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Series Preview: Mariners (59-56) vs. Angels (57-58)

The Mariners return home for their only homestand of the month, beginning with a four-game series against the Angels.

Philadelphia Phillies v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

At a Glance

Angels Mariners
Angels Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, August 10 | 7:10 pm
LHP Tyler Skaggs LHP James Paxton
40% 60%
Game 2 Friday, August 11 | 7:10 pm
RHP JC Ramirez LHP Marco Gonzalez
46% 54%
Game 3 Saturday, August 12 | 6:10 pm
RHP Ricky Nolasco RHP Erasmo Ramirez
45% 55%
Game 4 Sunday, August 13 | 1:10 pm
RHP Parker Bridwell LHP Ariel Miranda
46% 54%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Angels Mariners Edge
Overview Angels Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 93 (13th in AL) 102 (5th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 14.2 (4th) 16.0 (3rd) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 114 (11th) 119 (14th) Angels
Bullpen (FIP-) 88 (5th) 99 (12th) Angels

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

The Mariners enter this four-game series with the Angels holding the second spot in the Wild Card Race. If the season ended yesterday, the Mariners would be in the playoffs for the first time in sixteen years. They’ve posted the best record in the American League since the All-Star break and are set to honor a franchise legend this weekend. The excitement level has hit its crescendo. Around this time last year, the Mariners were honoring another franchise legend. They would go on to sweep the Angels during Griffey weekend and then swept the Tigers for good measure right after. Wouldn’t it be something if history repeated itself?

Here’s a quick update on the Mariners playoff odds now that they’re holding a playoff spot outright. With a lot of help from the Red Sox and the Cardinals, the Mariners playoff odds are now barely higher than both the Royals and the Rays. FiveThirtyEight gives the Mariners the widest margin over the Royals (14 points). Both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs have the margin between the Mariners and Rays around four points or so—BP is classically skeptical of the Royals. The Wild Card is far from decided but any little gain the Mariners can make in the standings is critical.

The Angels:

The Angels did exactly what they needed to while Mike Trout was sidelined for a month and a half. They went 19-19 without him in the lineup and that was one of the major reasons why they didn’t make any moves at the trade deadline—they were getting a major upgrade immediately after the All-Star break. Since Trout’s return, they’re a game over .500 and have somehow managed to stick around in the Wild Card race. They’re coming off a series win against the Orioles.

Key Players

CF Mike TroutMike Trout missed a month and a half of the season but he’s still making a case to win his third MVP trophy. He’s slashing .365/.481/.647 since returning from his thumb injury, good for a 205 wRC+. The crazy thing is that mark is lower than his overall season mark of 208. Its scary to think how good his numbers would look if he hadn’t been injured.

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. He should continue to be an excellent table setter in front of Trout and Albert Pujols. 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.

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.

Probable Pitchers

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Texas Rangers

LHP Tyler Skaggs

33 1/3 22.9% 7.9% 8.8% 40.0% 4.32 3.47

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.0 58.1% 143 97 128
Changeup 85.4 8.5% - - -
Curveball 75.8 33.4% 96 134 109
*Skaggs’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Tyler Skaggs just can’t seem to stay healthy. After missing all of 2015 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, he finally made it back to the majors in late July last year. He made ten starts for the Angels down the stretch and generally looked effective. The only red flag was a walk rate that ballooned to over 10%. This season, Skaggs made five starts in April before being sidelined for three months with a strained oblique. He made his first start off the disabled list last week. When he was on the mound this year, he had actually shown some improvement over last year. His walk rate has dropped below 8% while maintaining a strikeout rate well above league average.

RHP JC Ramirez

136 2/3 17.6% 7.7% 15.6% 50.4% 4.21 4.66

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Sinker 96.2 50.1% 98 97 98
Slider 88.5 33.1% 113 114 113
Curveball 79.4 16.4% 69 116 85

Generally, when a reliever moves to the starting rotation, their effectiveness fades. The more common narrative is an ineffective starter moving to the bullpen with great success. JC Ramirez was a starter when he first signed as an international free agent with the Mariners back in 2006. He was included in the Cliff Lee trade, and was converted to a reliever in the Phillies organization. Fast forward to this year and the Angels lack of starting pitching depth. Ramirez made three appearances out of the bullpen in April but was quickly moved into the rotation after injuries depleted their pitching staff. The remarkable thing is he’s basically been the exact same pitcher as a starter as he was as a reliever. With a mediocre strikeout rate and a home run problem, that’s not necessarily a good thing, but it does have value if he’s able to soak up some innings for the Angels.

RHP Ricky Nolasco

129 19.0% 6.8% 18.1% 41.2% 5.09 5.27

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 91.6 18.0% 85 88 86
Sinker 91.2 31.1% 106 84 99
Splitter 81.4 12.9% 256 60 191
Slider 81.6 29.4% 124 74 107
Curveball 74.0 8.5% 90 80 87

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 however, as it’s generating the highest whiff rate of any splitter thrown this year.

RHP Parker Bridwell

66 15.8% 6.0% 12.8% 37.7% 3.00 4.65

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.1 30.3% 47 94 63
Sinker 92.1 17.2% 207 64 159
Cutter 90.3 23.6% 12 73 32
Changeup 85.1 11.9% 101 43 82
Slider 80.4 15.8% 161 110 144

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 slow slider which he uses to generate both whiffs and groundballs. He’ll also regularly mix in a hard cutter and a changeup, though neither pitch is all that effective. He’s somehow managed to post an ERA more than a run and a half lower than his FIP in ten starts this year.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 71-42 0.628 -- W-L-W-L-L
Mariners 59-56 0.513 13.0 W-W-L-W-W
Angels 57-58 0.496 15.0 L-L-L-W-W
Rangers 54-59 0.478 17.0 L-W-L-L-W
Athletics 50-64 0.439 21.5 L-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 60-52 0.536 +2.5 L-W-W-L-W
Mariners 59-56 0.513 -- W-W-L-W-W
Royals 57-56 0.504 1.0 L-W-L-L-L
Rays 58-57 0.504 1.0 L-L-W-L-L
Twins 56-56 0.500 1.5 L-W-W-W-W

After leaping up the standings, the Orioles lost two of three to the Angels and have fallen back in the Wild Card race. They’ll travel to Oakland for a four-game series beginning tonight. The Twins have taken the Orioles place as the new hottest team chasing the second Wild Card spot. They’ve won four in a row and will wrap up their series against the Brewers today before heading to Detroit to face the Tigers. The Royals are on the verge of being swept by the Cardinals and will travel to Chicago to take on the White Sox this weekend. The Rays were swept by the red hot Red Sox in two games and host the Indians in a four-game series over the weekend.