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Series Preview: Mariners (66-71) vs. Rangers (71-64)

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The Mariners return home in the midst of their longest winning streak of the year, looking to play spoiler for the visiting Rangers.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Monday, September 7

3:40 pm

Rangers

RHP Yovani Gallardo

Mariners

LHP Roenis Elias

Tuesday, September 8

7:10 pm

Rangers

LHP Cole Hamels

Mariners

RHP Taijuan Walker

Wednesday, September 9

7:10 pm

Rangers

LHP Martin Perez

Mariners

TBA

Thursday, September 10

12:40 pm

Rangers

LHP Derek Holland

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Mariners

Rangers

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

101 (5th in AL)

94 (13th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-25.2 (12th)

-0.7 (4th)

Rangers

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

109 (12th)

108 (10th)

Rangers

Bullpen (FIP-)

105 (12th)

105 (11th)

Rangers

Throughout all of July and August, as the Mariners frustratingly gave back every win with another loss, we were just waiting for a week where they would rattle off six or seven wins in a row and launch themselves back into the Wild Card race. Well, that week came a month too late. With their sweep of the A’s over the weekend, the Mariners have put together a modest, five-game win streak and went 7-3 during their ten-game road trip. Now the Mariners return home looking to play spoiler for the surging Rangers.

The Rangers:

The Mariners have gone 8-4 against the Rangers this year but lost the most recent series to them. August was a very good month for the Rangers. They went 18-10 and launched themselves into the second Wild Card spot, taking advantage of a mediocre American League. They’re a game and a half ahead of the Twins in the Wild Card race and even have a shot at the AL West if thing break their way. It’s quite a turnaround for a team that was considered dead in July.

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 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 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

RHP Yovani Gallardo

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

159 2/3

14.8%

8.7%

8.1%

49.8%

3.27

3.98

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

91.7 mph;

30.9%

91.6 mph;

22.5%

90.0 mph;

1.3%

86.1 mph;

5.1%

88.5 mph;

28.7%

79.9 mph;

11.5%

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.

LHP Cole Hamels

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

170 1/3

25.2%

7.5%

11.9%

47.8%

3.70

3.39

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.5 mph;

31.5%

93.3 mph;

17.9%

89.6 mph;

14.6%

85.3 mph;

24.4%

78.9 mph;

11.5%

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 third time Hamels will face the Mariners since joining the Rangers. In both games, the M’s were able to get their hits against him, accumulating 15 hits in 13 innings.

LHP Martin Perez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

49 2/3

13.0%

7.0%

2.9%

62.1%

5.07

3.31

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

92.6 mph;

21.9%

92.3 mph;

34.9%

84.7 mph;

23.3%

86.5 mph;

11.5%

78.5 mph;

8.3%

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.

LHP Derek Holland

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

30 1/3

21.9%

2.6%

16.1%

44.0%

2.37

4.13

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.5 mph;

34.1%

93.6 mph;

25.4%

86.3 mph;

11.8%

83.7 mph;

17.7%

78.3 mph;

11.1%

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

Astros

75-62

.547

-

L-L-W-L-W

Rangers

71-64

.526

3.0

W-W-L-W-L

Angels

69-67

.507

5.5

W-W-W-L-W

Mariners

66-71

.482

9.0

W-W-W-W-W

Athletics

58-79

.423

17.0

L-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Yankees

76-59

.563

+5.0

W-W-W-L-W

Rangers

71-64

.526

-

W-W-L-W-L

Twins

70-66

.515

1.5

W-L-L-W-L

Angels

69-67

.507

2.5

W-W-W-L-W

Rays

67-69

.493

4.5

W-L-L-W-L

In a battle for the second spot in the Wild Card race, the Angels were able to gain just a single game on the Rangers this weekend. They host their interdivision and intercity rivals, the Dodgers, to start the week and have the privilege of facing Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw back-to-back. The Twins lost two of three to the Astros and now have to face the best team in the AL, the Royals.

With this stretch of great play, the Mariners have taken themselves further out of the running for a protected draft pick. They currently hold the 14th draft pick if the season were to end today.