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Series Preview: Mariners (77-82) at Angels (78-81)

The Mariners wrap up the regular season with a three-game series in Anaheim.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Chicago White Sox Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

At a Glance

Mariners Angels
Mariners Angels
Game 1 Friday, September 29 | 7:07 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales LHP Tyler Skaggs
43% 57%
Game 2 Saturday, September 30 | 6:07 pm
RHP Andrew Moore RHP Ricky Nolasco
46% 54%
Game 3 Sunday, October 1 | 12:07 pm
LHP James Paxton RHP Parker Bridwell
51% 49%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Angels Edge
Overview Mariners Angels Edge
Batting (wRC+) 102 (4th in AL) 92 (14th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 11.2 (5th) 23.3 (2nd) Angels
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 115 (14th) 114 (12th) Angels
Bullpen (FIP-) 98 (9th) 83 (4th) Angels

Well, here we are. The final series of the regular season. With three games remaining, the Mariners currently hold the 15th pick in next year’s amateur draft. If everything breaks correctly, they could conceivably move up to the 10th pick or drop as low as the 18th pick. There really isn’t much difference in value between the 11th and the 18th pick so rooting for a better draft position seems like a moot point. Instead, why not root for a strong finish to the season with a couple of good pitching performances and a few dingers. Nelson Cruz needs two home runs to get to 40 for the fourth consecutive season. Jean Segura needs a double to reach 30 on the year and five hits or so to get his batting average above .300. Nick Vincent needs two holds to reach 30, potentially leading the league and setting a team record. Let’s have some fun!

The Angels:

After going 18-10 in August and moving within a game and a half of the Twins in the Wild Card race, they’ve completely fallen apart in September. Adding Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips did not address the true problem with the Angel’s roster, their starting rotation. Combined with month-long slumps from everyone not named Trout or Upton—Andrelton Simmons has been particularly bad this month—and the Angels just could not keep pace in the Wild Card race. They’ve gone 9-16 in September and have won just twice in their last 10 games played.

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. It’s 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.

SS Andrelton Simmons – In 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.

LF Justin Upton – Justin Upton is running career highs in walk rate, fly ball rate, and HR/FB. Meanwhile, he’s also striking out at the second highest clip of his career. He’s never been this close to being a three-true-outcomes player, but Upton has enjoyed a 137 wRC+ for the season. He’ll be a big boost in the heart of the Angels order for their run towards the playoffs.

2B Brandon Phillips – Brandon Phillips gives a boost to an Angels lineup that has seen a 57 wRC+ come from their second basemen this season. The 36-year-old has been consistent offensively, sporting an average above .280 for each of the past three seasons while reaching double digit home runs as well. He rarely goes down on strikes, but also struggles to draw walks. His o-swing% is at the highest mark of his career, which has yielded a 3.8% walk rate.

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.

1B CJ Cron – Although CJ Cron is boasting his highest ISO of his career, his wRC+ has dropped to 99, largely due to his inflated strikeout rate. Two things in his plate discipline profile stand out. First, his contact rate is the lowest of his career, dropping over 4% from last season. Additionally, he’s seen more first pitch strikes than ever before. Both of those probably play big roles in his 25.2% strikeout rate. Addressing his increased ISO, Cron’s fly ball rate currently sits at 45%. Prior to 2017, it had never eclipsed 40%. Additionally, he’s making less soft contact while making more hard contact. Combine those, and you have a recipe for a high ISO.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Tyler Skaggs

80 1/3 20.1% 7.9% 12.8% 42.4% 4.48 4.45

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 56.7% 95 102 97
Changeup 85.6 8.7% 28 125 60
Curveball 76.1 31.0% 78 133 96

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 returned from the disabled list in August and has made 10 starts down the stretch for the Angels. When he’s been on the mound this year, he’s actually shown some improvement over last year. His walk rate has dropped below 8% while maintaining a strikeout rate just above league average.

RHP Ricky Nolasco

175 2/3 18.4% 7.5% 15.8% 40.6% 5.02 5.09

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 91.3 19.9% 89 92 90
Sinker 91.1 28.8% 109 83 100
Splitter 81.3 14.4% 208 80 165
Slider 81.5 27.9% 111 71 98
Curveball 74.0 8.9% 111 81 101

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

114 15.0% 6.2% 13.0% 37.4% 3.87 4.93

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.0 29.1% 51 93 65
Sinker 92.2 16.5% 135 57 109
Cutter 90.4 24.2% 42 79 54
Changeup 84.7 10.5% 122 56 100
Curveball 80.0 19.1% 166 98 143

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-x 99-60 0.623 -- L-W-W-W-W
Angels 78-81 0.491 21.0 W-L-W-L-L
Mariners 77-82 0.484 22.0 L-L-W-W-L
Rangers 76-83 0.478 23.0 L-L-L-L-L
Athletics 74-85 0.465 25.0 W-L-L-W-W
x - clinched division

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees-x 89-70 0.560 +6.0 L-W-W-W-L
Twins-x 83-76 0.522 -- W-W-W-L-L
Royals 78-81 0.491 5.0 L-L-W-W-L
Angels 78-81 0.491 5.0 W-L-W-L-L
Mariners 77-82 0.484 22.0 L-L-W-W-L
x - clinched Wild Card spot

With all the playoff spots in the American League decided, this last weekend is surprisingly drama-less. As close as the Wild Card race had been earlier this summer, the Twins pulled ahead these last few weeks while the rest of the field fell apart. The Red Sox are a game away from clinching the AL East over the Yankees. The Indians are a game ahead of the Astros for home field advantage in the playoffs.