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Series Preview: Mariners (85-73) vs. Rangers (89-69)

The Mariners have one last chance to push for a playoff spot against a familiar foe.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Los Angeles Angels Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It turns out playoff baseball in the regular season is a lot like the actual playoffs. Every run for the opposing team feels insurmountable, and every run for your team is a revelation. Some pitchers look a bit gassed, others have That Dawg oozing from their pores. After dropping two of three to the Astros under these conditions, the Mariners must look deep within themselves this final weekend of the regular season and drudge up what it takes to get to the postseason. “What it takes,” for the record, is a combination of Mariners wins and Astros and/or Blue Jays losses. It’s a big ask, but doable if luck swings our way for once. After all, the M’s could have — should have! — won two of three last weekend in Texas, so taking three of four is doable this week at home.

I’ll be watching the starting pitchers, who simply need to hold the Rangers’ lineup contained. Every member of the rotation has that ability, proven over and over, and each has also shown cracks as the season wears to a close. See you on the other side.

At a Glance

Rangers Mariners
Rangers Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, September 28 | 6:40 pm
LHP Jordan Montgomery RHP Logan Gilbert
45% 55%
Game 2 Friday, September 29 | 7:10 pm
RHP Nathan Eovaldi RHP Bryan Woo
46% 54%
Game 3 Saturday, September 30 | 4:15 pm
RHP Jon Gray RHP Luis Castillo
42% 58%
Game 4 Sunday, October 1 | 12:10 pm
LHP Cody Bradford RHP George Kirby
40% 60%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Overview Rangers Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 116 (2nd in AL) 107 (5th in AL) Rangers
Fielding (OAA) 16 (3rd) 18 (2nd) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 96 (5th) 94 (3rd) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 102 (11th) 92 (4th) Mariners

Since last we saw them lo these… (checks calendar) … four days ago, the Rangers took two of three from the Angels. Adolis Garcia has been on a tear since coming back from injury, hitting his 38th homer last night. Texas’ current playoff odds are 99% to make the postseason and 91.7% to win the AL West (per FanGraphs).

For a broader overview, see the following from last weekend’s preview: The Rangers have lead the AL West for much of the season, finally looking like they’ve earned 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 (33.7) and team wRC+ (116) in the majors. 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.

Rangers Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Marcus Semien 2B R 736 14.4% 9.5% 0.205 126
Corey Seager SS L 520 16.0% 9.0% 0.305 174
Nathaniel Lowe 1B L 708 22.2% 13.0% 0.153 116
Adolis García RF R 617 27.4% 10.0% 0.263 124
Josh Jung 3B R 500 29.2% 5.8% 0.206 114
Jonah Heim C S 487 19.3% 8.0% 0.185 106
Mitch Garver DH R 332 23.5% 13.0% 0.239 146
Leody Taveras CF S 541 21.3% 6.3% 0.152 98
Evan Carter LF L 61 29.5% 16.4% 0.400 199

From last week’s preview: The Rangers’ starting lineup has one player with less than 2.2 fWAR on the year (compared to the Mariners’ four plus). That player is left fielder Evan Carter, who has only played eighteen games and has played well! There’s an unfair level of offensive prowess on this team, led by the 6.2-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 at least 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.

The team had a scare on Tuesday night when Seager left the game after being hit by a pitch. Negative X-Rays indicate a forearm contusion that didn’t prevent him from playing yesterday.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Jordan Montgomery

182 2/3 21.4% 6.1% 9.1% 43.9% 3.25 3.53
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 10.2% 93.4 75 89 89 0.349
Sinker 43.1% 93.3 92 93 86 0.331
Cutter 1.7% 88.2 100
Changeup 22.9% 83.5 99 129 115 0.285
Curveball 22.1% 80.5 116 116 87 0.256

From last week’s preview:

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.

Montgomery stymied the Mariners for seven shutout innings last Saturday, scattering five hits and two walks while striking out six. He deemphasized his sinker in favor of his four-seamer and changeup in that start; the pitch mix adjustment worked out as Seattle batters whiffed on nearly half their swings against his change and 30% of their swings against his heater.

RHP Nathan Eovaldi

140 2/3 22.7% 8.1% 10.7% 51.1% 3.26 3.72
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 36.8% 95.2 92 81 111 0.334
Cutter 18.0% 90.6 86 80 97 0.356
Splitter 27.5% 87.9 124 116 86 0.25
Curveball 13.5% 76.0 101 130 122 0.195
Slider 4.2% 83.9 101

From last week’s preview:

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.

Eovaldi allowed five runs in five innings against the Mariners on Sunday, though three of those runs came in after he had been lifted from the game. He allowed six hits — including two solo home runs — two walks and struck out six. He crossed the 80 pitch mark for the second time since coming off the IL in early September.

RHP Jon Gray

157 1/3 21.6% 8.2% 13.5% 40.0% 4.12 4.47
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 42.3% 95.7 82 84 106 0.396
Changeup 11.7% 88.8 77 70 72 0.319
Curveball 6.2% 78.2 100 85 60 0.495
Slider 33.4% 87.9 115 106 101 0.235
Sweeper 6.4% 83.3 115 89 111 0.256

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’s continued to tinker with his primary breaking ball this season; last year, it was a big sweeping slider that generated a ton of swings and misses but he’s ditched that horizontally moving breaker for his old vertically breaking gyro slider this year. The underlying stats are nearly the same between the two breaking pitches which means the problems he’s faced this season can all be traced back to his fastball. Opposing batters are slugging .551 off his heater and the pitch’s expected wOBA is nearly .400. Gray has done very well against the Mariners this year, throwing seven innings in both his previous starts against them while allowing just a single run.

LHP Cody Bradford

54 1/3 21.5% 5.3% 13.3% 32.3% 5.30 4.57
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 54.7% 90.3 65 91 99 0.293
Changeup 27.5% 82.1 92 107 95 0.267
Curveball 2.1% 81.9
Slider 15.7% 86.3 66 40 72 0.516

The Rangers would have Cody Bradford lined up to pitch in the final game of the regular season. If they’ve already clinched a playoff spot, I’d expect them to follow through with that plan since they’ll be more interested in getting their playoff rotation set. Bradford is a rookie who made his debut back in May and has bounced between the rotation and bullpen. He’s been knocked around pretty badly, allowing six runs in each of his previous two starts. If, for whatever reason, the Rangers are still playing for a spot in the postseason, I’d expect them to start either Martín Pérez or Andrew Heaney if either of those pitchers haven’t been used earlier in the series.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rangers 89-69 0.563 -- W-W-W-L-W
Astros 87-72 0.547 2.5 L-L-W-L-W
Mariners 85-73 0.538 4.0 L-L-L-W-L
Angels 71-88 0.447 18.5 W-L-L-W-L
Athletics 48-110 0.304 41.0 W-W-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 97-62 0.610 +10.0 L-W-L-W-W
Blue Jays 87-71 0.551 +0.5 W-L-W-L-L
Astros 87-72 0.547 -- L-L-W-L-W
Mariners 85-73 0.538 1.5 L-L-L-W-L

The Mariners control over their playoff destiny was taken out of their hands with their loss yesterday (technically, there’s an impossibly remote chance for a three-way tie atop the AL West, in which case the Mariners would emerge as the division winner. But let’s not even think about that). To earn a Wild Card berth, they need to win at least two or more games against the Rangers and get some help elsewhere. Luckily, Seattle holds the tiebreaker over both the Astros and Blue Jays so if the season ends with the M’s tied in the standings with either of those teams, they’d earn the postseason berth. That’s a huge advantage.

The Astros have an off day today before traveling to Arizona to face a Diamondbacks team that’s also fighting for a NL Wild Card spot. The Blue Jays wrap up their series against the Yankees today and then host the Rays who are technically still in the hunt for the AL East division crown. Here are the various permutations of results needed based on how many games the Mariners win against the Rangers.

If the Mariners go 4-0:

  • The Astros have to go 2-1 or worse against the Diamondbacks OR
  • The Blue Jays have to go 2-2 or worse against the Yankees and Rays

If the Mariners go 3-1:

  • The Astros have to go 1-2 or worse against the Diamondbacks OR
  • The Blue Jays have to 1-3 or worse against the Yankees and Rays

If Mariners go 2-2:

  • The Astros have to go winless against the Diamondbacks OR
  • The Blue Jays have to go winless against the Yankees and Rays

If the Mariners go 1-3 or 0-4, they’re eliminated from the playoffs.

There are a couple of longshot three- and even four-team tie scenarios that could happen but in most of those cases, the Mariners would likely secure a postseason berth thanks to their excellent intradivision record that gives them a tiebreak over the Blue Jays.

Go Yankees, go Diamondbacks, go Rays, and GO M’S!