Mariners Look to Struggling Paxton to Stop the Bleeding Vs. Oakland

james paxton

Friday, July 7, 2017 3:51 PM GMT

Something is really wrong in Seattle: the Mariners have now lost four games in a row, all at home. They’ll look to rediscover their winning ways when their pseudo-ace takes the mound Friday vs. visiting Oakland. 

Oakland and Seattle are heading in opposite directions entering Friday's game at Safeco: The A’s have won three in a row and the M’s have lost four straight. The A’s are hitting the ball especially well right now, scoring seven runs in each of those wins. Their biggest boost has come from Jed Lowrie. He followed up a 3-for-4 effort two days ago vs the White Sox by going 2-for-4 Thursday in Seattle.  The M’s, recently one of the hottest hitting teams in baseball, have been struggling to score. They’ll look especially to Nelson Cruz for help: he is 4-for-8 with two home runs and four walks lifetime against A’s starting pitcher Sean Manaea. 

 

Probable Pitchers

James Paxton (6-3 3.27 ERA) takes the mound for Seattle. His season has been a rollercoaster. He returned from a DL stint due to a left forearm strain to face Colorado on May 31 and looked marvelously crisp, only to get shelled in three consecutive outings. The southpaw has been struggling with the velocity and the location of his pitches, which has led to questions about whether he has truly overcome the issues with his left forearm. June 16 was a bottom point: his fastball velocity averaged a season low 94.58 mph, and Texas batters made hard contact 57% of the time with his pitches, while tagging him for seven runs.

Since that outing, Paxton has turned things around. His FIP (like ERA, but factors out luck) was under 4 in three consecutive outings against Detroit, Philadelphia and the Angels. In his last performance, against the Angels, he induced ground balls at a 52% rate because of his improved ability to locate his pitches down in the zone. Throwing strikes and generating whiffs has generally been a problem for Paxton, and I’m not sure that a positive outing against the Angels indicates much reason for optimism. A hot Oakland lineup will give Paxton a good test of his ability to locate his pitches away from the more dangerous parts of the strike zone.

Manaea (7-4 3.75 ERA) counters for Oakland. The young lefty has improved his stuff, but apparently at the cost of his command. His biggest problem is that he walks too many batters. Nowhere was this more evident in his first start after a DL stint. On May 15 against Seattle, he walked four batters in a turbulent two-run first inning. He did settle down, giving up up just two hits, four runs and striking out seven in five innings. Manaea has been consistent as since May 26, he has made it at least six innings in seven of eight outings. He’s only had one bad outing -- against the Yankees, in which he gave up a three-run home run to Aaron Judge.

Overall, Manaea has been inducing a fair amount of ground balls by keeping his pitches down in the zone and inducing a lot of soft and medium contact from opposing batters. When they have reached base, he’s been able to hold them stranded. In his last two games, he kept over 90% of opposing baserunners from scoring. With such a bend-but-don’t-break attitude, Manaea’s worst nightmare would be a lineup that is in a groove and consistently figuring out ways to bring runners home. Seattle is currently not that team.

 

The Verdict

Measured by FIP, Manaea has generally struggled to do well against Seattle, while Paxton’s other performance (before his injury) this season against Oakland was very positive. Seattle can hit Manaea well because Manaea relies most of all on a four-seam fastball and Seattle ranks in the Top 10 against fastballs from left-handed pitching. Paxton, on the contrary, matches up well against an Oakland lineup that struggles against southpaws and power pitchers. Oakland’s batters are seeing the ball well right now. But the sample size is small: The starters that they recently faced were all right-handed finesse. We will see tonight if they can continue to be hot against left-handed power pitching. 

Oddsmakers do not account for current form. So the hot streak of Oakland’s lineup and Manaea present significant value. Both bullpens will have plenty of fresh arms, so I look for the starting matchup to be decisive. I would rather trust Manaea for my MLB pick.

Free MLB Pick: Oakland +146Best Line Offered: 5Dimes

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