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Series Preview: Mariners (17-25) vs. Athletics (17-26)

The Mariners limp home to face the A’s for the first time this season.

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

After their long East Coast road trip and a cross-country flight on Sunday night, the Mariners are back at it on Monday night. More importantly, they won’t get any respite after getting swept away in Boston. An ugly series like that almost demands an off day to get their heads straight and figure out a way to get back on the right track. It’s a small mercy, then, that the Athletics are in town for a three-game series before their off day at home on Thursday. It’s hard to say any series is “must-win” when we’re just a quarter of the way through the season, but the Mariners desperately need to string together some wins, if only to help remind us to enjoy the ride.

At a Glance

Athletics Mariners
Athletics Mariners
Game 1 Monday, May 23 | 6:40 pm
LHP Zach Logue LHP Marco Gonzales
41% 59%
Game 2 Tuesday, May 24 | 6:40 pm
RHP James Kaprielian RHP George Kirby
36% 64%
Game 3 Wednesday, May 25 | 1:10 pm
RHP Paul Blackburn LHP Robbie Ray
36% 64%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 77 (14th in AL) 109 (5th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) 3 (6th) 1 (8th) Athletics
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 106 (8th) 124 (15th) Athletics
Bullpen (FIP-) 95 (5th) 106 (12th) Athletics

Because of the delayed start to the season and the quirks of MLB scheduling, this will be the first time the Mariners and A’s have matched up this year. Last year, Seattle won 15 of the 19 games between these two teams — and that was with an Oakland roster that was desperately trying to squeeze one last good year out of their talented core. They tore down that roster over the offseason — Chris Bassitt and Matt’s Chapman and Olson were traded away and Mark Canha and Starling Marte departed in free agency. What’s left is a roster filled with young prospects and the leftover veterans trying to establish their value before getting traded away in July. As you’d expect, they haven’t been very good.

What’s unexpected has been the competence of their pitching staff. Yes, they still have Frankie Montas leading their rotation — thankfully the Mariners avoid facing him during this series — but they’ve also gotten solid contributions from Cole Irvin and Paul Blackburn and their bullpen has been much better than advertised. They’re allowing under four runs per game so far, a mark that’s just a bit better than league average with the deadened ball depressing run scoring across baseball.

Athletics Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Tony Kemp 2B L 159 0.235 72 0.4
Sheldon Neuse 3B R 150 0.354 106 0.9
Jed Lowrie DH S 93 0.279 104 -0.1
Seth Brown 1B L 133 0.235 85 1.4
Ramón Laureano RF R 58 0.216 82 -0.2
Sean Murphy C R 161 0.255 92 -0.3
Chad Pinder LF R 105 0.361 95 -0.5
Elvis Andrus SS R 134 0.253 82 0.9
Cristian Pache CF R 130 0.193 26 -0.6

While their pitching staff has been halfway decent, Oakland’s lineup has been completely atrocious. They’re last in the majors in nearly every significant offensive category and only the hapless Tigers have scored fewer runs than they have. The team leader in wRC+ is Sheldon Neuse, a journeyman infielder in his second stint with the A’s. He’s currently batting .261/.320/.355, a career-best slash line for him. The lack of power is conspicuous, and that goes for the entire lineup. Just two of their regulars have an ISO above league average, Seth Brown and Sean Murphy. Those two share the team lead with four home runs apiece. Ramón Laureano returned from his early season PED suspension a couple of weeks ago but he’s struggled to make much of an impact so far.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Game One-Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Zach Logue

17 2/3 18.9% 6.8% 6.7% 25.9% 2.04 3.83
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 45.3% 90.1 2016 29 87 95
Changeup 15.5% 81.3 1840
Curveball 11.8% 76.7 2464
Slider 27.4% 85.5 2257 97

Zach Logue was one of the prospects that came back from Toronto in the big Matt Chapman trade this offseason. He enjoyed a breakout season in the minors last year, putting up a 28.2% strikeout rate across two levels in the Blue Jays minor league system. His low arm slot and riding action on his four-seam fastball allow it to play up over its below average velocity. He’ll mix in a changeup and a pair of breaking balls pretty evenly and he has decent command of his entire repertoire. In three major league starts, he’s allowed just four runs and struck out 13.

RHP James Kaprielian

18 21.1% 13.2% 15.0% 42.0% 4.50 5.15
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 44.4% 93.5 2056 74 66 121
Changeup 10.6% 84.2 1366
Curveball 13.1% 79.3 2454
Slider 29.7% 87.3 2183 110 113 99

James Kaprielian missed nearly three and half years of development after multiple injuries to his throwing arm kept him off the mound from early 2016 through 2018. Finally completely healthy, he made 21 starts for the A’s last year and enjoyed some solid success. He posted a 4.07 ERA that was backed by a 4.33 FIP and a decent 3.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Those injury concerns cropped up again this spring, as some shoulder irritation sidelined him until May 1. He has a solid four-pitch repertoire with his slider and changeup grading out much better than his mediocre fastball.

RHP Paul Blackburn

42 1/3 20.7% 4.3% 3.7% 51.2% 1.91 2.29
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 10.0% 91.6 2152 38
Sinker 36.0% 91.7 2018 91 83 94
Cutter 15.6% 86.5 2481 95 159 53
Changeup 17.0% 86.0 1829 51 98 65
Curveball 15.4% 79.2 2621 125 105 61
Slider 5.9% 78.9 2545

Nearly an afterthought on the A’s 40-man roster after putting up a 5.74 ERA across his first five seasons in the big leagues, Paul Blackburn has broken out in his best season yet. A soft-tosser who relies on a deep repertoire and good command, he’s figured out a way to get batters to swing and miss at more of his pitches in the zone rather than trying to get them to chase out of the zone. His in-zone contact rate has fallen from around 90% for his career to 84.4% this season and his overall contact rate has dropped to 75.1%, one of the lowest rates among qualified starters. When batters do make contact with his pitches, they’ve struggled to make quality contact too. The result has been one of the more unlikely breakout seasons in the majors.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 27-15 0.643 -- L-W-L-W-W
Angels 26-17 0.605 1.5 L-L-L-W-W
Rangers 18-22 0.450 8.0 W-L-W-L-L
Mariners 17-25 0.405 10.0 W-L-L-L-L
Athletics 17-26 0.395 10.5 W-L-W-L-L

Both the Astros and Angels got their seasons back on track after a couple of stumbles early last week. Houston scored just 12 runs against the Rangers in their four-game weekend series but came away with three wins, a testament to the strength of their pitching staff. They’ll host the Guardians to start this week. The Angels won two of three against the A’s after getting swept by the Rangers. They’ll match up with Texas again in a brief two-game set before their schedule gets really difficult; they have series against the Blue Jays, Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, Mets, and Dodgers lined up after that.