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Series Preview: Mariners (68-65) vs. Angels (59-74)

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The Mariners stumble into September beginning with a three-game series against the Angels.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Detroit Tigers Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Friday, September 2 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Angels

Mariners

LHP Brett Oberholtzer

LHP Ariel Miranda

47%

53%

Saturday, September 3 | 6:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Angels

Mariners

LHP Tyler Skaggs

RHP Taijuan Walker

46%

54%

Sunday, September 4 | 1:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Angels

Mariners

RHP Matt Shoemaker

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

48%

52%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Angels

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

106 (2nd in AL)

102 (7th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-21.4 (13th)

24.2 (3rd)

Angels

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

107 (10th)

119 (15th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

98 (11th)

101 (13th)

Mariners

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

Here we are, beginning the last month of the season, with the Mariners in another familiar situation. Their 11 game swoon beginning with the loss to the Brewers at home and culminating with this 1-6 road trip has put the playoffs all but out of reach. The last remnants of hope lie in the Wild Card race, where the Mariners sit four games back and behind five other teams vying for the same spot. The various projection systems give them around a 5% chance of pulling off a miracle.

But let’s keep things in perspective; on September 1 last year, the Mariners were 61-71. Adding seven wins to the win column in just one year is an impressive feat for Jerry Dipoto and co., especially considering the amount of turnover and change the roster has seen. Not only that, but all seven minor league affiliates have clinched a postseason berth, an incredible accomplishment for Andy McKay and the entire organization.

So, here we are, beginning a seven-game homestand against the Angels and the Rangers, with the Mariners entering uncharted territory. It’s been a wild season so far. Let’s hope the Mariners can make it interesting for one more month.

The Angels:

The Mariners and Angels play each other six times in September, beginning with this series in Seattle. Remarkably, the Mariners have yet to face Jered Weaver in the 16 games between these two teams. That means there’s just three more chances for a potential Jered Weaver and Kyle Seager showdown. For a team in the Angels’ position, September is usually a time to evaluate players for next year. The dearth of talent in their organization means just a few prospects will get their chance to impress. Kaleb Cowart, a toolsy former first round draft pick, should get a chance to impress at second base for the rest of the season. And the back end of their bullpen has a few interesting arms that will be fighting to claim the role of closer after the Angels traded away Fernando Salas and Joe Smith. The Angels are coming off a sweep of the Reds and have won five straight.

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 another three 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. Trout was involved in a car accident on Thursday night. He sustained no major injuries but could be held out of a game or two of this series for precautionary reasons.

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 more than 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 and pushed 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 10% 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. It’s an interesting career path for a 33-year-old but it seems like it’s paid off.

1B C.J. CronWhen C.J. Cron was first called up, many saw him as a Mark Trumbo lite—a masher with poor plate discipline. But he’s actually been able to improve his plate discipline by leaps and bounds in the three years he’s spent in the majors. He isn’t drawing more walks but he has lowered his strikeout rate every year all the way down to just 14% this year. His contact rate isn’t any higher so it seems like he’s recognizing pitches he can handle and aggressively punishing them. Those improvements in plate discipline have helped him post an offensive line 27% better than league average.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Brett Oberholtzer

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

59 1/3

17.2%

9.0%

20.0%

44.8%

5.16

5.87

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

89.9 mph;

49.7%

88.9 mph;

8.7%

80.9 mph;

26.9%

80.1 mph;

13.8%

79.1 mph;

1.0%

Oberholtzer

After establishing himself as a thoroughly mediocre back end starter with the Astros the last few years, Brett Oberholtzer was included in the big Ken Giles trade during the offseason. To give you some perspective on how his season has gone, in his first five appearances with the Phillies, he gave up nine home runs in 14 innings. He was claimed by the Angels in August and has made four appearances and one start with them. His walk rate skyrocketed last year—more than doubling his 2014 mark—and it hasn’t fallen at all this year. For a back end starter with a below average walk rate and a home run problem, that loss of control is just the final nail in the coffin.

LHP Tyler Skaggs

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

36

21.9%

10.0%

8.1%

40.6%

4.75

3.78

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Curveball

93.6 mph;

60.2%

86.2 mph;

10.6%

76.5 mph;

28.9%

Skaggs PA

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 seven starts since returning, his velocity show no ill effects but his results have been completely erratic. He’s thrown three shutouts but also had a string of four starts where he gave up four or more runs in each of them.

RHP Matt Shoemaker

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

158 2/3

21.3%

4.5%

10.4%

39.9%

3.91

3.54

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

92.3 mph;

23.3%

91.9 mph;

25.7%

85.0 mph;

36.8%

83.4 mph;

12.8%

75.8 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 3.13/3.05/3.71 with a strikeout rate of 22% and a walk rate of just 3.6%.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

80-54

.597

-€”

W-W-W-W-W

Astros

71-62

.534

8.5

W-L-W-W-W

Mariners

68-65

.511

11.5

L-L-L-L-L

Angels

59-74

.444

20.5

W-W-W-W-W

Athletics

57-76

.429

22.5

W-W-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Red Sox

74-59

.556

+2.0

W-L-W-L-W

Orioles

72-61

.541

-€”

L-W-L-W-L

Tigers

72-61

.541

-€”

L-L-W-W-W

Astros

71-62

.534

1.0

W-L-W-W-W

Yankees

69-63

.523

2.5

W-L-L-W-W

The Tigers managed to push their way into a tie for the second Wild Card spot with a sweep of the White Sox earlier this week. They’ll travel to Kansas City to face their intradivision and Wild Card rival hoping to maintain their grip on a playoff spot. Both the Red Sox and Orioles have been treading water recently, both teams are .500 over their last 10 games. The Yankees, who continue to push their way up the standings, travel to Baltimore while the Red Sox travel to Oakland. In the AL West, the Rangers host the Astros over the weekend.