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Series Preview: Mariners (29-39) at Athletics (23-45)

The Mariners head to Oakland for the first time this season.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Oakland Athletics Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

What a time to be alert and adjacent to Mariners baseball. After a catastrophic series that culminated in five Mike Trout homers, two bullpen DFAs, thousands of comments about firing Scott Servais, and a shockingly singable 21-inning scoreless streak, it’s safe to say we’ve totaled a fun differential of exactly zero. Luckily a mid-week trip to take on the A’s is about as soft of a landing as the M’s could imagine.

At least the Coliseum should be quiet and peaceful.

At a Glance

Mariners Athletics
Mariners Athletics
Game 1 Tuesday, June 21 | 6:40 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP James Kaprielian
53% 47%
Game 2 Wednesday, June 22 | 6:40 pm
RHP George Kirby RHP Paul Blackburn
53% 47%
Game 3 Thursday, June 23 | 12:37 pm
LHP Robbie Ray RHP Frankie Montas
50% 50%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 78 (14th in AL) 106 (5th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) -3 (10th) 4 (7th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 114 (13th) 112 (11th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 101 (10th) 108 (13th) Athletics

The A’s took two of three from the Mariners back in May, the only time the teams have met thus far in 2022. Since then, the A’s have dropped seven consecutive series en route to a decidedly grim 4-18 record. On the season, Oakland currently sports the AL’s worst record (23-45) and second-worst run differential (-93).

Of course, from Oakland’s perspective this is somewhat by design; the team is reaping the consequences of an emphatically Fünke-esque fire sale, having jettisoned four of their six most valuable hitters from 2021 (Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Mark Canha, and Starling Marte) and two of three three top pitchers (Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea) via trades and free agency.

The M’s will still have to contend with Oakland’s two best two pitchers this series in Paul Blackburn and Frankie Montas, so runs may continue to be hard to come by. (Fun fact: Blackburn, who is having a breakout year, came over from the Cubs as part of the Daniel Vogelbach/Mike Montgomery trade in 2016, and was promptly flipped that offseason for Danny “fists of fury” Valencia. Oops).

Athletics Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Tony Kemp 2B L 244 0.257 80 0.9
Jonah Bride 3B R 21 0.316 103 -0.4
Seth Brown LF L 220 0.250 101 1.4
Ramón Laureano RF R 151 0.286 105 0.5
Jed Lowrie DH S 159 0.234 64 -0.4
Christian Bethancourt 1B R 145 0.306 102 -0.2
Sean Murphy C R 246 0.257 102 -1.0
Elvis Andrus SS R 230 0.249 86 1.2
Cristian Pache CF R 193 0.211 28 -0.6

Under first-year manager Mark Kotsay, the Oakland A’s offense has been almost irredeemably bad. They trail MLB in a few key categories including team batting average (.210) and OBP (.274). Worse yet, there is very little to be encouraged by moving forward.

Ramon Laurenao returned from a PED suspension in May and has immediately become the club’s most consistent hitter with a wRC+ of 105, which isn’t saying a whole lot when the bar is on the ground.

Sean Murphy has actually been one of the better catchers in baseball this year due largely to his excellent defense, complemented by a league average bat with a bit of pop. He leads A’s hitters with 1.7 WAR.

And in his first MLB action since 2017(!) journeyman Christian Bethancourt has become a fixture near the top of the A’s lineup, sporting a 168 wRC+ in June. (Bethancourt spent some time in the KBO, then bopped around a handful of minor league systems before finally getting a shot on a depleted A’s roster this season, mostly at first base).

After that, it’s a whole lotta nothing.

Once and future A’s Stephen Vogt and Jed Lowrie (on their second and third stints with the club respectively) aren’t the players they once were. Meanwhile, noted Mariner Killers™ Elvis Andrus and Tony Kemp have been puttering along near replacement value.

Centerfielder Cristian Pache, former top prospect and crown jewel of the Matt Olson trade (along with catching prospect Shea Langeliers) has been abysmal to start the year slashing .161/.209/.228, which rolls up to a whopping wRC+ of 28.

Entering this series, the A’s lineup remains a patchwork of unproven youngsters and reclamation projects pulled off the scrap heap. That story is unlikely to change in 2022.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Cleveland Guardians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

RHP James Kaprielian

41 1/3 14.7% 9.8% 16.1% 36.8% 6.31 6.49
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 54.8% 93.6 2030 82 71 109
Changeup 9.5% 84.5 1401 121
Curveball 11.5% 79.0 2466 96
Slider 23.0% 86.8 2196 106 96 97

From a previous series preview:

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.

The Mariners knocked Kaprielian around in their previous meeting in May; he allowed five runs on seven hits and one walk, striking out just three.

RHP Paul Blackburn

71 2/3 17.7% 5.9% 5.5% 50.5% 2.26 3.09
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 10.4% 91.6 2145 40 100 87
Sinker 35.1% 91.7 2012 89 79 91
Cutter 17.7% 87.0 2485 119 109 80
Changeup 13.0% 86.0 1830 62 90 105
Curveball 19.2% 78.8 2601 126 103 115
Slider 4.5% 79.0 2546 77

From a previous series preview:

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.

Blackburn showed some uncharacteristic poor command during his previous start in Seattle; he walked five but allowed just a single hit to hold the Mariners scoreless over 5.1 innings.

RHP Frankie Montas

81 2/3 25.2% 6.0% 12.9% 47.6% 3.53 3.28
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 27.4% 96.0 2352 162 137 79
Sinker 21.9% 95.5 2237 131 110 145
Cutter 8.3% 89.2 2396 98 110 86
Splitter 26.2% 86.3 1423 122 98 103
Slider 16.2% 86.9 2412 120 121 161

You can probably count the number of remaining Frankie Montas starts on the A’s on one hand. The best player who wasn’t purged during their offseason fire sale, he has led their depleted rotation through the first half of the season. Back in 2019, he added a splitter to his arsenal which helped him post a breakout season before a PED suspension cut it short. Some inconsistency with that pitch led to a big step back in the shortened 2020 season but he seemingly figured things out last year. He’s throwing the split more than ever this year and the positive results have followed. He should net a huge haul of prospects closer to the trade deadline, further fueling the A’s rebuild.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 41-25 0.621 -- W-W-W-L-W
Angels 33-37 0.471 10.0 L-W-W-W-L
Rangers 31-35 0.470 10.0 L-W-W-L-L
Mariners 29-39 0.426 13.0 L-W-L-L-L
Athletics 23-45 0.338 19.0 L-W-L-L-W

Houston has cooled off in June with a 9-7 record on the month, but continue to pace the AL West. The injury bug has bitten them a bit recently: the American League’s second-best rookie Jeremy Peña hit the IL a week ago with a left thumb injury, and slugger Yordan Álvarez has been day-to-day with a hand injury after inking a 6-year $115M extension earlier this month. They won their weekend series against the White Sox and start a short two-game series against the Mets today.

Following their 14-game Nickelback-fueled losing streak, the Angels appear to have righted the ship under new manager Phil Nevin. They sit neck-and-neck with the Rangers who are still clinging to relevance despite a 7-11 June record. They couldn’t parlay their dominance over the Mariners into sustained success on Monday; they lost the first game of a series against the Royals yesterday.

After pushing their record back towards .500 with a 17-10 record in May, the Rangers have floundered a bit in June with a 7-11 record this month. They split a four-game series against the Tigers over the weekend and will face the Phillies twice this week.

The M’s and A’s will duke it out in this week’s edition of Battle for the Basement. Or is it the Struggle for the Cellar? (Melee for the Waylaid? Scrap for the Crap? I dunno, let’s just hope the M’s score some dang runs).