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Series Preview: Mariners (62-54) at Angels (49-68)

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The Mariners travel to Anaheim for a four-game series against the reeling Angels.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Monday, August 15 | 7:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Angels

RHP Felix Hernandez

RHP Ricky Nolasco

54%

46%

Tuesday, August 16 | 7:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Angels

LHP James Paxton

RHP Jhoulys Chacin

55%

45%

Wednesday, August 17 | 7:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Angels

LHP Ariel Miranda

LHP Tyler Skaggs

50%

50%

Thursday, August 18 | 7:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Angels

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

RHP Matt Shoemaker

50%

50%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Angels

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

108 (2nd in AL)

102 (7th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-24.2 (13th)

26.1 (4th)

Angels

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

105 (10th)

121 (15th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

94 (11th)

106 (13th)

Mariners

*Text appearing in italics has appeared in a previous series preview.

Taking care of business against the Athletics over the weekend helped the Mariners keep pace in the Wild Card race and helped them gain ground in the AL West. However, barring a complete collapse by the Rangers, the division is all but out of reach. Texas has banked too many wins already and a .500 record from here on out (which is what FanGraphs is projecting) would still get them to 91 wins.

That leaves the Wild Card as the most likely route to the playoffs for the Mariners. They’ll have to leap frog both the Tigers and one of the Red Sox or the Orioles. Those two AL East rivals face each other this week, and as dirty as it might seem, the Mariners should be rooting for the Red Sox. The Orioles are a flawed team and will be much easier to catch down the stretch. Of course, the Mariners need to continue to win their own games, one series at a time.

The Angels:

The Angels haven’t won a single game since being swept by the Mariners last weekend. They also happened to play six games against the best teams from each league, two against the Cubs and four against the Indians. Their offense that was third best in the American League heading into last weekend? They scored just 14 runs all of last week. Injured first baseman C.J. Cron could make his return from a fractured hand during this series. That would add a little more thump to their lineup but it certainly won’t fix all of their problems.

Key Players

CF Mike Trout Since 2012, Mike Trout has accounted for 35% of the Angels’ position player fWAR. That should tell you all you need to know about his importance to this team. There just aren’t many holes in his game with only his strikeout rate being the only thing you can criticize, but after a big spike in 2014, he was able to lower his strikeout rate by three points last year, and it’s even lower this year. He’s even managed to improve his defensive metrics in center field. A slight dip in his power numbers this year has been offset by a walk rate that’s increased by three points.

SS Andrelton Simmons The only thing standing between Andrelton Simmons and stardom is a league average batting line. He’s unquestionably the best defensive shortstop in the game, saving more runs per DRS than any other defender since his debut. In his first full season in the majors, he posted a 91 wRC+ with an impressive display of power. That year, he was extremely pull happy, hitting just 17.3% of his balls in play to the opposite field. His pull rate has steadily declined since then and his power has disappeared along with it. A spike in line drive rate helped him regain some offensive value last year but he just doesn’t hit the ball hard enough to be a slap hitter with a decent batting average.

DH Albert Pujols Albert Pujols enjoyed a massive power rebound last year, as he launched 40 home runs pushing his isolated slugging back over .200. A lingering foot injury sapped him of any speed on the basepaths and a line drive rate of just 15.9% meant that his batting average on balls in play was a paltry .217. He’s been able to bounce back after a slow start this year. He’s still hitting home runs at a similar rate to last year but he’s also putting the ball on the ground more often than ever. That’s helped his BABIP rebound a bit but it also means he’s hitting fewer fly balls.

RF Kole Calhoun Kole Calhoun was finally able to play through an entire year without any major injuries but his offensive production took a dive after establishing a profile 25% better than league average the previous two years. A big jump in his strikeout rate and falling walk rate seemed to be the main culprits. He’s managed to lower his strikeout rate back to his previous norms and has raised his walk rate this year, and all of a sudden his offensive production has rebounded to 12% better than league average. Combine his good bat with excellent defense in right field and the Angels have a very nice compliment to Mike Trout.

3B Yunel Escobar Last year, Yunel Escobar threw caution to the wind and started swinging at almost half the pitches he saw, whether or not they were in the zone. His contact rate in the zone and out of the zone barely moved and this newfound aggression helped him post an offensive line 20% better than league average. He’s been even more aggressive this year and his contact rate still hasn’t moved. He’s also hitting for more power than ever before which has helped him post the highest wRC+ of his career. It’s an interesting career path for a 33-year-old but it seems like it’s paid off.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Ricky Nolasco

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

136 2/3

17.9%

5.2%

12.1%

42.4%

5.14

4.36

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

91.3 mph;

28.0%

91.1 mph;

20.1%

79.9 mph;

6.8%

81.9 mph;

33.4%

74.0 mph;

11.5%

Nolasco PA

Ricky Nolasco was once the poster child for the usefulness of defense-independent pitching stats. He consistently posted ERAs that were much higher than you might expect given his other peripherals. His biggest strength has been his ability to locate his pitches in the strike zone, keeping his walk rate very low. Unfortunately, age and injury has caused every other aspect of his arsenal to deteriorate. The Angels acquired him in an odd swap with the Twins, sending away Hector Santiago and a prospect for Nolasco and Alex Meyer. This will be his third start for the Angels.

RHP Jhoulys Chacin

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

98 2/3

17.6%

9.3%

13.0%

49.7%

5.84

4.51

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

91.3 mph;

28.7%

90.6 mph;

25.9%

87.9 mph;

9.8%

84.6 mph;

7.6%

82.7 mph;

18.4%

79.1 mph;

9.7%

Chacin PA

Jhoulys Chacin spent six years in Colorado showing some ability to generate strikeouts and groundballs. Poor command and the realities of pitching a mile above sea level limited his upside. After his first full season of play in 2010, his strikeout rate never again reached 20% and he even lost some of his ability to keep the ball on the ground. After washing out of the Indians and Diamondbacks organizations, he signed a minor league contract with the Braves this spring and was traded to the Angels in early May. All of the promise he showed with the Braves has vanished as he’s looked just as mediocre with the Angels as he did in Colorado. All of his peripherals are right in line with his career norms and his ERA in Anahiem is a whopping 6.00.

LHP Tyler Skaggs

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

22 2/3

22.2%

7.1%

13.0%

37.1%

4.37

3.85

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Curveball

93.6 mph;

58.5%

86.2 mph;

9.2%

76.1 mph;

31.6%

A former top prospect, Tyler Skaggs had almost two seasons of his young career wiped out by Tommy John surgery. Prior to his injury, he was putting together a decent campaign for the Angels in his first full season in the majors. His strikeout rate was a little below average but he wasn’t walking many and had increased his groundball rate as well. After a long rehab process, he finally made it back to the majors on July 26. In his four starts since returning, his average velocity shows no ill effects from his injury and his command seems to be fine.

RHP Matt Shoemaker

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

138 2/3

21.5%

4.6%

9.5%

38.1%

4.22

3.47

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

92.3 mph;

23.5%

91.8 mph;

24.1%

85.1 mph;

36.7%

83.3 mph;

14.3%

76.1 mph;

1.2%

Shoemaker PA

In April, Matt Shoemaker posted an ugly pitcher slash line of 9.15/6.81/5.12. In the three months since then, he’s dramatically improved. The primary reason: his splitter. In April, he was throwing his splitter around 20% of the time, exactly in line with his historical usage. When he returned from a brief minor league demotion in May, he was throwing his splitter almost 40% of the time and it’s only increased as the year has gone on. Those additional splitters have come at the expense of his breaking balls, neither of which are very good. His pitcher slash line since changing his repertoire? An incredible 3.36/2.88/3.75 with a strikeout rate of 23% and a walk rate of just 3.5%.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

69-50

.580

-€”

W-L-W-L-L

Mariners

62-54

.534

5.5

W-W-L-W-W

Astros

61-57

.517

7.5

W-W-W-L-L

Athletics

52-66

.441

16.5

W-L-W-L-L

Angels

49-68

.419

19.0

L-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Orioles

66-51

.564

+1.5

L-W-W-L-W

Red Sox

64-52

.552

-€”

L-L-W-W-W

Tigers

63-54

.538

1.5

L-L-L-W-W

Mariners

62-54

.534

2.0

W-W-L-W-W

Astros

61-57

.517

4.0

W-W-W-L-L

The Tigers held the Rangers scoreless on Saturday and Sunday, keeping the Mariners a half game behind them in the Wild Card race. They return home to host the Royals while the Rangers host the Athletics. The Astros lost two of three to the AL East leading Blue Jays over the weekend. They’re off today and will host the Cardinals for two games starting Tuesday. The Red Sox will make up a game in Cleveland today before starting a brief two-game series against the Orioles.