clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Series Preview: Mariners (53-53) at Rangers (50-54)

The Mariners begin their most grueling stretch of the season, a nine-game road trip starting in Texas.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance

Mariners Rangers
Mariners Rangers
Game 1 Monday, July 31 | 5:05 pm
RHP Felix Hernandez LHP Cole Hamels
45% 55%
Game 2 Tuesday, August 1 | 5:05 pm
RHP Erasmo Ramirez RHP Yu Darvish
45% 55%
Game 3 Wednesday, August 2 | 5:05 pm
LHP Ariel Miranda RHP Andrew Cashner
49% 51%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Rangers Edge
Overview Mariners Rangers Edge
Batting (wRC+) 103 (6th in AL) 93 (10th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 16.0 (3rd) 1.5 (8th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 116 (12th) 112 (10th) Rangers
Bullpen (FIP-) 101 (12th) 101 (11th) Rangers

Note: text appearing in italics has appeared in a previous series preview.

The trade deadline cometh. The Mariners have done all of their bargain shopping early and bolstered their pitching staff with a few new arms. It’s unlikely they’ll be involved in any deals today. The same can’t be said for their opponent, the Rangers. Texas has already dealt Jonathan Lucroy to the Rockies and many are expecting them to deal Yu Darvish by the end of the day. After going back and forth for the last few weeks, the decision to sell came pretty quickly for the Rangers. They decided to punt this year despite being just five and a half games behind in the Wild Card race and an expected win percentage of around .500 for the rest of the season. The Mariners have almost the exact same expected ROS win percentage and are just a couple of games ahead of the Rangers in the Wild Card race but they’re buying.

The Rangers:

The Rangers are in the middle of a weird season. After winning the division two years in a row—with the help from a heaping pile of luck—they find themselves at a crossroads. The core of their team is anchored by three players under 24 (Mazara, Odor, and Gallo) but their once stacked farm system has been depleted through the various trades they’ve made the past few years. On paper, the Rangers offense is still pretty good (remember when they rattled off ten wins in a row back in May), but their pitching staff has fallen apart and is one of the main reasons they find themselves four games under .500 at this point in the season.

Key Players

3B Adrian BeltreThe newest member of the 3000 hit club refuses to be slowed by age, posting a 138 wRC+ 217 plate appearances this year. His walk rate is north of 10% for the first time in his career, and his strikeout rate is under 11% for the third season in a row. His fly ball rate is down below his career average, but his 38.5% hard contact rate has yielded a .228 ISO. He continues to be one of the leagues best third basemen, running a 12.0 UZR/150 this season. At 38 years old, the timeless Adrian Beltre is still an elite third baseman and is adding to his Hall of Fame resume.

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 23.2%. But his biggest problem is the amount of popups he’s hitting. Almost a fifth of all his fly balls are popups which has driven his BABIP all the way down to .237. 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. He’s shown off his strength with 25 homers and his strikeout rate is an almost palatable 38.1%. 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. With Adrian Beltre manning the hot corner regularly now, Gallo has been used at first base and in left field.

CF Carlos GomezAfter 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.

Probable Pitchers

Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles

LHP Cole Hamels

70 1/3 14.4% 7.8% 13.0% 49.3% 3.97 4.88

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.0 26.2% 35 128 66
Sinker 92.3 23.6% 44 112 67
Cutter 89.3 18.7% 33 131 66
Changeup 83.6 12.0% 111 78 100
Curveball 79.1 12.0% 178 48 135

After eleven seasons of excellence, Cole Hamels’s decline this season has been rather abrupt. An elevated walk rate last season has been largely corrected. Hamels biggest problem is the evaporation of his strikeout rate. It’s dropped all the way down to 14.4%, by far the lowest mark of his career. Opposing batters are refusing to chase his pitches out of the zone and are making more contact on pitches in the zone. That’s a bad combination for a pitcher past his prime. It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. Hamels has outperformed his FIP because he’s allowing just a .234 BABIP, easily the best mark of his career. That excellent contact management is being driven by two pitches, his changeup and his cutter. Opposing batters are batting a combined .175 and have hit just six extra-base hits off those two pitches.

RHP Yu Darvish

137 26.2% 8.0% 15.0% 40.8% 4.01 3.98

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.7 35.2% 187 107 160
Sinker 94.1 17.2% 187 133 169
Cutter 89.0 14.9% 208 64 160
Changeup 88.1 2.4% - - -
Slider 82.8 24.9% 81 65 76
Curveball 73.7 5.4% 123 79 108
*Darvish’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

With rumors swirling, it’s still unclear if Darvish will make this start or not. 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. Since the last time the Mariners faced Darvish at the end of June, all of the problems plaguing his season corrected themselves—for the worse. He’s allowed 28 runs in 43 innings in the seven starts since then. His ERA now closely matches his FIP, both marks the worst of his career. A low BABIP has jumped up to .275, a high strand rate has dropped to 74.5%, and he’s still allowing far too many home runs. But the most concerning problem has been his strikeout rate. He’s struggling to put batters away after reaching two strikes—possibly due to a less effective slider.

RHP Andrew Cashner

101 12.1% 10.2% 7.9% 49.8% 3.48 4.50

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.8 24.1% 107 83 99
Sinker 92.6 37.4% 37 101 58
Cutter 88.3 14.8% 75 154 101
Changeup 85.1 15.7% 64 112 80
Curveball 81.8 7.4% 22 124 56

Andrew Cashner was one of the big offseason signings by the Rangers though it’s clear they’ve gotten a completely different pitcher than they expected. While with the Padres, Cashner averaged 2.4 fWAR per season with a 3.43/3.48/3.68 pitcher slash line with a strikeout rate around 20%. 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. This season, the walk rate hasn’t budged but his strikeout rate has plummeted. Among all starting pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings, Cashner’s 1.19 strikeout-to-walk ratio is easily the lowest in the majors. But somehow, his ERA is a full run lower than his FIP. A lot of that is due to some insane sequencing luck but he’s also running an extremely low home run rate.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 68-36 0.654 -- W-L-W-L-L
Mariners 53-53 0.500 16.0 W-L-L-W-W
Angels 51-55 0.481 18.0 L-L-W-W-L
Rangers 50-54 0.481 18.0 W-L-W-L-L
Athletics 46-59 0.438 22.5 L-L-L-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 57-49 0.538 +0.5 L-W-L-W-L
Royals 55-48 0.534 -- W-W-W-L-W
Rays 54-52 0.509 2.5 W-L-L-L-W
Mariners 53-53 0.500 3.5 W-L-L-W-W
Twins 50-53 0.485 5.0 L-L-W-L-L

Another week, another Wild Card contender bites the dust. This time it’s the Twins who signaled their surrender by dealing Jaime Garcia six days after acquiring him from the Braves. They lost twice in a row to the Athletics on walk-off home runs. The Angels have been on the end of some incredible bad luck. They allowed seven runs in the ninth inning yesterday, including a walk-off grand slam. That was the second walk-off grand slam they had allowed in the past week. The Royals had their nine-game win streak snapped on Saturday but won their series against the Red Sox anyway. Boston and New York flipped places in the AL East after the Yankees won their series against the Rays. The Red Sox and Yankees are at home to start this week, hosting the Indians and Tigers, respectively. The Rays travel to Houston.