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Series Preview: Mariners (26-17) vs. Athletics (19-26)

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The Mariners begin an eight-game homestand against the Athletics.

New York Yankees v Oakland Athletics Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Monday, May 23 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Athletics

Mariners

LHP Rich Hill

RHP Taijuan Walker

43%

56%

Tuesday, May 24 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Athletics

Mariners

RHP Kendall Graveman

RHP Nate Karns

37%

63%

Wednesday, May 25 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Athletics

Mariners

TBA!

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

38%

62%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Athletics

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

110 (3rd in AL)

87 (14th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-12.5 (14th)

-24.0 (15th)

Mariners

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

100 (6th)

124 (15th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

85 (7th)

90 (8th)

Mariners

With their three game sweep of the Reds in Cincinnati, the Mariners now own the best road record in baseball by a wide margin. They’ve outscored their opponents by 53 runs away from Safeco Field and they haven’t lost a road series yet. The same can’t be said for their home record where they’ve basically played .500 ball. And with 15 of their next 20 games being played at home, now is the time to transfer some of the road mojo back to SoDo. Luckily, the opponents they’ll be hosting aren’t very intimidating, beginning with the Athletics to start this week.

The Athletics:

The A’s have been incredibly streaky this year. Most of their streaks have been of the losing variety, they’ve also mixed in six- and four-game winning streaks as well. They’ve lost 13 players to the disabled list, including Sonny Gray who was scheduled to start Wednesday’s game. With so many players on the shelf, their plumbing the depths of their roster. After a promising four-game winning streak that included a sweep of the Rangers, the A’s were swept by the Yankees in a four-game series over the weekend.

Note: At the time of publication, the Athletics had not announced the starter for Wednesday's game. Potential candidates include Erik Surkamp or Daniel Mengden, one of their prospects acquired last year from Houston.

Key Players

3B Danny ValenciaSince the beginning of 2015, Danny Valenica has slashed .297/.346/.523 in 483 plate appearances. That’s an incredible improvement from a 31-year-old who many expected to be just a platoon player for the rest of his career. Over his career, Valencia has absolutely mashed left-handed pitching to the tune of a 141 wRC+. Last year, he continued to destroy southpaws but ended the year with a reverse split. It isn’t a matter of improved plate discipline either, it’s simply Valencia making quality contact with power against left-handers and right-handers now. He hasn’t maintained the same level of performance against righties this year but a league average line against them is okay considering the damage he can produce versus lefties.

LF Khris DavisSince his debut in 2013, Khris Davis has posted an ISO of .236, a mark better than Miguel Cabrera, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Abreu. And like you’d expect from any power hitter, his strikeout rate is very high. It’s not prohibitively high but it definitely limits his ceiling. Last year, he was able to almost double his walk rate which made him a much more rounded threat at the plate. After a slow start to the year, he’s started to come around in the month of May. He’s slashing .236/.263/.625 with nine home runs this month pushing his overall season line over league average.

C Stephen VogtLast year, Stephen Vogt posted an offensive line 15% better than league average, the best mark for a catcher in the American League. But if you look a little closer, it was a tale of two halves. Prior to the All-Star break, Vogt posted a Posey-esque slash line of .287/.374/.498. In the second half of the season, he completely collapsed and his offensive production fell well below league average. Neither his outstanding first half nor his terrible second half is reflective of his true talent level. It’s a good bet he’ll post another above average offensive season for the A’s, they’re just hoping it comes more consistently than last year.

2B Chris CoghlanWay back in 2009, Chris Coghlan won the NL Rookie of the Year award with the Marlins. He just couldn’t replicate the same kind of performance he enjoyed in his debut season and found himself tossed aside by Miami just a few years later. He caught on with the Cubs and immediately found new life as righty-mashing, utility player. He’s accumulated 5.4 fWAR since 2014, seen time at five different positions, and posted an offensive line 14% better than league average.

RF Josh Reddick – Reddick fractured his thumb over the weekend and will miss around a month of the season.

CF Billy BurnsBilly 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 SemienWhen 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 Rich Hill

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

49 2/3

28.4%

10.1%

5.0%

49.2%

2.54

2.90

Pitches

Four-seam

Slider

Curveball

91.4 mph;

46.3%

79.3 mph;

5.7%

75.6 mph;

46.2%

Hill PA

What Rich Hill has been able to accomplish this year has been truly impressive. He’s simplified his pitch mix to just a fastball and his big curveball and it’s working tremendously well for him. He owns the 4th highest strikeout rate in the American League (12th in MLB) and his ERA and FIP both rank in the top 10. His fastball won’t ever be described as overpowering but batters just aren’t able to make contact with it—it has the highest whiff rate of any fastball in baseball this year. It all works off his slow, looping curveball that he isn’t afraid to throw in any count. What’s most impressive is the weak contact he’s able to generate with the pitch—the average exit velocity he induces with his curve is just 86.4 mph leading to a BABIP of .212 with the pitch.

RHP Kendall Graveman

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

42 2/3

17.2%

8.9%

25.0%

52.9%

5.48

5.90

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.1 mph;

5.0%

92.5 mph;

39.2%

87.8 mph;

30.9%

85.4 mph;

13.2%

79.3 mph;

11.8%

Graveman PA

Kendall Graveman came over in the Josh Donaldson trade and quickly established himself as a back end starter for the Athletics last year. He’s able to combine a great ground ball rate with good command to drive his ERA lower than you might expect. Much of that is driven by the heavy sinker he throws a majority of the time. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t have the weapons in his arsenal to maintain a high strikeout rate. His cutter generates a decent amount of whiffs and he’s throwing it more often this year leading to a slight bump in strikeouts early this season. Despite keeping the ball on the ground often, he’s been plagued by a case of dinger-itis which has pushed his career FIP above 4.50.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Mariners

26-17

.605

-€”

L-W-W-W-W

Rangers

25-19

.568

1.5

L-L-W-W-W

Angels

20-24

.455

6.5

W-W-L-L-W

Athletics

19-26

.422

8.0

W-L-L-L-L

Astros

17-28

.378

10.0

W-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Red Sox

27-17

.614

+2.0

L-W-L-W-W

Rangers

25-19

.568

-€”

L-L-W-W-W

Indians

22-19

.537

1.5

W-W-W-L-L

Royals

22-21

.512

2.5

W-L-W-W-L

Yankees

21-22

.488

3.5

W-W-W-W-W

The Rangers were able to keep pace with the Mariners by sweeping the Astros in Houston over the weekend. They’ll continue their tour of AL West opponents this week when they host the Angels for three games. We’re more than a quarter of the way through the season and the Astros still haven’t looked like the team everyone though would run away with the division. They’ve lost four straight and host the best team in the American League to start the week.