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Series Preview: Mariners (41-45) vs. Athletics (37-48)

The Mariners wrap up the first half of the season with a four-game series against the Athletics.

Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

At a Glance

Athletics Mariners
Athletics Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, July 6 | 7:10 pm
RHP Paul Blackburn RHP Sam Gaviglio
40% 60%
Game 2 Friday, July 7 | 7:10 pm
LHP Sean Manaea LHP James Paxton
42% 58%
Game 3 Saturday, July 8 | 7:10 pm
RHP Jharel Cotton RHP Andrew Moore
39% 61%
Game 4 Sunday, July 9 | 1:10 pm
RHP Daniel Gossett RHP Felix Hernandez
39% 61%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 97 (8th in AL) 104 (4th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -39.1 (15th) 14.1 (3rd) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 101 (8th) 118 (12th) Athletics
Bullpen (FIP-) 103 (10th) 110 (13th) Athletics

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

The last time the Mariners faced the Athletics, they were coming off a four-game sweep in Toronto that had stalled any forward momentum the team was carrying. Sound familiar? With this team winning in fits and starts, maybe a four-game series against the A’s is exactly what the Mariners need to remember how good they can be. And it could not come at a more important time. This series will lead us into the All-Star break and a series win would get the Mariners up to two games under .500. A sweep would push them all the way back to .500.

The Athletics:

The Athletics are already in the midst of their annual youth movement. They’ve recently called up three of their top five prospects— Franklin Barreto, Matt Chapman, and Daniel Gossett—after dumping Trevor Plouffe and Stephen Vogt. Jed Lowrie and Yonder Alonso are probably on the move next. Despite all these moving pieces and new faces, the A’s offense has been surprisingly powerful. Led by Alonso, Ryon Healy, and Khris Davis, they’ve posted the fourth highest ISO in the American League, though they’ve paired that power with the worst team batting average in the league as well.

Key Players

3B Matt Chapman – A Cal State Fullerton product (Alma mater of our own Ethan Novak), Matt Chapman was the 25th overall selection in the 2014 draft. He quickly worked his way up through the farm system before being promoted to the big league squad on June 15th. The third baseman’s most impressive qualities may be in the field, where he impresses with his quick hands and huge arm. He isn’t as polished offensively, but does possess a great deal of power; in 504 AA plate appearances in 2015, he ran a .276 ISO. Even more impressively, he posted a .331 ISO in 204 plate appearances in Triple-A before his promotion. If he can limit his strikeouts, his offensive upside is immense. Regardless, his defense and power will allow him to succeed in the majors for a long time.

SS Franklin Barreto – Originally signing with the Blue Jays out of Venezuela, 21-year-old arrived in Oakland as a part of the Josh Donaldson deal. He entered this season as the Athetics top prospect, and was the 42nd ranked prospect in the league according to The speedy-middle infielder has a promising bat, showing the ability to hit for plenty of contact in the minors while generating enough power to garner some extra base hits. He’s also a threat on the base paths, stealing almost 60 bases over the past two years. His athleticism and arm strength allow him to play a solid shortstop as well. Just 11 games into his MLB career he’s struggled with strikeouts, but demonstrated his potential on July 4th when he went two-for-four with a double and a dinger. He’s an exciting, young player with a bright future in Oakland. The impending return of Marcus Semien from his wrist injury could bump Barreto over to second base as soon as Jed Lowire is shipped out.

LF Khris Davis – Since 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 rate has continued to rise over the last three seasons and it’s peaked this year at 31.9%. Despite the additional whiffs, he’s continuing to build off of last year’s momentum. The 29-year-old slugger has slugged 23 home runs and his walk rate has bounced back up to 11.0%, pushing his wRC+ up to 126.

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. After a slow start, he’s posted two solid months in a row, boosting his slash line to .275/.305/.514. He’s continuing to hit for power even though his batting average has taken a bit of a tumble.

1B Yonder Alonso – Over the offseason, Yonder Alonso retooled his approach like so many other major leaguers, focusing on hitting more fly balls. As the A’s lone All-Star representative, he’s reaping the benefits of his adjustment. The 30-year-old first baseman is boasting a .288 ISO, more than double his .120 career average. His career fly ball rate is 32.9%, but that number has leaped to 49.4% to start the year. Almost a quarter of those fly balls have been hit out of the park, a rate that is sure to fall as the season wears on.

2B Jed Lowrie – After spending the last two seasons nursing a number of injuries, Jed Lowrie looks to be completely healthy this year. His gap power has returned and his strikeout and walk ratios are trending the right way. The return of his power might be related to an increase to his fly ball rate and his hard hit rate. It hasn’t translated into too many home runs but it’s a good match with his high contact approach at the plate. He’s also been pretty steady, if unspectacular, at second base for the A’s.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Paul Blackburn (Triple-A)

79 2/3 17.1% 7.9% 10.2% 55.3% 3.05 4.38
*Blackburn has made one start in the majors this year.

Paul Blackburn was sent to the Athletics in the trade that brought Danny Valencia to Seattle. He was also included in the Dan Vogelbach/Mike Montgomery trade as well. That makes the A’s his third organization in less than a year. He’s made the most of it, starting off the year in Triple-A and making his major league debut last weekend. He has a good feel for pitching and a good command of the strike zone which scouts have consistently praised. His actual pitch repertoire is rather lackluster though. His sinking fastball sits 90-93 mph and he pairs it with an average changeup and a developing curveball. That kind of stuff won’t generate many strikeouts, though he has produced excellent ground ball rates throughout his minor league career. In his first start in the majors, he held the Braves scoreless over six innings, striking out four while allowing three hits and one walk.

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics

LHP Sean Manaea

86 1/3 25.1% 9.2% 10.8% 48.7% 3.75 3.63

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.4 57.2% 141 129 137
Changeup 84.5 24.8% 222 101 182
Slider 80.8 18.1% 205 103 171

In his debut season last year, 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. Manaea has continued to build on his successful rookie year. He’s striking out more than a batter per inning this year, though his walk rate has creeped up a bit as well. He’s generating more ground balls and has done a good job of keeping the ball inside the ballpark, helping him lower his FIP to match his already good ERA.

RHP Jharel Cotton

76 2/3 20.1% 9.6% 12.6% 37.2% 5.17 4.98

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.4 44.6% 116 98 110
Cutter 88.9 28.4% 165 110 147
Changeup 77.8 17.8% 95 91 94
Curveball 77.9 9.3% 21 99 47

Jharel Cotton has one of the most intriguing pitch arsenals in the majors, and he’s only pitched just over 100 innings at this level. His “rising” fastball sits around 92-93 mph 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 and he’s among the league leaders in infield fly ball rate this year as well. 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, which has improved by leaps and bounds, generating a whiff over 30% of the time an opposing batter swings.

RHP Daniel Gossett

26 13.8% 2.6% 24.1% 45.8% 6.23 5.77

Another young pitcher called up by the Athletics, Daniel Gossett is getting his chance to shine on the big league stage. Last year, he took some huge steps forward, beginning the year in High-A, getting promoted a level mid-season, and then ending with a cameo in Triple-A. He was able to add 10 points to his strikeout rate and improved his walk rate as well. That progress stuck with him this year and earned him a call up in the middle of June. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate hasn’t translated to the majors and he’s been roughed up in a few of his starts. Oddly enough, he’s already faced the Astros and the White Sox twice despite only starting five games in the majors thus far. He commands his rising fastball well and mixes in a changeup that can keep left-handed batters honest. His best pitch is his hard, biting slider that could be an excellent weapon against right-handed hitters.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 58-27 0.682 -- L-W-W-W-W
Angels 44-45 0.494 16.0 W-L-L-L-W
Rangers 41-44 0.482 17.0 W-L-L-L-W
Mariners 41-45 0.477 17.5 L-W-L-L-L
Athletics 37-48 0.435 21.0 L-L-L-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 44-39 0.530 +0.5 L-L-W-L-L
Royals 44-40 0.524 -- L-W-W-W-W
Twins 43-41 0.512 1.0 W-L-W-W-L
Rays 44-42 0.512 1.0 W-W-L-W-L
Angels 44-45 0.494 2.5 W-L-L-L-W

If there’s a silver lining to getting swept by the Royals, it’s that basically everyone else in the American League also lost this week. The Angels, the Rangers, the Yankees, and the Orioles all lost their respective series. The Rays split with the Cubs, while the Twins were the only AL Wild Card team who won their series (against the Angels). To wrap up the first half, there are a number of series with big Wild Card implications on tap this weekend. The Rays host the Red Sox for four games, the Twins host the Orioles for four, and the Angels are in Texas for three.