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Series Preview: Mariners (69-71) vs. Angels (72-68)

The Mariners wrap up their homestand with a three-game series against the Angels.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

At a Glance

Angels Mariners
Angels Mariners
Game 1 Friday, September 8 | 7:10 pm
RHP Ricky Nolasco RHP Mike Leake
49% 51%
Game 2 Saturday, September 9 | 6:10 pm
LHP Andrew Heaney LHP Andrew Albers
50% 50%
Game 3 Sunday, September 10 | 1:10 pm
RHP Parker Bridwell RHP Erasmo Ramirez
48% 52%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Angels Edge
Overview Mariners Angels Edge
Batting (wRC+) 100 (6th in AL) 94 (11th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 7.6 (7th) 23.9 (1st) Angels
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 119 (14th) 116 (13th) Angels
Bullpen (FIP-) 99 (11th) 84 (5th) Angels

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

Any hope the Mariners had of making a run to the playoffs was dashed this week. Getting swept by the Astros leaves their chances in the realm of miracles. If you’re still holding on to some hope that they’ll make the last few weeks interesting, this weekend’s slate of matchups provides the slimmest ray of hope. Three of the teams ahead of the Mariners in the Wild Card race have drawn very difficult opponents this weekend—the Orioles travel to Cleveland to face the red hot Indians, the Rangers host the Yankees, and the Rays travel to Boston. The other team ahead of the Mariners, the Royals, have a series against the Twins. With a lot of help—as well as taking care of their own business—you can almost imagine a scenario where the Mariners have leapfrogged a couple of teams and are maybe two games out of the Wild Card after this weekend.

The Angels:

The Angels have done all they can to push for the playoffs. Mike Trout continues to defy any rational expectation for how good a hitter can be. They acquired Justin Upton and Brandon Phillips just before the August 31 trade deadline, filling the two major black holes in their lineup. They should be firing on all cylinders but they just haven’t been able to surpass the Twins in the Wild Card race. Their true weakness has been their rotation. With the return of Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney, they’re hoping those two starters will give them the boost they need to slide into the second Wild Card spot.

Key Players

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.

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 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

RHP Ricky Nolasco

156 19.2% 7.4% 17.7% 41.9% 5.08 5.24

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 91.4 18.9% 90 95 92
Sinker 91.2 29.5% 102 84 96
Splitter 81.4 14.4% 222 88 177
Slider 81.6 28.4% 116 75 102
Curveball 74.0 8.7% 140 85 122

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.

LHP Andrew Heaney

19 1/3 27.3% 8.0% 45.8% 30.9% 6.98 9.13

After a long recovery from Tommy John surgery, Andrew Heaney has battled his way back to the majors late this year. He’s shown off some of the promise that made him a top prospect earlier in his career in his four starts this year. His strikeout rate has been extremely good, bolstered by a huge whiff rate off his sinker. His walk rate is a little elevated but we’d expect that for a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery. The craziest part of his stat line is his home run rate. It’s not a typo. Almost half of the fly balls he’s allowed have flown over the fence—11 dingers in just 19 innings pitched. That’s produced an extremely weird pitcher slash line of 6.98/9.13/3.96.

RHP Parker Bridwell

90 15.9% 5.9% 13.3% 38.2% 4.00 4.82

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.1 29.5% 64 98 75
Sinker 92.3 16.8% 105 46 85
Cutter 90.4 25.6% 51 71 58
Changeup 85.1 10.6% 115 59 96
Slider 80.3 15.7% 161 120 147

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 86-53 0.619 -- W-W-W-W-W
Angels 72-68 0.514 14.5 W-L-W-W-L
Rangers 70-69 0.504 16.0 L-W-W-W-L
Mariners 69-71 0.493 17.5 W-W-L-L-L
Athletics 59-80 0.424 27.0 L-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 75-64 0.540 +2.5 W-W-W-L-W
Twins 73-67 0.521 -- L-L-L-W-W
Angels 72-68 0.514 1.0 W-L-W-W-L
Orioles 71-69 0.507 2.0 L-W-L-W-L
Rangers 70-69 0.504 2.5 L-W-W-W-L

As I mentioned above, the teams ahead of the Mariners in the Wild Card race have a pretty difficult slate of opponents this weekend. Both the Angels and the Rangers won their series earlier this week, against the Athletics and the Braves, respectively. The Orioles lost their series against the Yankees and the Rays lost theirs to the Twins. There are just three and a half weeks left in the season and there are still seven teams within striking distance of the second Wild Card spot.