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A Rangy Affair: Mariners (61-52) at Rangers (49-62) Series Preview

The schedule has eased. Can Seattle capitalize?

Texas Rangers v Houston Astros Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

During their Scary Stretch, from July 28 to August 10, a fourteen-game stretch when the Mariners faced the Astros and Yankees twice, the team went 7-7. They opened that stretch by losing a series against Houston in pretty deflating fashion, including a 1-11 loss to Verlander and the Astros, but dusted themselves off, went into the Big Apple, and took a series from the Yankees there, as well as one later at home. (They also split a very winnable series against the zombie Angels, but we won’t focus on that now.) Now the Mariners enter into an enviable stretch of play that sees them gifted the easiest remaining strength of schedule in the AL:

However, in order to get to the rarefied air of the playoffs, the Mariners will have to make hay against these bad teams, rather than whatever it was they did against the Angels (made...what’s worse than hay? Crabgrass?), and that starts deep in the heart of Texas against these Rangers.

At A Glance

Mariners Rangers
Mariners Rangers
Game 1 Friday, August 12 | 5:05 pm
RHP George Kirby RHP Josh Sborz
55% 45%
Game 2 Saturday, August 13 | 4:15 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Dane Dunning
49% 51%
Game 3 Sunday, August 14 | 11:35 am
RHP Logan Gilbert LHP Martin Pérez
50% 50%
Odds via FiveThirtyEight

Team Overviews

Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 99 (9th in AL) 105 (5th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (OAA) -11 (13th) 8 (5th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 108 (11th) 111 (12th) Rangers
Bullpen (FIP-) 98 (8th) 98 (7th) Mariners

If the past few weeks were the tough outer chitin of the Seattle Mariners’ second half schedule, and I have long said they are, then this series marks the start of Seattle cracking open the shell of the rest of their schedule to hopefully sup upon the delicious, tender meats within. Texas is more dangerous than their record indicates, with a stars and scrubs offense that can explode with ease if sequenced well and some pesky young players on the back end that keep things interesting. But their rotation is heading the opposite direction as Seattle’s, with Jon Gray out for a month at least, Spencer Howard sidelined as well, and two of their go-to relievers in Joe Barlow and Dennis Santana on the IL to boot, alongside a trade deadline deal of closer Matt Bush to Milwaukee. With a bullpen day Monday that could further thin things, Seattle has a great opportunity to begin taking advantage of their vulnerable series of home stretch opponents and create some room for error for themselves in the playoff race.


Rangers Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Marcus Semien 2B R 491 0.251 98 6.5
Corey Seager SS L 458 0.248 128 1.3
Nathaniel Lowe 1B L 427 0.343 125 -1.5
Jonah Heim C S 319 0.276 119 -0.1
Adolis García RF R 452 0.314 115 3.9
Leody Taveras CF S 170 0.389 119 0.9
Bubba Thompson LF R 22 0.286 9 0.6
Ezequiel Duran DH R 132 0.310 88 1.1
Josh H. Smith 3B L 159 0.279 86 -1.5

Alas, we won’t be able to indulge in one of our favorite LL traditions this series: misspelling the name of Kole Calhoun. That’s because Calhoun is currently on the IL with heel inflammation (we don’t write the scripts, we promise), which cleared the way for the Rangers to promote prospect Bubba Thompson. Thompson might have too much swing-and-miss to really be an offensive threat at the MLB level, but he’s an excellent defender and can really burn around the bases. Thompson’s promotion and subsequent playing time, rather than the Rangers leaning on say, Brad Miller, is another example of the Rangers shifting to a “let the kids play” model to supplement their Seager/Semien core—understandable for a team that FanGraphs gives, at the time of this writing, an 0% chance of making the playoffs. As much as you may be tempted to watch the Semien-Seager-García trio and dip out of the rest of the lineup, pay attention to the Bubba Thompson and Ezequiel Duran and Leody Taveras parts of the lineup, as those might be the names we’re cursing in a few years. Also, if you need a heel for this series, might we suggest directing your frustration to don’t-call-me-Nate-Nathaniel Lowe, who not only has forced us all to spell out his entire first name while at the same time not mixing him up with any of the many other Lowes in baseball these days (as well as teammate Nick Solak, who I also mix him up with for some reason), but who also carries a .306/.306/.510 slash line against Seattle, higher than against any other team in the AL West except Oakland, and seventh-best against any opponent. That’s just rude.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Once again, we’re covering for Jake, which means some explainers but more minimal tables.

Los Angeles Angels v Texas Rangers
Dane Dunning
Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

RHP Josh Sborz (sort of)

This will be a traditional bullpen game in all likelihood, so while Sborz is the announced starter, Texas will likely use LHP Taylor Hearn for length, along with any number of pitchers outside of Garrett Richards who worked two innings yesterday in Houston. Sborz is a fireballer who opened a game once in Triple-A earlier this season and has a history of starting and multi-inning relief. That said, his last true start came in 2017 at Double-A Tulsa when he was still with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sborz will likely work 2-3 innings, unless Seattle can bounce him sooner. He’s a three-pitch pitcher with well-differentiated profiles for his four-seam, slider, and curveball. All three pitches are swing and miss weapons, and he throws them all at least 20% of the time. If it seems like Sborz should be a better pitcher than his 5.87 ERA this year in 15.1 innings or his 4.62 career line would indicate, you’re probably right! Hopefully Seattle can keep riding the train that’s rolled over him to a .389 BABIP thus far this season.

RHP Dane Dunning

From a previous season preview:

Dane Dunning has had a turbulent start to his career. He was involved in two major trades before even making his major league debut and lost a season and a half to a torn UCL. Acquired in the Lance Lynn deal prior to the 2021 season, the Rangers handled Dunning extremely carefully in his first full major league season. He averaged under five innings per start and threw more than 80 pitches in a game just four times. His approach is pretty simple: pound the zone with an average sinker and hope to get batters to chase his secondary offerings out of the zone. His slider and changeup have shown some promise but if he’s locating them off the plate so often, it becomes easier and easier for batters to just watch them go by. Four of his five pitches generate elite vertical movement, which explains how he’s able to run such a high groundball rate. Dunning had been placed on the IL prior to the All-Star break with a minor ankle injury; the Rangers used the extra days off to allow him to heal up before the second half of the season.

Dunning’s Mike Leake impression has been reasonable thus far, though his walk rate is a tightrope only balanced by his ability to induce double plays. In his last outing against the Mariners in late July, he scrabbled through five innings on four hits, three walks, and five strikeouts with merely a pair of runs allowed.

LHP Martín Pérez

From a previous season preview:

Somehow, someway, Martín Pérez is leading all qualified starters in ERA this year. Across 10 starts, he’s allowed just 10 earned runs and hasn’t yet allowed a home run on the season. An effective innings eater for most of his career, Pérez has suddenly turned into a premier starter without any significant changes to his repertoire. The secret behind his success? Impeccable command. Nearly half of his pitches thrown this year have been located in the shadow zone — on the edge of the rulebook strike zone — a huge improvement in his ability to command his pitches. That has led to career-bests in ERA, FIP, xFIP, and strikeout and walk rates. Pérez was the Rangers lone All-Star representative this year [prior to injuries adding SS Corey Seager]. He’s continued to pitch very well, though not up to the elite standard he established early in the season.

A post-All-Star Break resurgence was rudely interrupted by the Houston Astros last week for Pérez, as he was throttled for seven runs in five innings after allowing just four runs total in his previous four starts combined. Still, Pérez has been a lifesaver for Texas this year, combining not only effectiveness but efficiency as well, allowing their young and inconsistent rotation that now is missing Jon Gray to get one night free of their bullpen per week. Last time he faced Seattle he was impressive, though Seattle made him work. He made it through just five innings, a rarity for Pérez in 2022, while earning a single run but walking four alongside nine strikeouts. Pérez has thrown at least six innings in 17 of his 22 starts, including all but three of his last 20.

Standings Update:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 72-41 0.637 -- 5-5
Mariners 61-52 0.540 11.0 6-4
Rangers 49-62 0.441 22.0 3-7
Angels 49-63 0.438 22.5 6-4
Athletics 41-71 0.366 30.5 2-8

Annoyingly, the Angels have moved up since we last did this, mostly thanks to them splitting a series with the Mariners this past weekend in a set of games that definitely cost me some of my tooth enamel. Conversely, the Athletics have not won a game since we last did a series preview, and have tumbled even lower in the standings. They’re still edged slightly out from being the worst team in baseball by the Soto-less Nationals, but they currently hold the longest losing streak in baseball, at five games.

The AL Wild Card

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Blue Jays 60-50 0.545 +2.0 5-5
Mariners 61-52 0.540 +1.5 6-4
Rays 58-52 0.527 -- 5-5
Orioles 58-53 0.523 0.5 7-3
Twins 57-53 0.518 1.0 4-6
White Sox 56-56 0.505 3.0 5-5
Red Sox 55-56 0.495 4.0 4-6

Toronto dropped a pair of games to the pesky Orioles this week before a rainout in Baltimore forced them to plan an early September makeup. While the crazed-eyed birbs in the rear-view mirror may be closer than they appear, their defeat of their northern, azure cousins is still a huge boon for the M’s in the long run. Baltimore dropped the first game of their four-game set with Boston Thursday night, for the sake of balance. Thanks to the efforts of the Brewers, the Rays were swept in a two-game series that matched up two clubs obsessed with winning efficiently while just... prioritizing the latter over the former when push comes to shove. That meant Seattle gained ground in both directions on their fellow Wild Card clubs this week. The Twins enter the fray in place of the Guardians, who they are more likely to jockey for a playoff spot with in all likelihood as one of the two, or perhaps the dismally fated White Sox, must win the AL Central. Cleveland snuck past the awful Detroit Tigers in three games while Minnesota got roughly the most exact opposite experience imaginable, taking a two-game throttling at the hands of the Dodgers.