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Series Preview: Mariners (74-76) vs. Rangers (73-76)

The Mariners begin their final homestand of the year with a three-game series against the Rangers

Chicago White Sox v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

At a Glance

Rangers Mariners
Rangers Mariners
Game 1 Tuesday, September 19 | 7:10 pm
LHP Martin Perez RHP Mike Leake
45% 55%
Game 2 Wednesday, September 20 | 7:10 pm
RHP Andrew Cashner RHP Felix Hernandez
47% 53%
Game 3 Thursday, September 21 | 7:10 pm
LHP Cole Hamels LHP James Paxton
44% 56%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 97 (9th in AL) 102 (5th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -8.4 (10th) 12.6 (5th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 113 (11th) 117 (14th) Rangers
Bullpen (FIP-) 100 (10th) 98 (9th) Mariners

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

Surely the Mariners playoff hopes have been dashed after getting swept away in Houston. There are 12 games left in the season (the Angels have 13 games remaining) and the Mariners are four games out in the Wild Card race. Just to indulge those who are still holding out for a miracle, the Mariners need to sweep this series against the Rangers, especially with the Indians coming to town this weekend. The Twins did all they could to help out the Mariners by losing two of three over the weekend and then losing again on Monday. The Mariners also need to leapfrog the Angels too. There is a universe out there that has the Mariners making it to the playoffs this year. I wonder what other insanity exists in that universe.

The Rangers:

The Rangers have finally fallen away in the standings. They managed to hang around in the Wild Card race long after trading away Yu Darvish to the Dodgers. An excellent August, behind an excellent +37 run differential, helped them push their record back towards .500 but they’ve really struggled in September. The Rangers pitching staff managed to string together some good batted ball luck for a few weeks in August. That helped them allow just 4.25 runs per game during that stretch. That luck has run out in September as they’ve given up more than six runs per game this month.

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

Seattle Mariners v Texas Rangers

LHP Martin Perez

168 14.4% 7.6% 13.3% 47.5% 4.82 4.61

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.6 21.4% 64 105 78
Sinker 93.3 36.7% 105 107 106
Changeup 84.9 20.7% 88 108 95
Slider 84.3 10.9% 17 121 52
Curveball 79.3 10.2% 66 46 59

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. The Mariners defeated Perez last week, scoring three runs on seven hits and three walks over five and a third innings.

RHP Andrew Cashner

151 12.7% 9.0% 8.3% 48.2% 3.40 4.51

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% 90 89 90
Sinker 93.0 39.2% 39 110 63
Cutter 88.5 12.5% 114 158 129
Changeup 85.2 14.5% 59 103 74
Slider 82.0 8.1% -14 105 26

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. Cashner allowed five runs in four and third innings last week.

LHP Cole Hamels

134 16.1% 8.3% 12.7% 49.1% 3.96 4.75

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 92.3 25.8% 61 100 74
Sinker 92.3 22.7% 21 123 55
Cutter 89.2 17.9% 59 117 78
Changeup 83.5 20.7% 176 92 148
Curveball 79.4 13.1% 127 89 114

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. Hamels held the Mariners to just three runs in six innings last week, striking out seven and walking just one.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros-x 91-58 0.611 -- L-W-W-W-W
Angels 76-73 0.510 15.0 W-L-W-W-L
Mariners 74-76 0.493 17.5 W-W-L-L-L
Rangers 73-76 0.490 18.0 L-L-L-L-W
Athletics 67-83 0.447 24.5 L-W-L-W-W
x - clinched the AL West

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 83-67 0.553 +5.0 W-W-W-L-W
Twins 78-72 0.520 -- W-L-L-W-L
Angels 76-73 0.510 1.5 W-L-W-W-L
Mariners 74-76 0.493 4.0 W-W-L-L-L
Royals 73-76 0.490 4.5 L-L-W-L-L

With the Twins and Angels the two teams the Mariners are most concerned with, let’s just focus on them. The Twins lost the first game of a three-game series in New York against the Wild Card leaders. A Yankees sweep is a very real possibility, but splitting the remaining two games is the most probable outcome. After this series, the Twins have seven games against the Tigers and three against the Indians. The Angels might have the most difficult schedule of the three teams vying for the second Wild Card spot. They do not have an off-day for the rest of the season and will split their two remaining home series with a seven-game road trip. They host the Indians for three games this week before traveling to Houston over the weekend. Four games in Chicago won’t be too difficult before the season wraps up in Anaheim with a three-game series against the Mariners.