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Series Preview: Mariners (71-76) at Rangers (79-67)

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The Rangers have finally claimed the AL West division lead. The Mariners look to spoil their fun this weekend.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Friday, September 18

5:05 pm

Mariners

LHP James Paxton

Rangers

RHP Yovani Gallardo

Saturday, September 19

5:05 pm

Mariners

LHP Vidal Nuno

Rangers

LHP Cole Hamels

Sunday, September 20

12:05 pm

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Rangers

LHP Derek Holland

Mariners

Rangers

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

101 (4th in AL)

95 (13th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-27.5 (12th)

3.0 (3rd)

Rangers

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

107 (11th)

106 (10th)

Rangers

Bullpen (FIP-)

102 (10th)

102 (9th)

Rangers

The Mariners did their part in keeping the Angels from advancing in the playoff picture. But, through no fault of their own, Los Angeles finds themselves five games back in the West and two and a half games back in the Wild Card race. There’s a new sheriff in town. The Rangers swept the Astros in their four-game series to take a commanding two and a half game lead in the AL West. The Mariners will, again, attempt to throw a wrench into their best laid plans as they travel to Texas to face the new division leader.

The Rangers:

This will be the last time these two teams face each other this year. The Mariners have actually played very well against the Rangers, going 10-6 against them up to this point.

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 mostly recovered as his wRC+ is a healthy 115 in the second half.

1B Prince FielderThe 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’s seen some regression in this area. A shift in plate discipline has also helped him this year. He’s swinging more aggressively and is making more contact than ever, pushing his strikeout rate to the lowest point of his career. Unfortunately, his walk rate has also suffered and it’s also at an all-time low.

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 numbers have been slow to return. His walk rate has rebounded and his power has returned in the second half, and Choo has slashed .340/.454/.548, good for a 173 wRC+. That turn around has been a major reason why the Rangers have been so successful down the stretch.

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 since then. He’s continued to hit for power, he’s maintained his decent 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 19.4% home run rate is the highest it’s been since his rookie year which has helped him launch 21 home runs in just 116 games. His true talent probably isn’t an offensive line twenty percent better than league average, but he’s been good enough to be a league average first baseman this year.

CF Delino Deshields Jr. – Delino Deshields Jr. is cut from the same mold as his father: a slap-hitting speedster. He’s taken Leonys Martin’s spot in center field and atop the lineup and has flourished there. He’s shown an ability to get on base at an above average clip, running a walk rate of 11% and a healthy .332 BABIP. He’s been successful on over 75% of his steal attempts and his speed has helped him post a .117 ISO despite hitting only two homers this year.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Yovani Gallardo

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

169 1/3

14.9%

8.7%

8.9%

50.2%

3.35

4.08

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

91.6 mph;

30.9%

91.6 mph;

21.9%

89.7 mph;

1.6%

85.9 mph;

5.1%

88.3 mph;

29.0%

79.8 mph;

11.4%

Gallardo PA

The Rangers acquired Yovani Gallardo this offseason from the Brewers. At one point in his career, Gallardo was striking out almost a quarter of the batters he faced. Over the last two years, that ability has slowly eroded. As his strike outs have left his arsenal, his ability to generate ground balls has slowly improved. His strikeout rate has fallen to the lowest of his career due to the ineffectiveness of his two main secondary pitches. Instead of striking batters out, he’s found success through managing hard contact. Moving to Globe Life Park in Arlington could have been a disaster for a pitcher who had trouble with the long ball throughout his career, but Gallardo has actually cut his home run rate by four points this year. He’s allowing fewer hard hit balls than ever and that’s helped him maintain a low ERA. This will be Gallardo’s third appearance against the Mariners this year. He’s allowed just three runs in 11 innings and Texas has gone 1-1 in his two previous starts against them.

LHP Cole Hamels

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

184 1/3

24.1%

7.2%

11.1%

47.7%

3.76

3.43

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.6 mph;

31.5%

93.4 mph;

18.4%

89.7 mph;

14.8%

85.3 mph;

24.2%

78.9 mph;

11.1%

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. This will be the fourth time Hamels will face the Mariners since joining the Rangers. He’s given up 11 runs in 20 innings and has allowed 23 hits to Mariner batters, but Texas has gone 2-1 in those starts.

LHP Derek Holland

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

43

17.8%

4.0%

12.8%

42.0%

3.77

4.22

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.5 mph;

34.7%

93.7 mph;

24.4%

86.1 mph;

10.3%

83.5 mph;

19.2%

77.8 mph;

11.4%

Holland PA

Derek Holland has suffered two serious injuries and has pitched just 67 innings in the last two years. He’s made four starts since returning from the disabled list and he’s looked mostly healthy, particularly in his last two starts. His velocity has returned to his pre-injury levels and he’s commanding all of his pitches very well (just three walks in four starts). Back in 2013, when he was last healthy, he had started throwing his slider much more often which helped him push his strikeout rate above 20%. He hasn’t been throwing his slider as often in his return from the DL, and is throwing his curveball more often instead. His best pitch is still his fastball and it forms the foundation of his arsenal.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

79-67

.541

-

W-W-W-W-W

Astros

77-70

.524

2.5

W-L-L-L-L

Angels

74-72

.507

5.0

L-L-W-L-W

Mariners

71-76

.483

8.5

W-L-W-L-W

Athletics

63-84

.429

16.5

L-L-W-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Yankees

80-65

.552

+4.0

L-W-W-L-W

Astros

77-70

.524

-

W-L-L-L-L

Twins

75-71

.514

1.5

W-W-L-L-L

Angels

74-72

.507

5.0

L-L-W-L-W

Indians

72-73

.497

4.0

L-W-L-W-L

The Astros have done a wonderful job of giving away their commanding lead in the AL West.  This weekend, they hope to hang on to their playoff spot as they host the Athletics. Luckily for them, the two teams behind them in the Wild Card race, the Angels and the Twins, started a four-game series last night, with the Angels winning 11-8. If those two teams split their series, and if the Astros can beat up on the cellar dwellers of the American League, the Astros should solidify their grip on the second Wild Card spot as we head into the last two weeks of the season.