The Mariners return home to face another division rival this weekend — the Angels.
Thanks to Yusei Kikuchi and Taylor Trammell, the Mariners can breathe a sigh of relief after escaping Houston with a single win. There were some good things that happened during the series — Justin Dunn pitched another promising start and the team was a bullpen meltdown away from splitting the series. But the offensive woes the lineup struggles through once the first three hitters are past are definitely catching up to them. Add onto that a serious problem in the rotation after Marco Gonzales was placed on the injured list with an ominous sounding forearm issue and it’s reasonable to feel down on the team despite their record.
After their arduous road trip to Boston and Houston, the Mariners return to Seattle for a six-game homestand against the Angels and the Orioles. Because the schedule makers aren’t stuffing the early season schedule with intra-divisional matchups, this will be the first time the Mariners will face a non-Astros division rival this year.
With a new general manager leading the club, the Angels rebuilt nearly their entire pitching staff. Their bullpen is filled with new faces and they brought in José Quintana and Alex Cobb to give their beleaguered rotation some additional depth. By FIP, their staff has been one of the best in the league, ranking 10th by park- and league-adjusted FIP. But their actual ability to prevent runs from scoring has been dismal. Their pitching staff ranks last in ERA and they’ve allowed the most runs per game in baseball.
The biggest storyline for them has been the health and dominance of Shohei Ohtani. He’s crushing the ball as their regular designated hitter and has made three promising starts without any injury concerns. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to witness Babe Ruth at his peak, Ohtani is giving us a pretty close approximation right now.
Despite all their issues preventing runs, the Angels lineup has helped them keep their run differential close to even. Mike Trout is as good as he’s ever been and Jared Walsh has been an unlikely source of support. Anthony Rendon was sidelined for a bit with a groin issue but he’s back and should provide a bunch of production as well. The lineup is still rather top heavy, but the Angels stars are good enough that they can carry the entire lineup nightly with sporadic contributions from their veterans like Justin Upton and Albert Pujols.
Over the last three years, Andrew Heaney has posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio just under four. That’s one of the best marks of any qualified starter in that time. But he’s struggled to establish himself as one of the premiere pitchers in the majors because of a big home run problem. Back in 2019, when the dragless ball was wreaking havoc on fly ball pitchers, he allowed nearly two home runs per nine innings. He got that problem under control last year but his ERA still far outpaced his peripherals. Across four starts this year, he’s allowed just a single home run and has upped his strikeout rate to 36.7%, easily a career high. Perhaps the changes to the ball this year will have an outsized effect on pitchers like Heaney. If so, he could be in store for a career year.
Griffin Canning had tons of potential as one of the Angels top pitching prospects back in 2019. But after two years of middling results, we still haven’t seen him meet the high expectations many had for him after a quick rise through their organization. His best attribute is a fantastic slider that generates an obscene amount of whiffs, but the rest of his repertoire is just okay. His fastball has all the characteristics of an elite, riding four-seamer but the results he gets with it are really disappointing. This year, he’s ditched his cutter and is now throwing his slider more than any other pitch in his arsenal. The results haven’t followed. He’s allowed a whopping 14 runs in 15 innings and his strikeout rate hasn’t noticeably changed.
Dylan Bundy finally put together the season everyone thought he could. After years of disappointment in Baltimore, Bundy put together a career year in his first season with the Angels. All it took was a commitment to throw his secondary offerings more and his fastball less. He posted career bests in strikeout rate, walk rate, ERA, FIP and basically every other significant pitching stat you can think of. His slider is a phenomenal pitch and he’s learned how to use his entire repertoire to help him maximize the usage of that single breaking ball. He’ll often use his curveball to steal strikes early in the count and use excellent command of his fastball to set up his nasty slider for swinging strikes late in the count.
The Big Picture:
The Astros are the only team in the AL West with a positive run differential, yet they sit fourth in the standings due to some exceptional good luck from the Athletics and Mariners. They travel to Tampa Bay this weekend. Oakland’s 13-game win streak is far in their rear view mirror — they split a four-game set against the Rays this week but could start another win streak with a three-game series against the Orioles this weekend. The Angels are coming off a series win in Texas and the Rangers started off a four-game series against the Red Sox with a win last night.