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Series Preview: Mariners (55-63) at Rangers (59-57)

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The Mariners face a familiar opponent as they wrap up their road trip with three in Texas.

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Monday, August 17

5:05 pm

Mariners

RHP Taijuan Walker

Rangers

LHP Cole Hamels

Tuesday, August 18

5:05 pm

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Rangers

RHP Alex Gonzalez

Wednesday, August 19

11:05 am

Mariners

LHP Mike Montgomery

Rangers

LHP Martin Perez

Mariners

Rangers

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

99 (7th in AL)

96 (12th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-18.1 (11th)

-6.2 (6th)

Rangers

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

107 (9th)

111 (14th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

105 (11th)

109 (14th)

Mariners

The Mariners scored 21 runs in three games this last weekend—that should have been enough to win two of three, but they barely made it out of Boston with a single win in extra innings. Despite the disappointing results, the Mariners’ run scoring outburst has boosted their overall offensive ranking. They now possess the best team wRC+ of any team in baseball during the second half of the season and are almost back to league average for the season.

Now, the Mariners face their favorite second half opponent, the Rangers. This will be the second of four series between these two teams scheduled after the All-Star break. A three game series in the bandbox that is the Ballpark in Arlington should help the Mariners continue their offensive onslaught.

The Rangers:

Nothing much has changed for the Rangers since the Mariners last faced them in Seattle earlier this month. They’re still hovering around .500 and are well within striking distance of the Wild Card. A three-game sweep of the Rays has brought the Rangers to within a half game of the Angels.

Key Players

3B Adrian BeltreAdrian Beltre had seemingly found a way to defy father time. His average wRC+ since leaving the Mariners in 2009 is 138.6 and those were his age 31-35 seasons. This year, his age might have finally caught up to him. His power output is at a five year low and the gains in walk rate he enjoyed the last two years have disappeared. He dealt with a thumb injury earlier this year which definitely affected his swing. It looks like he might be fully recovered as his wRC+ is a robust 133 in the second half.

1B Prince Fielder – The range of outcomes for Prince Fielder was so wide after undergoing cervical-fusion surgery on his neck. Luckily for the Rangers, he’s been fully healthy and has been their best hitter this year. He isn’t hitting for as much power nowadays but a strong BABIP has helped him post the highest batting average of his career. However, his batted ball profile doesn’t look like it should support such a high BABIP and he could see some regression in this area.

RF Shin-Soo ChooShin-Soo Choo suffered through the worst season of his career last year. Much of that was due to the variety of injuries he suffered through. Because so many of his teammates were lost to injury, Choo played through elbow and ankle injuries for most of the season before being shut down in September. He looks like he’s fully recovered this year but his offensive number just haven’t returned. His walk rate has fallen below 10% for the first time in his career and his speed has gone missing. He isn’t providing much value in the field either and that makes him a very expensive player just above replacement level.

2B Rougned OdorRougned Odor impressed in his brief debut last season, compiling a 90 wRC+ over 114 games as a 20-year-old. He’s got off to a slow start this year, hitting just .144/.252/.233 before being demoted in early May. He was recalled in June and has been very impressive. He’s continued to hit for power, he’s maintained his strikeout rate and walk rate, and he’s playing average defense at a premium position. It’s quite a turnaround for someone with just a few years of experience as a professional.

SS Elvis AndrusDisastrous luck with injuries isn’t the only reason the Rangers have imploded over the last two years. Elvis Andrus is a prime example of reckless spending that has hamstrung the organization (Choo and Fielder being the other examples). Andrus was one of the best shortstops in the league for five years between 2009 and 2013. At the beginning of 2013, the Rangers signed Andrus to an eight-year extension that only just now kicked in this year. At the time, it seemed like a great deal. Andrus was just 24-years-old and had just finished a four-year stretch where he averaged 3.3 fWAR. Fast-forward two years and that deal seems like an albatross and a warning against extending young players too early. He hasn’t been the worst shortstop in baseball this year but he also hasn’t made any improvements to his offensive approach or his defense to recoup any of his value.

1B Mitch MorelandMitch Moreland is enjoying his best offensive season of his career this year after struggling through 52 games last season between a myriad of injuries. There isn’t really much that he’s doing differently this year—his approach at the plate and his batted ball profile are both in line with his established norms. His BABIP is an abnormally high .343 and his 19.8% home run rate is the highest it’s been since his rookie year. His true talent probably isn’t an offensive line thirty percent better than league average, but he’s been good enough to be a league average first baseman this year.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Cole Hamels

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

142 1/3

25.3%

7.1%

13.8%

48.4%

3.86

3.57

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.4 mph;

30.5%

93.2 mph;

17.8%

89.4 mph;

15.5%

85.2 mph;

24.2%

78.8 mph;

12.0%

Hamels PA

For Cole Hamels, everything begins with his changeup. No other starting pitcher generates more whiffs with their changeup than Hamels. Everything else in his arsenal plays off of it and it has helped him become one of the most dominant starters in the majors. There isn’t much that’s changed in his arsenal but his strikeout rate is sitting above 25% for the first time since his rookie year. His curveball has become more effective this year and he’s been throwing more often. Hamels has held right-handed batters in check on the strength of his changeup, running a small reverse platoon split over his career. A minor groin injury has prevented Hamels from making another start since facing the Mariners earlier this month. In that game, the Mariners hit three homers off him and were able to walk away with a win.

RHP Alex Gonzalez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

49

9.2%

11.6%

8.9%

48.1%

4.22

4.99

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

92.8 mph;

44.0%

91.8 mph;

22.8%

86.9 mph;

10.0%

87.5 mph;

19.4%

80.7 mph;

3.8%

Gonzalez PA

On most prospect lists, Chi Chi Gonzalez ranked second in the Rangers organization and FanGraphs ranked him 27th overall. He was called up earlier this season and started off his major league career by throwing fifteen straight scoreless innings. The peripherals never matched that early success and he has bounced between Triple-A and the majors since July. After posting decent strikeout numbers throughout his minor league career, that skill has taken a major step back this year. We could expect a difficult transition to the majors, but his strikeout rate in Triple-A is way below his career norms. His primary pitch, his fastball, has looked like a plus pitch but his secondary offerings have been well below average. His slider has been a weapon for him in the past but its ineffectiveness seems to be the source of his plummeting strikeout rate.

LHP Martin Perez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

32 1/3

12.1%

5.7%

0.0%

62.5%

5.29

2.99

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

92.8 mph;

22.0%

92.5 mph;

34.7%

84.8 mph;

21.6%

86.6 mph;

13.1%

79.3 mph;

8.5%

Perez PA

Martin Perez recently returned to the majors after a long recovery process following Tommy John surgery. It seems like his command has returned and his average velocity is near his pre-injury levels. His first three starts after coming off the DL were clunkers, including an eight-run, one-inning performance against New York (the Yankees would go on to win 21-5). Since then, he’s made three quality starts against some tough opponents (the Giants, Mariners, and Rays). When healthy, Perez features a plus changeup to complement his above average fastball. His changeup hasn’t been nearly as effective this year and he’ll need to get that pitch right if he wants to continue to contribute to the Rangers.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

64-54

.542

-

L-W-W-L-W

Angels

60-57

.513

3.5

L-W-L-L-L

Rangers

59-57

.509

4.0

L-W-W-W-W

Mariners

55-63

.466

9.0

W-W-L-L-W

Athletics

51-68

.429

13.5

L-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Blue Jays

65-54

.546

+3.5

W-W-L-L-W

Orioles

60-56

.517

-

L-L-W-W-W

Angels

60-57

.513

0.5

L-W-L-L-L

Rangers

59-57

.509

1.0

L-W-W-W-W

Twins

59-58

.504

1.5

W-L-L-W-W

The Angels continue to fall in the standings after losing three of four against the Royals over the weekend. They currently do not possess a playoff spot after the Orioles swept the A’s to take the second Wild Card spot. The Angels host the White Sox to start the week and hope to gain ground against the Astros who are hosting the Rays. In the AL East, the Blue Jays lost two of three to the Yankees to fall a half game behind them in the division. The Blue Jays travel to Philadelphia to take on the resurgent Phillies while the Yankees host the Twins.