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Series Preview: Mariners (16-11) vs. Rangers (12-11)

The Mariners return home to face the high-powered Texas Rangers.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a good thing the Mariners play in the American League because the shortcomings of this offense were exposed without a designated hitter in San Diego. They already struggle to find spots in their lineup for all of their best hitters, so when they have to sit an additional butt on the bench, those problems only become worse. They won’t have to think about that for a while as their next series in a National League park comes in late June.

At a Glance

Rangers Mariners
Rangers Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, April 25 | 7:10 pm
LHP Taylor Hearn LHP Marco Gonzales
39% 61%
Game 2 Friday, April 26 | 7:10 pm
RHP Shelby Miller LHP Yusei Kikuchi / LHP Justus Sheffield
39% 61%
Game 3 Saturday, April 27 | 6:10 pm
LHP Mike Minor RHP Mike Leake
47% 53%
Game 4 Sunday, April 28 | 1:10 pm
RHP Lance Lynn RHP Erik Swanson
42% 58%
Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Rangers (2018) Mariners (2018) Edge
Overview Rangers (2018) Mariners (2018) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 91 (12th in AL) 101 (7th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (DRS) 6 (10th) -23 (11th) Rangers
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 118 (13th) 100 (6th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 96 (8th) 94 (4th) Mariners

Mariner fans will get their first look at Justus Sheffield this weekend. He’s going to piggyback off Yusei Kikuchi’s abbreviated start on Friday. He hasn’t been very sharp in Triple-A to start the season—he’s walked more batters than he’s struck out—but the Mariners are committed to giving him some exposure to major league batters sooner rather than later.

The Rangers have had a surprisingly strong start to the season. They were almost universally projected to finish last in the AL West but their offense has been much better than anticipated. Led by resurgent production from Elvis Andrus and Joey Gallo, they’re scoring the second most runs per game in the American League behind only the Mariners. Of course, they’re also allowing the third most runs per game too, leading to a run differential just shy of even.

Rangers Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Shin-Soo Choo DH L 665 0.330 118 0.4
Danny Santana 2B S 342 0.301 118
Elvis Andrus SS R 428 0.292 78 2.2
Nomar Mazara RF L 536 0.298 96 -1.0
Joey Gallo LF L 577 0.249 110 2.8
Asdrúbal Cabrera 3B S 592 0.296 111 0.4
Logan Forsythe 1B R 416 0.293 70 1.1
Jeff Mathis C R 218 0.292 47 -2.7
Delino DeShields CF R 393 0.280 61 4.0

Joey Gallo has seen some of the most extreme defensive shifts in the game with teams often completely abandoning the left side of the field to try and get him out. For the most part, it’s worked. His BABIP has been held to just .250 over his first two full seasons in the majors. This season, he’s simply hitting the ball harder than ever, leading the majors in average exit velocity. No defensive shift can hope to defend against every crushed line drive or fly ball hit over their heads. For Andrus, it really seems like the fractured elbow he suffered early last season really sunk his entire year. He’s following up his breakout 2017 with an even better performance this year.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Taylor Hearn

129 26.2% 8.8% 6.8% 38.7% 3.49 3.26
Hearn’s stats from Double-A

Taylor Hearn was drafted out of high school by the Nationals in 2015, but has been a headlining prospect in two separate trades since then, first for Mark Melancon and then for Keone Kela. Last year was the first season in his professional career where he was completely healthy, pitching 129 innings at Double-A. He’s posted gaudy strikeout numbers at every stop in the minors, though because of his spotty health, his command can come and go. His fastball is very impressive, sitting in the mid-90s and reaching 98 at times. For a lefty, that’s elite velocity and should help him translate those high minor league strikeout rates to the majors. He also throws a curveball and a changeup, though both are merely average with some room to develop.

RHP Shelby Miller

16 24.1% 10.1% 31.3% 49.0% 10.69 6.35
Miller did not have a large enough sample size in 2018 for pitch arsenal or Stuff+ scores.

Of the three reclamation projects in the Rangers opening day rotation, Shelby Miller is currently the last one standing. Unfortunately, his reclamation isn’t exactly going to plan. After tantalizing some of his latent potential with a 24.1% strikeout rate in limited action last season, he’s struck out just six batters in four starts this year. Even worse, he’s walked more than twice as many batters as he’s struck out. His velocity isn’t really a concern. He’s lost the added velocity he enjoyed last year after his Tommy John surgery but it’s sitting right around where it was earlier in his career. He’s simply not fooling anyone with his pitches. Opposing batters are making contact with his pitches 88% of the time and 49% of that contact is hit hard. Maybe he’ll find some of that potential hiding beneath all the rest of his baggage, but it certainly seems like he’s broken for now.

LHP Mike Minor

157 20.6% 5.9% 12.1% 34.4% 4.18 4.43
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 49.0% 93.2 2543 118 101 92
Changeup 19.0% 86.2 2197 82 120 110
Curveball 10.9% 80.9 2443 124 83 126
Slider 21.1% 87.7 2580 130 54 111
Stuff+ Explainer

Mike Minor’s transition back to the rotation last year was big success for the Rangers. He was healthy and his results got better as the year went on. It was pretty clear that the transition was a yearlong process for him. His fastball velocity increased nearly every month helping him add five points to his strikeout rate and shave almost half a run off his FIP in the second half of the season. His four-seam fastball contributes to an extreme fly ball profile, helping him suppress his BABIP, though that comes at the cost of a bunch of home runs. With a relatively low walk rate and few base hits, those home runs haven’t hurt him as much as they could have.

RHP Lance Lynn

156 2/3 23.0% 10.9% 11.3% 49.7% 4.77 3.84
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 45.3% 94.1 2385 118 142 95
Sinker 34.1% 92.7 2217 141 133 101
Cutter 10.9% 87.8 2504 76 102 136
Curveball 9.6% 80.3 2221 76 107 112

Lance Lynn is a throwback to an era when the fastball reigned supreme. No starter threw more fastballs than he did last year. He throws three varieties, a four-seamer, a sinker, and a cutter, and they’re all effective pitches. None of them have overpowering velocity, but he’s able to mix and match them with different movement profiles and locations to keep hitters off balance. Two years ago, he outperformed his 4.82 FIP by over a full run, riding a .244 BABIP to a 3.43 ERA despite seeing his walk rate and home run rate rise to career highs. The script was flipped last year. He lowered his FIP to 3.84 by cutting his home run rate back towards league average and posting his highest strikeout rate since 2013. Unfortunately, he was done in by a .336 BABIP and a poor strand rate. It looks like this year is following the pattern he set last year. He’s posted a good FIP but a terrible strand rate and elevated BABIP have ballooned his ERA over six.

The Big Picture:

AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 15-9 0.625 -- L-L-L-W-W
Mariners 16-11 0.592 0.5 W-W-L-L-L
Rangers 12-11 0.522 2.5 W-W-L-L-L
Athletics 14-13 0.519 2.5 L-L-W-W-W
Angels 9-16 0.360 6.5 L-W-L-L-L

The Astros bounced back from their rough weekend by taking the last two games of their series against the Twins. They begin a four-game set against Cleveland tonight. The Athletics swept the Rangers in three games and will travel to Toronto to take part in the Vladito celebrations. After a ninth inning loss last night, the Angels will look to salvage a single win from their four-game series against the Yankees today before traveling to Kansas City this weekend.