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Series Preview: Mariners (0-0) at Rangers (0-0)

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The 2016 season begins with a three-game series in Texas against the reigning division champions.

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Monday, April 4

1:05 pm

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Rangers

LHP Cole Hamels

Tuesday, April 5

5:05 pm

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Rangers

LHP Martin Perez

Wednesday, April 6

11:05 am

Mariners

LHP Wade Miley

Rangers

RHP Colby Lewis

Mariners (2015)

Rangers (2015)

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

101 (5th in AL)

96 (12th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-23.6 (13th)

20.8 (4th)

Rangers

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

106 (11th)

106 (10th)

Rangers

Bullpen (FIP-)

103 (10th)

103 (9th)

Rangers

Opening Day. The Beginning. Our great expectations were stained by another disappointing year from the Mariners. Yet we still return. We emerge from the cold, dark winter blinded by hope, by the longing for that big breakthrough. The sight of a mammoth home run or a nasty new pitch during spring training makes us ask, "But what if we did, though?" The stains of years past are briefly forgotten in the face of a new beginning.

The Mariners start off the year against the reigning division champions. After a mediocre first half of the season, the Rangers started playing excellent baseball at just the right time. The addition of Cole Hamels certainly helped, but in August and September, their offense was as good as any other in the American League. These two team had surprisingly similar pitching staffs last year. The Rangers are hoping for healthy years from oft injured starters like Derek Holland and Martin Perez and Yu Darvish will be returning from Tommy John surgery later this year. If healthy, their starting rotation should be much better than the collection of starters they used last year.

Welcome to another year of series previews. If you’re a regular Lookout Landing reader, welcome back. If you’re a new face, welcome home. Above, you’ll see the upcoming series laid out in the barest of details: probable pitchers, game times, and an overview of the Mariners and their opponents. Below, you’ll see the Mariners’ opponents laid out in more detail: key players, pitcher analysis, and individual pitch metrics (Pitch Arsenal Score). Finally, you’ll get a view of the big picture: AL West and Wild Card standings.

The Rangers:

The Rangers made just a few moves this offseason to bolster their core of veterans. Their biggest acquisition was Ian Desmond, who signed a one-year contract after rejecting a qualifying offer. He won’t be playing shortstop, his natural position. Instead the Rangers will be using him in left field, a position he hasn’t ever played professionally.

The group of expensive, aging players were a big part of their playoff run last year. Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo both had big rebound years and the Rangers will be counting on them again this year. Should they falter, the Rangers farm system is loaded with high-level prospects waiting to make their impact in the majors.

Key Players

2B Rougned Odor With Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve playing in the same division, it can be easy to forget that Rougned Odor has the talent to be better than both of them. Last year, he played his way out of a job early in the year and then played his way right back onto the team. From June 15—the day he was recalled from Triple-A—through the end of the season, Odor hit .292/.334/.527 good for a 126 wRC+. He’s just 22 years old and his performance over the last four months of the year indicate a high ceiling for him. He may not reach that ceiling this year, but he should be a core piece for the Rangers for years to come.

LF Ian Desmond – Ian Desmond’s ability to transition to the outfield is certainly something to watch for early this year but his offensive woes may be more important to the Rangers success. After breaking out in 2012 with a 128 wRC+, Desmond’s offensive abilities have slowly deteriorated. Last year he managed just an 83 wRC+ while striking out almost 30% of the time. He’s still capable of hitting for power, and his new home park should help too, but as long as his strikeout rate is climbing, his overall offensive contributions will be limited.

3B Adrian Beltre Here’s a thing about Adrian Beltre: He tore a ligament in his thumb on May 31 and spent 21 days on the disabled list. That isn’t nearly enough time to heal from that kind of injury but instead of struggling to hit for the rest of the season, he slashed .305/.357/.479 over the last four months of the year. He’ll turn 37 on Thursday, but he’s still one of the best third basemen in the league and he’s ready to add to his Hall of Fame résumé.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Cole Hamels (2015 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

212 1/3

24.4%

7.1%

12.0%

47.7%

3.65

3.47

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.6 mph;

31.0%

93.5 mph;

17.5%

90.0 mph;

15.5%

85.3 mph;

24.0%

79.2 mph;

12.1%

Hamels_PA

The Rangers acquired Cole Hamels at the trade deadline and he made 12 starts for them down the stretch. He faced the Mariners in a third of those starts. He’s consistently been one of the best starters in baseball and has been incredibly durable. The move to Texas may impact his home run rate a bit but his strikeout and walk rates are elite. It’s all built on his changeup, one of the best in the game. He’s able to generate whiffs with it almost half the time batters swing at it. His curveball is almost as impressive. Instead of using his curve to freeze batters, it’s a swing-and-miss pitch too. Those two secondary offerings make up for a mediocre fastball that comes in three varieties.

LHP Martin Perez (2015 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

78 2/3

14.2%

7.1%

5.2%

59.9%

4.46

3.40

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

92.8 mph;

21.5%

92.4 mph;

35.7%

84.8 mph;

21.7%

86.8 mph;

12.2%

78.6 mph;

8.9%

Perez_PA

Martin Perez returned from Tommy John surgery last year and posted a sparkling 3.40 FIP in the second half of the season. Despite the great peripherals, his results were marred by a 4.46 ERA and a .324 BABIP. He runs an extreme ground ball rate but his 5.2% HR/FB rate is definitely unsustainable, especially in Arlington. His strikeout rates have never been outstanding and his walk rates are merely average. He simply allows too much contact to be able to keep his ERA down. At his peak, he could be a slightly above average starter who generates a ton of ground balls, but there are too many concerns to think he’ll be anything more than that.

RHP Colby Lewis (2015 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

204 2/3

16.5%

4.9%

8.9%

33.7%

4.66

4.17

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

89.4 mph;

37.0%

88.3 mph;

13.8%

84.2 mph;

6.0%

83.6 mph;

35.2%

77.9 mph;

7.9%

Lewis_PA

The consummate innings eater returns to the Rangers for another year in the middle of their rotation. By his standards, Colby Lewis actually had a very good year last year. He posted a top 10 walk rate and was able to keep the ball in the yard more often. His strikeout rate took a dive and he struggled to keep runners from scoring leading to a 4.66 ERA. His extreme fly ball rate will prevent him from posting a similar home run rate so he’ll need to maintain his improved walk rate and see a bounce back in strikeout rate if he wants to repeat his success. More likely is another year with a FIP around 4.50 at the back of the Rangers’ rotation.

The Big Picture:

The AL West (FanGraphs Projections)

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

87-75

.539

-

-

Mariners

82-80

.506

-

-

Angels

82-80

.503

-

-

Athletics

80-82

.494

-

-

Rangers

80-82

.491

-

-

In lieu of any real standings, I’ve included the FanGraphs projections above to give you a glimpse of the parity in the AL West. Four teams in the division are projected to finish within a couple of wins of each other along with five other teams from around the league. Outside of the three projected division winners, the Wild Card race is completely wide open. Like we’ve seen the past few years, the two teams that stick around .500 and get hot at the right time should run away with the Wild Card spots. The Mariners are in as good a position as any other team to earn one of those spots.