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Series Preview: Mariners (13-16) vs. Rangers (12-17)

The Rangers are in town over the weekend for a three-game series.

Texas Rangers v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Rangers Mariners
Rangers Mariners
Game 1 Friday, May 5 | 7:10 pm
RHP Yu Darvish RHP Yovani Gallardo
50% 50%
Game 2 Saturday, May 6 | 6:10 pm
LHP Martin Perez RHP Chase De Jong
46% 54%
Game 3 Sunday, May 7 | 1:10 pm
RHP Andrew Cashner LHP James Paxton
37% 63%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2017) Rangers (2017) Edge
Overview Mariners (2017) Rangers (2017) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 111 (3rd in AL) 91 (12th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 4.7 (5th) -2.3 (10th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 100 (6th) 117 (15th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 111 (13th) 110 (12th) Rangers

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

This will be the second time the Rangers have traveled to Safeco Field for a three-game weekend series. The last time, the Mariners were coming into the series with a 2-8 record and desperately needed to rattle off a few wins. The stakes aren’t as high for this series but a series win or even a sweep would go a long way towards putting the Mariners back on the right track.

The eight-run win last night helped the Mariners push their run differential back to the positive side of the ledger. They’ve now scored the second most runs in the American League but it would be nice if those runs could be more evenly distributed rather than a few big outbursts followed by smaller run totals. They’ve also allowed the second most runs in the league and much of that is due to an erratic bullpen that’s already seen 14 different relievers come running through the door. Despite missing Felix and Drew Smyly, the Mariners rotation has actually been pretty decent, sitting right around league average.

The Rangers:

Since being swept by the Mariners back in early April, the Rangers have gone 8-9. A four-game sweep of the lowly Royals seriously skews those results. Ignore that series and the Rangers have won exactly one game per series since the last time they played in Seattle. Now with Cole Hamels sidelined for 2-3 months with an oblique injury and Adrian Beltre and Tyson Ross still around a month away, there are many who are wondering if the Rangers are going to be sellers at the trade deadline. It’s too early to make a call one way or another but the Rangers have certainly felt the crushing weight of being on the wrong side of the luck machine this year.

Key Players

2B Rougned OdorDespite his plate discipline stats trending the wrong ways, Rougned Odor found a way to make his hyper-aggressive approach at the plate work. He packs a huge amount of power into his small frame because he’s rarely cheated out of a swing. Of course, his swing-happy ways result in a walk rate that dwindled to just 3.0% last season. Combined with his lackluster defense at a premium position, his overall value has been limited to around 2.0 fWAR per season.

RF Nomar MazaraNomar Mazara made his major league debut just before his 21st birthday and his season came with all the ups and downs you would expect from a player that young. He ended up with a respectable .266/.320/.419 slash line with 20 home runs but he definitely struggled as the season wore on. In August and September, his strikeout rate jumped up to 26.2%, almost 10 points higher than what he ran during the first half of the season. Still, it has to be encouraging to see him put up 1.2 fWAR as a 21-year-old with lots of room to continue developing.

SS Elvis AndrusFor much of his career, Elvis Andrus developed a reputation as a light-hitting, defense-first shortstop. But something changed in 2016. He posted the best offensive season of his career while his defensive metrics took a meteoric tumble. Offensively, his retooled swing—he added a big leg kick and bought into the swing plane changes sweeping baseball—led to more pulled fly balls hit with authority. Those adjustments to generate more power didn’t result in a loss of plate discipline either. He ended up posting a .302/.362/.439 slash line and an offensive line 12% better than league average.

3B Joey GalloJoey Gallo might have the most raw power of any player in the majors. The only problem is he can’t make consistent contact with the ball. His career strikeout rate of 45% is alarming. With Adrian Beltre on the shelf with his lingering calf injury, Gallo has been given a full-time opportunity at third early this season. He’s shown off his strength with nine homers in 110 plate appearances and his strikeout rate is an almost palatable 38.2%. In the field, he’s a strong-armed third baseman who (albeit in a small sample size) has graded out positively in just under 400 innings at the position.

CF Carlos Gomez After breaking out with the Brewers in 2013 and ‘14, Carlos Gomez hasn’t posted a wRC+ of more than 100 since. However, the end of 2016 saw him return to his All-Star form, slashing an impressive .284/.362/.543 in 33 games as a Ranger. His success transferred over to the start of this season, as he’s boasting a .204 ISO through 123 plate appearances and sporting the highest walk rate of his career. One of the things the Rangers coaching staff worked on was calming his swing down, with the goal of increasing contact. In 2016, Gomez’s contact rate dropped below 70% for the first time in his career. This year, it’s back up to 74.6%, right in line with his career norms.

C Jonathan LucroySome catchers don’t hit well, but are valuable behind the plate. Some are offensive assets, but struggle defensively. Jonathan Lucroy is very good on both sides of the plate. He’s rated out positively on StatCorner Catcher Report every year he’s been in the majors, while posting a wRC+ above 100 in four of his last five seasons. He demonstrated more power than any other year in his career in 2016, running a .208 ISO en route to 24 home runs. Where Lucroy has been more consistently impressive is his plate discipline. The 30-year-old backstop has an impressive 14.7% strikeout rate over the course of his career. Perhaps more impressively, he’s struck out in just 6.5% of his plate appearances in 2017. As his BABIP of .215 regresses towards his career mean of .309, expect another productive season from Lucroy.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Texas Rangers

RHP Yu Darvish

38 2/3 27.0% 11.2% 12.5% 39.4% 3.03 3.59

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.5 35.6% 203 109 172
Sinker 93.8 14.5% - - -
Cutter 89.0 18.5% 134 67 112
Changeup 88.6 2.0% - - -
Slider 82.1 24.1% 90 50 77
Curveball 74.0 4.2% - - -
*Darvish’s sinker, changeup, and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014, Yu Darvish picked up where he left off in 2016. His strikeout rate didn’t miss a beat and he was even able to lower his walk rate a bit. Surprisingly, he was able to add velocity to his four-seam fastball after his surgery and began relying on it more than ever. He’s able to generate a ridiculous number of whiffs with the pitch—the seventh highest fastball whiff rate in the majors last year. This season, he’s still throwing his fastball with added velocity—though not as fast as last year—but he’s back to throwing his breaking pitches more often. Perhaps it’s all those added bendy pitches that’s caused his walk rate to spike up to 11.2%.

LHP Martin Perez

31 2/3 13.8% 13.1% 9.7% 41.3% 4.26 4.81

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.0 21.1% 87 100 91
Sinker 94.0 38.3% 204 81 163
Changeup 85.2 22.9% 48 79 58
Slider 86.1 7.8% - - -
Curveball 79.8 9.8% - - -
*Perez’s slider and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

Among all qualified starting pitchers last season, Martin Perez’s strikeout rate was the worst by a large margin. His high contact approach works because he’s able to generate an above average ground ball rate with his heavy sinker usage. But that kind of approach is dependent on a lot of batted ball luck. With a poor walk rate and so many balls in play, he’s historically run a very poor strand rate and is prone to allowing big rallies. In six starts this season, Perez’s ground ball rate has fallen to a career low. But he isn’t allowing that many more fly balls, rather, those worm burners are being elevated just slightly. His 28.8% line drive rate is third highest in the majors and a big reason why his BABIP has jumped up to .350.

RHP Andrew Cashner

21 1/3 10.6% 17.0% 8.7% 48.5% 2.95 5.86
*None of Cashner’s pitches have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Andrew Cashner was one of the big offseason signings by the Rangers and they’re hoping that they’re getting the 2013-2015 version, not the 2016 version. While with the Padres, Cashner averaged 2.4 fWAR per season with a 3.43/3.48/3.68 pitcher slash line. But everything fell apart last season. His walk rate jumped up to 10.2% and he ran into the same home run problems that the entire league faced last year. The result was the worst season as a starter in his career. After some arm trouble in spring training, Cashner made his season debut against the Mariners, allowing four runs in five-plus innings. He’s been able to post a nice 2.95 ERA despite a walk rate that is seven points higher than his strikeout rate. He’s stranding 80% of the runners that reach against him and his good fortune should eventually run out.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 19-10 0.655 -- W-W-W-W-L
Angels 15-15 0.500 4.5 L-W-W-L-L
Mariners 13-16 0.448 6.0 L-L-L-W-W
Athletics 12-16 0.429 6.5 W-L-L-L-W
Rangers 12-17 0.414 7.0 L-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Orioles 17-10 0.630 +2.0 W-W-L-L-W
Indians 15-12 0.556 -- W-W-L-L-W
Twins 14-12 0.556 0.5 W-W-W-W-L
Red Sox 15-13 0.536 0.5 W-L-W-W-L
Tigers 14-13 0.519 1.0 L-W-W-W-L

The Rangers were able to snap their four-game losing streak—and end the Astros winning streak—with a decisive win yesterday afternoon. The Astros will head to Anaheim to take on the Angels this weekend. The Athletics also avoided a sweep at the hands of the Twins with a win yesterday. They’ll return home to host the Tigers. The surprising White Sox, who are tied atop the AL Central with the Indians, travel to Baltimore to take on the Wild Card leader.