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Series Preview: Mariners (23-26) at Rangers (21-23)

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The Mariners head to Texas for a three-game series that has the potential for some very high scores.

St Louis Cardinals v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Mariners briefly lost the major league lead in home runs over the weekend. The Twins launched an astounding 11 home runs while scoring 40 (!) runs in four games. Of course, the Mariners hit seven home runs of their own and retook the lead on Sunday. The Twins’ offensive onslaught was just another instance of the Mariners complete lack of run prevention. They’ve allowed almost seven runs per game in May and have been blown out by more than five runs eight time in their last 20 games. We’re watching some ugly, ugly baseball right now and there’s no respite in sight.

At a Glance

Mariners Rangers
Mariners Rangers
Game 1 Monday, May 20 | 5:05 pm
RHP Mike Leake LHP Mike Minor
43% 57%
Game 2 Tuesday, May 21 | 5:05 pm
TBD RHP Lance Lynn
47% 53%
Game 3 Wednesday, May 22 | 11:05 am
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Adrian Sampson
54% 46%
Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 107 (6th in AL) 113 (3rd in AL) Mariners
Fielding (DRS) -17 (12th) -46 (15th) Rangers
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 107 (10th) 112 (12th) Rangers
Bullpen (FIP-) 111 (12th) 117 (13th) Rangers

The last time the Mariners faced the Rangers was the beginning of this ugly stretch of baseball. These two teams split a four-game series in Seattle at the end of April, and while the first game was blowout win by the Mariners, the last two games of the series were lost by a combined score of 29-2. The Rangers have actually scored the most runs per game in the majors, but their run differential is just +10 because their run prevention is almost as bad as the Mariners. Their starting rotation that was filled with pitchers recovering from major injuries has been decimated by, surprise, recurring injuries or ineffectiveness. These two teams enter this series basically tied in the standings, though that’s more due to the Mariners sliding down than the Rangers rising up.

Rangers Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Shin-Soo Choo DH L 184 0.368 141 -0.9
Willie Calhoun LF L 21 0.444 241 0.0
Nomar Mazara RF L 167 0.272 87 -1.3
Joey Gallo CF L 175 0.388 165 1.8
Asdrubal Cabrera 3B S 148 0.228 80 -1.1
Rougned Odor 2B L 132 0.203 48 -0.7
Logan Forsythe SS R 132 0.400 147 -0.2
Ronald Guzman 1B L 63 0.250 97 -2.0
Jeff Mathis C R 79 0.22 3 -0.1

The Rangers offense has been led by Joey Gallo, who looks like a legitimate MVP candidate at this point. He simply crushing the ball when he makes contact and regularly gets on base anyway when he doesn’t. But they’re also enjoying some surprising performances by a couple of veterans who were written off just a few months ago. Hunter Pence has found his way back to relevance via a swing change this offseason. It’s still one of the most awkward swings in the majors but his bat path is now much more efficient and it’s resulted in tons of hard contact. Unfortunately, the Rangers don’t really have a regular spot for him in the lineup. He’s been relegated to a platoon role after Willie Calhoun was called up from the minors.

Probable Pitchers

LHP Mike Minor

58 2/3 23.6% 8.1% 9.7% 41.9% 2.61 3.60
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 43.0% 93.5 2642 130 106 130
Changeup 24.1% 86.7 2274 120 109 100
Curveball 16.9% 81.6 2533 115 129 104
Slider 16.1% 87.5 2743 113 85 120
Stuff+ Explainer

From the previous series preview:

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.

Minor has increased the spin rate on his fastball by over 100 RPMs this year—it’s now the highest spin fastball thrown by a starter in the majors—but his vertical movement hasn’t changed at all. That tells me that the spin he’s added is pretty inefficient. That’s reflected in his results too. His whiff rate has basically stayed the same though he is inducing a few more popups.

RHP Lance Lynn

54 2/3 20.6% 7.6% 10.2% 39.6% 4.94 3.89
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 46.7% 94.6 2440 99 145 96
Sinker 20.6% 93.0 2282 146 99 90
Cutter 17.1% 89.2 2542 113 112 88
Changeup 5.1% 86.9 1774
Curveball 10.5% 81.3 2303 95 88 50
Lynn’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

From the previous series preview:

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 an elevated BABIP has ballooned his ERA to almost five.

RHP Adrian Sampson

41 1/3 13.0% 6.5% 12.5% 38.5% 4.79 5.31
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 57.1% 93.2 2061 123 103 98
Changeup 12.1% 87.9 1872
Slider 30.8% 84.7 2606 96 92 89
Sampson’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

After a terrible start to his career with the Mariners, Adrian Sampson has latched on with the Rangers as a back-end starter. His pitch repertoire isn’t really good enough or deep enough to thrive as a traditional starter so the Rangers tried using him with an opener before his last “start”. And it kind of worked. He allowed just two runs in five innings against a very good Cardinals offense. There’s no word on whether or not the Rangers will use an opener again on Wednesday, but considering how well it worked before, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it again.

The Big Picture:

AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 31-16 0.660 -- W-W-W-W-L
Angels 22-24 0.478 8.5 L-L-W-W-L
Rangers 21-23 0.477 8.5 W-W-W-L-W
Mariners 23-26 0.469 9.0 W-L-L-L-W
Athletics 22-25 0.468 9.0 L-L-W-W-W

Wild Card

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rays 27-17 0.614 +2.5 W-W-L-W-L
Cleveland 25-20 0.556 -- W-W-L-W-W
Red Sox 24-22 0.522 1.5 L-W-L-L-W
Angels 22-24 0.478 3.5 L-L-W-W-L
Rangers 21-23 0.477 3.5 W-W-W-L-W

The Astros finally lost yesterday in Boston after pushing their win streak to ten games. They return home this week to face the White Sox for four games. The rest of the AL West is essentially tied nine games behind Houston. The Athletics swept the Tigers over the weekend and will travel to Cleveland this week. The Angels won their series against the Royals and host the Twins this week.