The Mariners and Angels finally match up against each other, nearly two months into the season.
We’re not even halfway through the season yet but the opportunities for the Mariners to get back into the Wild Card race are quickly drying up. They couldn’t capitalize against the Red Sox last weekend and some classic mismanagement and poor execution cost them a series win against the Twins this week. Even with those four series wins a few weeks ago, this team has really struggled to find any sort of consistent, sustainable success. The last time they won more than two games in a row was all the way back in late-April during their first homestand of the season. With a huge series against the Angels on the docket for this weekend, these next two weeks feel like the last chance the Mariners have to really get back into the playoff picture.
Because of the delayed start to the season, this will be the first time these two teams meet this year and it’s a doozy of a series. Not only will the Mariners and Angels play each other five times in four days this weekend, they’re also scheduled to play each other in Los Angeles next weekend. Seattle’s next 18 games include eight against the Angels, seven against the A’s, and three against the Orioles. Going 12-6 during this stretch would get them back to just under .500. That’s a lofty goal, but it’s what needs to happen if they want to push for the Wild Card this summer.
As for the Angels, they’ve already played through an entire season’s worth of ups and downs. They started off the season playing some incredible baseball, reaching a season-high 11 games over .500 on May 15. It looked like they were finally poised to challenge the Astros for the AL West crown and get Mike Trout and company into the playoffs after years of futility. Since that high point, they’ve crashed and burned, losing 22 of 27 games including an ugly 14-game losing streak. They’re now sitting just a half game ahead of the Mariners in the standings and these next few weeks are probably as important to them as they are to the Mariners.
Much of the Angels early season success can be linked to the breakout of Taylor Ward. Through May 15, he put up a ridiculous .385/.500/.747 slash line (251 wRC+) and looked like the kind of complimentary piece to the Angels’ stars they’ve been missing for so long. A series of minor injuries has limited Ward to just 14 games since that point and his ability to produce has been curtailed. It wasn’t just Ward’s struggles that hurt the team either; Trout also suffered through an uncharacteristic slump during the team’s losing streak, posting a 62 wRC+ during those 14 games. Things have gotten so bad, they chose to rush Anthony Rendon back from a wrist injury he suffered in May. He played in four games since being activated from the IL but aggravated the injury on Tuesday. A decision to place him back on the IL hasn’t been made yet, but it’s just another blow to a team who simply can’t catch a break.
How does two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani top his MVP performance from last year? He simply continues to get even better. His bat hasn’t been as productive this season but he’s been phenomenal on the mound. That improvement stems from one pitch: his slider. He’s throwing it three miles per hour harder and has increased the amount of horizontal movement on it. The result is a beast of a pitch that he can locate well and earn plenty of swinging strikes. Paired with his excellent splitter and solid curveball, it gives him three different secondary weapons in three different velocity bands, each sporting whiff rates over 40%.
It was impossible to predict what to expect from Michael Lorenzen in 2022. He had spent nearly his entire major league career as a reliever in Cincinnati but the Angels signed him during the offseason with the intention of using him as a starter for the first time since his rookie season back in 2015. He’s definitely surpassed all expectations across his first 10 starts of the year, posting a 3.45 ERA backed by a 3.69 FIP. His success can be traced to an improved sinker and a sweeping slider that form the backbone of his deep repertoire. Those two pitches break away from each other horizontally across the zone, giving batters fits as they try to focus on one or the other.
It’s hard to figure out Patrick Sandoval. He possesses one of the best changeups in baseball with a whiff rate topping 50%. He can manipulate the pitch to generate more vertical or horizontal movement depending on what the situation calls for but the end result is usually the same: a swinging strike. He also has a pair of pretty good breaking balls with the slider being his preferred weapon against left-handed batters. The problem is his fastball. Among all four-seam fastballs thrown at least 100 times this year, his has the fourth lowest swinging strike rate of them all. That’s a big reason why his strikeout rate has fallen three points from last year despite an arsenal filled with excellent secondary weapons.
Neither the Mariners or the Angels have announced a starter for the second game of Saturday’s split doubleheader and it’s likely both teams will call up a pitcher to provide some length during this game. For the Mariners, it’s likely to be either Justus Sheffield or Matt Brash since both are already on the 40-man roster. For the Angels, it’ll probably be José Suarez or Jhonathan Diaz. After finding some success as an up-and-down spot starter last year, Suarez has really struggled this year. He’s lost his command and is running double-digit walk rates in Triple-A and the majors.
The Angels took a big risk this offseason when they signed Noah Syndergaard to a one-year, prove-it deal. Injuries have sapped him of most of his electric stuff so he’s had to reinvent himself around a 94 mph fastball instead of a heater that reaches triple digits. The results have been mixed. He’s running the lowest strikeout rate of his career by a wide margin, but he’s been managing hard contact against him better than ever before. It’s weird to see someone notorious for their elite stuff suddenly forced to rely on command and deception. Even in his diminished form, Thor has been pretty effective with a 3.53 ERA and a 3.73 FIP, but his margin for success is a lot thinner now.
The Big Picture:
The Astros won their three-game series against the Rangers earlier this week, helping them get their season back on track after two straight series losses. Their victory yesterday featured two immaculate innings by two different pitchers against the same set of three batters; an impossibly rare feat. They’ll host the White Sox this weekend beginning on Friday. The Rangers head off to Detroit for a four-game series against the Tigers.
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