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Series Preview: Mariners (50-59) vs. Rangers (54-53)

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The Rangers are in town this weekend as the Mariners hope to continue their offensive resurgence.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Friday, August 7

7:10 pm

Rangers

LHP Cole Hamels

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Saturday, August 8

1:10 pm

Rangers

LHP Martin Perez

Mariners

LHP Mike Montgomery

Sunday, August 9

1:10 pm

Rangers

RHP Colby Lewis

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Mariners

Rangers

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

97 (8th in AL)

96 (11th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-17.0 (10th)

-5.2 (6th)

Rangers

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

107 (9th)

110 (14th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

102 (10th)

113 (14th)

Mariners

All it took was three games in Colorado for the Mariners’ offense to jump five spots on the AL batting leaderboard. Their 121 wRC+ in the second half of the season is fifth best in the league but they’re still two games under .500 after the All-Star break. Most of that is due to a pitching staff that is now giving up over five runs per game. That’s the story of this season in a nutshell: when one thing is going right, another just flies off the rails.

A seven-game winning streak towards the end of May propelled the Rangers to .500 and they’ve spent the rest of the season on the periphery of the Wild Card race. At the trade deadline, they were the winners of the Cole Hamels sweepstakes, trading four of their top prospects away to get him. It’s a move that should help them this year and into the future. Next year their rotation will feature Hamels and Yu Darvish at the front which could be one of the most potent one-two combinations in baseball.

The Rangers:

The Rangers have oscillated between hot and cold streaks recently; they were 5-15 prior to the All-Star break but are 12-7 since then. A four-game winning streak—including a sweep of the Astros—has pushed them to within 2.5 games of the second Wild Card spot. Cole Hamels should help them challenge for a playoff spot but their uncharacteristically weak offense will probably hold them back.

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 yera but he also hasn’t made any improvements to his offensive approach or his defense to recoup any of his value.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Cole Hamels

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

136 1/3

25.3%

7.1%

12.3%

48.8%

3.76

3.34

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.4 mph;

30.3%

93.2 mph;

17.7%

89.3 mph;

15.8%

85.2 mph;

24.1%

78.7 mph;

12.1%

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.

LHP Martin Perez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

20 1/3

12.2%

6.7%

0.0%

59.2%

6.64

3.04

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

92.9 mph;

27.7%

92.5 mph;

28.7%

85.2 mph;

21.5%

86.8 mph;

13.2%

80.0 mph;

8.9%

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). But his last start against the Giants was an eight-inning gem where he gave up just two hits, no walks, and struck out six. 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.

RHP Colby Lewis

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

138 1/3

18.0%

4.5%

9.3%

34.9%

4.68

4.09

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

89.6 mph;

39.1%

88.5 mph;

14.7%

84.3 mph;

6.5%

83.8 mph;

30.1%

78.0 mph;

9.7%

Lewis PA

Colby Lewis has been a fixture as a mid-rotation starter for the Rangers since 2010. His ability to generate strike outs has slowly deteriorated and he would be #5 or #6 on most Major League teams. Still, his resilience and durability are to be commended. Last year, he suffered through some poor batted ball luck—his BABIP was a whopping .339 which was driven by a high line drive rate—which has mostly corrected itself a year later. He throws five pitches and none of them rate above average according to their Pitch Arsenal Score.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

61-49

.555

-

W-L-L-L-W

Angels

57-50

.533

2.5

L-L-W-L-W

Rangers

54-53

.505

5.5

L-W-W-W-W

Mariners

50-59

.459

10.5

L-W-W-W-L

Athletics

48-62

.436

13.0

W-L-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Angels

57-50

.533

+0.5

L-L-W-L-W

Blue Jays

58-52

.527

-

W-W-W-W-W

Orioles

55-52

.514

1.5

W-L-W-L-W

Rangers

54-53

.505

2.5

L-W-W-W-W

Twins

54-54

.500

3.0

L-L-L-L-L

The Twins have finally fallen out of the playoff picture after being swept in four games by the Blue Jays. Toronto takes their place as the second Wild Card team and travels to New York to face the division leading Yankees. The Astros broke their three-game losing streak last night as they beat the Athletics in 11 innings. They maintain a loose grip on the AL West after the Angels rallied to take two of three against the Indians. Houston continues their series against the Athletics this weekend while the Angels host the Orioles.