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Seattle Mariners vs. Texas Rangers Series Preview (8/16 - 8/18)

The Mariners head to Texas and face Yu Darvish, who's having a historic season.

Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
Date Time Venue Probable Pitchers
8/16 5:05 pm Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Derek Holland
8/17 5:05 pm
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Felix Hernandez vs. Martin Perez
8/18 12:05 pm Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Erasmo Ramirez vs. Yu Darvish

The Mariners are off to Texas, and if you enjoy watching great pitchers, this is the series for you. All three games feature at least one excellent pitcher, including Derek Holland tonight, who's taken a big step forward in 2013. We'll take a look at that in just a bit.

A minor bit of housekeeping before we get into the preview, as we've got a couple things in the works for the next few days. Today I wrapped the next edition of the podcast with Drew Silva from Rotoworld/Hardball Talk, so keep your eye out for that one. Also, our prospect guru Rick Randall will be conducting a chat directly after Sunday's game is over. Stick around after Erasmo Ramirez tries to steal a victory against Yu Darvish, and Rick will answer all your questions about the farm system for 90 minutes following the game.

We've truly entered the dog days of summer at this point, especially now that the trade deadline has passed and the Mariners aren't playing particularly well. I personally still get a great deal of fulfillment from watching the careers of Brad Miller and Nick Franklin bloom, as well as the constant tease from Erasmo Ramirez, who's close to putting it all together. Nathan and I commented to each other during his last start how he needs to watch the first pitch meatball heaters, and while he's been prone to the crushed mistake pitch, he tends to pitch not shitty for the majority of his starts. That's what gives me faith that Erasmo Ramirez can still do this - I'll take a pitcher prone to occasional lapses than a pitcher who is mediocre the whole time he's out there. This is why Erasmo Ramirez is more fun to watch than Joe Saunders.

After the discussion of Felix Hernandez and the Cy Young award earlier this week, the Mariners face two other pitchers in this series who are putting together remarkable campaigns of their own. Yu Darvish is now striking out 12.1 batters per nine innings, which is the highest mark from a starting pitcher since 2001. In fact, it's the 7th highest rate of all time. The record of 13.4 is held by Randy Johnson in 2007, when he was 37 years old. The only other pitchers that posted a higher K/9 in a single season are Pedro Martinez and Kerry Wood. Darvish also leads the league in the least hits allowed per inning as well.  Despite his dominance, Darvish has only managed to pitch past the 7th inning three times this year, partially due to his penchant for racking up high pitch counts. Darvish is signed for three or four more years after 2013, depending on some incentives that may trigger a player option for the final year. Even with the posting fee, that contract has ended up being a nice bargain for Texas.

Yu Darvish's 12.1 K/9 is the 7th highest single season rate in baseball history.

Brooks Baseball has eight different pitches listed for Darvish, even though players will tell you he throws minor variations on several of them. He's even thrown a slow curve 88 times this year, averaging just 66.8 mph. Darvish slices lefties up with his cutter and curve, so expect a heavy dose of them versus what's likely to be a lefty-heavy lineup on Sunday. Darvish destroys right handed hitters, allowing just a .489 OPS against so far this season.

Tonight the Mariners get Derek Holland, who is enjoying a breakout season in his own right. Holland carries a 3.07 ERA to go with his 3.01 FIP, 3.45 xFIP, and 3.61 SIERA. His strikeouts are up in 2013, and much of his improved run prevention comes from his ability to keep the ball in the park. Holland allowed 32 bombs in 2012 as compared to just 12 so far this season.

Holland has leaned on his slider extensively this year, more than doubling his usage of it from the year before. He throws it 25% of the time, and doesn't really increase his usage one way or another depending on batter-handedness. You'd expect to see Holland spam it against lefties, but his usage is nearly identical. Instead it's the sinker that he increases his usage of to left-handed hitters, and both it and the slider have been very effective pitches for him. It seems that Holland has figured out the ideal usage of his arsenal, and the results have followed. Holland is generating more swings out of the zone than ever before, improving from 28% in 2012  to 32% in 2013.

Sandwiched in between Holland and Darvish is Felix versus Martin Perez, who despite being just 22, has been in Baseball America's top 100 prospects for five straight years. He hasn't really struck many batters out for a number of years now, but carries a 3.11 ERA, outperforming his peripherals so far. He's also just coming off of a four hit complete game.

The Mariners play back to back nights, and then will take off for Oakland after Sunday's noon game.

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