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Series Preview: Mariners (23-17) vs. Rangers (16-26)

The Mariners return home from the midwest for a short two-game series against the Rangers.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Texas Rangers Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

With their win in Minnesota last night, the Mariners came out of that ridiculous road trip with a 4-3 record. I guess that’s not so bad. Losing Robinson Canó for a month or two (update: everything is the worst) really hurts, but this lineup is good enough to withstand that loss for now. But the margin for error is even slimmer now, and any other major injuries will hurt exponentially even more. Luckily, the Mariners continue their stretch of fairly easy opponents with a pair of games against the Rangers. Though, as we saw in Detroit, these teams aren’t just going to roll over for the Mariners.

At a Glance

Rangers Mariners
Rangers Mariners
Game 1 Tuesday, May 15 | 7:10 pm
LHP Mike Minor RHP Mike Leake
44% 56%
Game 2 Wednesday, May 16 | 1:10 pm
RHP Bartolo Colón TBD
40% 60%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer). The Mariners have not announced a starter for Wednesday’s game.

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Rangers Edge
Overview Mariners Rangers Edge
Batting (wRC+) 109 (2nd in AL) 81 (15th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -2.2 (10th) -3.1 (12th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 107 (10th) 124 (14th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 94 (7th) 91 (6th) Rangers

The various projection systems give the Mariners a 15% to 33% chance of making the playoffs right now—FanGraphs is the low mark and FiveThirtyEight is the most optimistic. Maybe it’s still too early to talk about playoff odds but we’re about a quarter of the way through the season so now is as good a time as any to take stock of the Mariners position. The offense has posted the second best league adjusted mark in the American League and fifth best overall. Mitch Haniger and Ryon Healy have been carrying the offense, like we all predicted. Even if those two slump a little, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz really haven’t hit their stride yet.

The pitching staff is still a bit of a mess but they’ve been better than they appear. Over the last 30 days, the Mariners have posted the 8th best league adjusted FIP in the majors. Despite a couple of meltdowns by Juan Nicasio, the bullpen has been excellent thanks to standout performances by James Pazos and Erik Goeddel. Even the starting pitching has been better than league average this past month, posting the seventh highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in the majors. They’ll need to call someone up to make a spot start on Wednesday. Rob Whalen or Christian Bergman are probably the most likely candidates.

Since the last time these two teams met, the Rangers have gone 8-11 and fallen further into the cellar in the AL West. They aren’t as starved for young talent as the Tigers are, but it’s clear they need to spend this season retooling their roster. All their bad injury luck isn’t helping matters either.

Rangers Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Delino DeShields Jr. CF R 97 0.355 103 1.1
Shin-Soo Choo DH L 178 0.301 89 0.0
Nomar Mazara RF L 169 0.318 126 -1.2
Joey Gallo LF L 168 0.222 94 1.0
Jurickson Profar SS S 135 0.277 91 0.2
Rougned Odor 2B L 48 0.267 41 -0.6
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 3B R 110 0.291 73 0.0
Robinson Chirinos C R 114 0.245 69 -0.6
Ronald Guzmán 1B R 78 0.325 62 -0.3

The Rangers have gotten a few of their injured players back. Rougned Odor is back at the keystone. In a true feat of ineffectiveness, Odor managed to crush 30 home runs last year and still posted a league adjusted offensive line almost forty percent below average. He looked like he was going to be a cornerstone talent for the Rangers a few years ago and now he might be on the outside looking in. As soon as Odor returned from the disabled list, it looks like Adrián Beltré will need to return to it as he reaggravated a hamstring injury over the weekend.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Texas Rangers

LHP Mike Minor

40 19.1% 5.4% 11.8% 36.4% 4.73 4.54

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 39.9% 92.6 2491 (1.88) 90 85
Changeup 20.6% 85.2 2163 (2.07) 134 113
Slider 27.8% 87.5 2515 (0.91) 53 159
Curveball 11.4% 81.7 2366 (-0.66)
*Minor’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Mike Minor lost more than two seasons to a labrum tear but returned to the mound last season, albeit as a reliever. He made 65 appearances out of the Royals bullpen and accumulated 2.1 fWAR in the process. Like you would expect, his velocity spiked on all of his pitches—he added around 4 mph to his fastball—and he relied pretty heavily on his slider. So when the Rangers signed him this offseason and announced their intent to use him as a starter, many were curious if this rejuvenation could translate to the rotation. We’re three starts into this season and we’ve got a pretty good idea of who Mike Minor, starting pitcher is. His velocity has fallen across the board, unsurprisingly, though it’s sitting higher than it was prior to his injury. He’s also mixing in his changeup more often at the expense of his slider. But despite the reduced velocity, his offerings each sport impressive spin rates giving him the effectiveness needed to thrive in multi-inning outings.

Minor held the Mariners in check when these two teams met in mid-April. He threw five and third innings, allowing just one run on six hits and a walk, striking out six. That was one of his better outings of the year. He’s been able to pitch deep into games but he’s allowing a few too many home runs. The effectiveness of his slider has waned this season. He isn’t generating the same kind of whiff rates he was able to as a reliever. Instead, it’s his changeup that’s been his best secondary offering early this season.

RHP Bartolo Colón

43 1/3 17.5% 2.4% 22.0% 50.8% 3.32 4.85

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 13.5% 90.2 2293 (0.58)
Sinker 70.4% 87.6 2147 (1.04) 74 68
Changeup 8.9% 81.8 1662 (-0.14)
Slider 7.1% 81.2 2417 (0.47)
*Colón’s four-seam, changeup, and slider do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

Bartolo Colón, the ageless wonder. He’s been in the league long enough that he made two starts against the Mariners the last time they made the playoffs. His career stats go back far enough that we don’t have batted ball stats for the first five years of his career. After posting a 6.48 ERA alongside a 5.21 FIP in 28 starts last season, many thought it would be the end of the line for Colón. Yet he managed to land a deal with the pitching starved Rangers and rewarded us with seven perfect innings against the Astros in April. He relies completely on guile, pitching smarts, and veteran savvy™, commanding his fastball in and around the zone.

The Mariners scored four runs off Colón in five and two-thirds innings of work. Amazingly enough, Colón is posting the highest ground ball rate of his career this season. Relying on his sinker so often, batters are putting the ball on the ground more than half the time they put it in play. Still, his BABIP is extremely low and he’s stranding over 80% of his baserunners. His ERA should see some regression towards his much higher FIP sometime soon.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Angels 25-16 0.610 -- W-L-L-W-W
Astros 26-17 0.605 -- W-L-W-W-L
Mariners 23-17 0.575 1.5 W-L-W-L-W
Athletics 20-21 0.488 5.0 L-W-L-L-W
Rangers 16-26 0.381 9.5 L-W-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 28-13 0.683 +3.0 W-L-W-W-L
Astros 26-17 0.605 -- W-L-W-W-L
Mariners 23-17 0.575 1.5 W-L-W-L-W
Blue Jays 21-20 0.512 4.0 W-L-W-L-L
Athletics 20-21 0.488 5.0 L-W-L-L-W

The Angels lost their weekend series against the Twins, with each game decided in the ninth inning or later. They managed to retake the division lead with a 2-1 victory over the Astros last night. The Athletics have managed to play very competitive baseball against the giants of the AL East. They lost their weekend series against the Yankees but won the first game of a three-game series against the Red Sox last night. The Blue Jays continue to slip down the Wild Card standings after losing a series to Boston. They start a brief two-game series against the Mets today.