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Series Preview: Mariners (84-68) at Rangers (84-68)

The Mariners begin the pre-playoffs with a three-game series in Texas.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Texas Rangers Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

For a moment yesterday, we could catch our breath. The Blue Jays/Yankees game was the only game being played whose outcome affected the Mariners’ standings; the 3-way AL West race wound its springs. Today, we launch into a ten-day, ten-game fight for our lives. Three against the Rangers starting tonight, followed by three against Houston, and a final four against the Rangers to finish it off. On your mark, get set…. Go.

At a Glance

Mariners Rangers
Mariners Rangers
Game 1 Friday, September 22 | 5:05 pm
RHP Bryce Miller RHP Dane Dunning
50% 50%
Game 2 Saturday, September 23 | 4:05 pm
RHP Logan Gilbert LHP Jordan Montgomery
48% 52%
Game 3 Sunday, September 24 | 11:35 am
RHP Bryan Woo RHP Nathan Eovaldi
45% 55%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 115 (2nd in AL) 107 (4th in AL) Rangers
Fielding (OAA) 16 (3rd) 16 (2nd) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 96 (5th) 91 (3rd) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 103 (11th) 90 (3rd) Mariners

After leading the AL West for much of the season, the Texas Rangers enter the final week half a game back of Houston, clawing for the pennant they spent so much money the past few winters to secure. After ace Jacob deGrom’s UCL repair in June took him out for the season, Texas made a big trade at the deadline to secure Max Scherzer to take his place. Last week, however, Scherzer strained one of the muscles that connects the scapula to the upper arm, and will miss the rest of the regular season (and possibly beyond). While the pitching scrambles for answers, the Rangers’ offense has regained some contributors with the return of third baseman Josh Jung and outfielder Adolis Garcia from the injured list. Texas has been offensively powerful all year, with the third-highest team fWAR in the majors (31.0) and the fourth-highest team wRC+ (114). It’s the pitching that’s lost the Rangers games this month, and that’s the weak spot the Mariners will have to take advantage of. In their last three series, the Rangers have swept (the Blue Jays), been swept (the Guardians), and taken two of three from the Red Sox.

Rangers Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Marcus Semien 2B R 710 13.9% 9.7% 0.192 124
Corey Seager SS L 495 16.6% 9.3% 0.306 173
Nathaniel Lowe 1B L 683 22.3% 13.0% 0.153 121
Josh Jung 3B R 475 29.7% 5.9% 0.215 120
Adolis García RF R 593 27.7% 9.9% 0.253 120
Jonah Heim C S 465 19.4% 7.3% 0.192 106
Mitch Garver DH R 309 24.3% 12.9% 0.245 141
Leody Taveras CF S 518 21.6% 6.2% 0.153 100
Evan Carter LF L 44 29.5% 18.2% 0.286 172

The Rangers’ starting lineup has one player with less than 1.9 fWAR on the year (compared to the Mariners’ three). That player is left fielder Evan Carter, who has only played twelve games and has played well! There’s an unfair level of offensive prowess on this team, led by the 6 WAR Corey Seager, who’s every bit as good as promised yet again. There really are only two players whose praises I can’t grudgingly sing. Ten Rangers have more than ten home runs, four have more than twenty, and two have more than thirty. Marcus Semien is playing like his 2021 peak. Adolis Garcia is having a career year. Texas has scored fifteen or more runs six times this year, so the Mariners are simply going to have to score some in return.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Dane Dunning

157 19.3% 7.7% 12.3% 46.3% 3.78 4.36
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 3.4% 90.5 72
Sinker 33.8% 90.9 79 51 90 0.330
Cutter 20.7% 88.9 90 96 89 0.345
Changeup 15.7% 85.7 65 84 110 0.346
Curveball 4.9% 77.8 78 158 48 0.492
Slider 21.5% 82.4 102 96 98 0.302

I’m sure the Rangers didn’t plan on giving Dane Dunning over 150 innings this year but the cavalcade of injuries to their starting rotation have forced him into a regular role. He’s responded with a career-best ERA and is close to matching a career-high in fWAR. His underlying skills haven’t changed all that much, he still relies on a sinker-slider combo that generates plenty of groundball contact. Because his primary pitch is a sinker, his ability to earn swings and misses is somewhat capped, but he’s managed to find success anyway. He faced the Mariners way back in early May and held them to two runs over six innings.

LHP Jordan Montgomery

175 2/3 21.4% 6.1% 9.4% 43.8% 3.38 3.57
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 10.0% 93.4 75 86 97 0.360
Sinker 43.6% 93.3 91 95 86 0.325
Cutter 1.7% 88.2 100
Changeup 22.8% 83.5 100 128 109 0.289
Curveball 21.8% 80.6 116 116 88 0.256

Along with Max Scherzer, Jordan Montgomery was one of the Rangers big trade deadline acquisitions. And with the former out for the season with a shoulder injury, the latter is now the ace of the Rangers rotation. He’s improved his peripherals across the board this year, setting career-highs in ERA and FIP thanks to a dramatically lower home run rate. His strikeout-to-walk rate is essentially unchanged from his career norms so this improvement seems mostly related to his ability to limit loud contact. That likely stems from a small change to his pitch mix, deemphasizing his four-seam fastball and leaning into his sinker. His underlying batted ball metrics aren’t as convinced about his sudden ability to manage contact allowed — his hard hit and barrel rates are right in line with what he was producing in the years prior.

RHP Nathan Eovaldi

135 2/3 22.5% 8.0% 9.3% 51.1% 3.05 3.59
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 37.2% 95.2 93 84 111 0.333
Cutter 18.2% 90.7 86 80 99 0.340
Splitter 27.1% 88.0 124 115 88 0.248
Curveball 13.5% 76.1 102 128 122 0.201
Slider 4.1% 83.9 101

Nathan Eovaldi had a phenomenal start to the season, posting a 2.83 ERA and a 3.16 FIP through the first half of the season. It was a big bounce back after injuries derailed his final year in Boston last year. Unfortunately, the injury bug reared its ugly head again this summer. He made one start after the All-Star break and then was placed on the IL with a forearm strain. The Rangers rushed him back after other injuries decimated their pitching staff, though they’ve handled him very carefully to ensure he isn’t injured again. Still, his fastball velocity is sitting nearly two ticks lower than it was earlier in the season and he only pitched into the fifth inning for the first time since being activated in his last start against Boston.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 85-68 0.556 -- L-W-L-L-W
Mariners 84-68 0.553 0.5 L-L-W-W-W
Rangers 84-68 0.553 0.5 L-L-L-W-W
Angels 69-84 0.451 16.0 L-L-L-W-L
Athletics 46-107 0.301 39.0 L-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Tampa Bay 94-60 0.610 +9.0 L-L-W-L-W
Blue Jays 85-68 0.556 +0.5 W-W-W-W-L
Mariners 84-68 0.553 -- L-L-W-W-W
Rangers 84-68 0.553 -- L-L-L-W-W

You know the situation. The Mariners are tied with the Rangers for the third Wild Card spot and are both half a game behind the Astros for the AL West division lead. Houston barely avoided a three-game sweep earlier this week with a dramatic walk-off win on Wednesday against the Orioles. They’ll host the Royals this weekend, hoping to create some space in the division standings. The Blue Jays are a half game ahead of the M’s and Rangers in the Wild Card race thanks to a series win against the Yankees earlier this week. Toronto will travel to Tampa Bay to face the dangerous Rays this weekend.