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Series Preview: Mariners (74-59) at Athletics (80-54)

The Mariners postseason hopes could hinge on the outcome of this four-game series in Oakland.

Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

This is it. If the Mariners are serious about making some noise in the Wild Card race in September, this series is where it’ll all come together or fall apart. Four games to prove they’re able to rise to the challenge. Four games to turn their season one way or another. While it certainly feels like the Mariners entire season hinges on this four-game set in Oakland, they’ll still have 25 games left after this. But considering their current position in the standings, anything less than a series win almost certainly puts the second Wild Card spot out of reach. A series split might actually be the worst possible outcome, since it would leave the Mariners in this limbo between truly contending and pretending.

At a Glance

Mariners Athletics
Mariners Athletics
Game 1 Thursday, August 30 | 7:05 pm
LHP Wade LeBlanc RHP Frankie Montas
41% 59%
Game 2 Friday, August 31 | 7:05 pm
RHP Mike Leake RHP Mike Fiers
39% 61%
Game 3 Saturday, September 1 | 6:05 pm
LHP James Paxton RHP Daniel Mengden
45% 55%
Game 4 Sunday, September 2 | 1:05 pm
RHP Félix Hernández RHP Edwin Jackson
39% 61%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Athletics Edge
Overview Mariners Athletics Edge
Batting (wRC+) 100 (9th in AL) 108 (4th in AL) Athletics
Fielding (UZR) -10.9 (12th) 29.3 (1st) Athletics
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 99 (6th) 103 (7th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 95 (7th) 96 (8th) Mariners

With August pretty much in the books, the Athletics have now put together three straight months with a win percentage over .600. Now, those two months at the start of the season where they floundered around .500 seem like the outliers, not the other way around.

It’s baffling to see Edwin Jackson, Brett Anderson, and all their other broken starters find success in Oakland but it’s no secret why they’re all outperforming their defense-independent peripherals. It’s because Oakland’s defense is among the best in baseball. They’re first in the AL in UZR and second in DRS. Marcus Semien is putting up awesome defensive numbers at shortstop for the first time in his career and it’s all due to Matt Chapman. Semien can flexibly position himself closer to second base because Chapman’s range is absolutely insane (that shouldn’t discredit the amount of work Semien has done to improve defensively). Ramón Laureano has logged just over 150 innings in center field and is already the sixth best center fielder in the majors per DRS with 5 runs saved. After years of shoddy defense, the A’s have completely flipped their run prevention and it’s one of the main driving forces behind their surge this year.

Even though it hasn’t risen to the level of the 2017 Mariners, the Athletics have suffered some extremely bad injury luck this year. They’ve used 31 different pitchers this season and suffered a couple more injuries recently. Sean Manaea might be lost for the season with a shoulder injury and Brett Anderson was placed on the disabled list with a forearm strain. In their place, the A’s are turning to Frankie Montas and Daniel Mengden.

Athletics Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Nick Martini LF L 119 0.333 104 0.7
Matt Chapman 3B R 500 0.339 144 3.2
Jed Lowrie 2B S 564 0.313 130 1.0
Khris Davis DH R 541 0.264 136 -4.4
Matt Olson 1B L 551 0.278 110 -2.2
Stephen Piscotty RF R 498 0.284 110 -1.3
Marcus Semien SS R 590 0.304 93 0.7
Ramón Laureano CF R 64 0.405 139 1.0
Jonathan Lucroy C R 380 0.280 75 -2.9

Beyond his incredible defensive numbers, Matt Chapman is also crushing it at the plate. A pretty significant slump in May depresses his overall numbers but since the All-Star break he’s posted a wRC+ of 200! If José Ramírez wasn’t having a historic season in Cleveland, Chapman would easily be the best third baseman in the American League and a potential MVP candidate. With his defense, he still might steal some votes from Ramírez or Trout. Khris Davis came out of the All-Star break on fire. In the 31 games beginning the second half, he launched 18 home runs, including six in a four game stretch from July 22–25 and five in a five game stretch from August 19–23. But since the 23rd, he’s gone stone cold, collecting just a single hit in six games.

Probable Pitchers

Oakland Athletics v Minnesota Twins

RHP Frankie Montas

57 2/3 15.6% 7.6% 6.9% 42.5% 3.75 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 17.8% 96.9 2420 (2.70) 142 63
Sinker 55.0% 96.3 2322 (1.81) 91 93
Changeup 3.2% 88.1 1848 (0.22)
Slider 24.1% 86.6 2485 (0.82) 114 61
Montas’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Frankie Montas will be recalled from Triple-A to fill in for the injured Sean Manaea. He had a couple of stints with the major league club earlier this season, making eight starts between May 27 and the All-Star Break. He made a couple more in late July but lost his spot in the rotation when the A’s acquired Mike Fiers. His ten starts were a pretty mixed bag. He had a few excellent turns, including a six inning scoreless start in Houston, but mixed in a few too many clunkers for Oakland to feel comfortable with him as a regular starter. He’s pretty clearly still developing his command of his repertoire, though he’s made huge strides in that area this season. Cutting his walk rate almost in half seems to have come at the cost of some of his strikeout potential. As a reliever last season, he relied on his excellent four-seam fastball that reaches triple digits. When he transitioned to the rotation this season, he started throwing a sinker far more often. While that’s helped him keep the ball on the ground more often, it’s definitely cut into his strikeout total.

RHP Mike Fiers

143 19.5% 4.9% 12.2% 39.8% 3.15 4.37

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 34.7% 90.0 2305 (0.75) 129 112
Sinker 13.3% 89.6 2199 (0.03) 68 118
Cutter 17.8% 85.9 2380 (0.24) 58 91
Changeup 18.1% 83.6 1865 (0.58) 85 98
Curveball 15.2% 73.0 2777 (1.28) 104 72

Mike Fiers has now made four starts for the A’s and they’ve all been excellent. The Mariners actually handed him his worst start with the A’s when they faced him back on August 14. He has an elite 9.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio since joining Oakland to go along with a 1.50 ERA and a 2.95 FIP. He’s allowed home runs in three of his four starts but they really haven’t hurt him since he’s allowing so few baserunners. Is this just a hot streak or have the A’s done something to his repertoire? Jeff Sullivan had an interesting article about that on FanGraphs last week. In short, they’ve helped Fiers unlock the natural pitch tunnel his rising fastball and big curveball create when they’re located well. He’s basically following the James Paxton model of pitching now: fastballs way up in the zone and curveballs below the zone (only with a fastball that averages 90 mph, rather than 96). With around 10 inches of “rise” to his fastball and around 11 inches of drop to his curveball, he’s got almost two feet of vertical separation between the two pitches, and batters have no idea what to do with either pitch. Opponents have just a single hit off his curveball since he joined the A’s, but they’ve been able to knock around his changeup (.222 AVG) and cutter (.400 AVG). Fiers hasn’t really changed his pitch mix in those four starts, so if the Mariners can key on his other secondary pitches, they could see some success against him.

RHP Daniel Mengden

94 2/3 14.4% 5.3% 13.0% 39.5% 4.28 4.74

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 53.6% 93.3 2103 (-0.92) 85 103
Changeup 13.3% 82.8 1893 (0.74) 26 71
Slider 22.1% 84.3 2226 (-0.79) 93 84
Curveball 11.0% 73.1 2466 (0.33) 96 121

To replace the injured Brett Anderson, the A’s will turn to Daniel Mengden. He’s one of the few starters from their opening day rotation that hasn’t been lost to a season ending injury. He did miss some time in July due to a foot injury though he was optioned to Triple-A once healed. Through April and May, he had compiled a 2.91 ERA backed by a 3.24 FIP across 12 starts. June was unkind, however, as he allowed at least four runs in each of his starts that month before being sidelined. A deceptive delivery and excellent control of all of his pitches is the foundation of his success, not overpowering stuff. He can be successful if he’s keeping the bases clear, making his home run tendencies less of a problem. But as soon as the batted ball luck turns, things can go south pretty quickly, especially since he doesn’t have the ability to strikeout all that many.

RHP Edwin Jackson

68 1/3 17.5% 8.6% 11.3% 36.1% 3.03 4.53

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 15.3% 94.0 2220 (-0.18) 86 66
Sinker 14.4% 93.3 2070 (-0.35) 108 116
Cutter 39.1% 91.7 2284 (-0.01) 68 117
Changeup 7.4% 87.8 2143 (1.62)
Slider 20.7% 86.8 2268 (-0.20) 100 100
Curveball 3.2% 79.0 2467 (-0.14)
Jackson’s changeup and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

Edwin Jackson’s success this year is completely baffling. Over the last four years, he had compiled ERAs of 6.33, 3.07, 5.89, and 5.21—the one outlier happened to be the year he was a full-time reliever. So the fact that he’s running a 3.03 ERA across 12 starts this year just doesn’t compute. I could point to his 4.53 FIP that doesn’t support his run suppression at all. His .234 BABIP isn’t that far off his .265 Statcast expected batting average. He does generate a ton of fly ball contact which would account for the low BABIP. He’s also stranded 80% of the runners he’s allowed. Just based on all these luck metrics, it certainly looks like he’s bound to feel the weight of regression hit soon.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 82-51 0.617 -- W-W-W-L-W
Athletics 80-54 0.597 2.5 W-W-L-W-L
Mariners 74-59 0.556 8.0 W-W-L-L-L
Angels 64-69 0.481 18.0 L-L-L-W-L
Rangers 58-76 0.433 24.5 W-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 84-49 0.632 +4.5 W-W-L-W-L
Athletics 80-54 0.597 -- W-W-L-W-L
Mariners 74-59 0.556 5.5 W-W-L-L-L
Rays 71-62 0.534 8.5 W-W-W-L-W
Angels 64-69 0.481 18.0 L-L-L-W-L

The Astros managed to escape their three-game series against the A’s with a series win on the back of a walk-off Crawford Box special off the bat of Tyler White. They’ll host the Angels for four games over the weekend. The Rays split their two-game set with the Braves and will travel to Cleveland for three games beginning tomorrow.