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Oakland A's-Mariners series preview: Get out of last place

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A series win lifts the Athletics out of last place once again. A series loss would be an inauspicious start to the second half of Oakland's season.

Robinson Cano is enjoying a recent power surge for the Seattle Mariners.
Robinson Cano is enjoying a recent power surge for the Seattle Mariners.
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Athletics (36-45) must overcome three left-handers and Felix Hernandez as they face the Seattle Mariners (36-42) in a series that may finally separate dark horse contenders from last place also rans. The A's own a 4-14 record in games started by an opposing left-handed pitcher, and an 0-2 record in games started by Felix Hernandez.

Aiding the A's in their quest will be a Seattle Mariners offense that continues to sputter in the American League, owning last or next-to-last place marks in average, on base, and slugging, resulting in an AL-worst 3.42 runs per game.

This will be the third meeting of the year for these two clubs, with the Mariners holding a 5-1 edge after winning two of three at the Coliseum in April and sweeping three games at Safeco Field in the midst of Oakland's season-high six-game losing streak.

The Mariners come to town after sweeping a two-game series in San Diego and losing two of three in Anaheim before that. Seattle is 9.5 games behind the Houston Astros and 5.0 games out of the AL Wild Card. Oakland is 11.0 behind Houston and 6.5 out of the Wild Card.

On the mound

Starter Ranks
Mariners AL Rank A's
3rd (3.70) ERA 1st (3.05)
6th (3.88) FIP 1st (3.37)
7th (3.81) xFIP 6th (3.76)

The A's avoid the Taijuan Walker renaissance (1.68 ERA in last seven starts), but they must face left-handers Roenis Elias, J.A. Happ, and Mike Montgomery. Oh yeah, throw Felix Hernandez in there too why don't ya.

Oakland is hitting .240/.321/.358 against left-handed pitching. The Athletics wRC+ facing left-handed pitching is 94, 12th out of 15 in the American League, though it is a long way to 13th (Rangers at 83) and 15th (White Sox at 56). The A's actually own the second highest walk rate against lefties (10.1%) and fourth lowest strikeout rate (17.4%) but they are not hitting lefties with any authority (13th in isolated power at .118).

Thursday vs. LHP Roenis Elias
Thursday (7:05 PM PDT)
Roenis Elias vs. Scott Kazmir
4.25 ERA 2.79
4.56 FIP 3.37
4.34 xFIP 3.65
18.7% K% 22.7%
7.9% BB% 8.8%
1.05 GB/FB 1.30

Roenis Elias, 26, re-joined the Seattle rotation in late April, and has been a steady contributor for the most party. He has struggled recently, however, exiting in the fourth inning in two of his last three starts to push his ERA from 2.79 to 4.25. His number of home runs allowed is elevated just a touch, 1.25 HR/9, up from 0.88 in his rookie 2014 campaign.

Elias throws a 92 mph fastball, change, curve, and sinker, according to Brooks Baseball. He'll turn to the curveball noticeably more frequently when he is ahead in the count. The Mariners are 4-8 in his starts and he has not yet faced Oakland this season.

Friday vs. LHP J.A. Happ
Friday (6:05 PM PDT)
J.A. Happ vs. Jesse Chavez
3.89 ERA 3.02
3.54 FIP 2.89
3.88 xFIP 3.62
18.6% K% 21.2%
6.1% BB% 6.3%
1.15 GB/FB 1.14

Thirty-two-year-old veteran J.A. Happ is enjoying the expansive confines of Safeco Field where, despite a 1.15 GB/FB ratio, only 8.4 percent of his fly balls have gone out for home runs. He's walking batters at a career low 6.1 percent rate. Despite this, he has only as many starts exceeding six innings than at or below that mark, and his season high is a 100 pitch effort to go 7⅓ innings on April 22.

Happ has faced Oakland in both series, earning no decision in Seattle's 5-4 win on April 11 where he pitched 6⅓ innings while allowing two runs and seven hits; he struck out just one and allowed no walks. On May 9, Happ pitched five innings and allowed one runs and four hits; he struck out eight and walked two and was credited with the win in a 7-2 Mariners victory.

Happ throws a 93 mph fastball, sinker, curve, change and cutter, says Brooks Baseball.

Saturday vs. RHP Felix Hernandez
Saturday (1:05 PM PDT)
Felix Hernandez vs. Kendall Graveman
3.05 ERA 3.47
3.42 FIP 3.55
3.06 xFIP 3.83
24.6% K% 15.2%
7.6% BB% 6.0%
2.33 GB/FB 2.37

Baseball twitter is doing its "What's wrong with Felix Hernandez" thing while Felix Hernandez is still probably a top 10 pitcher in the AL Cy Young voting, if you trust the Neyer/James Cy Young predictor. Sure Hernandez endured the worst start of his career on June 12, getting only one out and charged with eight runs against the Houston Astros. He still has a 3.05 ERA despite that outing, which is just ridiculous.

Hernandez faced Oakland in both series, and his team won both games. The Mariners won 8-7 in extra innings on April 12 after Hernandez left his start as a precaution against a possible injury after five innings and 81 pitches. He had given up three runs and eight hits to that point while striking only one and walking two. On May 10, Hernandez earned the win in another one-run game, Seattle winning 4-3 after Hernandez went seven innings. He gave up two runs on five hits, striking out six and walking one.

Hernandez throws a 92 mph sinker, change, curve, 93 mph fastball, slider, and cutter, according to Brooks Baseball. He does not throw the slider or cutter to left-handed batters.

Sunday vs. LHP Mike Montgomery
Sunday (1:05 PM PDT)
Mike Montgomery vs. Sonny Gray Chris Bassitt
1.62 ERA 2.09 2.87
3.02 FIP 2.67 4.81
4.11 xFIP 3.30 5.67
17.0% K% 22.9% 16.2%
7.0% BB% 6.1% 13.2%
1.30 GB/FB 1.69 0.89

Mike Montgomery was called up to replace the injured James Paxton in early June. He has made six starts, and comes into Sunday's contest on the heels of back-to-back shutouts of the Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres. The Mariners picked up Montgomery form the Tampa Bay Rays for Erasmo Ramirez. His walks allowed are a little bit high, he has already given up 12 in 44⅓ innings. Montgomery has struck out 29 batters, including 17 in his last two starts.

Montgomery has done well to avoid conceding home runs in his recent minor league career. In Triple-A Tacoma he allowed just two home runs in 53 innings. With the Rays in 2013 and 2014, he allowed 0.75 and 0.64 HR/9, respectively, in Triple-A. Can the A's show better plate discipline than the Royals and Padres did in his shutouts?

At the plate and in the field

Mariners AL Ranks A's
15th (3.42) RS/G 5th (4.44)
14th (88) wRC+ 6th (104)
T-6th (81) HR T-10th (68)
15th (.231) AVG 5th (.259)
15th (.293) OBP 5th (.323)
14th (.376) SLG 8th (.398)
6th (.145) ISO 12th (.139)
12th (30) SB 5th (48)
6th (39) Errors 15th (73)
11th (-8) DRS 8th (3)
10th (-7.3) UZR 14th (-23.9)
7th (.717) DE 6th (.718)

Despite a recent power surge from second baseman Robinson Cano, the Seattle Mariners over the last two weeks are last in wRC+ in the American League, with 80. Cano has hit three home runs in his last eight games but still owns an 82 wRC+ for the year, which is just a little bit better than Max Muncy's performance.

One thing the Mariners are doing today is adding infielder Chris Taylor to the roster while designating Willie Bloomquist for assignment. Bloomquist's .159/.194/.174 line over 72 plate appearances gave him a wRC+ of two.

The Mariners will find themselves quite vulnerable to Oakland's own left-handed starter, Scott Kazmir, who goes on Thursday. Seattle is barely better than the A's at hitting lefties, with a 96 wRC+ versus Oakland's 94.

Sogard Line

The Eric Sogard Line is Sogard's wRC+, representing my gut feel for what represents serviceable offensive production for a bottom of the order hitter with a good glove, but you probably don't want more than one or two of those in your lineup.

Sogard's wRC+ fell from 69 to 68 after he went 1-for-8 with a walk against the Colorado Rockies. The Mariners have given 22 percent of their non-pitcher plate appearances to batters with a wRC+ below Sogard's, with Mike Zunino owning a plurality of those trips to the plate (56 wRC+ in 241 plate appearances). Dustin Ackley's 170 plate appearances just avoids the line as he has a 70 wRC+.

Here is how the Sogard Line has moved in recent series, and the percentage of plate appearances opponents have given to batters below that line at the start of the series:

Bullpen

Bullpen Ranks
Mariners AL Ranks A's
10th (230.0) IP 13th (222.2)
8th (3.64) ERA 15th (4.37)
9th (3.86) FIP 10th (4.06)
10th (3.99) xFIP 11th (4.00)

Now that Carson Smith is sharing(?) the closer role with Fernando Rodney, Seattle's bullpen situation has calmed down. Smith is an ideal closer, striking out nearly a third of the batters he faces and walking just one in 20. Smith is 5-for-6 in save opportunities, with his one blown save coming against the A's before he was moved into the closer role. He allowed an inherited runner on third base to score on a Brett Lawrie double that tied the game in the eighth inning.

Between two off days and Mike Montgomery's shutout on June 30, the Mariners bullpen has enjoyed three complete days off in the last week.

2015 Stats Recent usage (pitch count from www.rosterresource.com)
Player Hand IP ERA K% BB% GB/FB 1-Jul 30-Jun 29-Jun 28-Jun 27-Jun 26-Jun 25-Jun
Carson Smith R 31.0 1.45 31.6% 5.1% 2.63
O
F
F

D
A
Y
8 10
O
F
F

D
A
Y
Fernando Rodney R 32.0 5.34 18.2% 11.2% 1.41 17 19 12
Charlie Furbush L 19.2 2.29 18.9% 5.4% 1.32 4 3
Mark Lowe R 22.2 0.79 28.4% 10.5% 1.29 19 2 22
Vidal Nuno L 25.0 2.16 29.3% 6.1% 0.93 4
Joe Beimel L 21.1 3.38 12.8% 9.3% 1.57 15
Tom Wilhelmsen R 24.0 4.50 25.5% 10.0% 1.38 11 14

The games and promotions

Friday night's game is at 6:05 PM to allow time for an evening fireworks show. With Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ starting, however, the game pace might be so quick that you'll have to wait for a little while for the show to begin. Friday's sunset is at 8:35 PM. On Sunday, the A's are giving away tote bags to 20,000 fans.

Time (PT) Probable starters TV Promotion
Thursday 7:05 PM Roenis Elias vs. Scott Kazmir CSNCA
Friday 6:05 PM J.A. Happ vs. Jesse Chavez CSNCA Salute to Armed Forces Fireworks
Saturday 1:05 PM Felix Hernandez vs. Kendall Graveman CSNCA
Sunday 1:05 PM Mike Montgomery vs. TBD CSNCA Tote Bag