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Series Preview: Mariners (80-69) at Athletics (82-67)

The Mariners head to Oakland for a four-game set against their division rival.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Seattle Mariners faced the Oakland Athletics, it capped off a two-game sweep in late August to draw Seattle within three games of the second Wild Card spot, putting themselves in position to overtake and subsequently slip back behind their southern competitors in the coming weeks. Fast forward nearly a month and things look mostly the same, just with less time remaining on the clock. Seattle’s Wild Card hunt, given their four game gap to make up with just 13 to play, seems about out of juice, but Oakland can still be caught and made to suffer an October at home ahead of a winter reckoning with free agency.

At a Glance

Mariners Athletics
Mariners Athletics
Game 1 Monday, September 20 | 6:40 pm
LHP Tyler Anderson LHP Sean Manaea
42% 58%
Game 2 Tuesday, September 21 | 6:40 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Paul Blackburn
48% 52%
Game 3 Wednesday, September 22 | 6:40 pm
RHP Chris Flexen LHP Cole Irvin
44% 56%
Game 4 Thursday, September 23 | 12:37 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi RHP James Kaprielian
42% 58%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 103 (6th in AL) 92 (11th in AL) Athletics
Fielding (OAA) 19 (5th) -3 (9th) Athletics
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 93 (3rd) 109 (12th) Athletics
Bullpen (FIP-) 101 (10th) 88 (4th) Mariners

A crushing tailspin to end August dropped the A’s from 1.5 games behind the Astros on August 12 to completely out of the division race a month later. They have rebounded a bit in September, winning series against the White Sox, Royals, and Angels to move within two games of the second Wild Card spot. Unfortunately, all of their remaining games are against the Mariners and Astros, so they don’t have any more opportunities to directly make up ground against the trio of AL East teams vying for the Wild Card spots. Like the Mariners, they’ll be relegated to scoreboard watching and hoping those AL East teams all beat each other up enough to provide a window to sneak through.

Athletics Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Josh Harrison 2B R 516 0.328 114 -0.8
Starling Marte CF R 480 0.373 135 11.2
Matt Olson 1B L 616 0.271 149 -0.3
Mark Canha LF R 575 0.275 121 1.6
Chad Pinder RF R 194 0.309 86 -0.6
Matt Chapman 3B R 577 0.285 109 1.5
Khris Davis DH R 91 0.255 71 -0.3
Sean Murphy C R 424 0.251 99 -1.9
Elvis Andrus SS R 519 0.283 72 3.7

The acquisitions of Josh Harrison and Starling Marte at the deadline have genuinely kept the Athletics alive in the playoff hunt, as much of the rest of the lineup is teetering between competence and underachievement. While Matt Olson continues to star, Matt Chapman continues to offer at least acceptable offensive production, and Mark “Matt” Canha produces an excellent contract year performance, Oakland’s struggles getting offense in the bottom half of the order are a clear downfall for a club often reliant on unsung heroes emerging in lieu of retaining top talent. Still, the clear excellence of their top four highlight the importance of stars in any lineup.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Sean Manaea

161 2/3 26.1% 5.6% 15.2% 42.3% 3.95 3.73
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 59.9% 92.2 1993 73 166 94
Changeup 25.0% 84.5 1375 87 93 116
Curveball 15.1% 82.5 2014 92 86 99

From a previous series preview:

A shoulder injury in 2019 derailed what was a promising start to Sean Manaea’s career. He had a five start cameo down the stretch that season but his fastball velocity was sitting below 90 mph for the first time in his career. Some of the velocity returned last year and he continued to utilize fantastic command of his three-pitch mix to great effect. Nearly all of his velocity has returned this year and his results are better than ever. His strikeout rate has increased by five points and his FIP has dropped to a career low. As a sinker-heavy pitcher, it’s a little concerning to see his groundball rate fall below league average for the first time in his career, but he’s still managed to avoid serious damage despite the additional air contact against him.

This will be Manaea’s third start against the Mariners this season and he’s dominated the previous two outings against them. Across 16 innings in those starts, he’s allowed just a single run and has struck out 21 batters. He’s struggled a bit over his last eight starts dating back to the beginning of August, posting a 6.92 ERA and a 5.44 FIP during this stretch. He pitched back-to-back gems against the Blue Jays and White Sox to start September but threw a 5-run clunker against the Royals his last time out.

RHP Paul Blackburn

27 1/3 14.8% 5.7% 17.9% 48.4% 4.94 5.10
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 6.8% 90.9 2151
Sinker 39.4% 91.0 1998 69 54 100
Cutter 26.9% 87.1 2416 110 42 77
Changeup 14.0% 85.8 1774 57
Curveball 12.9% 79.1 2603 105

From a previous series preview:

Paul Blackburn has been called up to fill in for the injured Chris Bassitt. He’s been a depth piece stuck in Triple-A for five years now. He’s struggled to replicate the success that led to his breakthrough debut in 2017 and has made just 12 major league appearances over the last four years. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but instead relies on command and pitchability to work through a lineup. This season in Triple-A, he’s posted the highest strikeout rate of his professional career at 20%, though the ridiculous offensive environment at the level has really hampered his ERA.

Blackburn has now thrown six starts for the A’s and has been merely okay. A five inning shutout against the Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball was his high point but he followed that outing up with a pair of ugly outings against the Blue Jays and Rangers. In his last start against the Mariners, he allowed two runs in 5.2 innings, striking out five.

LHP Cole Irvin

164 1/3 15.9% 5.0% 8.8% 37.2% 3.94 4.02
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 41.3% 90.7 1956 52 83 80
Sinker 18.8% 90.4 1886 65 97 100
Changeup 23.0% 84.2 1585 75 66 92
Curveball 3.0% 76.7 2051 72
Slider 13.9% 82.9 2000 99 57 102

From a previous series preview:

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 nineteen starts with an excellent 3.42 ERA matched by a 3.64 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.

It feels like a Foltynewicz-level of outings against the Mariners, but this will only be Irvin’s fourth start against them this season. He has an ERA just a hair under nine in those previous three starts and lasted just three innings in his last outing against Seattle.

RHP James Kaprielian

111 1/3 24.2% 8.6% 11.7% 35.4% 3.80 4.30
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 52.5% 92.9 2030 64 124 100
Sinker 6.5% 92.4 1983 108 126 100
Changeup 16.1% 83.8 1287 118 73 107
Curveball 7.6% 78.0 2437 71 61 118
Slider 17.2% 85.1 2274 68 89 82

James Kaprielian has put together a phenomenal rookie season in 2021, starting 21 games and posting an excellent 3.80 ERA backed by a solid 4.30 FIP. He’s also thrown a combined 116 innings between the majors and minors, nearly double his previous season high back in 2019. Understandably, the A’s have been a bit more cautious with his usage, particularly since it looks like he’s worn down as the calendar flipped to August and September. There is a possibility that Chris Bassitt will be activated from the IL for this start. He’s been out since mid-August after being struck on the face by a line drive. His return would be a triumph after such a violent injury and would give the A’s rotation a major boost for the last two weeks of the season.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 88-61 0.591 -- W-W-W-L-W
Athletics 82-67 0.550 6.0 W-W-W-W-W
Mariners 80-69 0.537 8.0 L-L-W-L-W
Angels 72-77 0.483 16.0 W-W-L-L-L
Rangers 55-94 0.369 33.0 L-L-L-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 86-65 0.570 +1.0 W-W-W-W-W
Blue Jays 84-65 0.564 -- L-W-L-W-W
Yankees 83-67 0.553 1.5 W-L-W-L-L
Athletics 82-67 0.550 2.0 W-W-W-W-W
Mariners 80-69 0.537 4.0 L-L-W-L-W

Barring catastrophic collapse, Houston has the AL West tagged and bagged. They get four against the moribund Angels before finishing with a tough final nine - six with Oakland and three with Tampa. The A’s, of course, have destiny in their own hands on a technicality, with all their remaining matchups either against Seattle or those ‘Stros. As for the rest of the Wild Card, this week should be a fascinating one, as the Blue Jays face the division-leading Rays for three beginning tonight, then travel to Minnesota for four. The Yankees get a reprieve as they host the ghastly Rangers for three to start this week, before a Thursday off day and a massive final nine at Boston and Toronto, then coming home for three with Tampa to close the regular season. Boston, for their part, hosts both New York teams this week in what can rightfully be called the final major challenges of their season - two with the Mets and three with the Yankees before a Capital Region road trip with three against the Orioles and Nationals apiece to wrap things up.