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Series Preview: Mariners (33-27) vs. Rangers (37-23)

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Hoping to make up ground in the AL West, the Mariners get another shot at the Rangers this weekend.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Texas Rangers Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Friday, June 10 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Rangers

Mariners

LHP Derek Holland

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

44%

56%

Saturday, June 11 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Rangers

Mariners

RHP Colby Lewis

LHP James Paxton

49%

51%

Sunday, June 12 | 1:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Rangers

Mariners

LHP Cole Hamels

LHP Wade Miley

51%

49%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Rangers

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

115 (2nd in AL)

94 (10th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-10.9 (13th)

28 (1st)

Rangers

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

104 (9th)

102 (6th)

Rangers

Bullpen (FIP-)

88 (7th)

114 (15th)

Mariners

*Text appearing in italics has appeared in a previous series preview.

Here we go again. Losing another game in the standings to the Rangers makes winning this weekend series critical. These two teams won’t play each other again until the last week in August. There are a lot of games between now and then, but this is a prime opportunity to make up some of the damage that was done last weekend. With the return of Ketel Marte earlier this week and the return of Leonys Martin today, the Mariners’ offense should be at full strength. On top of that, they’ll draw the bottom of the Rangers’ rotation for the first two games of the series.

The Rangers:

Unlike the Mariners, whose success has been driven by their offense, the Rangers have thrived by playing excellent defense. Despite learning on the job this spring, Ian Desmond has thrived in both left and center field. As a group, their outfield has the highest UZR in baseball (though DRS is much less impressed) and it’s certainly helped their pitching staff. The Rangers’ starting pitchers have allowed the second lowest BABIP in the American League helping them post an ERA a full run lower than their FIP. Their bullpen hasn’t enjoyed the same benefits but that’s because the fly balls they’re allowing are flying over the fence. The Rangers took three of four from the Astros at home in the week between these two weekend series.

Key Players

IF Jurickson ProfarWhen Rougned Odor was suspended earlier this month, the Rangers called up former top prospect Jurickson Profar to fill in for him. A litany of injuries had derailed Profar’s promising career; he missed all of 2014 and almost all of 2015 with a bad shoulder injury. In the 13 games in the majors this year, he’s shown off all the tools that made him a top prospect. He’s making excellent contact, hitting for power, and showing off great defense around the infield. He impressed so much that the Rangers have kept him around despite Odor’s return.

RF Nomar MazaraShin-Soo Choo’s injury has opened up an opportunity for the 20-year-old Nomar Mazara and he’s run with it. As a highly advanced hitter with a smooth swing and excellent power, he’s easily made the transition to the majors and has been one of the reasons why the Rangers have been so good lately. His strikeout rate in the majors has been much better than we might have expected, though his walk rate is well below average. That’s okay because when he makes contact he’s hitting a line drive more than a quarter of the time.

DH Prince FielderAfter his potentially career-threatening neck injury in 2014, Prince Fielder barely missed a step in his return to the field. He played in 158 games last year and put up a .305/.378/.463 slash line. Fielder hasn’t enjoyed the same success this year. In fact, he’s been the worst player in baseball so far, accumulating -1.5 fWAR while playing in all but one game this season. He isn’t getting on base, isn’t hitting for power, and generally looks inept at the plate. None of his batted ball peripherals are out of whack, but he is swinging a missing more often and making contact on pitches outside of the zone less often. I don’t think he’s completely broken, a BABIP of .215 has nowhere to go but up, but right now he’s just not a dangerous hitter at all.

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.

LF Ian Desmond –Ian Desmond has resoundingly answered any lingering questions about his transition to the outfield and his offensive woes. He’s been an above average outfielder in both left and center field and he’s been the Rangers best hitter this season. He’s pushed his strikeout rate back down to around 20% and he’s raised his ISO back to around .180. The most impressive thing has been his newfound ability to lay off pitches outside of the zone. Earlier in his career, he would regularly swing at balls around 35% of the time; this year his O-Swing% is down to 25%.

3B Adrian BeltreHere’s a thing about Adrian Beltre: He tore a ligament in his thumb on May 31 of last year 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’s just continued to produce at the plate despite turning 37 in April. He’s hitting for power again and he’s actually cut his strikeout rate to just 9.0%. Combined with his great defense that hasn’t slipped, Beltre is just solidifying his hall of fame bid with another excellent season. Beltre injured his hamstring earlier this week but will avoid a trip to the disabled list. He's day-to-day and could make an appearance later this weekend.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Derek Holland

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

59 2/3

13.1%

7.1%

6.8%

37.0%

4.53

4.28

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

93.2 mph;

46.2%

92.9 mph;

18.5%

84.0 mph;

12.6%

82.4 mph;

7.1%

78.5 mph;

15.3%

Holland PA

Derek Holland hasn’t made more than 10 starts in a year since making 33 in 2013. A knee injury wiped out most of his 2014 season and he strained a muscle in his back in his first start of the 2015 season. When he was healthy, he combined a decent strikeout rate with an ability to limit walks. He built a lot of his prior success on the strength of his slider, but he’s moved away from the pitch in favor of a curveball. Without his one plus pitch, his strikeout rate has cratered. He’s allowing more contact than ever before but it’s all in the air rather than on the ground like Perez. So instead of grounding into double plays, batters have done an incredible amount damage against Holland when he allows baserunners—a .280 wOBA with the bases empty and a .389 wOBA with runners on base!

RHP Colby Lewis

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

76

16.6%

5.5%

10.9%

36.4%

3.20

4.37

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

88.8 mph;

42.0%

87.2 mph;

8.7%

82.8 mph;

7.6%

83.5 mph;

32.4%

77.3 mph;

9.4%

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. This year, his strikeout rate and walk rate look very similar but his home run rate has jumped back to his career norms. But despite more balls leaving the yard, his ERA is a nice 3.20. He’s stranding 82.9% of the runners that reach against him which certainly accounts for some of the discrepancy between his ERA and FIP. He’s also been very good on the road, giving up just five runs outside of Arlington in five road starts.

LHP Cole Hamels

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

76

23.4%

9.2%

23.7%

52.6%

3.32

4.98

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.2 mph;

24.3%

93.0 mph;

19.1%

89.3 mph;

24.0%

85.1 mph;

19.7%

79.9 mph;

12.9%

Hamels PA

If you just look at Cole Hamel’s ERA it might seem like he’s just cruising through another year like any other. But then you might notice that almost a quarter of the fly balls he’s allowing have left the park. His home run per fly ball rate is the highest among all qualified pitchers in baseball yet his ERA is a cool 3.32. It helps that 10 of the 14 dingers he’s allowed have come with the bases empty and an 84.5% strand rate has helped him mitigate a walk rate that’s climbed to the highest point in his career. He’s still striking out a batter an inning but we may be seeing the first cracks appearing for this 32-year-old.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

37-23

.617

-€”

W-W-W-L-W

Mariners

33-27

.550

4.0

L-L-W-W-L

Astros

29-33

.468

9.0

W-L-L-W-L

Angels

26-34

.433

11.0

W-L-L-L-L

Athletics

25-34

.424

11.5

L-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Red Sox

34-25

.576

+1.5

L-W-L-W-L

Mariners

33-27

.550

-€”

L-L-W-W-L

Blue Jays

32-30

.516

2.0

W-L-L-W-L

Tigers

30-29

.508

2.5

W-W-W-W-L

Royals

30-29

.508

2.5

L-L-L-L-L

The Astros’ sweep of the Athletics last weekend brought them to within two games of .500 but losing three of four from the Rangers has erased all that progress. They’ll travel to Tampa to face the Rays this weekend. The Angels were swept by the Yankees in New York pushing their losing streak to four games. They’ll host the Indians over the weekend. The standings in the AL Central are extremely fluid right now. The Royals have lost seven straight after taking first place in the division a few weeks ago. They’ll be in Chicago this weekend hoping to snap that losing streak against the extremely mediocre White Sox.