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Series Preview: Mariners (33-35) at Rangers (32-33)

The Mariners travel to Arlington for the first time this season to take on the Rangers for three games.

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

At a Glance

Mariners Rangers
Mariners Rangers
Game 1 Friday, June 16 | 5:05 pm
LHP James Paxton RHP Tyson Ross
50% 50%
Game 2 Saturday, June 17 | 2:05 pm
RHP Yovani Gallardo LHP Martin Perez
46% 54%
Game 3 Sunday, June 18 | 12:05 pm
RHP Christian Bergman RHP Yu Darvish
38% 62%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Rangers Edge
Overview Mariners Rangers Edge
Batting (wRC+) 104 (4th in AL) 89 (14th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 12.6 (2nd) 6.4 (7th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 118 (14th) 115 (11th) Rangers
Bullpen (FIP-) 106 (11th) 110 (13th) Mariners

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

For the first time in over a month, the Mariners draw a division foe. Since winning two of three from the Rangers during the first week of May, the Mariners have gone 18-18. That includes the four-game sweep in Toronto, the five-game losing streak to the White Sox and Nationals, and the five-game winning streak against the Rays and the Twins. That seems like ages ago but the Mariners have done exactly what they’ve needed to do while their starting rotation gets healthy. Speaking of getting healthy, we’re about a week away from seeing both Felix Hernandez and Jean Segura return to the majors. Felix should give us a reprieve from the inconsistency of Christian Bergman and Segura’s miraculously quick recovery will push Taylor Motter back to the bench.

The Rangers:

The Rangers have been one of the streakiest teams in the majors this season. They won ten games in a row in mid-May, pushing their record to three games over .500. But they followed up that hot streak by winning just four of their next 15 games. They snapped out of that cold streak by sweeping the Nationals last weekend and taking two of three from the Astros earlier this week. Adrian Beltre has finally recovered from his calf injury he suffered at the end of spring training, though both Mike Napoli and Carlos Gomez have been sidelined with injuries of their own—Gomez will probably return sometime during this series.

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. This season, his strikeout rate has climbed even higher, up to 23.4%. But his biggest problem is the amount of popups he’s hitting. Almost a quarter of all his fly balls are popups which has driven his BABIP all the way down to .243. 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. Mazara has continued to show off all the skills that made him a Rookie of the Year candidate last year. He’s increased his walk rate and is hitting for more power this season, all signs of a player making the necessary adjustments to be a solid contributor in the majors for a long time.

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 returning from his lingering calf injury, Gallo has been filling in at first base for the injured Mike Napoli. He’s shown off his strength with 18 homers and his strikeout rate is an almost palatable 37.2%. 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 .176 ISO through 164 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 73.4%, just a bit below 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. 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. This season, he’s struck out in just 8.6% of his plate appearances, far and away the best rate of his career. But all those additional balls in play haven’t translated into increased production. In fact, Lucroy is mired in his worst offensive season since his rookie year. His power has waned and his ability to make solid contact has completely disappeared.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Tyson Ross (2015 Stats)

196 25.8% 10.2% 8.8% 61.5% 3.26 2.98

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.9 16.8% 146 90 127
Sinker 93.7 34.7% 112 139 121
Slider 87.3 41.9% 200 147 182

Yes, those stats above are from 2015, a season and a half ago. That’s how long Tyson Ross has been sidelined after Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery. In his last healthy year, Ross posted one of the best years of any pitcher in the National League. He’s found his success using a very unique repertoire—one that’s been emulated by his younger brother Joe Ross. Rather than relying on a four-seam fastball like his brother, Tyson primarily throws a sinker and generates a ton of ground balls with it. But his signature pitch is his killer slider. Ross made four rehab starts prior to this start in the majors, none of them went particularly well. He walked as many batters as he struck out and allowed 16 runs in 19 innings in Triple-A. His history and past success tell us to expect one thing but there’s really no way to know what to expect from Ross tonight.

LHP Martin Perez

71 16.8% 8.9% 11.6% 43.3% 4.56 4.28

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.1 24.9% 43 94 60
Sinker 94.2 35.1% 166 101 144
Changeup 85.3 19.7% 80 98 86
Slider 85.6 8.5% -51 92 -3
Curveball 79.9 11.8% 118 51 96

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. Perez’s ground ball rate has fallen to a career low this season, but he isn’t allowing that many more fly balls. Rather, those worm burners are being elevated just slightly. His 25.8% line drive rate is second highest in the majors and a big reason why his BABIP has jumped up to .352.

Houston Astros v Texas Rangers

RHP Yu Darvish

89 25.8% 9.7% 14.3% 40.4% 3.03 4.10

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.7 34.6% 173 118 155
Sinker 93.9 14.6% 150 116 139
Cutter 89.4 15.8% 203 52 153
Changeup 88.4 2.6% - - -
Slider 82.9 27.0% 76 75 76
Curveball 74.4 5.5% - - -
*Darvish’s changeup/splitter 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. 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. After reaching a career low walk rate of 7.5% last year, it’s bounced up to 9.7% this season, closer to where it was when he first joined the league. His loss of command coupled with a six point drop in strikeout rate and more problems with the home run had led to a career high FIP despite an ERA that is sitting nicely at 3.03. Like you’d expect, his strand rate is abnormally high (84.3%) and his BABIP is well below league average (.230).

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 45-22 0.672 -- W-L-L-L-W
Angels 35-35 0.500 11.5 W-L-W-W-L
Rangers 32-33 0.492 12.0 W-W-W-W-L
Mariners 33-35 0.485 12.5 L-W-L-W-L
Athletics 28-38 0.424 16.5 W-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 37-29 0.561 +3.5 L-W-W-W-L
Indians 32-31 0.508 -- L-W-L-L-W
Rays 35-34 0.507 -- L-W-W-L-L
Angels 35-35 0.500 0.5 W-L-W-W-L
Orioles 32-33 0.492 1.0 L-L-L-W-L

A month ago, the Orioles were eight games over .500 and just a half game behind the Yankees in the AL East. They’ve gone 10-19 since and are now a game back in the Wild Card race. They just lost three of four to the White Sox and host the Cardinals this weekend. The Astros suddenly look mortal as they deal with injuries to their entire starting rotation. They’ll host the Red Sox this weekend. The Angels have continued to stick around .500 without Mike Trout in the lineup. They won two of three from the Yankees earlier this week but lost their opening game of a four-game series against the Royals last night.