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Series Preview: Mariners (17-17) vs. Rangers (20-13)

The Mariners play host to the division-leading Rangers this week.

Texas Rangers v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Not much says “get right” like a series win at home against the Astros in front of an invigorating crowd. When that series brings you back to .500 on the season and even with said Astros in your division, well, that’s enough to fuel a Monday morning grin. This week the M’s have an opportunity to gain more ground as they face the division-leading Rangers. That said, even without several key players, Texas is a formidable opponent; the bats are red hot, the pitching is solid even without their injured ace, and the Mariners will need a strong showing to match them.

At a Glance

Rangers Mariners
Rangers Mariners
Game 1 Monday, May 8 | 6:40 pm
RHP Jon Gray RHP Logan Gilbert
44% 56%
Game 2 Tuesday, May 9 | 6:40 pm
LHP Andrew Heaney RHP George Kirby
43% 57%
Game 3 Wednesday, May 10 | 12:40 pm
RHP Dane Dunning RHP Luis Castillo
37% 63%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 122 (2nd in AL) 96 (7th in AL) Rangers
Fielding (OAA) 2 (6th) 10 (1st) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 91 (5th) 83 (3rd) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 90 (6th) 76 (2nd) Mariners

After going 68-94 in 2022, the Rangers went all in again last winter and it’s paying off so far. Texas leads the AL West with a 20-13 record, ranking second in the majors in team WRC+ (122) and runs scored (221). Just this weekend, they outscored the Angels 30 to 14. On the pitching side, they’re 8th in pitching fWAR and 7th in team FIP (your Mariners lead the majors in both of those categories). Ace Jacob deGrom went to the IL on April 28th with left elbow inflammation; his timeline for returning to the rotation is unclear. That’s certainly a major loss for the Rangers, though the rotation behind deGrom ranges from very good to fine and are all winning games with the run support they’ve been getting. Texas is also missing shortstop Corey Seager until mid-May (hamstring strain), catcher Mitch Garver until late May (knee sprain), and several other pitchers including Jake Odorizzi, whose season is done after shoulder surgery.

After six losing seasons, the Rangers spent big on bats going into 2022 and focused on their rotation this year. deGrom was the biggest acquisition, signing a 5-year, $185m deal, but with the additions of Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney and one more year of Martín Pérez, the whole 1-5 improved dramatically over 2022. One of the biggest questions for the Rangers this year is the health of said rotation – it remains to be seen if deGrom’s current injury is the first crack in the facade or just a blip on the radar. Either way, the Mariners’ best bath forward this series looks to be working those long at-bats to get to Texas’ decidedly less daunting bullpen.

Rangers Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Marcus Semien 2B R 155 16.8% 12.9% 0.180 136
Travis Jankowski LF L 77 19.5% 9.1% 0.103 125
Nathaniel Lowe 1B L 148 19.6% 10.8% 0.169 116
Adolis García RF R 143 21.0% 9.8% 0.260 128
Josh Jung 3B R 133 31.6% 6.0% 0.242 120
Jonah Heim C S 112 17.9% 9.8% 0.253 161
Robbie Grossman DH S 108 25.9% 9.3% 0.128 91
Ezequiel Duran SS R 89 24.7% 1.1% 0.188 136
Leody Taveras CF S 78 24.4% 9.0% 0.157 132

Every starter in the Rangers lineup is performing above league average, ranging from DH/left fielder Robbie Grossman’s 91 wRC+ to catcher Jonah Heim’s 161. The Rangers have a star-studded infield of Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Josh Jung, and Nathaniel Lowe. In Seager’s absence, Ezequiel Duran has slotted in as interim shortstop and has played himself into a spot on the roster even when Seager returns. Top prospect Jung showed off his power when he debuted last September, and has continued to do so this year – he leads the team with 8 home runs and boasts a 120 wRC+. His vices also remain consistent, with a sky-high strikeout rate of 31.6%. The Rangers outfield is made up of the consistently powerful Adolis Garcia, as well as Travis Jankowski and Leody Taveras, who are both having starting the season hot and overperforming expectations.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Arizona Diamondbacks v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

RHP Jon Gray

30 2/3 14.5% 10.7% 18.2% 41.5% 4.40 6.23
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 47.1% 94.9 77 67 73 0.458
Changeup 14.7% 88.0 77
Curveball 8.2% 78.5
Slider 30.0% 83.4 125 92 114 0.261

Jon Gray enjoyed a successful, if injury-marred, first season in Texas last year after signing a four-year free agent deal last offseason. He turned his already good slider into a sweeper and improved its effectiveness outside of the thin air of Coors Field. With his fastball/sweeper combo forming the majority of his pitch mix, he struggled with a pretty significant platoon split. He doesn’t really have a third offering to keep left-handed batters at bay, though he’s tried to improve his changeup over the years. That platoon split is even larger this year and his strikeout rate has cratered to just 14.5% in six starts.

LHP Andrew Heaney

29 1/3 24.4% 11.0% 19.4% 34.6% 5.52 6.19
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 62.7% 92.0 104 115 89 0.336
Changeup 19.0% 83.7 97 79 106 0.393
Slider 18.3% 81.7 97 82 59 0.298

Andrew Heaney was one of the other big additions to the Rangers starting rotation behind deGrom this offseason. He posted the highest strikeout rate and second lowest walk rate of his career last year, fueled by the highest fastball velocity of his career. He also took his slurvy curveball and turned it into a more traditional slider with a four mile per hour jump in velocity. A recurring shoulder injury derailed any shot of him putting together a full breakout season. This year, his velocity has taken a step back across the board and his strikeout rate has fallen back towards his career norms. Paired with a huge jump in walk rate, his FIP has ballooned to over six.

RHP Dane Dunning

25 1/3 14.4% 6.2% 0.0% 52.0% 1.42 3.20
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 5.9% 90.1
Sinker 28.9% 90.3 67 61 93 0.281
Cutter 28.3% 88.2 84 73 139 0.242
Changeup 13.6% 85.8 84
Slider 20.1% 81.8 85

With deGrom on the shelf for the foreseeable future, the Rangers have turned to Dane Dunning to fill his spot in the rotation. He’s been a serviceable back-end starter for Texas over the last two years, with a penchant for inducing weak contact on the ground. Without a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio, his ceiling is rather limited and none of his pitches standout as a potential path to improvement. This year, his 1.42 ERA is seemingly driven by some really lucky results on balls in play, with a .187 BABIP.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rangers 20-13 0.606 -- W-L-L-W-W
Angels 19-16 0.543 2.0 W-W-W-L-L
Astros 17-17 0.500 3.5 L-L-W-L-L
Mariners 17-17 0.500 3.5 W-W-L-W-W
Athletics 8-27 0.229 13.0 L-L-W-W-L

Not much has changed in the AL West standings recently, other than the M’s drawing even with the Astros. The Rangers took two of three from the Angels, while the A’s managed to do the same against the Royals. As the Angels and Mariners swap opponents, with Houston headed to LA, be on standby for shifts in the divisional standings. Oakland, meanwhile, heads to New York to play the Yankees, last in the mighty AL East despite their winning record.