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Series Preview: Mariners (2-1) vs. Athletics (1-3)

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The Mariners return to the friendly confines of Safeco Field to begin a six-game homestand.

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Friday, April 8

7:10 pm

Athletics

LHP Eric Surkamp

Mariners

RHP Taijuan Walker

Saturday, April 9

6:10 pm

Athletics

LHP Rich Hill

Mariners

RHP Nathan Karns

Sunday, April 10

1:10 pm

Athletics

RHP Chris Bassitt

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Mariners (2015)

Athletics (2015)

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

101 (5th in AL)

96 (11th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-23.6 (13th)

-27.2 (14th)

Mariners

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

106 (11th)

101 (8th)

Athletics

Bullpen (FIP-)

103 (10th)

110 (14th)

Mariners

The Mariners head into their home opener with the best offense in baseball. The resounding series win in Texas is as memorable an opening series as the sweep of the Angels in 2014. Robinson Cano and company will look to continue their success against the reeling Athletics. They’ll have to do it against another pair of left-handed pitchers in Eric Surkamp and Rich Hill. Oakland lost their opening series against the White Sox, winning just one of four games at home. If the Mariners continue hitting like they did in Texas, they have a good chance of coming out of the first week of play with a very strong record.

The Athletics:

Last year, the A’s looked like they had constructed a deep and capable roster but injuries and one of the worst bullpens in the league derailed their season. The 2016 version of their roster looks to be just as deep and flexible as last year but with a revamped bullpen. There is very little star talent on the roster but there are a number of players in platoon roles that could help the team play above its pedigree. Unfortunately, it looks like their rotation may be their weakness this year. Everyone assumed Jesse Hahn had a spot in the rotation locked up heading into spring training but he’s starting the year in Triple-A. Felix Doubront had won Hahn’s spot in the rotation but he injured himself in his final spring start, so the A’s are turning to ex-prospect Eric Surkamp to fill in for now.

Key Players

RF Josh Reddick Since joining the Athletics in 2012, Josh Reddick has lowered his strikeout rate every year like clockwork. He whiffed just 6.2% last year and made contact at a career high rate. But his transformation into a high-contact hitter hasn’t come at the expense of his power. His isolated power hasn’t dropped below .150 and he’s averaged .183 during his time in Oakland. His above average offensive line combined with his strong defense makes him one of the best right fielders in the game.

CF Billy Burns Billy Burns makes contact at a similar rate as Josh Reddick, but his hits don’t leave the park. In his first full season in the majors, Burns swung at the first pitch more often than any other player. That aggressiveness and his plus plus speed helped him post a .294 batting average but his ability to draw a walk suffered because of it. He had strong walk rates in the minors so a higher on-base percentage isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. More concerning is his 20.7% infield fly ball rate, second highest in the majors. He can’t leg out popups so he’ll need to figure out how to avoid them to maintain his high batting average on balls in play.

SS Marcus Semien When the Athletics acquired Marcus Semien from the White Sox in exchange for Jeff Samardzija, he was a second baseman who had an impressive offensive résumé. The A’s decided to try him out at shortstop where his offense would be a huge asset. Instead, he committed more errors than any other player and cost the Athletics almost a full win on defense per UZR. He worked intensively with infield guru Ron Washington during the year and his defensive play improved as the year went on. An average defender at short combined with an above average offensive line makes for a very valuable piece.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Eric Surkamp (2015 Stats - €”AAA)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

114

20.7%

6.6%

--

--

3.39

3.58

Eric Surkamp was drafted by the Giants all the way back in 2008 and slowly worked his way through that organization until Tommy John surgery derailed his career. Never considered a top prospect, he’s bounced through the White Sox organization, to the Dodgers, and now he finds himself making a spot start for the Athletics in 2016. Just 28, he posted decent numbers in Triple-A last year and had a decent spring training. His curveball is his best pitch and he’s drawn comparisons to Barry Zito because of it.

LHP Rich Hill (2015 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

29

34.0%

4.7%

9.1%

48.4%

1.55

2.27

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

90.6 mph;

48.4%

83.8 mph;

8.1%

77.9 mph;

3.9%

74.2 mph;

38.3%

Hill PA

One of the beautiful things about baseball is the way a player like Rich Hill can seemingly disappear only to popup again half a decade after he was last relevant. His surprising reemergence with the Red Sox last September was built upon some mechanical adjustments he made after joining the Pawtucket Red Sox. The Athletics are hoping that some of the new life he showed last year will carry over to this year. It’s a long shot but if he’s able to maintain just some of the improvements he showed, he should be a decent starter for them. On Opening Day, he couldn’t pitch out of the third inning against the White Sox, giving up four runs on three hits.

RHP Chris Bassitt (2015 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

86

17.7%

8.3%

5.7%

44.5%

3.56

3.76

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.6 mph;

25.9%

93.7 mph;

30.4%

84.2 mph;

7.3%

86.2 mph;

21.9%

72.1 mph;

14.4%

Bassitt PA

One of the many pitchers to see time in the Athletics’ rotation last year, Chris Bassitt was one of a few who actually saw some success. He throws his fastball in the low-90s but he’s able to generate a good amount of whiffs with the pitch. His best pitch is his slow curveball which generates both whiffs and ground balls. With an arsenal like his, you’d expect a sizable platoon split but he actually ran a reverse split last year. He was actively working on improving his changeup as the season wore on but I’d expect those platoon numbers to normalize in a full season of work.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Mariners

2-1

.667

-

L-W-W

Angels

1-2

.333

1.0

L-L-W

Astros

1-2

.333

1.0

W-L-L

Athletics

1-3

.250

1.5

L-L-W-L

Rangers

1-3

.250

1.5

W-L-L-L

After half a week of play, the Mariners jumped out to an early lead in the AL West. The Angels were swept in an odd two-game series against the Cubs but they managed to win in walk-off fashion against the Rangers last night. Those two teams will finish their four-game series this weekend. The Astros lost two of three in New York and are playing in Milwaukee this weekend.