The Mariners continue their intradivision stretch with a four-game series against the Angels.
I’ve been writing these series previews for more than five years now and I’ve never had to include the draft standings for the number one pick the following year. The Mariners have always been close enough to the Wild Card race that it never really made sense to include them. I honestly didn’t think I would need to include them this year either, but here we are. For the first time, I’ve included the draft standing in the last section of the preview. Currently, the Mariners are slotted for the seventh pick in the 2020 draft.
Like almost every other team in the AL West, the Angels have labored through a rough start to the season. And like all their other non-Astros division-mates, its their pitching staff that’s given them the most trouble. Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey both have FIPs over six and their bullpen has been a mess. This season was always going to be sort of a gap year as they wait for Shohei Ohtani to rehab his throwing arm after his Tommy John surgery. But they’re also enjoying some unforeseen breakout offensive contributions that make you wonder what this team could have been with a better pitching staff.
Shohei Ohtani is back in the batter’s box as the Angels regular designated hitter, booting Justin Bour to the minors and Albert Pujols to first base. His on-base percentage is currently higher than his slugging percentage which maybe indicates he returned a little too quickly. But the Angels are determined to get as much value out of him as they can, even if he’s not going to throw a pitch until next year. The biggest surprise for the Angels has been Tommy La Stella’s breakout. He’s been a useful role player in the past but he’s now crushing the ball and striking out at an extremely low rate. Prior to this year, he had hit just 10 home runs total in almost 1,000 career plate appearances. He’s hit 12 already this year in just under 200 plate appearances.
From the previous series preview:
A middling prospect in the Cubs organization, Félix Peña had made the transition to the bullpen in an attempt to get the most out of his raw stuff. Like so many pitching prospects, his control just wasn’t good enough to stick in the rotation. The Angels picked him up after the Cubs designated him for assignment after the 2017 season. They saw some untapped potential in Peña and had him transition back to the rotation. The biggest adjustment they made was encouraging him to ditch his four-seam fastball in favor of a sinker. The switch to that pitch means he’s sacrificing some swinging strikes, but he can command it much better. Plus, he doesn’t really need to worry about those lost whiffs since his slider is so good. He throws his breaker with very high spin, giving the pitch excellent vertical movement. He lacks a good third offering so he’s prone to some blowups if he loses the feel for his sinker or slider.
The Angels have started using an opener in front of Peña and that’s helped him survive facing the opposing lineup a second or third time through. In his five “starts” where he came in after an opener, he posted a 2.73 ERA and an excellent 13.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while averaging more than five innings per appearance.
Last year was Tyler Skaggs healthiest season in the majors. He threw a career-high 125 innings across 24 starts and that ability to stay on the mound helped him find some consistency in his repertoire. He’s always relied heavily on his fastball-curveball pairing but improvements to his changeup helped him post the highest strikeout rate of his career. A significant platoon split has been a problem throughout his career, but even with a better third offering, he still struggled to keep opposite-handed batters in check. This yea, he’s managed to retain the higher strikeout rate despite seeing some regression in his whiff rate. His ground ball rate has also fallen to a career low with more and more of his pitches getting elevated.
In his first full season after Tommy John surgery, Andrew Heaney truly impressed, making 30 starts and compiling the seventh best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the American League. When his elbow started aching during spring training, the Angels shut him down immediately to make sure he wouldn’t be lost to another surgery. He finally returned last week and picked up right where he left off. A high-spin sinker and an excellent curveball form the foundation of his repertoire, but his changeup has shown a ton of promise. He’ll need that third pitch to remain effective against right-handed batters and to last deeper into outings. A significant platoon split and a rough “third time through the order” penalty have really hurt him in years past.
From the previous series preview:
Trevor Cahill hasn’t thrown more than 110 innings in a season since 2013 because of a myriad of injuries. But when he’s been healthy, he’s been pretty effective, particularly since revamping his curveball back in 2017. He’s always had a great changeup, but he also added a slider/cutter last season giving him three excellent secondary pitches. With those three pitches producing great results, he’s been turning away from his sinker more and more. This spring training, there were some reports that Trevor Cahill was hitting 95 with his fastball. Unfortunately, in his first start of the season, he was sitting around 91, the lowest it’s been since 2013. It’s still early in the season, but the higher velocity in spring training followed by a significant dip a few weeks later is pretty concerning.
Cahill leads the majors in home run rate and is fourth in hard hit rate. A quarter of the fly balls he allows have flown over the fence. There really isn’t a smoking gun either. Opposing batters are simply crushing everything he throws. He’s allowing an ISO of at least .200 on all five of his pitches with his fastball being the worst culprit.
The Big Picture:
The Angels and A’s wrapped up their three-game set in exciting fashion yesterday afternoon, with the Angels prevailing in 11 innings. The Athletics are off today before hosting the Astros over the weekend. The Giants have fallen down the standings (or up the draft order) while suffering through a seven-game losing streak. They wrap up their series against the Marlins today and then travel to Baltimore this weekend.