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Series Preview: Mariners (31-22) at Rangers (31-22)

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The Mariners will play the Rangers six times in the next ten days. They face off for the AL West division lead in Arlington this weekend.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Texas Rangers Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Friday, June 3 | 5:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Rangers

RHP Taijuan Walker

RHP Yu Darvish

43%

57%

Saturday, June 4 | 6:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Rangers

RHP Nate Karns

LHP Martin Perez

48%

52%

Sunday, June 5 | 12:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Rangers

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

LHP Derek Holland

51%

49%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Rangers

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

117 (2nd in AL)

91 (11th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-10.7 (14th)

24.0 (1st)

Rangers

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

108 (11th)

102 (6th)

Rangers

Bullpen (FIP-)

82 (4th)

124 (15th)

Mariners

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

If you’re looking for an early season turning point, this next week and a half could go a long way towards deciding the AL West. The Mariners and Rangers will face each other six times in the next ten days, beginning with a three-game set in Texas. The Rangers have kept pace with the Mariners the entire season and both teams enter this series with the same record. After a four-game series in which 81 runs were scored in two of the most pitcher friendly ballparks in baseball, the Mariners should be looking forward to a three-game series in Arlington.

The Rangers provide an interesting case study of the different methods by which playoff odds are calculated. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus calculate their odds using a combination of their pre-season projections and current season performance. But at this point in the season, the odds are still heavily weighted towards the projections, both of which viewed the Rangers as mediocre at best. FiveThirtyEight places much more weight on recent performance and actually gives the Rangers the fifth highest playoff odds in baseball, eight points higher than the Mariners. Neither method is perfect, and our opinions should be informed by multiple sources anyway (which is why I’m regularly citing all three systems in these previews), but it’s clear the Rangers are not the team many expected them to be this year.

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 had a four-game winning streak snapped yesterday but still won their series against the Indians, their fourth series win in a row.

Key Players

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 OdorWith 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. Odor was suspended for seven games for punching Jose Bautista but his suspension ends on Saturday. With Jurickson Profar playing so well in Odor’s absence, the Rangers might ease him back into regular playing time slowly.

CF 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.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Yu Darvish (2014 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

144 1/3

30.1%

8.1%

8.6%

36.3%

3.06

2.84

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

92.5 mph;

38.1%

92.2 mph;

4.6%

88.7 mph;

14.1%

86.3 mph;

4.6%

79.3 mph;

25.2%

68.7 mph;

4.5%

Darvish PA

Yu Darvish made his triumphant return from Tommy John surgery a week ago, pitching five innings against the Pirates, giving up only one run, and striking out seven. In that start, he threw just 81 pitches so the Rangers are going to be cautious with their returning ace. The velocity on all of his pitches was up by two or three ticks which might be a result of adrenaline—we might have seen a similar thing with James Paxton earlier this week. For a pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery, control is the last thing to return to their skill set. Darvish was never really known for his outstanding command so we may see spurts of wildness. But even a limited Yu Darvish is a huge upgrade to the Rangers’ rotation, and it could not have come at a worse time for the Mariners.

LHP Martin Perez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

66 1/3

14.6%

11.3%

10.2%

57.4%

3.12

4.40

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.1 mph;

20.2%

94.0 mph;

44.7%

85.9 mph;

16.5%

86.3 mph;

10.0%

80.9 mph;

8.6%

Perez PA

Martin Perez returned from his own 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’s flipped his FIP and ERA this year. He’s somehow surviving with a 3.12 ERA despite a 4.40 FIP that’s driven by a walk rate over 11%. His extreme ground ball rate certainly helps him work around baserunners—he’s been the beneficiary of 17 double plays this year, the most in the majors.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. As long as he’s allowing as much contact as he does, he’ll be pitching on the edge, hoping for lucky bounces into gloves.

LHP Derek Holland

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

52 2/3

11.9%

7.1%

6.2%

35.0%

4.78

4.31

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

93.2 mph;

45.5%

92.9 mph;

19.2%

84.3 mph;

12.7%

82.9 mph;

6.5%

78.5 mph;

16.1%

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!

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Mariners

31-22

.585

-€”

L-W-W-L-W

Rangers

31-22

.585

-€”

W-W-W-W-L

Athletics

25-29

.463

6.5

W-W-W-W-W

Astros

25-30

.455

7.0

W-W-W-W-L

Angels

24-29

.453

7.0

L-L-W-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

31-22

.585

+0.5

W-W-W-W-L

Orioles

30-22

.577

-€”

W-L-L-W-W

Indians

28-24

.538

2.0

L-L-L-W-W

White Sox

29-25

.537

2.0

L-L-L-W-W

Blue Jays

29-26

.527

2.5

W-L-W-W-W

On the heels of a five-game winning streak, the Athletics have leap frogged the Astros and the Angels into third place in the AL West. Houston had their own five-game winning streak snapped yesterday after Zack Grienke outdueled Dallas Keuchel. The Astros and the Athletics will battle for third in the West this weekend in Houston. A big four-game series between the Royals and the Indians started off with a walk-off sacrifice fly in Cleveland. The Indians have a chance to take the lead in the AL Central this weekend if they sweep. In the AL East, the Orioles salvaged a four-game series against the Red Sox with two wins in a row where they scored 25 runs. Baltimore is just a game behind Boston in the East and currently holds the second Wild Card spot.