The Angels have won seven of their last nine games, and they will continue their road trip by heading to Seattle to face the Mariners.
Here’s a look at the series, by the numbers.
Head to Head
After winning three consecutive series, the Angels are 37-29 and in third place in the American League West. The Mariners, who have not lost a series since the middle of May, are 41-24 and in a virtual tie for first place with the 42-25 Astros. The Angels are 4.5 games back of first place.
The Angels and Mariners played a series in Seattle at the beginning of last month, and the Angels won it rather easily. They took two out of three games and outscored Seattle by 10 runs. Angels starting pitchers permitted only four runs in the series while Seattle’s starting staff allowed 12.
Here’s how the two teams compare heading into their second meeting of the year.
Seattle has a better win-loss record, but these two teams are actually quite similar. The Angels have scored more runs and allowed fewer, which has led to a better run differential. This is not to say that the Angels are necessarily the better team because, of course, the Mariners have the better record. It is to say that neither team is significantly better or worse than the other and that there is not much separation between the two.
On May 15, the Mariners’ best player, Robinson Cano, was suspended 80 games for the use of a banned substance. At the time, the Mariners were in third place, and Cano’s suspension appeared to be a serious blow to the team’s postseason chances. Instead, the Mariners took off and have won 18 of the 25 games since Cano was suspended.
Much of the reason for their success is that they have excelled in close games. Why exactly the Mariners have this ability is unclear, but they have come out on top of 21 of 30 one-run games this season, the most such wins in a team’s first 65 games since at least 1908. The Angels have not been bad in those games, either, as they have gone 12-7 in games decided by one run. But, for their sake, they probably do not want to get involved in a one-run contest with the Mariners. The one game they lost to Seattle earlier this year was, in fact, decided by just one run.
Seattle’s Starting Pitchers
Former Angel Wade LeBlanc is the first of two left-handed starting pitchers that Seattle will deploy in this series. LeBlanc pitched for the Angels in 2014 and, after a stint in Japan’s NPB, returned to the majors in 2016. He pitched 50 innings for the Mariners that year, before being traded to Pittsburgh and ultimately returning to Seattle last winter.
LeBlanc started the season as a member of the Mariner bullpen, but he is now a full-time member of the starting staff. Since joining the rotation, LeBlanc has a sparkling 2.29 ERA, though his 3.87 FIP suggests that he has been a bit lucky. This could be a good matchup for the Angels because LeBlanc sports one of baseball’s lowest ground-ball rates, and the Angels have the second-highest fly-ball rate and the fourth-most homers in the majors.
In game two, the Angels will face right-hander Mike Leake. Leake is having another one of his typically serviceable seasons, pitching to the tune of a 4.48 ERA. While he has the second-lowest strikeout rate among qualified starting pitchers, Leake also possesses the 12th-lowest walk rate. Unlike LeBlanc, Leake generates a large amount of grounders.
Leake has been particularly effective during Seattle’s rise to the top of the division, enjoying a 1.82 ERA and averaging over seven innings per start in his last four outings. In his first start against the Angels this season, he gave up three runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings while walking four and punching out four.
Lefty Marco Gonzales, who has been one of Seattle’s most important players this year, will start the third game for Seattle. The Mariners acquired Gonzales from the Cardinals last July, and he earned a 5.40 ERA in 36 1/3 innings for them. In 2018, however, he has been among baseball’s most reliable starters. In 13 starts, he owns a 3.28 ERA and a nearly identical 3.33 FIP, though he does average fewer than six innings per start.
The Angels can expect to see a lot of sinkers and off-speed pitches from Gonzales, who will not throw much harder than 90 mph. Like Leake, his success also comes from hitters pounding the ball into the ground. Gonzales has only served up six home runs this season, and he has permitted just three earned runs in his last 33 1/3 frames. In his start against the Angels this year, Gonzales allowed four runs in six innings, and it was one of only three starts this season in which he allowed fewer than 40% ground balls.
Andrew Heaney and Garrett Richards are scheduled to start for the Angels on Monday and Wednesday, respectively. Tuesday’s starter is, at the time of writing, unannounced, but Jaime Barria, who is currently in Triple-A and last pitched on Thursday, appears to be the most likely candidate to make the start.
27 Outs for the 27-Year-Old
Heaney’s most recent start was on his 27th birthday, June 5, and he shut down the Royals, allowing just one hit across nine scoreless innings, the first complete game of his career. Heaney only struck out four batters, but he found success by inducing weak contact, something that he has done magnificently all season.
The Royals managed only a 78-mph average exit velocity on balls that they put in play that night, and Heaney’s 85.5-mph average exit velocity on the season is the 12th-best mark in the majors. Seattle, his opponent on Monday, has the fourth-lowest hard-hit rate against lefties in the AL this year.
Ahead of the Curve
On Friday, Richards struck out Logan Morrison on a curveball that had a 3,550 rpm spin rate, “the highest-spin curveball strikeout Statcast has ever recorded.” Here’s what it looked like:
This feat was not all that surprising because Richards owns the highest-spin curveball in the majors. He only throws it 10.3% of the time, but Richards’ curveball has generated a 31.3% swinging strike rate, and he has given up just one hit on the pitch this year, good for a .043 batting average. The Mariners, who he will pitch against on Wednesday, are hitting .215 and slugging .296 against curveballs this year, 17th and 24th in the majors, respectively.
News & Notes
Jose Miguel Fernandez, the newest Angels infielder, has a fascinating story. After a failed attempt to defect from Cuba in 2014, Fernandez, who was a star in his home country, did not play baseball for three years. He eventually signed with the Dodgers in January 2017, but, due to a clause in his contract, the team released him after a season in the minors. He then signed with the Angels, and they called him up last week.
The 30-year-old has started three games at first base and can also play second and third. Fernandez is 4-for-9 with a pair of doubles thus far. Though he has struck out twice already, Fernandez is known for his ability to make contact; he struck out just 19 times in 226 Triple-A plate appearances this year.
Last night, ESPN‘s Pedro Gomez reported that Shohei Ohtani would “probably” need Tommy John surgery. The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal then asked Angels GM Billy Eppler about Ohtani’s status and Eppler had the following to say:
There have been no changes to Ohtani’s diagnosis and neither our physicians nor medical staff have recommended (Tommy John surgery) or said it’s likely.
Tommy John surgery is certainly a possibility for Ohtani, who underwent treatment for a grade-2 UCL sprain last week. However, the Gomez report seems to be no more than speculation, as it is still much too soon to know for certain whether Ohtani will be forced to undergo elbow surgery. The situation will become more clear when the 23-year-old is reevaluated in a couple of weeks.
When & Where to Watch
Monday June 11, 2018 (Heaney vs. LeBlanc): 7:10 PM PT, FOX Sports West
Tuesday June 12, 2018 (Barria vs. Leake): 7:10 PM PT, FOX Sports West
Wednesday June 13, 2018 (Richards vs. Gonzales): 1:10 PM PT, Facebook Watch
By winning consecutive series against the Rangers, Royals, and Twins, the Angels showed that they can beat the teams that they are supposed to beat. Now they will be faced with a tougher challenge in Seattle. But as they proved in May, they have the ability to beat the Mariners. And, as long as they don’t get locked in a one-run game, the Angels match up with Seattle as well now as they did then.
Featured image via MLB.com.