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Series Preview: Mariners (54-53) vs. Angels (49-59)

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The Mariners host the Angels this weekend in honor of Ken Griffey Jr.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Friday, August 5 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Angels

Mariners

RHP Tim Lincecum

RHP Felix Hernandez

38%

62%

Saturday, August 6 | 6:40 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Angels

Mariners

LHP Tyler Skaggs

RHP Taijuan Walker

47%

53%

Sunday, August 7 | 1:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Angels

Mariners

RHP Matt Shoemaker

LHP James Paxton

49%

51%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Angels

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

108 (2nd in AL)

106 (3rd in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-22.2 (13th)

21.7 (4th)

Angels

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

104 (8th)

119 (15th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

96 (11th)

105 (14th)

Mariners

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

The modern baseball schedule is heavily skewed toward interdivision games early in the season and late in the season. Yet the Mariners and Angels have faced each other just six times this year. That means these two teams will see each other 13 more times over the next two months! I guess that’s okay because the Angels are not a good baseball team. In fact, the Mariners are entering a fairly easy stretch in their schedule. In the next three weeks, the Mariners face just one team that’s currently over .500 (the Tigers) and the combined win percentage of their next seven opponents is just .480. If the Mariners are going to make a run for the playoffs, this is when it needs to happen.

The Angels:

The Angels have quietly constructed the third best offense in the American League. Scoring the most runs in baseball in July certainly helped because they were right around league average during the first three months of the season. All the usual suspects are contributing but the most surprising source of offense has been their catchers. In July, Jett Bandy and Carlos Perez have generated a combined offensive line 39% better than league average, best in the American League. Even their horrendous pitching staff was better in July, allowing just 3.92 runs per game. They won two of three from the Athletics to start off this month.

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 Tim Lincecum

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

35

17.2%

11.7%

24.4%

42.7%

8.49

7.04

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

88.5 mph;

16.0%

88.4 mph;

27.5%

81.6 mph;

28.3%

82.1 mph;

19.4%

73.8 mph;

8.5

Lincecum PA

After offseason hip surgery, Tim Lincecum hoped to make a comeback early this year. His anticipated showcase was pushed back, then pushed back again, finally signing with the pitching starved Angels in late May. He made his debut with them on June 18 but he hasn’t regained any of the skills he showed off earlier in his career. All of his significant pitching stats are at career worst levels. In just 35 innings, he’s managed to accumulate -0.7 fWAR. His average fastball velocity hasn’t ticked up after his surgery, it’s still hovering around 88 mph. If it isn’t clear by now, Tim Lincecum is toast.

LHP Tyler Skaggs

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

12 1/3

28.3%

6.5%

0.0%

50.0%

0.00

1.75

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Curveball

93.5 mph;

60.0%

86.2 mph;

9.2%

75.8 mph;

29.7%

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 two starts since returning, he’s yet to give up a run and struck out a quarter of the batters he’s faced. 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

125 2/3

22.6%

5.1%

10.4%

37.7%

4.08

3.51

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

92.3 mph;

23.6%

91.8 mph;

23.7%

85.0 mph;

36.4%

83.3 mph;

14.9%

75.9 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 3.09/2.86/3.62 with a strikeout rate of 24% and a walk rate of just 4%.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

63-46

.578

-€”

W-W-L-L-W

Astros

56-52

.519

6.5

L-W-L-L-L

Mariners

54-53

.505

8.0

L-L-W-W-L

Angels

49-59

.454

13.5

W-L-W-W-L

Athletics

48-60

.444

14.5

L-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Blue Jays

62-47

.569

+2.0

L-L-W-W-W

Red Sox

59-48

.551

-€”

W-W-L-L-W

Tigers

59-49

.546

0.5

W-W-W-W-L

Astros

56-52

.519

3.5

L-W-L-L-L

Mariners

54-53

.505

5.0

L-L-W-W-L

The Rangers managed to salvage a single game out of their series against the Orioles yesterday. They’ll travel to Houston this weekend to face an Astros team that has won just twice in their last ten games and just lost three of four to the Blue Jays. The Tigers finally had their eight-game winning streak snapped by the White Sox yesterday. They’ll host the Mets over the weekend before traveling to Seattle next week.