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Series Preview: Mariners (63-71) at Athletics (58-76)

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The Mariners travel to Oakland for the last time this year.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Friday, September 4

7:05 pm

Mariners

LHP Edgar Olmos

Athletics

RHP Aaron Brooks

Saturday, September 5

6:05 pm

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Athletics

RHP Jesse Chavez

Sunday, September 6

1:05 pm

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Athletics

LHP Felix Doubront

Mariners

Athletics

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

100 (5th in AL)

96 (11th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-24.9 (12th)

-42.5 (14th)

Mariners

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

109 (12th)

94 (5th)

Athletics

Bullpen (FIP-)

106 (13th)

103 (10th)

Athletics

Yes, you’re reading the table above correctly; the Mariners now have the fifth best offense in the American League. In the second half, their wRC+ of 119 is second only to the Blue Jays’ high flying offense. Much of that improvement has been driven by an outburst of power and a much higher BABIP as a team. All the things we expected from this offense are coming to fruition down the stretch.

For the Athletics, their demise 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 Mariners and the Athletics recently faced each other in Seattle where the M’s won two of three. Since that series at the end of August, the Athletics have gone 3-3 against the Diamondbacks and the Angels. This series will be the last time these two division rivals face off until the last series of the season.

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.

CF Billy BurnsThere may not be a more aptly named player in all of Major League Baseball. Billy Burns has leveraged his blinding speed to become a useful role player for the Athletics. His speed has allowed him to run a .342 BABIP despite running the highest infield pop-up rate in baseball. When he isn’t popping up, he’s pounding the ball into the ground and legging out infield hits. He doesn’t walk or strikeout much because he swings at the first pitch of an at bat almost half the time.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Aaron Brooks

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

26 1/3

19.1%

3.6%

9.1%

38.3%

5.47

3.59

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

92.2 mph;

39.0%

91.2 mph;

17.2%

83.1 mph;

27.1%

85.9 mph;

12.9%

77.1 mph;

3.8%

The Athletics acquired Aaron Brooks from the Royals in the Ben Zobrist trade at the trade deadline. He was drafted in the ninth round in the 2011 draft and his minor league career was mostly unremarkable. He has shown an ability to limit walks, sporting a minor league walk rate of 3.8%. He started the year in Triple-A and was able to push his strikeout rate over 20% for the first time since Rookie ball in 2011. That improvement has surprisingly carried over to the majors where he’s made four starts for the A’s. Outside of one terrible start against the Blue Jays, he’s been pretty impressive in his three other starts, giving up just four runs in 20 innings.

RHP Jesse Chavez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

149

20.3%

6.7%

10.9%

41.9%

3.93

3.79

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

92.8 mph;

14.0%

92.3 mph;

21.1%

91.1 mph;

35.7%

85.3 mph;

18.2%

84.0 mph;

6.4%

76.6 mph;

4.6%

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 Mariners were able to chase Chavez early the last time he faced them, scoring six runs on eight hits before the end of the fifth inning.

LHP Felix Doubront

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

47 1/3

17.1%

7.8%

4.5%

54.6%

3.99

3.28

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Splitter

Curveball

91.4 mph;

37.7%

91.6 mph;

18.5%

87.2 mph;

17.7%

83.7 mph;

12.1%

76.1 mph;

13.8%

Doubront PA

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. Doubront was forced to leave his last start against the Mariners after being struck by a line drive.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

73-61

.545

-

W-L-W-L-L

Rangers

70-62

.530

2.0

W-W-L-W-W

Angels

67-66

.504

5.5

L-L-L-W-W

Mariners

63-71

.470

10.0

W-L-L-W-W

Athletics

58-76

.433

15.0

W-W-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Yankees

74-58

.561

+4.0

W-W-L-W-W

Rangers

70-62

.530

-

W-W-L-W-W

Twins

69-64

.519

1.5

L-W-W-W-L

Angels

67-66

.504

3.5

L-L-L-W-W

Rays

66-67

.496

4.5

L-W-W-W-L

Both the Rangers and the Angels gained ground on the Astros thanks to the Mariners. Now, those two teams face off against each other this weekend in a battle for second in the AL West and the Wild Card race. The Twins took two of three against the White Sox to stick around in the race as well and face the Astros in Houston this weekend.