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Series #39: Athletics vs Mariners - The King is Dead, Long Live the King

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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Mariners’ Current Record:

69-50, third place in the AL West. They are 1.5 games behind Oakland for the second wild card spot, four games behind Houston for the division, and six games behind New York for the first wild card spot. Most recently, the Mariners made the A’s quest for the division title that much easier with a four game sweep of the Astros in Houston.

Possible Lineup:

Mitch Haniger - RF

Jean Segura - SS

Robinson Cano - 1B

Nelson Cruz - DH

Kyle Seager - 3B

Guillermo Heredia - CF

Mike Zunino - C

Dee Gordon - 2B

Denard Span - LF

Probable Starting Pitchers:

Marco Gonzales - LHP

James Paxton - LHP

Mike Leake - RHP

Recent Bullpen Usage:

Closer Edwin Diaz has been used four consecutives days, and set up man Alex Colombe has been used in three of the last four days. Recent additions to the bullpen Adam Warren and Zack Duke have been used often, but have yet to be effective. The Mariners will surely be banking on their starting pitching going deep enough into games to give their top back-end arms some much needed rest.

Hottest Hitter(s):

Since the All Star Break, the Mariners are rather middle of the road offensively, with a team OPS of .709, eighth overall in the American League. The lineup is sure to get some extra support in this series as Robinson Cano is due to return from his suspension on Tuesday this week, fully rehabbed and presumably ready for game action. In Cano’s absence, Nelson Cruz has been his usual, powerful self, hitting eight home runs since the break and slugging .588.

Coldest Hitter(s):

While Cruz has been providing pop for the Mariners, very few other players have recently. Since the All Star Break, including Cruz, only three Mariners have more than three home runs hit, and one of them, Ryon Healy, is likely to be relegated to bench duties with the return of Cano, who will move off of second base to allow Dee Gordon to stay fresh in the infield for the postseason. If the Mariners make it to the postseason. Speaking of Dee Gordon, he, along with Jean Segura, are currently mired in awful slumps after beginning the year so strong acting as the most frustrating 1-2 punch of any lineup in baseball. In the season’s second half, neither player has an OBP above .300, and the eight steals between them are marred by four combined caught stealings.

Hottest Pitcher(s):

Like their offense, the Mariners’ pitching has its fair share of bright spots, but as a whole their pitching unit has played out to be about average over the last month or so. James Paxton had long struck fear into the hearts of Yankees’ fans due to what was once an inevitable Wild Card game matchup, and while that matchup is in jeopardy Paxton is still one of the top left handers in the game who is a strikeout monster, even if he is a no-hitter copycat. While some minor injuries have caused Paxton to miss some starts somewhat recently, when on the field there are few better on the hill.

Coldest Pitcher(s):

In simultaneously sad and happy news, Felix Hernandez has pitched himself out of the Mariners’ starting rotation. After three consecutive disastrous starts his last times out, the Mariners simply won’t be able to make the playoffs with Hernandez starting every five days. He is still a Mariners’ legend, and it is sad to see the king fall so far in standing, but as a long time terror to countless iterations of A’s teams, knowing the A’s won’t have to face him for five or six plus innings at a time is a relief.

Key Injuries:

Dee Gordon is a bit banged up and day to day. It is a shoulder injury, so he is still just as fast as ever. Several relief pitch options are currently injured as well, but seeing as the team recently reinforced its bullpen, presumably the Mariners should be able to withstand those bumps and bruises.

* * *

ERA has its flaws, but it is what it is, and Oakland’s ERA since the All Star Game is the lowest in all of baseball, the A’s 3.03 team ERA narrowly edging the Red Sox and Indians, tied at second at 3.07. On one hand, this is surprising, but on the other, no, actually, it’s not. The harrowing Angels series notwithstanding, the A’s bullpen is the best in the bigs, and can’t be beat. This is a well known fact, but the A’s current rotation is composed of an emerging foundation to a rotation in Sean Manaea, a veteran who, when healthy, has already been among the best performing starters in the game in Trevor Cahill, a journeyman who has changed his approach to hitters and has thrived since in Edwin Jackson and his magical cutter, a postseason-savvy shiny new toy who has played alongside and succeeded with A’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy in Mike Fiers, and Brett Anderson, whose slider can’t be beat. All of the dumpster fires and gas cans on the roster have since been demoted or cut. We all knew this team could hit, whodathunk they could pitch, too?

The Mariners are clearly riding high, having taken four of four from Houston in Houston, accomplishing something the A’s were one non-butterfingered-Lucroy win away from doing themselves just a few weeks ago. Their superstar infielder is returning to the lineup, even if its at a new position and he is postseason ineligible, and the gutting decision to move King Felix to the bullpen is a band aid that has been ripped off. The playoffs are tantalizingly close, and the urgency to end Seattle’s major league leading postseason drought has a chance to finally relent. Undoubtedly, with both squads prepared to grind their bullpen arms into dust in order to inch ever closer to October baseball, this series will have a playoff-type atmosphere, and these three games are the first of what are the ten most important remaining games on both teams’ schedules.

Probably, whomever wins the majority of these ten matchups will find themselves in the playoffs. But no pressure.

Game #119: Monday, August 13th, 7:05 - NBCSCA, ROOT NW, MLB.tv

Sean Manaea vs Marco Gonzales

Manaea has been pretty awful against the Mariners for his career, a lineup heavy with right handed boppers can spell doom for a precision pitcher like Manaea is if his mechanics are even a little off. With the A’s carefully managing his pitch counts, hopefully the freshness of his arm will allow his pitches to have a bit more life behind them than starters on other teams by this point in the season. Gonzales shut out the A’s the last time he pitched in Oakland, effectively using the tantalizing nature of his modest offerings to coerce the opposition into swinging at poor pitches and getting themselves out.

Game #120: Tuesday, August 14th, 7:05 - NBCSCA, ROOT NW, MLB.tv

Mike Fiers vs James Paxton

The other guy, besides Manaea, who threw a no hitter is pitching on Tuesday. The A’s have done well to avoid Paxton’s rotation spot almost all year, as the lefty has yet to be defeated by the green and gold in his career. Mike Fiers was spectacular in his debut, throwing lots of strikes and quickly and efficiently taking care of the opposition. While his addition to the team wasn’t flashy, his arm has a chance to become the most reliable and consistent in the rotation.

Game #121: Wednesday, August 15th, 12:35 - NBCSCA, ROOT NW, MLB Network, MLB.tv

Brett Anderson vs Mike Leake

While it hasn’t been pretty, there is no denying that he has produced in his return to Oakland. Consistently pitching five or more innings and exiting with a lead or with the A’s within striking distance, there are still several doubters of Anderson who want to see him moved to a lefty-starved bullpen or cut from the team completely. However, it’s looking more and more, injuries notwithstanding, that Anderson is here to stay. Going up against Anderson is fellow veteran Mike Leake, who has been about average all year but has pitched well against Oakland in the season’s first half. As the game will be played during the day at Rickey Henderson Field, there is a good chance several home runs will be hit on Wednesday.