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Series Preview: Mariners (7-9) at Athletics (7-8)

The Mariners head out on a 10-game road trip beginning in Oakland.

Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Mariners Athletics
Mariners Athletics
Game 1 Thursday, April 20 | 7:07 pm
LHP James Paxton RHP Cesar Valdez
58% 42%
Game 2 Friday, April 21 | 7:07 pm
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma LHP Sean Manaea
49% 51%
Game 3 Saturday, April 22 | 1:07 pm
LHP Ariel Miranda RHP Jharel Cotton
53% 47%
Game 4 Sunday, April 23 | 1:07 pm
RHP Yovani Gallardo RHP Andrew Triggs
48% 52%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2016) Athletics (2016) Edge
Overview Mariners (2016) Athletics (2016) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (2nd in AL) 91 (14th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -24.9 (13th) -53.4 (15th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 107 (10th) 110 (12th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 95 (11th) 89 (7th) Athletics

It’s amazing how stringing together a few wins in a row will change your entire outlook on a team. We’re still in April so take these numbers with a larger grain of salt than normal, but the Mariners added nine points to their playoff odds in the last week (per FanGraphs), up to 20%. Baseball Prospectus and FiveThirtyEight are even more optimistic, giving the Mariners 37% and 42% odds respectively. It’s a long season and we’re only a tenth of the way through it, but the Mariners are far from finished.

After their brief interleague interlude, the Mariners return to their regularly scheduled interdivisional play. They’ll travel to Oakland to take on the last divisional opponent they’ve yet to face this season. The A’s are in a weird place as an organization. They just changed ownership and they’ve been in the middle of stadium negotiations for what seems like an eternity. They’ve been in a holding pattern—neither rebuilding nor contending—while their old ownership group transitioned out and the new group gets their feet under them.

The Athletics:

Despite their weird holding pattern at the organizational level, the A’s have some very interesting young pieces on the field, particularly in their starting rotation. They’ve plugged a few holes in their lineup with veteran stop gaps and are hoping that some of their youngsters take big steps forward this season. That’s a big risk to take, but if they hit on just a few of their prospects, that has to be considered a win. Already this season, the A’s have suffered a few key injuries—Sonny Gray has yet to make a start this year, Marcus Semien is out with a broken wrist, and Kendall Graveman is having his start skipped for this series.

Key Players

LF Khris DavisSince 2013, when he made his MLB debut, Khris Davis owns the fifth highest ISO in the league. The best season of his career was 2016, when he drilled 42 home runs and registered 102 RBI en route to posting a 123 wRC+. His strikeout rates from each of the last two years have come in higher than his 25.3% career average; however, he’s reduced that number to 24.2% to start this year. He’s continuing to build off of last year’s momentum; the 29-year-old slugger has already slugged seven home runs, tied for the major league lead. He graded out positively by UZR/150 measures last year, and has good range in left field and a decent arm.

DH Ryon HealyRyon Healy bust onto the scene last summer when he slashed .305/.337/.524 in his rookie season. His strong, athletic build helped him post a .219 ISO in 2016, though he was not as effective in the field. The Athletics brought Trevor Plouffe aboard, allowing Healy to spend most of his time at DH, while picking up occasional playing time at either corner infield spot. He’s off to a bit of a slow start, slashing .226/.268/.396 through 15 games. That said, he’s picked up four hits and a walk in his last seven plate appearances and could return to last season’s form in a moment’s notice.

1B Yonder AlonsoOver the offseason, Yonder Alonso retooled his approach like so many other major leaguers, focusing on hitting more fly balls. Through 13 games, he’s reaping the benefits of his adjustment. The 30-year-old first baseman is boasting a .225 ISO, nearly double his .120 career average. His career fly ball rate is 32.9%, but that number has leaped to 50% to start the year. Additionally, his HR/FB of 13.3% is nearly double his career mark. He’s making hard contact at his highest rate since 2010, while only making soft contact 10% of the time.

Probable Pitchers

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics

RHP Cesar Valdez (2016)

138 1/3 20.5% 2.3% 6.8% 54.7% 3.12 3.24
2016 stats from Triple-A

Cesar Valdez has one of those careers that makes you truly appreciate the game. He was signed as an international free agent with the Diamondbacks all the way back in 2005. He slowly moved through their organization before making his major league debut in 2010. He was largely uninspiring in his brief 20 inning call up that year, distinguishing himself only through the height of his ERA (7.65). He wound up pitching in the Mexican League and transformed himself into a command and control righty who runs an above average ground ball rate. He returned to affiliated ball last year with the Astros organization and put up the line you see above, marked by an elite walk rate and peripherals that back up his excellent ERA. The Athletics signed him as a minor league free agent this offseason and he’ll be hoping that whatever magic he’s discovered translates to the majors.

LHP Sean Manaea (2016)

144 2/3 20.9% 6.2% 13.7% 44.2% 3.86 4.08

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.3 58.2% 79 113 90
Changeup 85.6 27.9% 154 114 141
Slider 81.1 13.9% 187 112 162

In his debut season, Sean Manaea just got better and better as the year went on. He increased his strikeout-to-walk ratio from 2.75 to 4.06 in the second half and limited opposing batters to a .276 wOBA after the All-Star break. His three pitch repertoire is extremely effective, though it does lead to a fairly large platoon split. His fastball/slider combo to lefties is nasty but he rarely uses his breaking pitch against righties. For opposite handed batters, he’ll use a changeup that generates a very impressive amount of whiffs. That last pitch is so important for him because it was his least developed pitch when he was drafted and in the minors and it’s the key to his success in the starting rotation.

RHP Jharel Cotton (2016)

29 1/3 20.5% 3.6% 9.8% 37.6% 2.15 3.76

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.9 39.4% 53 113 73
Cutter 89.3 16.4% - - -
Changeup 77.5 28.5% 135 180 150
Curveball 78.0 7.5% - - -
Cotton’s cutter and curveball did not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Jharel Cotton has one of the most intriguing pitch arsenals in the majors and he’s only pitched 46 innings at this level. His fastball sits around 92-93 with some excellent horizontal movement to it. But his standout pitch is his changeup. He throws that pitch 15 miles per hour slower than his fastball and is able to generate some impressive movement with the pitch—both horizontal run and vertical drop. Those attributes lead to a whiff rate well above average and a batted ball profile that leans heavily on weak contact. Last season, almost a quarter of the fly balls he allowed were pop ups. That’s very important because he’s struggled with giving up too many home runs in his minor league career. I haven’t even mentioned his cutter or his curveball, both of which generate a whiff over 40% of the time an opposing batter swings.

RHP Andrew Triggs (2016)

56 1/3 23.1% 5.5% 11.9% 50.9% 4.31 3.20

Pitch Arsenal

Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Sinker 91.3 51.4% 127 117 124
Cutter 84.3 22.6% 252 66 190
Slider 77.3 19.9% 119 86 108

Andrew Triggs began last season as a member of the Athletics bullpen. Between 18 relief appearances and one spot start his ERA was an ugly 5.35 and it looked like he was just another nondescript member of the rotating cast of young pitchers churned out by the A’s organization. He converted to a starter in mid-August and made four brilliant starts before being shut down with a back injury. In those four starts, he ran an obscene 20.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 2.91 ERA, and a 2.18 FIP. His unusual delivery provides a ton of deception and helps him generate some funky movement on his sinker and slider. But he also added a nasty changeup to his repertoire when he joined the rotation and it could be the key to his success. He’s picked up right where he left off and has yet to allow a run in three starts this season.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 10-5 0.667 -- W-W-W-L-W
Athletics 7-8 0.467 3.0 L-L-L-W-W
Angels 7-9 0.438 3.5 L-L-L-W-L
Mariners 7-9 0.438 3.5 W-W-W-L-W
Rangers 5-10 0.333 5.0 L-L-W-L-L

The Astros continue to separate themselves from the rest of the AL West after taking two of three from the Angels. They’ll wrap up that series with a game today and then travel to Tampa Bay over the weekend. The Angels will return home to host the reeling Blue Jays. After losing their series against the Athletics, the Rangers will host the Royals in a four-game series beginning tonight.