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Series #5: Athletics at Mariners - Crumbling Throne

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MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Mariners’ Current Record: 6-4, third place in the AL West, 1.5 games ahead of the A’s

Possible Lineup:

CF- Dee Gordon

SS- Jean Segura

2B- Robinson Cano

DH- Nelson Cruz

RF- Mitch Haniger

3B- Kyle Seager

LF- Guillermo Heredia

1B- Dan Vogelbach

C- David Freitas

Probable Starting Pitchers:

Mike Leake

Marco Gonzales

Felix Hernandez

Recent Bullpen Usage:

The Mariners had an offday on Thursday, so just about anyone in the bullpen should be ready to go for Friday night, if necessary. The bullpen has relied most heavily on Dan Altavilla, Edwin Diaz, and Juan Nicasio in the early going, as each of those three relievers have appeared in half of the Mariners’ games so far.

Hottest Hitter(s):

The Mariners’ top of the lineup has been wreaking havoc on the competition on this young season. Dee Gordon has a .378 OBP and five stolen bases in ten games of action, making him the prototypical leadoff hitter. Batting behind Gordon is Jean Segura, who has an OPS of .854 and has the most doubles on the team, and Robinson Cano, who has reached base in more than half of his plate appearances with a .537 OBP. With Nelson Cruz returning to the lineup, the top of the order stands to get a fourth elite bat.

Coldest Hitter(s):

For as strong as the top of the order has been, the second half of the lineup has really struggled. Ryon Healy has been the worst of the bunch, though he has also been battling injuries all season, possessing a paltry .267 OPS in six games this year, and Ichiro has only managed five singles in seven games at the plate in his return to Seattle.

Hottest Pitcher(s):

The back of the Mariners’ bullpen has really saved the pitching staff as a whole for the Mariners. Dan Altavilla and Edwin Diaz have been phenomenal, only surrendering one run between the two of them in ten total innings pitched. Diaz, in particular, hasn’t given up any hits or walks in any of his appearances (with a few hit-batters tossed in), and has twelve strikeouts.

Coldest Pitcher(s):

This season has not been kind to the Mariners’ starting rotation, so far. Felix Hernandez has continued to regress and no longer looks like the unbeatable force that plagued Oakland for more than a decade. James Paxton has been better, a full run better, for what it’s worth, but he still has a 5.74 ERA. With all of their off-days in the early going, the Mariners have been relying on a four man rotation, but it is already clear that more help is needed.

Key Injuries:

The Mariners have been severely hampered by injuries this April. Ryon Healy has been banged-up all year and is currently on the DL with a sprained ankle. Nelson Cruz is now poised to return from a sprained ankle after only being able to play two games this year. Former A’s (temporary) farmhand David Freitas is starting for the Mariners because Mike Zunino went down with a strained oblique, as did outfielder Ben Gamel. On the pitching side, David Phelps is out for the season in a mighty blow to the Mariners’ strong bullpen, and Erasmo Ramirez has been shelved with a shoulder strain.

* * *

The A’s have been strong, but inconsistent, in just about every facet of their game so far. The team can score just one run over two games, then erupt for fifteen in the next. The team can survive a poor performance from a starting pitcher with a deep and flexible bullpen. For every flub made in the corner outfield spots, nightly web gems are made on the corner infield spots. Such is watching a team composed of young, super-talented, super-raw ballplayers in a bridge year. But this series the team can make some headway and get back into the competition, facing the bottom of a struggling Mariners’ rotation before getting a crack at a hollowed King Felix. Third place, and .500 are in reach if the team continues to grow and put things together with more consistency.

It took the A’s fourteen games to get to the inevitable Mariners series. The Mariners had another offseason filled with moving parts and changing roles, but, so far anyhow, still find themselves toiling away in the middle, searching for the breakout that was supposed to happen five years ago. This years’ Mariners, as it turns out, looks a lot like the A’s, but the Mariners’ are built on aging former stars and boast a significantly higher payroll. Both teams have struggling starting rotations and not much depth to rescue it, but both teams have strong bullpens to prevent (too many) games from becoming disasters. Both teams should also hit lots of home runs and be among the top scorers in the league. Where the A’s have the edge on its youth and long-term success, the Mariners have the edge in experience and refined talent, and are less likely to shoot themselves in the foot in any given game.

Game #14: Friday, April 13th, 7:10 - NBCSCA, ROOTNW

Andrew Triggs vs Mike Leake

Andrew Triggs has been the A’s most consistent starter, when he has been able to take it. The sidearmer perhaps hasn’t lasted as deep into his starts as would be preferable, but he has been second to Manaea at run prevention and has given the team every chance to win while on the mound. Opposing him has been the Mariners’ most consistent starter, Mike Leake. Since being traded to Seattle from St. Louis, Leake has pitched to a 2.66 ERA and has a 3.00 ERA on the season, more than half the ERA of the other two starters the A’s will face in this series.

Game #15: Saturday, April 14th, 6:10 - NBCSCA, ROOTNW

Kendall Graveman vs Marco Gonzales

With Daniel Gossett grossly underperforming, he was sent down to Triple-A, and with no one to take his place in the rotation, the A’s opening day starter will move up to his vacated spot. Unfortunately, Graveman has had nearly as bad results as Gossett. Graveman’s pitches have been as fast, if not faster, than ever before, but they still lack the oomph to entirely blow hitters away. He’ll need to adjust the way he attacks hitters to re-discover what made him a successful innings eater in previous seasons. Marco Gonzales started his season strong, but looked lost in his last outing and didn’t last through the third inning. Which version the A’s will face on Saturday is a mystery.

Game #16: Sunday, April 15th, 1:10 - NBCSCA, ROOTNW

Sean Manaea vs Felix Hernandez

It just wouldn’t be an oh-so-jolly Mariners’ series without an appearance from King Felix. The face of Seattle sports was strong in his opening day start, but in his two starts since has walked more hitters than he’s struck out (6-4) and has allowed more runs than he has innings pitched (11-9.2). Sean Manaea has been a hard luck loser twice on the mound, with the A’s twice getting shut out with him on the mound, but he still has a 1.74 ERA on the season and has been the A’s best starter by a long shot.

Also, he needs to start throwing 93+ again.

* * *

Should be an interesting series for both teams, relative to how interesting A’s-Mariners series tend to be. Each team has a wistful eye on the second wild card spot, however unlikely it appears each team will be able to grasp hold of it, and beating up on division rivals is the key to getting it. This series can have long-term implications for the direction this season will go for either team.