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Series Preview: Mariners (72-68) at Athletics (60-79)

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Buoyed by their series win against the Rangers, the Mariners head out on a six-game road trip beginning in Oakland.

At a Glance:

Friday, September 9 | 7:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Athletics

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

RHP Daniel Mengden

59%

41%

Saturday, September 10 | 1:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Athletics

RHP Felix Hernandez

RHP Kendall Graveman

53%

47%

Sunday, September 11 | 1:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Athletics

LHP James Paxton

RHP Raul Alcantara

57%

43%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Athletics

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

107 (2nd in AL)

88 (15th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-25.7 (13th)

-50.3 (15th)

Mariners

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

110 (11th)

111 (12th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

98 (11th)

89 (7th)

Athletics

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

This team just keeps finding ways to keep a sliver of hope alive. Winning a four-game series against the best team in the American League is no small feat. That is was against the Rangers who had dominated the Mariners all season makes it all the more impressive. Unfortunately, it might be too little, too late. Sure, the most of the AL Wild Card hopefuls have lost games recently, but the Mariners still have to leapfrog five other teams to secure a spot in the playoffs. If they’re really serious about making up all that ground they lost in August, they’ll need to rattle off a long string of wins, beginning with this series against the cellar-dwelling Athletics.

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 Daniel Mengden

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

51 1/3

20.9%

11.5%

11.1%

39.5%

6.66

4.55

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

92.9 mph;

51.0%

89.4 mph;

1.4%

82.3 mph;

15.4%

87.8 mph;

21.4%

75.8 mph;

10.8%

Mengden PA

Watching Daniel Mengden pitch is like watching a throwback to the 1970s. The funky wind up and the Rollie Fingers mustache make him the perfect pitcher for the A’s. He came over from the Astros in the Scott Kazmir deal last year and made his way quickly through the Oakland organization. He made his major league debut in June and made nine starts before being sent back to the minors. As Eno Sarris lays out in this article from FanGraphs, Mengden’s unconventional delivery has given him some problems out of the stretch. With such a big leg kick providing leverage, he loses some velocity when pitching with runners on base and opposing batters have taken advantage. When the bases are clear, batters have a .305 wOBA and he’s striking out a quarter of the batters he faces. As soon as he starts pitching from the stretch, his wOBA against him shoots up to .410 and his strike out rate drops to just 15%.

RHP Kendall Graveman

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

163

13.9%

6.1%

13.8%

51.8%

3.81

4.54

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.2 mph;

5.1%

93.3 mph;

54.8%

89.3 mph;

23.9%

85.8 mph;

8.4%

80.5 mph;

7.3%

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. Since July, Graveman has really come on strong. His pitcher slash line is an excellent 2.82/4.18/4.29 over the last two months. Much of his improvement stems from cutting his walk rate to just 4.6% while holding opposing batter to just a .232 BABIP. 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 (Triple-A Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

ERA

FIP

45 2/3

18.6%

1.7%

1.18

2.80

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

95.3 mph;

57.4%

87.0 mph;

13.1%

88.9 mph;

19.7%

84.0 mph;

4.9%

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 week. 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.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

83-58

.589

-€”

L-L-W-L-L

Astros

74-66

.529

8.5

W-W-W-L-L

Mariners

72-68

.514

10.5

L-W-L-W-W

Angels

62-77

.446

20.0

W-W-W-L-L

Athletics

60-79

.432

22.0

L-W-L-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Blue Jays

77-62

.554

+1.0

L-W-L-L-L

Orioles

76-63

.547

-€”

W-L-W-W-L

Tigers

75-64

.540

1.0

L-W-W-L-L

Yankees

74-65

.532

2.0

W-W-W-W-W

Astros

74-66

.529

2.5

W-W-W-L-L

The Yankees continue to push their way up the standings despite being big sellers at the trade deadline. They swept the Blue Jays at home earlier this week, running their winning streak to five games. They began a four-game series against the Rays yesterday with a walk-off win. This will be a big weekend with huge playoff implications. The top two teams in the AL East, the Red Sox and the Blue Jays, face off this weekend in Toronto while the Orioles travel to Detriot to try and hold off the Tigers in the Wild Card race. The Astros split a four-game series against the Indians but now have to face the Cubs at home this weekend.