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Series Preview: Mariners (25-31) at Athletics (34-22)

The Mariners wrap up the 2020 season with a final road trip to Oakland.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Dodgers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that’s a wrap. We’ve now reached the end of the major plot of the season—the loose ends are tied up, the villain is vanquished—no wait, I mean he’s triumphed—the hero is left to lick his wounds Empire-Strikes-Back style and wait for his opportunity for vengeance in the finale.

[KYLE LEWIS stands on the bridge of a Rebel hospital ship. He communicates via comlink with MARCO GONZALES and JAKE FRALEY in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon.]

Kyle: Jake, we’ll be waiting for your signal. May the Force be with you.

Jake Fraley: [roars]

A BACTA DROID appears.

Droid: This is for you.

[DROID hands KYLE LEWIS an AL Rookie of the Year trophy. Music swells. Falcon departs. KYLE LEWIS places his hand gently on the shoulder of KYLE SEAGER, and they share a meaningful look.]

At a Glance

Mariners Athletics
Mariners Athletics
Game 1 Friday, September 25 | 6:40 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi RHP Chris Bassitt
33% 67%
Game 2 (Mariners Home Team) Saturday, September 26 | 1:10 pm
LHP Justus Sheffield TBD
41% 59%
Game 3 Saturday, September 26 | 4:10 pm
RHP Justin Dunn LHP Mike Minor
35% 65%
Game 4 Sunday, September 27 | 12:10 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Frankie Montas
41% 59%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 99 (10th in AL) 92 (13th in AL) Athletics
Fielding (DRS) -14 (12th) 8 (7th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 104 (9th) 98 (6th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 79 (2nd) 133 (15th) Athletics

The Empire—I mean A’s—have dethroned the Astros fully and completely. The odds in this series look about like you’d expect: Even the notorious TBD starter has a 59% chance of success against the Mariners, because he’s powered by the rest of the A’s. What’s interesting is how thin the A’s success looks by these measures. The hitting? Just OK. Fielding? Yikes. FIP-? Meh. But the bullpen! Oh, the bullpen! Anyway, it looks more sustainable by other measures, but it sure is intriguing to look at this one, even as their Pythagorean record is 33-23, just a game behind their actual record.

With the division title already wrapped up, the only thing the A’s are playing for this weekend is playoff seeding. They’re currently the third seed (the division winner with the worst record), and currently lined up to play Houston in the first round. With a strong finish in this series, they could pass Minnesota for the second seed, lining them up to play the first Wild Card team (probably Cleveland but maybe the White Sox). If I had to pick, I’d pick a date with Houston.

Athletics Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Tommy La Stella 2B L 214 0.266 123 -0.5
Marcus Semien SS R 222 0.259 93 0.9
Mark Canha LF R 227 0.289 112 2.1
Matt Olson 1B L 230 0.218 106 -0.2
Stephen Piscotty RF R 162 0.313 78 1.3
Khris Davis DH R 94 0.245 76 -0.7
Jake Lamb 3B L 85 0.235 64 -0.5
Ramón Laureano CF R 211 0.267 106 0.7
Sean Murphy C R 129 0.277 132 -0.2

Here’s that average lineup. Khris Davis WOULD be hoping this year is a fluke—I mean, I’m sure he is—but it looks an awful lot like his season last year, when he posted an 81 wRC+. He’s got one more year on a relatively massive $16.75mm AAV deal with Oakland that I’m guessing they regret. Hey, remember when they gave Billy Butler $30mm and he fell off a cliff? Starting to wonder if they just don’t know who to pay and that’s why they’re cheap. New acquisition Jake Lamb (replacing the injured Matt Chapman) has somehow managed to resurrect his career after looking completely lost with the Diamondbacks—he’s put up a 133 wRC+ in nine games with the A’s after posting a 15 wRC+ in Arizona. The bright spots of this lineup are pending free agent Tommy La Stella and possible ALROY runnerup Sean Patrick Murphy. The A’s are certainly capable of generating something from seemingly nothing, but for now, this is something to keep an eye on: they have a bottom-3 farm system, with quite literally no impact positional talent left in the upper minors. They’re still young and controlled, but they do need these guys to be good.

Probable Pitchers

Stuff+ Explainer

San Francisco Giants v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

RHP Chris Bassitt

56 20.8% 7.2% 9.5% 42.8% 2.57 3.84
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 16.1% 93.3 2163 97 157 108
Sinker 38.7% 92.6 2121 106 85 85
Cutter 22.7% 87.7 2183 61 82 100
Changeup 10.3% 83.5 1977 140
Curveball 9.7% 70.0 2192 51
Slider 2.5% 74.2 2265 43
Bassitt’s changeup, curveball, and slider do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

From a previous series preview:

Chris Bassitt was finally (mostly) healthy for an entire season and put together his most productive season of his career. He posted his best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career on his way to accumulating 2.1 fWAR across 25 starts and three relief appearances. The biggest effect his health had on his repertoire was a 1.5 mph increase to his fastball velocity. That improved the effectiveness of both his four-seamer and his sinker and helped differentiate those two pitches from his secondary offerings. As the season wore on, he started using his sinker more often in an attempt to counter the effects of the dragless ball. His groundball rate and home run rate didn’t change much with the new pitch mix but he lowered his ERA and FIP without sacrificing his ability to generate whiffs.

Bassitt has continued to provide solid innings for the Athletics in the middle of their rotation. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has fallen just a tad from last year’s mark but his results have been even better. His ERA is at a career low, though it is more than run below his FIP. In his lone start against the Mariners back in July, he held them to just a single run in five and two-thirds innings, striking out seven.

RHP James Kaprielian

68 27.1% 5.8% 8.5% 34.4% 3.18 3.88
2019 combined minor league stats

Jesús Luzardo was scheduled to start the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader but he pitched three innings of relief on Thursday to give the A’s more flexibility to set their postseason rotation. If he had pitched on Saturday, he likely wouldn’t have been able to make a start during the A’s first round series. It’s likely they’ll turn to their bullpen on Saturday with James Kaprielian a candidate for bulk innings in the first game and Mike Minor starting the second game. Kaprielian was one of the prospects the A’s acquired from the Yankees in the Sonny Gray trade back in 2017. He was in the midst of recovering from Tommy John surgery when he was traded and suffered a shoulder injury in 2018 that forced him to miss all of that season too. He finally threw his first innings as a member of the Athletics organization last year, nearly two years after joining the team. He made his major league debut earlier this year and thankfully his stuff looks intact after so many health issues.

LHP Mike Minor

51 2/3 25.0% 9.1% 17.7% 37.5% 5.92 5.04
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 49.3% 90.4 2577 56 126 105
Changeup 22.8% 85.3 2260 53 118 106
Curveball 6.5% 79.9 2538 133
Slider 21.5% 85.6 2794 142 69 87
Minor’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

From a previous series preview:

Since joining the Rangers in 2018, Mike Minor has been a solid mid-rotation arm, posting a 4.32 FIP that’s a bit higher than the 3.84 ERA he’s compiled over the past two years. The main reason he’s been able to outperform his peripherals is due to an extreme fly ball profile that includes tons of pop ups and weak fly ball contact. His high-spin fastball is the main culprit but batters swing under all of his pitches regularly. The high spin rate on all of his pitches should help him generate whiffs — and that’s true for his fastball and curveball — but the odd thing is that his slider doesn’t get whiffs very often. For one reason or another, that pitch is used more to generate weak contact rather than whiffs. Minor has emphasized the use of that pitch over his curveball which means his strikeout rate is a little lower than you’d expect when seeing above average whiff rates on three of his pitches.

The Athletics acquired Minor just prior to the August 31 trade deadline, shipping just a couple of low-level prospects to the Rangers. It was a rather disappointing return for Minor who was the subject of plenty of trade rumors a year ago, but befitting the level of performance he’s shown to-date. His strikeout-to-walk ratio hasn’t changed much but he’s lost the ability to induce weak contact. That’s led to a huge increase in home run rate. He’s made three starts and one relief appearance for the A’s and the only that went well was his start against the Mariners in the doubleheader on September 14. He’s allowed 12 runs in his three other appearances but held the Mariners scoreless in a seven inning complete game.

RHP Frankie Montas

47 22.2% 9.9% 18.9% 37.3% 6.32 5.35
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 23.8% 95.8 2368 158 164 95
Sinker 39.3% 95.6 2278 131 144 99
Splitter 12.6% 86.3 1678 100 137 54
Slider 24.2% 86.1 2483 145 59 138

Frankie Montas’s breakout last year was interrupted by a PED suspension in June. It was really unfortunate since he had looked like a legitimate top-of-the-rotation arm through fifteen starts in 2019. His transformation was fueled by a complete overhaul of his pitch arsenal. He added a nasty split-finger fastball to his repertoire, giving him a pitch with tons of downward action. Combined with his sinker that features plenty of armside run and a riding four-seam fastball, he had three pitches with vastly different movement profiles. Even though his raw stuff looks good, he’s really struggled to put everything back together this year. His strikeout and walk rates have both trended the wrong direction and it seems like he’s lost his feel for both his splitter and sinker. Batters are crushing those two pitches because he’s leaving them over the heart of the plate far too often.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Athletics-y 34-22 0.607 -- W-L-L-W-L
Astros 29-28 0.509 5.5 W-L-W-L-W
Angels 26-31 0.456 8.5 W-L-W-W-W
Mariners 25-31 0.446 9.0 W-L-W-L-W
Rangers 19-38 0.333 15.5 W-L-L-L-L
y - clinched division

When no one was looking, the Angels actually passed up the Mariners in the AL West standings. They’re the last AL team that hasn’t been eliminated yet, and a sweep of their weekend series with the Dodgers combined with three Astros losses would put them into the playoffs.

Well, back to watching the draft order, I guess. As of this moment, the Mariners sit in the 9th draft spot. With Baltimore and Kansas City just 1.5 games ahead/behind them, they could really use a strong/weak weekend to eke past those two squads into 7th. After that, it’s Detroit and Washington, currently 2.5 games worse than Seattle. The good news for the Mariners is obviously that they face one of MLB’s best. The other matchups? Baltimore faces Toronto, Detroit and Kansas City face each other (so we can realistically only pass one of them), and Washington finishes their slate against (sigh) the Mets. Anything could happen this weekend, but that’s where things stand today.