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Series Preview: Mariners (39-41) at Angels (42-41)

The last road trip before the All-Star break is a short one—just three games in LA.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Los Angeles Angels Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance

Mariners Angels
Mariners Angels
Game 1 Friday, June 30 | 7:07 pm
LHP Ariel Miranda RHP Parker Bridwell
49% 51%
Game 2 Saturday, July 1 | 7:07 pm
RHP Sam Gaviglio RHP Ricky Nolasco
48% 52%
Game 3 Sunday, July 2 | 12:37 pm
LHP James Paxton RHP Jesse Chavez
52% 48%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Angels Edge
Overview Mariners Angels Edge
Batting (wRC+) 106 (4th in AL) 92 (13th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 12.6 (2nd) 2.3 (8th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 119 (14th) 117 (12th) Angels
Bullpen (FIP-) 112 (13th) 82 (5th) Angels

Note: Text appearing in italics has appeared in a previous series preview.

Losing two games to the worst team in the National League with James Paxton and Felix Hernandez on the mound put a real damper on what was otherwise a successful month. It’s probably too early to call those two games “must wins” but they were definitely “should wins.” Now the Mariners have some ground to make up against a couple of Wild Card rivals this holiday weekend. For some odd reason, the schedule makers decided to insert this weird three-game road trip into the Mariners schedule. Seattle to Los Angeles isn’t that far but it’s not insignificant either.

The Angels:

Since losing Mike Trout on May 28, the Angels have gone 16-13 and have stuck around in the Wild Card race. Everyone expected them to crumble without Trout anchoring the offense but they’ve continued to score just as many runs as they were with him in the lineup. It’s not like they were facing bad teams either. In June, they won series against the Astros, the Yankees (twice), and the Red Sox. With Trout on the mend—probably returning sometime after the All-Star break—the Angels have placed themselves in a position to take advantage of the mediocrity of the American League.

Key Players

CF Mike Trout – :(

RF Kole CalhounDespite hitting eight fewer home runs, Kole Calhoun raised his wRC+ by 14 points last year. He did so by lowering his strikeout rate and raising his walk rate to career bests. After a slow start to this season, Kole Calhoun has turned things around in June. He's made hard contact more consistently and has hit more fly balls, leading to higher BABIP and ISO for the month. His 144 wRC+ for the month has pushed his overall production up to just below league average. In the field, things are a little less clear. The advanced defensive metrics have considered him an above average outfielder since becoming a regular in 2014. But the new catch probability metrics don’t see it that way; he’s made ten fewer plays than we’d expect over the last two years. He makes up for some of that with a great arm in right.

LF Cameron MaybinCameron Maybin has had a great first half of 2017, posting a 115 wRC+. Both his power and his walk rate are up quite a bit from his career marks. He doesn’t hit many fly balls, but when he does he’s been cashing in at a much higher rate than normal. His 12.8% HR/FB rate is the second highest of his career. Additionally, he’s generating hard contact at his highest rate since 2012. His tendency to draw walks and ability to steal bases make him an asset at the top of the order. He’s been covering center field capably while Trout is sidelined.

SS Andrelton SimmonsIn case you didn’t know, Andrelton Simmons is one of the best defensive baseball players alive. His career UZR/150 of 20.8 is plenty evidence of that. Watching him in the field is one of life’s finest pleasures; however he’s struggled to find much success at the plate. His plate discipline isn’t the problem. His career 9.1% strikeout rate is very impressive and he improved his z-swing% and o-swing% rates last season. This year, he’s rediscovered his power stroke. His ISO is the highest it’s been since 2013 and that’s helped him post a 106 wRC+ over the first half of the season. Not only is he hitting the ball harder, he’s also pulling the ball at a rate similar to 2013. An elite defensive shortstop with league average offense is exactly what the Angels hoped they were getting when they acquired him last year.

C Martin MaldonadoThe Angels acquired Martin Maldonado this offseason not for his bat but because of his defense prowess. According to StatCorner Catcher Report, which analyzes pitch framing data, he’s never had a season below 6.0 defensive runs above average. His career 36% caught stealing rate ranks fourth among active catchers. Although he’s posted a career wRC+ of 73, the offensive improvements he’s made over the last two years have been an unexpected bonus. His ISO reached .149 last season and it’s even higher this year. His walk rate sky rocketed to 13.8% last year but those gains haven’t carried over to this season. Instead, he’s reaching base by posting the second highest BABIP of his career, mostly buoyed by hard hit groundballs. It’s an odd offensive profile for a lumbering catcher but it’s working out for him for now.

2B Danny EspinosaAgain, Danny Espinosa is a solid defensive player, boasting a career 7.4 UZR/150 at second base. What was more impressive about the 30-year-old last year was his power. He crushed a career high 24 dingers in 2016, after only hitting 24 homers in the previous three seasons combined. His success can be explained in part by his increase in pulled fly balls. His fly ball rate jumped to a career-high of 43.1% in 2016—exceeding his career mark of 38.5% by a wide margin—and he pulled the ball more than half the time he put it in play. His batted ball profile looks exactly the same as it did last season, but he has only a 46 wRC+ to show for it. His strikeout rate has leaped to 35.1%, exposing his greatest weakness, and all those pulled fly balls are falling into gloves rather than over the fence.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Parker Bridwell

21 1/3 13.8% 6.9% 19.2% 40.9% 2.95 6.19

Parker Bridwell was drafted by the Orioles in 2010 and slowly made his way through their organization. A starter for most of his professional career, he was moved to the bullpen by the Orioles last year and made his major league debut for them in August. He was traded to the Angels for cash considerations in April of this year and has made the transition back to the rotation for his new organization. He throws a 90-93 mph fastball with some “rise” to it, but it’s otherwise unremarkable. His best pitch is probably his changeup which he uses to generate both whiffs and groundballs. He’ll also regularly mix in a hard slider/cutter and sometimes a slower, curvy slider (slurvy curveball?). He’s somehow managed to post an ERA more than three runs lower than his FIP in his three starts this year. Of course, that won’t last as he isn’t striking very many out and his home run rate is extremely high.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at New York Yankees

RHP Ricky Nolasco

90 2/3 19.3% 6.9% 20.2% 41.1% 4.86 5.72

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 91.8 18.9% 97 61 85
Sinker 91.3 31.9% 88 84 87
Splitter 81.6 11.5% 280 44 201
Slider 81.8 29.2% 143 102 129
Curveball 73.8 8.5% 98 85 94

The Angels are counting on consistency from Ricky Nolasco since their pitching depth is so thin. He’s made at least 26 starts in eight of his last nine seasons. His ability to generate strikeouts has declined as he’s aged, though his walk rate hasn’t been affected yet. He hasn’t lost any velocity off his fastball but it’s effectiveness as a pitch has completely waned. Last season, opposing batters launched 11 home runs off his four-seamer and 10 more off his two-seamer. Without a decent secondary offering to keep batters honest, they’re just sitting on his fastball, waiting to punish it. Nothing much has changed for Nolasco this year. He leads the American League in home runs allowed and the majority of them have come off his fastballs. His splitter has turned into a deadly pitch, generating the highest whiff rate in the majors off that type of pitch.

RHP Jesse Chavez

91 18.0% 7.8% 17.8% 41.0% 5.04 5.39

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.2 24.5% 103 50 85
Sinker 92.3 15.8% 24 37 28
Cutter 90.8 20.3% 120 74 105
Changeup 85.7 18.3% 70 97 79
Slider 84.1 14.5% 51 119 74
Curveball 76.4 6.5% 181 56 139

Jesse Chavez has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen throughout his career. Last year was a bullpen year for him as he split time between the Blue Jays and the Dodgers. The Angels signed him to a one-year deal this offseason and installed him as their fifth starter. As far as fifth starters go, they could certainly do worse. He’s lost the velocity gains he saw as a reliever last year, dropping his average fastball velocity back to around 92 mph. His curveball is a plus pitch by whiff rate and batted ball outcomes but his usage of it has dwindled year by year. Instead, he’s relied increasingly on his cutter, which also generates a decent amount of whiffs.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 54-26 0.675 -- W-W-L-W-W
Angels 42-41 0.506 13.5 W-W-L-W-L
Rangers 39-40 0.494 14.5 W-L-W-L-L
Mariners 39-41 0.488 15.0 W-L-L-L-L
Athletics 35-44 0.443 18.5 W-W-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 42-35 0.545 +2.0 L-W-L-W-L
Twins 40-37 0.519 -- W-L-L-W-L
Rays 41-40 0.506 1.0 L-L-W-L-L
Angels 42-41 0.506 1.0 W-W-L-W-L
Orioles 39-39 0.500 1.5 W-W-W-L-W

Mounting injuries have caused the Yankees to stumble towards the end of June. They’ve won just four games in the last two weeks and face a stiff challenge in Houston this weekend. The rest of the Wild Card hopefuls still haven’t taken advantage though. The Twins, the Rays, the Rangers, the Royals, and the Blue Jays all lost their most recent series. The Angels managed to split their series against the Dodgers. Only the Orioles have taken advantage, winning their series in Toronto and pushing their record back to .500.