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Series Preview: Mariners (71-72) at Rangers (71-71)

The Mariners head out on a seven-game road trip through Texas.

New York Yankees v Texas Rangers Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

At a Glance

Mariners Rangers
Mariners Rangers
Game 1 Monday, September 11 | 5:05 pm
LHP Ariel Miranda LHP Cole Hamels
42% 58%
Game 2 Tuesday, September 12 | 5:05 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Miguel Gonzalez
40% 60%
Game 3 Wednesday, September 13 | 5:05 pm
RHP Mike Leake LHP Martin Perez
45% 55%
Game 4 Thursday, September 14 | 5:05 pm
RHP Felix Hernandez (!) RHP Andrew Cashner
43% 57%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Rangers Edge
Overview Mariners Rangers Edge
Batting (wRC+) 100 (5th in AL) 100 (8th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) 7.6 (7th) -4.8 (10th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 118 (14th) 111 (11th) Rangers
Bullpen (FIP-) 98 (9th) 99 (11th) Mariners

The Mariners managed to keep their slim playoff hopes alive with a series win over the Angels. They’re facing a seven-game road trip through Texas, four against the Rangers and three against the Astros. But reinforcements are arriving. Both Felix Hernandez and James Paxton are scheduled to make their return to the mound during this road trip. Both will be limited to 50-60 pitches in their starts but it’s exciting to see them make it back from their respective injuries. It’s likely too little too late for the Mariners playoff hopes, but their presence makes these last few weeks a lot more fun and provides a little optimism for next year.

The Rangers:

The Rangers have simply refused to go away. A month after trading away Yu Darvish to the Dodgers, they’re still hanging around in the Wild Card race. An excellent August, behind an excellent +37 run differential, helped them push their record back towards .500. Despite allowing just 4.25 runs per game in August, their pitching staff has really suffered after losing Darvish. All four starting pitchers the Mariners will face this series possess a strikeout rate in the bottom 10 in the majors (with the appropriate innings threshold). But the Rangers pitching staff managed to string together some good batted ball luck for a few weeks in August. That luck has run out in September as they’ve given up more than six runs per game in their last 10 contests.

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.

Probable Pitchers

Texas Rangers v Atlanta Braves - Game Two

LHP Cole Hamels

120 2/3 15.5% 8.2% 11.0% 49.7% 4.03 4.56

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.3 26.3% 58 88 68
Sinker 92.4 22.9% 32 129 64
Cutter 89.3 17.0% 48 130 75
Changeup 83.5 21.1% 164 94 141
Curveball 79.4 12.7% 133 89 118

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 15.5%, 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 .247 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 .174 and have hit just eleven extra-base hits off those two pitches.

RHP Miguel Gonzalez

136 2/3 14.4% 8.1% 9.2% 37.7% 4.48 4.75

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 91.2 26.0% 67 67 67
Sinker 91.4 23.3% 39 79 52
Splitter 84.4 11.1% 63 131 86
Slider 86.9 21.7% -13 63 12
Curveball 77.6 17.2% 15 67 32

After four unremarkable seasons in Baltimore as a back-end starter, Miguel Gonzalez posted his best season of his career last year on the south side of Chicago. His 3.71 FIP was the best mark of his career and he posted 2.6 fWAR in 23 starts. But much of that success was driven by the lowest home run rate of his career with no other significant changes in his peripherals. When he joined the White Sox, he stopped throwing his four-seam fastball as often—opposing batters have a .210 ISO against that pitch—in favor of his sinker and slider. He’s continued to cut his four-seam fastball out of his pitch mix this year but the ball has started flying over the fence again. His home run rate isn’t nearly as bad as it was when he was with the Orioles, but he’s also running the lowest strikeout rate of his career too. He was acquired by the Rangers just before the August 31 trade deadline.

LHP Martin Perez

162 2/3 14.3% 7.4% 12.3% 47.4% 4.81 4.50

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.6 21.7% 66 105 79
Sinker 93.4 36.8% 106 106 106
Changeup 85.0 20.7% 78 111 89
Slider 84.3 11.0% 4 121 43
Curveball 79.4 10.0% 64 38 55

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 24.6% line drive rate is tied for highest in the majors and a big reason why his BABIP has jumped up to .336.

RHP Andrew Cashner

146 2/3 12.9% 8.6% 7.9% 48.1% 3.19 4.35

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 25.3% 89 89 89
Sinker 93.0 39.0% 37 108 61
Cutter 88.5 12.7% 113 158 128
Changeup 85.2 14.6% 59 102 73
Curveball 81.9 8.0% -9 119 34

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 qualified starting pitchers, Cashner’s 1.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio is easily the lowest in the majors. But somehow, his ERA is more than 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 86-57 0.601 -- W-L-L-L-L
Angels 73-70 0.510 13.0 W-L-L-L-W
Rangers 71-71 0.500 14.5 W-L-W-L-L
Mariners 71-72 0.497 15.0 L-L-W-W-L
Athletics 63-80 0.441 23.0 W-W-W-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 77-65 0.542 +3.5 L-W-L-W-W
Twins 74-69 0.517 -- W-W-W-L-L
Angels 73-70 0.510 1.0 W-L-L-L-W
Royals 71-71 0.500 2.5 W-L-L-W-W
Rangers 71-71 0.500 2.5 W-L-W-L-L

The Athletics outscored the Astros 41-15, sweeping them in four games this weekend. While it doesn’t have much impact on the Wild Card race, that’s an impressive series by a team playing for the future. The Indians continued their ridiculous hot streak, sweeping the Orioles and pushing their win streak to 18 games. They face the Tigers this week, looking to break the record set by the 2002 A’s. The Mariners received some help over the weekend—the Rangers and the Rays both lost their series and the Twins and Royals split theirs. The slate of opponents isn’t as favorable to start this week. The Twins will host the Padres and the Royals will host the White Sox. The Mariners will need to win their series to keep up with those two teams. The Angels draw the hardest opponent this week, hosting the Astros for three games.