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Series Preview: Mariners (32-20) vs. Rangers (22-33)

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The Mariners continue their long homestand with a four-game series against the Rangers.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Texas Rangers Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Mariners played the Rangers, they were reeling from the Robinson Canó suspension. Including that two-game series, they’ve gone 9-3 since then. Nine of those games have been decided by one run and the Mariners have won seven of those, including four games in extra innings. Overall, they’re 15-8 in one-run games.

At a Glance

Rangers Mariners
Rangers Mariners
Game 1 Monday, May 28 | 1:10 pm
RHP Doug Fister LHP Marco Gonzales
42% 58%
Game 2 Tuesday, May 29 | 7:10 pm
RHP Austin Bibens-Dirkx RHP Félix Hernández
42% 58%
Game 3 Wednesday, May 30 | 7:10 pm
LHP Matt Moore LHP James Paxton
35% 65%
Game 4 Thursday, May 31 | 7:10 pm
LHP Mike Minor LHP Wade LeBlanc
42% 58%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Rangers Edge
Overview Mariners Rangers Edge
Batting (wRC+) 105 (6th in AL) 85 (14th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (UZR) -4.8 (10th) -5.6 (12th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 99 (5th) 124 (14th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 84 (4th) 93 (7th) Mariners

That kind of luck in one-run games might remind you of the 2016 Rangers who played an astounding 47 one-run games and won 36 of them. The Mariners .652 win percentage in one-run games doesn’t come close to the .766 win percentage that Rangers team posted. Where the Rangers succeed by posting the highest team Clutch score in the modern era, the Mariners have combined good clutch hitting (3rd in the AL) with a strong bullpen (4th best per FIP-) that has only gotten stronger with the addition of Alex Colomé.

The 2018 Rangers are a far cry from the team that won the division two years ago. Many of the players are the same but the insane good luck they benefitted from has all but dried up. Maybe there’s a lesson here for us and the Mariners, but we’ve litigated the sustainability argument to no end elsewhere. I won’t rehash it here.

Rangers Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Delino DeShields Jr. CF R 156 0.306 74 1.9
Shin-Soo Choo DH L 238 0.308 114 -0.3
Isiah Kiner-Falefa 3B R 164 0.299 90 0.7
Nomar Mazara RF L 225 0.301 122 -0.6
Jurickson Profar SS S 188 0.268 96 1.2
Joey Gallo LF L 218 0.231 93 1.4
Rougned Odor 2B L 100 0.266 46 -0.9
Robinson Chirinos C R 154 0.292 79 -0.5
Ronald Guzmán 1B L 124 0.279 96 0.1

There hasn’t been much that’s changed in the Rangers lineup since that series a couple of weeks ago. Adrián Beltré and Elvis Andrus are still sidelined and that’s really hamstrung their offense. They’re scoring just 4.2 runs per game, though they’ve played much better against the Mariners so far, scoring 5.8 runs per game in the five games between these two teams so far. Joey Gallo has suffered through a very disappointing follow up to his breakout year last season. He’s still hitting for power but his walk rate has fallen to just 8.7% this year. Even worse has been his performance when teams shift against him. Last year, teams shifted their defense against him around a third of the time. It’s up to just under half the time this year and his BABIP has really suffered. When he isn’t launching a home run, it’s been extremely hard for him to get on base and that’s suppressed his overall offensive numbers.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Texas Rangers at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Doug Fister

49 15.9% 7.3% 20.5% 48.8% 4.22 5.35

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 57.8% 89.1 1916 (-2.38) 93 94
Cutter 16.4% 85.7 2097 (-1.41) 62 111
Changeup 10.5% 83.1 1731 (-0.03)
Curveball 13.4% 73.5 2002 (-1.65) 105 102
*Fister’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Doug Fister turned a brief resurgence last season into a starting spot in the Rangers rotation. Unfortunately, most of the gains he benefitted from last year have disappeared this year. His velocity is back below 90 mph and his strikeout rate has fallen with it. His ground ball rate is still above average though, no doubt due to his low spin pitches which all have above average sink to them. That might be the only positive sign in his batted ball profile. Opposing batters are hitting him harder than ever and one out of every five fly balls he allows leaves the yard. He’s already had a brief stint on the disabled list and it really doesn’t look like he’ll be able to keep that magic alive for much longer.

RHP Austin Bibens-Dirkx (Triple-A)

38 2/3 19.1% 4.8% 6.8% 46.3% 3.72 4.06

A former Mariners draftee all the way back in 2006, Austin Bibens-Dirkx’s journey to the majors has been long and winding. He’s spent time with six different organizations in his career and has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen more times than I can count. But his perseverance finally paid off last year as he made his major league debut as a 32-year-old. After spending most of this season back in Triple-A, he made his first start of the year for the major league club last week. He’s got a four-pitch arsenal—sinker, changeup, slider, and curveball—which he uses well to keep batters guessing. His slider is his best secondary pitch, generating an above average whiff rate with the pitch.

LHP Matt Moore

41 2/3 15.7% 10.0% 9.8% 38.8% 7.99 5.19

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 52.0% 92.4 2260 (0.31) 99 96
Cutter 9.6% 89.9 2182 (-1.07)
Changeup 17.1% 83.6 1883 (0.59) 131 103
Curveball 21.3% 80.5 2396 (-0.53) 105 86
Moore’s cutter does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Ever since his Tommy John surgery in 2014, Matt Moore has been plagued by a really bad case of dingeritis. So it was a surprise when the Rangers went out and traded for him this offseason. A pitcher with such an extreme fly ball profile surely couldn’t be a good fit in Texas. Surprisingly, his home-run-per-fly-ball rate has fallen below 10% but everything else has fallen apart. His walk rate has jumped up to 10%, back where it was when he was a youngster on the Rays. His strikeout rate is the lowest it’s ever been and he’s allowing almost a run per inning. At this point, it’s hard to see the once promising pitcher who was one of the best prospect in the game. There really isn’t one smoking gun either. Opposing batters possess a BABIP higher than .333 off three of his four pitches. Against his curveball, the one pitch with a BABIP lower than .333, all five of the hits he’s allowed off of it have gone for extra-bases.

LHP Mike Minor

54 1/3 21.2% 5.1% 13.9% 38.9% 5.63 4.65

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 45.2% 92.7 2490 (1.88) 123 98
Changeup 19.4% 85.2 2167 (2.08) 120 129
Slider 22.6% 87.5 2520 (0.93) 49 141
Curveball 12.7% 81.3 2351 (-0.80) 85 96

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 ten 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.

The Mariners have faced Minor twice already this season and have scored seven runs off him in eight and two-thirds innings. He’s been able to pitch deep into games for the Rangers 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.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 34-20 0.630 -- W-W-W-L-L
Mariners 32-20 0.615 1.0 W-L-W-W-W
Angels 29-24 0.547 4.5 W-W-L-W-L
Athletics 28-25 0.528 5.5 L-W-L-W-W
Rangers 22-33 0.400 12.5 W-L-W-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 33-16 0.673 +2.5 L-L-W-L-W
Mariners 32-20 0.615 -- W-L-W-W-W
Angels 29-24 0.547 3.5 W-W-L-W-L
Athletics 28-25 0.528 4.5 L-W-L-W-W
Rays 25-26 0.490 6.5 L-W-L-W-W

A wild extra-innings, walk-off win gave Cleveland a series split against the Astros yesterday afternoon. The gamut doesn’t ease up for Houston as they fly to New York for a three-game series against the Yankees. The Angels lost their own series against the Bronx Bombers over the weekend. They’ll travel to Detroit to start this week. The Athletics continue to hang around the fringes of the Wild Card race, winning two of three against the Diamondbacks over the weekend. The Rays, who are maybe selling but are also still close enough to make a run for the Wild Card, will head to Oakland for a four-game series.