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Series Preview: Mariners (86-70) vs. Athletics (85-71)

The Mariners begin their final homestand of the regular season with a three-game series against the A’s.

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, but the Mariners managed to keep pace in the AL Wild Card race with a series win in Anaheim over the weekend. After the 14-1 blowout on Saturday, it felt like the window was slammed shut, but they found a way to beat the Angels on Sunday despite a phenomenal performance from Shohei Ohtani on the mound. The Mariners now enter the final week of the season within striking distance of 91 wins and the second Wild Card slot. They’ll need a ton of help from various teams around the league to bring their AL East rivals down. First, they’ll need to take care of business against the Athletics.

At a Glance

Athletics Mariners
Athletics Mariners
Game 1 Monday, September 27 | 7:10 pm
LHP Cole Irvin RHP Chris Flexen
47% 53%
Game 2 Tuesday, September 28 | 7:10 pm
RHP Chris Bassitt TBD
55% 45%
Game 3 Wednesday, September 29 | 7:10 pm
RHP Frankie Montas RHP Logan Gilbert
53% 47%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 102 (7th in AL) 93 (11th in AL) Athletics
Fielding (OAA) 24 (5th) -6 (9th) Athletics
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 93 (3rd) 111 (12th) Athletics
Bullpen (FIP-) 102 (11th) 90 (4th) Mariners

It definitely seemed like the Mariners had crushed the A’s postseason hopes after their four-game sweep last week. Instead, Oakland went ahead and swept the Astros over the weekend to gain a game in the standings. To stay alive in the race, the A’s need to overcome this Mariners team that has controlled the season series throughout the year. Seattle has gone 12-4 against them with a +4 run differential. Ten of those wins have had a 1- or 2-run margin of victory which makes the season series seem a lot closer than it’s actually felt.

Yusei Kikuchi is technically the listed starter for Tuesday’s game, but I would be shocked if he actually made that start. All indications point to Matt Brash being called up to make his major league debut in the middle of a postseason race. Depending on how they shuffle all their pieces to get Brash on the 40-man and the active roster, Kikuchi could be available in a relief role if a piggyback starter is needed.

Athletics Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Josh Harrison SS R 545 0.319 107 -0.7
Starling Marte CF R 512 0.372 134 11.5
Matt Olson 1B L 647 0.269 148 -0.2
Mark Canha LF R 605 0.275 116 2.5
Seth Brown RF L 285 0.235 95 -0.1
Matt Chapman 3B R 605 0.276 103 1.6
Tony Kemp 2B L 372 0.298 121 3.9
Khris Davis DH R 102 0.254 71 -0.5
Yan Gomes C R 360 0.293 98 -1.4

While the A’s managed to stave off elimination with their sweep of the Astros, it came at a cost; they lost two members of their lineup to injuries over the weekend: Jed Lowrie sprained his hand and Elvis Andrus fractured his fibula. Losing those two isn’t a huge blow like losing Matt Olson or Starling Marte could have been, but the knockon effects could be significant. Josh Harrison is now forced to play out of position at shortstop and Tony Kemp and Khris Davis have been pushed into everyday roles at second base and designated hitter. Harrison hasn’t played shortstop regularly since 2012, accumulating under 50 innings at the position since that season. Kemp has been a phenomenal role player for the A’s this year, so getting a shot at a full-time role is a nice opportunity for him. Davis has hit .256/.293/.359 since his return to Oakland at the beginning of September — oh so close to his trademark .247 batting average.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

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

LHP Cole Irvin

169 1/3 16.1% 5.2% 9.4% 37.2% 3.99 4.15
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 41.4% 90.7 1957 52 80 83
Sinker 18.6% 90.4 1886 64 98 104
Changeup 22.5% 84.2 1585 75 67 92
Curveball 3.0% 76.8 2053 73
Slider 14.5% 83.0 2005 101 59 103

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.

Irvin will get one final shot to prove that he can actually handle the Mariners. This will be his fifth start against them and his last outing was an improvement. He allowed three runs in five innings on seven hits and three walks. That brought his ERA against the Mariners down to 7.56, though they’re still hitting .377 against him.

RHP Chris Bassitt

154 25.4% 5.8% 9.7% 42.7% 3.16 3.29
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 18.8% 93.3 2170 68 120 87
Sinker 36.4% 92.8 2116 104 103 81
Cutter 17.8% 88.9 2220 92 89 102
Changeup 10.1% 85.3 1958 115 62 99
Curveball 6.5% 71.7 2327 92 118 106
Slider 10.4% 76.9 2333 70 105 95

Chris Bassitt made his triumphant return from the Injured List against the Mariners last week. His scary facial injury seemed like it should have ended his season, but he somehow managed to overcome both the physical and mental hurdles to climb back up on the hill this year. He threw just three innings and 48 pitches in his first start off the Injured List and will likely be limited to around fiving innings or 70 pitches on Tuesday. The Mariners will likely see James Kaprielian out of the bullpen if the A’s need some bulk innings after Bassitt hits his limits.

RHP Frankie Montas

181 26.6% 7.4% 11.6% 41.8% 3.48 3.43
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 28.8% 96.4 2399 167 109 87
Sinker 29.2% 96.2 2309 127 112 97
Splitter 22.4% 87.5 1599 91 159 79
Slider 19.6% 89.0 2468 118 84 79

From a previous series preview:

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.

After an ugly eight-run implosion against the Rangers back on June 21, Frankie Montas has allowed three runs or fewer in 15 of his last 16 starts. He had really struggled with the consistency of his splitter earlier in the season but has really found a grove in the second half and has been a major reason why the A’s have managed to stick around on the fringes of the playoff race. He faced the Mariners once before this season back on May 24 and allowed four runs in six innings, striking out 11.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 91-65 0.583 -- W-L-L-L-L
Mariners 86-70 0.551 5.0 W-W-W-L-W
Athletics 85-71 0.545 6.0 L-L-W-W-W
Angels 74-82 0.474 17.0 L-W-L-W-L
Rangers 57-99 0.365 34.0 L-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 89-67 0.571 +1.0 W-W-W-W-W
Red Sox 88-68 0.564 -- W-W-L-L-L
Blue Jays 87-69 0.558 1.0 L-L-L-W-W
Mariners 86-70 0.551 2.0 W-W-W-L-W
Athletics 85-71 0.545 3.0 L-L-W-W-W

In a crazy twist of fate, the Yankees swept the Red Sox in three games over the weekend to take the lead in the AL Wild Card race. That really complicates the calculus for the Mariners. The Yankees and Blue Jays face each other early this week, so let’s breakdown the various scenarios in that series:

  • Yankees sweep: A three-game sweep by the Yankees would likely punch their ticket into the postseason. It would give New York 92 wins and knock the Blue Jays nearly out of the running. This is probably the best outcome for the Mariners since it would push the Blue Jays behind them in the standings, leaving the Red Sox as the only team to beat.
  • Yankees series win: The Yankees winning two games is probably the worst case scenario. That gets them to the coveted 91 win threshold while also giving Toronto a path to 91 wins if they sweep their final series against Baltimore.
  • Blue Jays series win: The Blue Jays winning two games is a so-so outcome. That gives Toronto a path to 92 wins with a sweep of the Orioles and it means the Yankees simply need to win once against the Rays to get to 91 wins. If this happens, the Mariners best hope is likely to force a potential tie breaking Game 163.
  • Blue Jays sweep: If the Blue Jays sweep, it puts them in the driver’s seat for the top slot in the Wild Card race. It also means the Yankees need to win twice against the Rays to get to 91 wins. That’s an acceptable outcome.

All of these scenarios ignore what happens with the Red Sox, who still hold the second Wild Card spot with a pretty weak schedule during the final week. They travel to Baltimore and Washington to close the season needing at least four wins to realistically clinch their postseason berth.

This also doesn’t take into account the Astros who suddenly have to beat the Rays and A’s to clinch the AL West crown. Technically, the division is still up for grabs. A scenario where the Rays sweep the Astros to claim the first seed in the AL and the A’s win their series against the Astros during the final weekend puts the division in play for the Mariners which is an insane thought.

Of course, if the Rays sweep the Astros, it means they won’t have any thing to play for against the Yankees during the final weekend of the season, giving New York a better shot at getting the wins they need in the Wild Card race. There are no easy answers for the Mariners — every scenario is complicated — so focusing on winning their remaining games needs to be their priority. Let the AL East and Astros sort themselves out.

All of the AL East teams and the Astros are off on Monday so there won’t be any scoreboard watching tonight and a ton of it on the Thursday off day.