Mariners series preview

By Jason Wojciechowski on July 31, 2011 at 11:00 PM

The series

Oakland heads to Seattle for three: Monday at seven, Tuesday at 7, and Wednesday at 12:40. This leads the A's into a travel day on Thursday as they head to Tampa for their rematch with the Rays.

The Mariners lately

The word "awful" comes to mind. I won't, for the sake of my Mariner fan friends, go back before the All-Star break. Since July 14th, Seattle is 2-14, and while one of those wins was by 9-2, they've been shut out twice in that span, scored just one run five other times, and also given up eight or more runs five times.

To be fair, these losses have come against Texas, Toronto, Boston, New York, and Tampa, all of which teams are clearly better than the A's. Oakland should not come in overconfident. Seattle is reeling, certainly, but now we're getting into psychological issues and "momentum," which, to the extent they're factors, are so far out of my competence and/or unmeasurable and/or too small to matter that this sentence is the last you're going to hear on the subject from me.

The team has been making roster moves lately -- about ten days ago, the controversial Josh Lueke was called up to the bullpen from Tacoma, and, more recently, Erik Bedard and Doug Fister have been traded to contending squads. Bedard is off to Boston in a three-team deal that netted the Mariners some prospects who we won't see this week, while Fister was packaged with David Pauley to the Tigers for Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush, as well as Francisco Martinez, who's been at AA this year.

Most notably, though, notable enough to get its own paragraph: just before Bedard was dealt, he was activated from the Disabled List. To make room, the Mariners (children, cover your eyes) designated Jack Cust for assignment. I thus officially declare this series the Avenge Jack Cust Memorial Tournament and demand that the A's crush the Mariners and drink the marrow from their bones.

Seattle's starters

Blake Beavan goes on Tuesday. He is, like seemingly all Mariner hurlers, enormous, at 6'7" and 250 pounds. He's also quite young (Jan. 1989) and is making just his fifth major league start. He's managed four quality starts in his first four, with an FIP of 4.21. The good in that line is driven by an excellent walk rate (four in 108 TBF), but he could stand to miss a few more bats (just twelve Ks).

He's thrown fewer than 300 major league pitches (298, actually), so I'm reluctant to get into the details of counts and splits, but his arsenal looks like a fastball at 88-94 (sometimes classified as a cutter, but it looks like a big cluster with his four-seamer to me), a change at 80-85, a slider around the same speed, and a very occasional curve, thrown just four times, around 75 mph. The velocity and movement on his pitches are all so close to average that I'm pretty sure I'm going to fall asleep during this game.

Wednesday brings the joy of Felix Hernandez. The joy for Mariners fans, that is. King Felix is in the midst of his third straight season of putting up a low-three FIP. He'll strike you out or, if he doesn't feel like doing that, he'll get a ground out with a low-90s sinker, two different breaking balls (one a slider that can hit the high 80s) or an 86-91 change. That change-up is his strikeout pitch against righties, but against lefties, you'll also see him dial up the fastball in two-strike counts.

On Thursday, the new guy gets a shot, as the 6'5" (I told you) lefty Charlie Furbush (stop it) takes the hill. Furbush (no really) has made just two starts this year, lasting a total of 7 1/3 innings, but he spent his minor league career as a starter (when he wasn't injured, anyway -- he missed 2008 with Tommy John surgery). Furbush shot up the ranks in 2010, pitching at three levels with excellent strikeout and walk rates at two of them before slamming hard into a wall at AAA, putting up a 6.29 ERA, though that's fueled in no small part by a .333 BABIP.

Furbush has struck out about 20% of the batters he's seen this year and walked 10%, but with 25 innings in relief, we need to adjust those numbers downward a bit when we're thinking of him as a starter. Even with his relief stint, the strikeout, walk, and homer numbers don't total up to anything stellar: just a 4.95 FIP, which isn't something you'll be especially impressed by out of the bullpen.

Furbush's fastball is of the low 90s variety, and comes with enough tail and sink that it's classified as a two-seamer about 2/3 of the time and a four-seamer the rest. He also has a low-80s slider and a mid-70s curve. Furbush does not appear to favor one breaking pitch over the other depending on the handedness of the batter. Furbush will go after lefties with the breaking stuff to get strikeouts, but he actually sticks with his fastball to a surprisingly great degree against right-handed hitters. In fact, he appears to break out the curve and slider most often on 0-1 and 1-1 against those hitters.

Seattle's bullpen

The Mariners relievers are not an imposing crew. Brandon League, the closer, has struck out fewer than 20% of the men he's faced this year, and, given that he's in the relief ace spot, you won't be surprised to learn that the rest of the corps don't really miss bats, either. Josh Lueke has whiffed eleven in his 9 1/3 innings, but he's also walked six and given up 15 hits, so his rate isn't that impressive as a percentage of batters faced.

If MLB Depth Charts has it right, the Mariners don't have a lefty in their pen at the moment, a fact that David DeJesus will surely be happy to know -- no LOOGY coming out to shut him down!1

Looking at that MLB Depth Chart page, by the way, you might say "Hey, Dan Cortes, that's BA's #10 prospect for the Mariners, I'll keep my eye on him!" Well, you can do that if you want, but you should know that his minor-league ERAs look like this since 2009: 4.33, 5.23, 5.35. That includes a switch to relief midway through 2010, by the way. If you want to be excited about a minor-leaguer who gives up five runs per nine out of the bullpen, you go right ahead.

Me, I'm a Furbush guy. (I said hush.)

Seattle's lolfense

Here's the thing, dammit. Only one team has scored fewer runs than the A's this year (AL), so if you think I'm going to pass up the opportunity to make fun, you're sadly mistaken.

Here's a batting order:

  1. Ichiro, RF
  2. Brendan Ryan, SS
  3. Dustin Ackley, 2B

And then at 4-9, who the hell even knows. The Baseball-Reference lineup page is just a goobledy mess, and, as I write this, it doesn't even include the addition of Casper Wells in the outfield mix. To summarize the other options:

  • Miguel Olivo will catch, and probably hit fourth or fifth, but Josh Bard will likely catch one game and bat ninth.

  • Mike Carp, Casper Wells, and Greg Halman could play left. Carp has batted fourth the last two days and does have the only non-disgusting batting line on the team, non-Ackley division.

  • Franklin Gutierrez will play center, but he could bat anywhere in the bottom of the order.

  • Justin Smoak usually plays first, but Adam Kennedy gets a surprising amount of time there.

  • Chone Figgins appears to be back at third, although maybe Adam Kennedy plays there when he's not at first or DHing. (Yes, DHing.)

  • The DH is whoever is left over.

As to quality, like I said, only Ackley and Carp have hit so far. Justin Smoak's 218/313/385 line gives him the third-highest OPS on the team (although it should be noted that Baseball Reference grades that out to a league-average OPS+ -- the league and Safeco are just brutal) and he's supposed to hit at some point. Ichiro might be done, Brendan Ryan is really fun to watch on defense, and Casper Wells brings that lovely whiff of "he's not from around here, he doesn't know how bad it is yet."


Harden is the A's sacrificial virgin against King Felix on Tuesday, but I see no reason why "Darren" Cahill and Gio Gonzalez can't beat the Mariners on Monday and Wednesday. Two games out of three is my prediction, stacking up this way: 6-1 victory Monday, 5-2 loss Tuesday, and an 8-4 win on Wednesday after the A's whomp Charlie Furbush. (So immature.)

  1. The joke here is that no manager would, given the way DeJesus has played this year, bring in a pitcher especially to stop him. It's funny, right?!