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Series Preview: Mariners (54-31) vs. Angels (43-42)

The Mariners continue their long homestand with a three-game series against the Angels.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Boston Red Sox Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners are riding a season-high seven-game win streak and just completed a 19-9 month of June, their best record in a single month this season. Outside of the handful of losses to the Red Sox and Yankees, the Mariners won almost every other game they played in June. Which is pretty ridiculous when you think about it. The Rays, who are currently .500 and have been playing pretty good baseball the last month, would be five games over .500 if they hadn’t played the Mariners seven times in June. The lack of quality opponents in the American League certainly helps teams like the Mariners separate themselves from the pack.

At a Glance

Angels Mariners
Angels Mariners
Game 1 Tuesday, July 3 | 7:10 pm
LHP Andrew Heaney LHP Wade LeBlanc
43% 57%
Game 2 Wednesday, July 4 | 1:10 pm
TBD RHP Mike Leake
42% 58%
Game 3 Thursday, July 5 | 7:10 pm
LHP Tyler Skaggs LHP Marco Gonzales
46% 54%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Angels Edge
Overview Mariners Angels Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (5th in AL) 105 (6th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 2.5 (10th) 12.8 (4th) Angels
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 97 (5th) 103 (8th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 89 (5th) 111 (13th) Mariners

This next stretch of 12 games should be pretty interesting. The Mariners host the Angels and Rockies this week and then head out on a six-game road trip to face … the Angels and Rockies. To make things even more interesting, this series against the Angels will be the last time they play in Seattle for the rest of the season. And these two teams matchup ten more times after this series. That’s one of the reasons why the Angels, who are eleven games back in the Wild Card race, see themselves as contenders still. If they can survive this series in Seattle, their home schedule looks pretty favorable in the second half of the season.

Of course, if the Angels suffer another series loss, their postseason hopes will come crashing down pretty quickly. It’s hard to call a series in July a must-win, but for the Angels, this might be it. So they’re pulling out all the stops. Garrett Richards, who was injured during their last series in Seattle, should be activated from the disabled list after just one rehab start. There’s even a strong possibility Shohei Ohtani will be activated to serve as the full-time designated hitter while his elbow heals.

Angels Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Kole Calhoun RF L 231 0.199 30 -0.2
Mike Trout CF R 376 0.342 196 2.8
Justin Upton LF R 354 0.311 123 1.4
Albert Pujols DH R 331 0.259 90 -1.2
Andrelton Simmons SS R 304 0.320 130 1.0
Luis Valbuena 1B L 244 0.279 68 -1.1
Ian Kinsler 2B R 311 0.204 83 -1.9
Martín Maldonado C R 239 0.310 89 -1.3
David Fletcher 3B R 40 0.364 122 0.2

After posting a wRC+ of just 4 (not a typo) over the first two months of the season, Kole Calhoun spent a couple of weeks on the disabled list and has returned to post a 135 wRC+ over the last two weeks. That’s pushed his overall wRC+ up to 30. He’s back in the leadoff spot since Ian Kinsler has completely cratered this season. Of course, the rest of the Angels lineup doesn’t really matter when compared to the season Mike Trout is putting together. He’s on pace to put up an insane 12 fWAR this season and has accounted for 1/3 of the Angels total team fWAR. That share of team WAR is historically significant, as Trout is basically carrying the entire team on his back.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Los Angeles Angels

LHP Andrew Heaney

82 22.3% 7.0% 12.6% 40.3% 3.95 4.01

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 57.3% 92.5 2464 (2.29) 161 132
Changeup 17.8% 83.9 1908 (0.81) 75 94
Curveball 25.0% 79.4 2386 (-0.24) 135 89

One of the few pitching bright spots for the Angels, Andrew Heaney has recaptured the brilliance that made him a top prospect in the Marlins organization half a decade ago. Like so many other pitchers in the Angels organization, Heaney is a Tommy John survivor. His operation was in July of 2016 and he only made it back to the majors late last season after dealing with some shoulder problems too. In 21 innings last season, he allowed a laughable 12 home runs across five starts. However, that huge home run problem hid a promising strikeout-to-walk ratio. This season, he’s built on that hidden success by completely suppressing his home run rate down to 7.1%. Along with his extremely low home run rate is a pretty high strand rate. But it’s not all smoke and mirrors and most of his success is earned. He’s throwing his excellent curveball more than ever, up to almost 25% now, and opposing batters just can’t make solid contact against it. He’s yet to allow a home run and opposing batters have posted an ISO of just .125 off his bender.

The Mariners absolutely crushed Heaney during their sweep in early June. He lasted just three innings, allowing five runs backed by three home runs, including two from Nelson Cruz. He put together two decent starts since then but ran into another rough outing against the Red Sox his last time out.

RHP Garrett Richards

68 1/3 26.8% 11.0% 14.3% 50.0% 3.42 3.80

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 33.0% 96.5 2632 (3.10) 80 135
Sinker 17.6% 96.7 2552 (3.96) 140 133
Slider 39.1% 89.9 2919 (2.11) 143 127
Curveball 10.3% 81.7 3205 (2.57) 104 107

After two years of injury troubles, Garrett Richards looks to be finally healthy. He’s been limited to just 12 starts during the past two seasons and his start tonight will be the first time he’s surpassed seven starts in a season since 2015. A Statcast darling, Richards’s ridiculously high spin rate on all of his pitches gives him four absolutely nasty pitches in his arsenal. His four-seam fastball, while not as effective this year, is sort of a cross between a cutter and a fastball. It doesn’t as much “rise” as a traditional four-seam fastball and certainly not as much as we’d expect with a spin rate as high as he’s running. His best pitches are his breaking balls. His slider is a true out pitch for him, generating ridiculous amounts of whiffs, and his curveball is a nice change-of-pace weapon he can use when he needs to steal a strike. His walk rate has spiked early this season and it’s possibly due to a drop in his ability to induce swings on pitches out of the zone.

Richards lasted just two innings in his last start against the Mariners before succumbing to a hamstring injury. He allowed five runs in 3 1/3 innings during his rehab start last week. Ideally, the Angels would have liked to see one or two more rehab starts from him but their position in the standings take precedence. He should have a limited pitch count if he makes the start on Wednesday since he only threw 63 pitches last week.

LHP Tyler Skaggs

92 26.4% 7.1% 9.9% 47.0% 2.64 3.03

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 42.9% 92.4 2206 (-0.03) 154 92
Sinker 14.5% 91.7 2180 (0.06) 156 119
Changeup 12.3% 84.8 1773 (0.63) 109 84
Curveball 30.3% 75.3 2697 (1.30) 94 96

Like Richards, Skaggs throws an extremely high spin curveball. It isn’t nearly as effective a pitch as Richards’s, though it helps him keep the ball on the ground, as opposing batters hit a ground ball more than two-thirds of the time they put it into play. His fastball is probably his best pitch. He’ll throw it up in the zone with lots of “rise” to generate an excellent whiff rate. Early this season, he’s been the best pitcher in the Angels rotation. After suffering through numerous injury problems the past four seasons, it’s possible he’s finally healthy and we’re on the verge of seeing him repeat his breakout year in 2014. His ground ball rate is back above 50%, he’s keeping the ball in the yard, and he’s increased his strikeout rate by a couple of points to boot.

Skaggs was pretty good against the Mariners in his start against them back in early May. He pitched into the sixth inning, allowing two runs on six hits while striking out seven. He’s put together a stretch of solid starts recently. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in his last five starts and has lasted into the seventh inning in three of them.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 55-31 0.640 -- W-W-L-L-L
Mariners 54-31 0.635 0.5 W-W-W-W-W
Athletics 46-39 0.541 8.5 W-W-W-W-L
Angels 43-42 0.506 11.5 L-L-W-W-L
Rangers 38-47 0.447 16.5 L-W-W-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 54-28 0.659 +1.5 L-W-L-W-L
Mariners 54-31 0.635 -- W-W-W-W-W
Athletics 46-39 0.541 8.0 W-W-W-W-L
Angels 43-42 0.506 11.0 L-L-W-W-L
Rays 42-42 0.500 11.5 L-W-W-W-L

After winning the first game in their series against the Rays, the Astros lost the next three in a row. That’s allowed the Mariners to creep up within half a game of first in the AL West. The Rangers host the Astros this week in a three-game series. The Athletics earned a series win against Cleveland but were left with a sour taste in their mouth after a 15-3 drubbing to close their series. They’ll host the Padres this week. The Yankees lost the first game of their series against the Braves yesterday. The Mariners have made up a lot of ground on New York for the first Wild Card spot as well.