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Series Preview: Mariners (21-26) at Athletics (28-20)

The Mariners travel to Oakland for the first time this year, looking to get back in the win column.

Oakland Athletics v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

It feels weird to be standing at the precipice of June and just seeing the A’s for the first time this season, but then again, this isn’t the A’s team Mariners fans are used to seeing. Khris Davis, whose visage seemed synonymous with those kelly green A’s uniforms, is in Arlington now, and Marcus Semien is a Toronto Blue Jay. But hey, Jed Lowrie is still here, so this still feels like the Same Old A’s in a (very annoying) way. Also annoyingly familiar: the A’s, despite only investing in their 2021 team at the 11th hour of the off-season and keeping dollars spent to a minimum, have managed to climb ahead of the Astros to lead the AL West despite an absolutely dismal start to the season. As it was, so it shall ever be, Jed Lowrie is eternal, etc.

At a Glance

Mariners Athletics
Mariners Athletics
Game 1 Monday, May 24 | 6:40 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi RHP Frankie Montas
41% 59%
Game 2 Tuesday, May 25 | 6:40 pm
RHP Logan Gilbert LHP Cole Irvin
39% 61%
Game 3 Wednesday, May 26 | 12:37 pm
TBD RHP James Kaprielian
39% 61%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 108 (4th in AL) 83 (15th in AL) Athletics
Fielding (OAA) 6 (4th) 3 (7th) Athletics
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 101 (7th) 119 (15th) Athletics
Bullpen (FIP-) 94 (5th) 96 (7th) Athletics

After getting outscored in the three-game set against the Padres 31-7, the Mariners limp into Oakland as one of baseball’s worst offensive teams, and worst teams, period. The A’s haven’t been crushing their opponents — they still have a negative run differential on the season thanks to their absolutely putrid start — but they’ve been finding a way to get it done nonetheless; their May schedule has more Ws than a Polish phone book, and they’ll probably string a fair few more on to that total as they get to face the offensively punchless Mariners for six of their next ten games. Maybe if we ask really nicely the Washington softball team will loan the Mariners some of the runs they scored over the regional playoffs this weekend. Surely some of those could trickle down Montlake and make their way into T-Mobile Park?

By the way, if you’re considering going to any of these games and need a little push to willingly subject yourself in person to the level of baseball currently being played by the Mariners, good news: the Mariners have announced they’re extending the vaccination rewards through the homestand (ends June 2). In addition to discounted tickets, fully-vaccinated fans can enjoy 20% off merchandise and concessions, and yes that includes alcohol, and yes that includes happy hour. (One hitch: fully-vaccinated means two weeks after the second Pfizer or Moderna dose, or two weeks after the Johnson and Johnson dose). You’ll need to bring proof of vaccination, and either your vax card or a photo of the card will suffice.

Athletics Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Mark Canha LF R 202 0.286 149 1.2
Matt Chapman 3B R 193 0.293 97 0.7
Ramón Laureano CF R 189 0.306 138 1.6
Matt Olson 1B L 175 0.261 156 -0.3
Chad Pinder DH R 39 0.400 125 -0.2
Jed Lowrie 2B S 179 0.293 106 0.7
Sean Murphy C R 143 0.280 117 -1.8
Stephen Piscotty RF R 107 0.238 87 -0.4
Elvis Andrus SS R 158 0.213 27 0.2

Quick, close your eyes and guess who’s leading Oakland in WAR. A bunch of Matts and Marks just flickered through your mind, right? Well guess what, it’s none of them; it’s Ramón Laureano, who has paired his Platinum Glove-level defense with a power boost that’s made him the eighth-most-valuable player in baseball by fWAR. To be fair, there’s a pretty big gap between Laureano at #8 and #7, Ronald Acuña Jr., but that’s still pretty impressive for a player who was projected as a prospect to have significantly below-average power. As for the Matts and Marks, neither Matt Chapman nor Mark Canha are repeating their wildly successful 2019 and 2020 seasons, respectively, but this is how the A’s roll, isn’t it? There’s always someone else stepping up. This year, that might be another defensive stalwart in catcher Sean Murphy, who is a top-10 catcher in baseball by fWAR (and a top-two catcher in a putrid AL catching pool). Currently Murphy lacks consistency at the plate, but he’s shown flashes of very real pop and his low BABIP (.269) combined with a line drive-oriented profile indicates there’s more to come offensively to supplement his solid defense.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Frankie Montas

47 21.4% 6.2% 14.3% 38.4% 4.79 4.62
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 27.8% 96.3 2456 176 102 83
Sinker 38.3% 95.8 2356 123 99 102
Splitter 15.6% 87.5 1865 97 139 78
Slider 18.4% 88.7 2548 109 72 73

Frankie Montas has always had impressive raw stuff, but he’s had trouble harnessing it consistently. He had seemingly put everything together in 2019 but his breakout season was interrupted by a PED suspension. He returned last year and struggled through 11 starts during the shortened season. His success a few years ago was built upon a new splitter that he added to his repertoire, but he’s featured that pitch a little less often the last two years. He can generate fantastic whiff rate with that pitch but it can be fickle to command consistently too. Without as many splitters in his pitch mix, Montas is relying too heavily on a pretty mediocre sinker. The result is a healthy strikeout rate paired with far too much hard contact.

LHP Cole Irvin

52 2/3 18.3% 4.6% 8.7% 34.1% 3.59 3.85
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 40.5% 90.7 1955 56 72 75
Sinker 18.6% 90.4 1915 60 128 66
Changeup 23.1% 83.7 1580 79 83 115
Curveball 3.3% 76.4 2061
Slider 14.6% 82.5 1945 103 61 84
Irvin’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for Stuff+ or pitch arsenal scores.

Cole Irvin is the latest iteration of the type of contact managers the A’s have filled their rotation with over the years. Picked up from the Phillies in a minor deal during the offseason, Irvin had a fantastic spring and won a spot in Oakland’s opening day rotation. He’s run with his opportunity, compiling nine starts with an excellent 3.59 ERA matched with a 3.85 FIP. He relies on guile and pitching moxy to generate outs with his five pitch repertoire. His changeup is probably his best pitch and he’ll play it off his two different fastballs often. His slider is pretty interesting as well. It has some of the highest spin differential in all of baseball, meaning he’s imparting a ton of seam-shifted spin on the pitch.

RHP James Kaprielian

10 2/3 33.3% 8.9% 11.1% 19.2% 2.53 3.90

James Kaprielian was one of the headlining prospects that came back from the Yankees in the big Sonny Gray trade all the way back in 2017. He was in the middle of rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at the time and some recurring shoulder issues derailed his attempts to get back on the mound in 2018. He was finally healthy towards the end of 2019 and made his major league debut last year in a relief role. The A’s stretched him out this spring and he made his 2021 debut a few weeks ago. His fastball velocity has held up in these longer outings and he’s used a trio of above average secondary offerings to strike out a ton of batters so far.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Athletics 28-20 0.583 -- L-L-W-W-L
Astros 26-21 0.553 1.5 W-W-L-L-L
Rangers 22-27 0.449 6.5 L-L-W-W-W
Mariners 21-26 0.447 6.5 L-L-L-L-L
Angels 20-27 0.426 7.5 W-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rays 29-19 0.604 +0.5 W-W-W-W-W
Yankees 28-19 0.596 -- W-W-W-W-W
Astros 26-21 0.553 2.5 W-W-L-L-L
Cleveland 24-20 0.545 3.0 W-W-L-W-L
Blue Jays 23-22 0.511 4.5 L-L-L-L-L

The A’s remain atop the division despite a bullpen meltdown on Sunday denying them a series sweep against Anaheim; however, Oakland’s hold on the division is a little more tenuous after a series loss against Houston the series before and...what’s this? Houston was swept by the Rangers? In this economy? Anyway, this is still a two-team race with just a game and a half separating the A’s and the Astros, and the A’s will probably head to town excited to kick the hapless Mariners down even further in the standings while Houston embarks on a tough slate of games against the Dodgers, Padres, Red Sox, and Blue Jays. However, directly after the Mariners series, the A’s travel to Anaheim for a four-game set, so that might determine who exactly gets possession of the AL West cellar.