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Series Preview: Mariners (81-68) at Athletics (46-103)

The Mariners head to Oakland hoping for an easy series win against the worst team in baseball.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

You know when you’re bummed out about something and someone says some version of “At least you’re not [insert example of someone worse off]”? And instead of making it better it just makes you madder? Yeah, that’s about how it feels to be the Seattle Mariners playing the Oakland Athletics this week.

After a truly fire August, September has been a bummer for the M’s. They’re 5-11 for the month and coming off a sweep at the hands of the Dodgers and watched them celebrate a division title on T-Mobile Park’s infield. The young starters have begun to flag and the offense was nowhere to be found this weekend. While the Athletics do put all this in perspective, at the moment the pain of losing is amplified by the fact that each of the losses matters. If Seattle can sweep the A’s, they’ll be right on the heels of the Astros and Rangers going into the final ten games of the season, played exclusively against the two Texas clubs.

At a Glance

Mariners Athletics
Mariners Athletics
Game 1 Monday, September 18 | 6:40 pm
RHP Bryan Woo LHP JP Sears
58% 42%
Game 2 Tuesday, September 19 | 6:40 pm
RHP Luis Castillo RHP Paul Blackburn
61% 39%
Game 3 Wednesday, September 20 | 12:37 pm
RHP George Kirby LHP Kyle Muller
61% 39%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 89 (12th in AL) 107 (4th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) -14 (13th) 13 (4th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 127 (15th) 91 (3rd) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 116 (15th) 90 (4th) Mariners

With thirteen games left in the season, the Athletics have already lost 103 (capped by the weekend’s sweep at the hands of the Padres). They’re the worst team in baseball, with the Royals the only others to have yet reached 100 losses. Two plotlines, then, remain. The first is the ongoing saga of John Fisher’s plan to move the A’s to Vegas. The MLB owners seem set to vote on the move in November, with 75% owner agreement needed for the move to proceed. The second plot line follows the development of the many prospects who have debuted for Oakland in the second half of the season. The most recent was Joe Boyle, the right handed pitcher who debuted as an opener yesterday and struck out four across three scoreless frames. Our sister site broke down his debut here.

Athletics Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Tony Kemp LF L 403 9.2% 10.4% 0.099 80
Ryan Noda 1B L 443 33.4% 15.8% 0.188 129
Zack Gelof 2B R 244 27.0% 8.6% 0.255 136
Seth Brown RF L 350 26.9% 8.0% 0.186 92
Shea Langeliers C R 457 29.1% 6.8% 0.199 83
Brent Rooker DH R 481 32.4% 9.4% 0.232 121
Lawrence Butler CF L 95 27.4% 3.2% 0.154 73
Jordan Diaz 3B R 266 24.4% 6.0% 0.154 86
Nick Allen SS R 289 15.2% 5.2% 0.064 51

Of the fourteen batters on the Athletics roster, four debuted this season and five debuted in 2022. The only players with an offensive fWAR over 2 are in the former group: rookie infielders Ryan Noda and Zack Gelof. Gelof leads the team in wRC+ (136) over 55 games; though this is well above league average, “leads the team” is a low bar to clear when all but three batters have wRC+ below 100. The third (besides Gelof and Noda) is Brent Rooker, Oakland’s sole All-Star this year and offensive leader for the first half of the season. Rooker’s 25 home runs also far outpace any of his teammates besides power-hitting catcher Shea Langaliers (20). Veteran outfielder Tony Kemp has had a good last month, and outfielder Esteury Ruiz remains wildly fast, his 59 stolen bases second most in the majors (perhaps he would have more had center fielder Lawrence Butler not made his debut last month and cut into Ruiz’ playing time).

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

LHP JP Sears

157 2/3 21.6% 6.7% 12.7% 28.4% 4.45 5.13
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 49.8% 93.0 93 101 98 0.349
Changeup 14.4% 84.0 84 70 92 0.379
Slider 12.6% 82.1 92 86 94 0.243
Sweeper 23.1% 81.0 92 86 112 0.305

From a previous series preview:

JP Sears made his major league debut last year and was involved in the big Frankie Montas trade last summer. His best pitch is a flat, four-seam fastball that he can command at the top of the zone to get plenty of whiffs. Unfortunately, he’s also prone to allowing tons of loud contact off that pitch when he misses his spots. He’s transformed his breaking ball from a slurvy slider into a true sweeper this year. That’s given him a second weapon in his arsenal to play off his heater. Unfortunately, his changeup is still a work-in-progress which means he’s struggling to keep right-handed batters at bay.

This will be Sears’s third outing against the Mariners this season. In his first two, he’s held the M’s to just a single run across a combined 11 innings.

RHP Paul Blackburn

95 2/3 22.7% 8.9% 9.9% 40.8% 4.14 3.88
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 14.1% 91.9 77 81 58 0.408
Sinker 24.3% 91.7 81 100 116 0.291
Cutter 20.6% 88.9 106 50 80 0.414
Changeup 10.7% 86.0 69 121 84 0.320
Curveball 11.6% 79.0 88 81 96 0.245
Slider 18.8% 80.7 90 101 96 0.263

Paul Blackburn has been the A’s best starter this year, leading the pitching staff with 1.5 fWAR despite missing nearly two months of the season after a spring finger injury. After a breakout season in 2022, he’s taken another pretty big step forward as far as his underlying metrics go this year. A new slider has helped him push his strikeout rate up to a career-high. He’s managed hard contact against him by mixing six different pitches in an effort to keep batters off balance. The only knock against him is a spike in walk rate, the result of pitching out of the zone a little more often to try and induce swings and misses.

LHP Kyle Muller

71 1/3 15.4% 10.8% 16.1% 43.0% 7.57 6.01
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 50.6% 93.4 85 69 103 0.463
Changeup 8.1% 87.8 75 131 39 0.262
Curveball 15.5% 81.3 97 92 98 0.261
Slider 25.8% 87.1 91 68 91 0.372

From a previous series preview:

Kyle Muller is back in the majors for his third stint with the big league club after getting optioned twice earlier this season. All this after he was the Opening Day starter for Oakland. Upon his return from Triple-A, he was firing his fastball nearly two ticks harder with improved results following. Even with the improved velocity, his command of his secondary offerings is spotty enough to undermine any progress he made with his fastball.

The A’s haven’t announced a starter for Wednesday’s game but it’ll almost certainly be some sort of bullpen game with an opener paired with a bulk pitcher. Muller is the most likely candidate to soak up most of the innings; he’s allowed six runs in each of his previous two outings against the M’s.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 84-66 0.560 -- L-W-L-L-W
Rangers 82-67 0.550 1.5 W-W-L-L-L
Mariners 81-68 0.544 2.5 W-W-L-L-L
Angels 68-82 0.453 16.0 L-L-L-L-L
Athletics 46-103 0.309 37.5 W-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Tampa Bay 92-59 0.609 +9.0 W-W-W-L-L
Blue Jays 83-67 0.553 +0.5 L-L-W-W-W
Rangers 82-67 0.550 -- W-W-L-L-L
Mariners 81-68 0.544 1.0 W-W-L-L-L

The Astros remain atop the AL West, their posture as familiar as the dominance of any big business whose monopoly seems to stretch everlasting. They kept that spot despite losing two of three this weekend to the Royals, and will play three starting today against the young, energetic Orioles who just clinched a playoff spot. Just a game and a half behind the Astros, and one ahead of the M’s in the division and for the third AL Wild Card, sit the Rangers. Texas got swept by the Guardians over the weekend, and their struggles with injury do seem to be taking effect. They’ll play three against the Red Sox before hosting the Mariners next weekend. The Wild Card seems to be a three-team race at this point, with Texas, Seattle, and Toronto battling for the final two spots (as the Rays decisively hold the first). The Blue Jays have the number two spot and a half-game lead over the Rangers, and play the Yankees starting Tuesday.