he’s seen a drop in strikeout rate. He’s also seen a bump in walk rate. Even though his peripherals are trending the wrong way, Richards has continued to cause batters to generate weak contact against him—opposing batters produce hard contact against him just 23% of the time, the sixth best mark in the majors. As long as he’s avoiding hard contact, he should continue to find success. This will be the fourth time the Mariners have faced Garrett Richards; the Angels are 2-1 in the previous three contests. In their last meeting, Richards was uncharacteristically wild, allowing four walks in five innings, on the way to giving up four runs.

LHP Andrew Heaney

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

95 1/3

18.3%

5.3%

6.8%

37.3%

3.30

3.57

Pitches

Sinker

Changeup

Curveball

91.9 mph;

63.9%

83.3 mph;

18.0%

80.0 mph;

18.1%

Heaney PA

The Mariners finally get to see Andrew Heaney, the top prospect the Angels acquired for Howie Kendrick. He made his major league debut last year with the Marlins after a successful minor league career where he posted above average strikeout rates and walk rates across the board. He has three pitches in his arsenal, mainly relying on a sinker as his primary pitch. He uses it early in the count to generate strikes but it isn’t his best offering. His two secondary pitches are widely different in quality. His best pitch is his slider (PITCHf/x labels it a curveball) and it’s his primary weapon against both lefties and righties. He also throws a changeup that isn’t yet great, but it helps him keep opposite handed batters at bay.

RHP Jered Weaver

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

148

13.6%

4.8%

10.2%

34.7%

4.86

4.85

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

84.4 mph;

27.0%

83.5 mph;

21.1%

75.4 mph;

19.0%

76.7 mph;

11.6%

67.9 mph;

21.2%

weaver PA

Five years of declining velocity corresponds to five years of declining results. Jered Weaver’s fastball isn’t the slowest fastball in the majors (that belongs to knuckleballer R.A. Dickey) but it’s close. He’s lost the ability to generate whiffs with any of his pitches and his strikeout rate has fallen to a career low. As a fly-ball pitcher, he’s benefitted from his home park immensely and has become increasingly reliant on inducing weak contact instead of the strikeout. He has improved his walk rate as well but he can only do so much with his deteriorating arsenal. The Mariners faced Weaver last week at home and he was unceremoniously ejected from the game in the fifth inning after arguing with Kyle Seager. They were able to score three times off him before he left the game.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

83-69

.546

-

W-L-W-W-W

Astros

80-73

.523

3.5

W-W-W-L-L

Angels

78-74

.513

5.0

W-L-L-W-W

Mariners

74-79

.484

9.5

L-W-W-L-L

Athletics

64-89

.418

19.5

L-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Yankees

84-68

.553

+4.5

W-L-W-L-W

Astros

80-73

.523

-

W-W-W-L-L

Angels

78-74

.513

1.5

W-L-L-W-W

Twins

78-74

.513

1.5

L-W-W-W-L

Orioles

76-76

.500

3.5

W-L-W-W-W

The Toronto Blue Jays are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot. They just recently dismantled the Yankees for the last time this season and host the Rays this weekend. With their win yesterday, the Royals clinched their first division title in 10 years. The Indians, who still have a prayer in the Wild Card race, will travel to Kansas City to face the newly crowned division champ. The Rangers swept the Athletics in three games solidifying their lead in the AL West; they'll travel to Houston to face the stumbling Astros, hoping to close the door on the division race.