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Series Preview: Mariners (84-74) vs. Athletics (67-91)

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The Mariners wrap up the season with a four-game series against the Athletics. They need to win all of the games.

At a Glance:

Thursday, September 29 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Athletics

Mariners

RHP Kendall Graveman

LHP Ariel Miranda

40%

60%

Friday, September 30 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Athletics

Mariners

RHP Raul Alcantara

RHP Taijuan Walker

39%

61%

Saturday, October 1 | 6:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Athletics

Mariners

RHP Jharel Cotton

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

43%

57%

Sunday, October 2 | 12:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Athletics

Mariners

LHP Sean Manaea

RHP Felix Hernandez

42%

58%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Athletics

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

106 (2nd in AL)

90 (14th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-24.5 (13th)

-49.3 (15th)

Mariners

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

107 (10th)

109 (11th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

96 (11th)

89 (5th)

Athletics

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

It’s all come down to this. The Mariners have four games remaining and must win out to have any hope of earning a playoff spot. The second Wild Card spot has come down to a race to 88 wins. Whoever gets there first should secure a playoff berth. The Mariners are the dark horse but there’s still a non-insignificant chance they could sneak in. All three teams vying for the playoff spot have four games remaining on the schedule. Here are the playoff scenarios:

If the Mariners go 4-0, the Orioles need to go 1-3 or worse or the Blue Jays need to go 0-4 and the Tigers need to go 2-2 or worse, The Mariners could force a tiebreaking Game 163 if the Blue Jays win once, if the Orioles win twice, or the Tigers win three times. A three or four way tie is also a possibility in this scenario (which would be awesome and confusing).

If the Mariners go 3-1, the Orioles need to go 0-4 and the Tigers need to go 1-3 or worse. If the Orioles win once, the Tigers win twice, or the Blue Jays lose out, a tiebreaker would be needed, and a three or four way tie is also a distinct possibility too.

If the Mariners go 2-2, the best they can hope for is a tiebreaker if the Orioles go 0-4 and the Tigers go 1-3 or worse.

My gut tells me the Mariners will at least extend their season by one game in a tiebreaking scenario. Winning a Wild Card spot outright requires a lot of luck and a lot of help. Either way, the Mariners simply need to focus on what they can control, winning every single game from here on out.

The Athletics:

With any hope of making the playoffs shot long ago, the Athletics made a few trades at the deadline to restock their farm system. Gone are Josh Reddick, Rich Hill, and Billy Burns. In are pitching prospects Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes, and Jharel Cotton and center fielder Brett Eibner. Like we’ve seen every few years, the A’s are reloading their system with young, cost-controlled players who can contribute in the near future. They may not be a good team right now, but they’re laying the foundation for the next run up the standings.

Key Players

3B Ryon HealyPart of the Athletics’ youth movement, Ryon Healy has impressed in his first few months of play in the majors. He started the year in Double-A but quickly moved up the organization chart after posting a 194 wRC+ in Midland. The most encouraging development in Double-A was a huge increase in his walk rate but that hasn’t followed him to Triple-A or the majors. He has continued to show off good power and an ability to spray line drives across the field. He may not be an impact player for the Athletics but could be a decent role player if he can stick at third base.

3B Danny ValenciaSince the beginning of 2015, Danny Valenica has slashed .292/.347/.490 in 816 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 142 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 both left-handers and right-handers now.

LF Khris Davis Since his debut in 2013, Khris Davis has posted an ISO of .251, a mark better than Miguel Cabrera, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Abreu. And like you’d expect from most power hitters, 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 but that patience has disappeared this year. After a slow start to the year, he’s rounded into form and has already launched 35 home runs this year.

C Stephen Vogt Last 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. His offensive line has settled in right around league average. For a catcher, that’s completely acceptable.

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.

CF Jake SmolinskiThe benefactor of the roster churn in Oakland, Jake Smolinski has made some big strides forward this year. He’s lowered his strikeout rate by eight points all the way down to 12%. As you would expect, he’s making more contact than ever, especially on pitches outside of the zone. That focus on making contact has come at the expense of some of his power. His ISO has dropped to .130 after showing off excellent power in the minors. If he’s able to reintegrate his power with his newfound contact abilities, he could provide some sneaky value to the A’s in the future.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Kendall Graveman

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

180 1/3

13.4%

6.0%

13.3%

52.2%

4.19

4.48

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.2 mph;

4.8%

93.5 mph;

56.3%

89.4 mph;

22.6%

86.0 mph;

8.6%

80.5 mph;

6.7%

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, but it’s his only true swing-and-miss pitch. With all their injuries and trades, he’s become the A’s de facto ace, though he would be better suited as a back-end starter on a contending team.

RHP Raul Alcantara

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

20 1/3

14.6%

3.4%

17.2%

39.1%

5.75

6.09

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.1 mph;

50.3%

93.8 mph;

16.8%

85.5 mph;

17.7%

87.9 mph;

10.7%

81.5 mph;

4.6%

One of Oakland’s top prospects, Raul Alcantara made his way back from Tommy John surgery in 2014 to make his major league debut earlier this month. He mainly relies on excellent control of his mid-90s fastball to limit walks and baserunners. Neither of his breaking balls are very good and it’s the main reason why his minor league strikeout rate isn’t very impressive. His changeup is above average giving him a weapon against left-handed hitters. Overall, his repertoire isn’t that impressive, but his command of his pitches should allow him to carve out a role in the back-end of the rotation.

RHP Jharel Cotton

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

25

17.6%

3.3%

8.1%

33.3%

1.44

3.78

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

92.9 mph;

46.6%

89.3 mph;

17.5%

77.7 mph;

26.7%

78.3 mph;

7.2%

One of Carson Cistulli’s fringe favorites, Jharel Cotton was traded to the A’s in the Josh Reddick-Rich Hill deal and made his major league debut earlier this month. An excellent changeup and good command helped him post an elite 3.74 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the minors. The strikeouts haven’t transitioned to the majors yet but he’s only walked three batters in four starts so far. He’s struggled with the long ball in the minors before joining Oakland. While it hasn’t been too much of a problem for him with the A’s, his extreme fly ball profile would lend itself to a high home run rate.

LHP Sean Manaea

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

138 2/3

20.8%

6.3%

14.3%

43.6%

3.89

4.17

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Slider

93.3 mph;

58.0%

85.6 mph;

28.1%

81.1 mph;

13.9%

Manaea PA

Sean Manaea was acquired by the Athletics in the Ben Zobrist trade last year and immediately leapt to the top of the organization’s prospect lists. Across three levels in 2015, he was able to post a 2.95 ERA with an excellent strikeout rate at every stop. He was aggressively assigned to Triple-A to start this year and rewarded the A’s with three excellent starts for Nashville. He made his major league debut towards the end of April and has enjoyed a very successful rookie year. His best pitch is his fastball, which can reach up to the mid-90s. His two secondary pitches have greatly improved this year with his slider truly standing out as a plus pitch.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

x-Rangers

94-65

.591

-€”

W-L-L-W-W

Mariners

84-74

.532

9.5

L-W-W-L-W

Astros

83-76

.522

11.0

L-W-L-W-L

Angels

72-87

.453

22.0

W-L-W-W-W

Athletics

67-91

.424

26.5

L-W-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Blue Jays

87-71

.551

+1.0

W-W-L-W-L

Orioles

86-72

.544

-€”

W-W-W-L-W

Tigers

85-73

.538

1.0

L-L-L-W-W

Mariners

84-74

.532

2.0

L-W-W-L-W

The Blue Jays and Orioles play each other this afternoon with Marcus Stroman facing off against Ubaldo Jimenez (root for the Blue Jays). Over the weekend, the Blue Jays travel to Boston for their last series of the year (root for the Red Sox for maximum chaos). The Orioles travel to New York to face the Yankees and will have to beat Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka to secure their playoff spot (root for the Yankees). The Tigers host the Indians once more this afternoon after their rain shortened win last night (root for the Indians). They’ll travel to Atlanta for their final series and the last interleague matchup of the year (root for the Braves). There’s a slim chance for a four or five way tie that includes the Astros and the Yankees if everything breaks right. The Astros travel to Anaheim for their final series of the year.