Rangers at Mariners: Weekend Series Preview
The Texas Rangers seem to be rounding into form as they leave the “Big A” in their dust and head up the coast to Safeco Field to begin a weekend tilt with the Mariners.
After the Opening Week disappointment that was the Indians series, and despite a bullpen in tatters, the Rangers have won two straight series on the back of strong starting pitching and an offense that tops the league in many categories. The Mariners, however, enter this contest with the worst record in the AL West. For the second straight year, Seattle was picked by many to be the surprise team in the West—and for the second straight year, they have endured a terrible start. This year, they have found multiple ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory—capped by a crushing 9th-inning comeback by the Angels just before the Rangers came to Anaheim. They will be looking to turn the corner this weekend at home.
It’s always hard to gauge whether you want to play a team that’s been running badly. Either you’re going to hit them while they are still down, or they are going to be so motivated to get off the mat that the baseball Gods will reward them. We will find out this weekend which it will be.
Mariners: 2-8; 5th in AL West
Rangers: 4-5; 4th in AL West
Rangers projected starters:
Mariners projected starters:
Rangers’ pitcher to watch:
Andrew Cashner: All signs seem to be pointing to Cashner making his first appearance for the Rangers on Saturday evening. Cashner, who had a setback with biceps tendinitis during spring training, is coming off an extended spring training start on Monday in which he threw 75 pitches. Though Cashner will likely be on a pitch count, it will still be great to see him on mound. Cashner was signed in the off-season to a 1-year, $10 million deal; the Rangers are counting on him to solidify the back-end of the rotation and eat up innings.
For his career Cashner’s numbers aren’t eye popping—a win/loss record of 31-53, a 3.85 ERA, and WHIP of 1.319. If you’re looking for an ace, those numbers tell you that Cashner is not your guy. If you are looking for a consistent back-end starter to eat up innings and give you a chance more often than not, well, then he has the potential to be that.
Cashner hasn’t pitched a full season in over two years and so Saturday’s start will be an important step in that direction. Remember, all you need is for the guy to keep you in the game; if he does that, it’s a win—regardless of what the scoreboard reads after 9.
Mariners’ pitcher to watch:
Felix Hernandez: In 2016 Felix Hernandez gave up 6 earned runs or more in just two games; both were against Texas. The Rangers have had varying success against Hernandez over the years. At times he has dominated them and, at times, they have had his number. For instance, in his first start against the Rangers last year on opening day, Hernandez went 6 innings and gave up just 1 earned run. His last two starts against them came in a one week span. His line between those two games: 9.2 innings, 10 hits, 8 walks, 3 home runs, and just 6 strikeouts. The Rangers are hoping to use the same patient approach against Hernandez this year that they employed so beautifully in those last 2 games they faced him last year. The Rangers laid off Hernandez’s pitches down in the zone and when he didn’t get calls he either walked batters or elevated the ball. When he did elevate, the Rangers took advantage and hit the ball out of the park.
Hernandez will enter the game tonight at 0-1 on the year with a 4.09 ERA. In his last outing, Hernandez recorded his first quality start of the season with 6 innings pitched, surrendering just 3 earned runs against the Angels. The line doesn’t look that bad, but Hernandez did surrender 10 hits in the game and his only saving grace were the 6 strikeouts and 0 walks on his ledger, which allowed him to get out of jams.
Earlier this week, Evan Grant had a great look at the surprising Martin Perez-Hernandez matchup history for the Dallas Morning News.
For the Rangers success against Hernandez to continue, a big part of the formula will be patience. Hernandez has not walked a batter this year, while striking out a dozen hitters in just 11 innings. The Rangers come into this game very prone to the strikeout, so the odds are not in their favor; they’ll have to trust history over recent trends to seize momentum early. Either Hernandez will have the upper hand, or the aggressive Rangers will change their approach and force him to make mistakes.
Ranger’s hitter to watch:
Elvis Andrus: To say that Andrus has been on fire this year is almost an understatement. Through the first 9 games of the season, Elvis is hitting .353 with 3 home runs and 8 runs scored. That’s right, the veteran shortstop—who has never hit more than 8 home runs in a season—has 3 homers in just 9 games. Perhaps even more impressively, Elvis is leading the American League in slugging at .794 and is tied for the lead in all of baseball for offensive WAR, having already accumulated 0.8 just two weeks into the season. That total is already a fifth of the way to the career-high 4.0 mark he set just last year.
It would be hard to overstate by how much Elvis is exceeding expectations—or to over-praise the player and veteran leader he’s become. The question on everyone’s mind, though, is simple: how long does this success continue? Does it begin to fade in the cavernous confines of Safeco field, or will he roll on?
There’s a good chance that it keeps going, at least on Friday night. In his career against Felix Hernandez, Andrus is hitting .290. That’s a big number versus Hernandez and will likely continue to get better if Elvis stays locked in.
Thursday, Evan spotlighted Elvis’s new “hitting like a man” approach to at-bats.
Mariner’s hitter to watch:
Kyle Seager: Seager is another one of those AL West players that seems to have the Rangers’ number. Although he doesn’t have the pure home run totals of Khris Davis, he’s rocked the combo of consistency and power. For his career versus Texas, he is hitting .331 with 7 home runs and 25 RBIs.
Of particular concern are his career stats against tonight’s starter, Perez. In 30 AB, Seager is hitting .400 with 4 home runs and 7 RBIs off the Rangers southpaw; his overall OPS vs. Martin is a scary 1.271.
Something’s got to give tonight. Seager, who has started the season poorly, will be looking to break out; Martin Perez, on the other hand, will be looking to continue his scoreless inning streak, which now spans 9.1 innings.
Ruiz has split time at cather so far this year, and been somewhat ineffective at the dish, hitting just .250. Segura, Valencia, and Dyson are all regulars; so far, only Segura has made an offensive impact, batting .313.
Fortunately for the Rangers, Segura was recently placed on the 10-day DL and will not face them this weekend.
Mariners: Jean Segura, Drew Smyly, Tony Zych, Steve Cishek, Sean O’Malley, Robert Whalen, Shae Simmons
Rangers: Chi Chi Gonzalez, Tanner Scheppers, Tyson Ross, Brett Nicholas, Hanser Alberto, Adrian Beltre, Jake Diekman, Prince Fielder
Game Times: Central Time.