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Series Preview: Mariners (68-62) at Rangers (77-54)

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The Mariners take on the division-leading Rangers seven times in the next ten games beginning with three games in Texas.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Monday, August 29 | 5:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Rangers

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

RHP Yu Darvish

43%

57%

Tuesday, August 30 | 5:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Rangers

LHP James Paxton

LHP Cole Hamels

42%

58%

Wednesday, August 31 | 11:05 am

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Rangers

RHP Felix Hernandez

LHP Martin Perez

51%

49%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Rangers

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

106 (2nd in AL)

95 (11th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-20.4 (13th)

6.8 (7th)

Rangers

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

107 (9th)

107 (10th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

95 (11th)

106 (15th)

Mariners

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

The parity in the American League may be the Mariners saving grace. Despite their recent swoon, they’re still only three games back in the Wild Card race. There are six teams that are separated by just four games (seven if you include the Yankees who are four and a half games behind the Red Sox), all of them vying for two playoff spots.

Even with the Wild Card still within reach, the Mariners must turn their attention to the AL West. They face the division-leading Rangers seven times in the next ten games and these games will be the last time these two teams face each other. If the Mariners want to try and topple the Rangers and have a fighting chance in the division, it will come down to these two series. They’ll start with a three game series in Texas with some juicy pitching matchups on the slate.

The Rangers:

The Rangers were big buyers at the trade deadline, hoping to solidify their grip on the AL West. They added Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Lucroy, and Jeremy Jeffress in July and snatched Carlos Gomez off the trash heap in August. With Prince Fielder’s retirement, the Rangers needed to make significant upgrades to their offense. But Lucroy has been the only acquisition that’s really panned out. Beltran has a paltry 49 wRC+ with the Rangers, Gomez has just a single hit (and was broken anyway), and Jeffress is suspended for a DWI. Add to that some serious offensive woes from some of their key players and the Rangers are scoring just four runs per game since the All-Star break. Of course they’re five games over .500 in that period too, because the Rangers are luck monsters who can’t seem to lose.

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 as good as 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 picked up right where he left off, slashing .273/.295/.491 this year. The only concern is his aggressive approach at the plate that’s driven his walk rate down to just 2.5%.

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 one of the Rangers best hitters this season. He’s cut his strikeout rate by five points and he’s raised his ISO back to around .180. He’s slowed down considerably in the second half, sporting a 53 wRC+ since the All-Star break and an abysmal 36 wRC+ in August. He isn’t walking and his power has completely dried up the last few months.

3B Adrian Beltre Here’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 his plate discipline stats are right in line with his career norms. Combined with his great defense that hasn’t slipped, Beltre is just solidifying his hall of fame bid with another excellent season.

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. Since making a big splash in the first half, Profar has dropped off significantly in the second half. His strikeout rate has jumped up to 22% since the All-Star break—27% in August—which has led to a wRC+ of just 38. He’s still playing all over the field but he’s no longer contributing at the plate.

RF Nomar Mazara With Shin-Soo Choo suffering through three separate injuries this year, Nomar Mazara has stepped into the major league lineup without missing a beat. As a highly advanced hitter with a smooth swing and good power, he’s easily made the transition to the majors and has played his way into the Rookie of the Year conversation. His strikeout rate in the majors has been much better than we might have expected, though his walk rate is below average. That’s okay because when he makes contact he’s hitting a line drive almost a quarter of the time.

C Jonathan Lucroy – After dancing around a trade for most of the year, and avoiding a Cleveland derailment, Jonathan Lucroy finally found himself in a Rangers uniform. He immediately upgrades the Rangers’ weakest position with one of the best catchers in the game. Lucroy has always been praised for his defensive work but he’s no slouch at the plate either. Since joining the Rangers, he’s blasted seven home runs in just 77 plate appearances, taking full advantage of the friendly confines of the Ballpark in Arlington.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Yu Darvish

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

65

30.3%

7.1%

13.4%

37.6%

2.91

3.43

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.7 mph;

39.3%

93.2 mph;

19.6%

90.0 mph;

10.7%

87.1 mph;

2.2%

82.7 mph;

16.3%

74.3 mph;

11.9%

Darvish PA

Yu Darvish made his triumphant return from Tommy John surgery earlier this year but was sidelined with shoulder fatigue after making just three starts. He returned to the rotation for good after the All-Star break and has been as good as ever. He’s striking out a ridiculous amount of batters with his excellent repertoire. But instead of relying on his secondary (or tertiary) pitches to finish off at-bats, he’s going to his fastball and it’s working. His fastball has the third highest whiff rate of any fastball thrown this year, almost double the amount of whiffs he was previously able to generate with the pitch.

LHP Cole Hamels

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

168 2/3

23.8%

8.7%

13.3%

49.4%

2.67

3.86

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.6 mph;

23.1%

93.5 mph;

19.7%

90.0 mph;

24.6%

85.3 mph;

18.0%

80.2 mph;

14.7%

Hamels PA

The home run issues that were plaguing Cole Hamels earlier this year have sorted themselves out but his FIP is still higher than it’s been since his rookie year. With his home run per fly ball rate falling to league average, the main culprit has been a big increase in his walk rate. But despite all the extra baserunners and home runs, he’s the ERA leader in the American League. Stranding 84% of the runners that reach base will certainly help and Hamels has been particularly stingy when runners reach scoring position, allowing just a .255 wOBA in those situations.

LHP Martin Perez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

163 2/3

11.9%

9.1%

10.6%

53.0%

4.45

4.55

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

94.0 mph;

18.4%

93.7 mph;

43.7%

85.2 mph;

17.0%

85.8 mph;

11.0%

80.7 mph;

10.0%

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. That success he enjoyed last year wasn’t sustainable. His home run rate regressed to league average, his walk rate increased by two points, and he’s striking out fewer batters than ever before. The only thing he’s been able to maintain is his above average groundball rate. With a contact heavy approach and poor peripherals, it’s no wonder his FIP finally matches his ugly ERA.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

77-54

.588

-€”

W-W-L-W-W

Mariners

68-62

.523

8.5

L-L-W-L-L

Astros

68-62

.523

8.5

L-W-W-W-L

Athletics

57-73

.438

19.5

W-W-L-W-W

Angels

56-74

.431

20.5

W-W-L-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Red Sox

72-58

.554

+1.0

L-L-L-W-L

Orioles

71-59

.546

-€”

W-L-L-L-W

Tigers

69-61

.531

2.0

W-W-W-L-L

Mariners

68-62

.523

3.0

L-L-W-L-L

Astros

68-62

.523

3.0

L-W-W-W-L

Royals

68-62

.523

3.0

L-W-W-L-W

The Royals continued to make their way up the standings by taking two of three from the Red Sox in Boston. That helped both the Mariners and Tigers stay close in the standings but there’s now another team vying for the Wild Card. The Royals host the Yankees to open the week while the Red Sox host the Rays. The Orioles weren’t able to take advantage of the losses in Boston after losing two of three in New York. They’ll return home to host the Blue Jays in a battle for the AL East lead. The Tigers couldn’t handle the Angels over the weekend and host the White Sox to start the week.