Series Preview: Texas Rangers @ Seattle Mariners - Emerald With Envy

When 'M' can't look, you're only 'ARINERS!'

- C. Figgins walked
- D. Ackley struck out swinging
- I. Suzuki singled to shallow left, C. Figgins to second
- J. Smoak singled to right, C. Figgins to third, I. Suzuki to second
- K. Seager singled to center, C. Figgins and I. Suzuki scored, J. Smoak to third
- K. Seager to second on wild pitch
- M. Saunders walked
- M. Olivo singled to shallow right, J. Smoak scored, K. Seager to third, M. Saunders to second
- M. Kawasaki walked, K. Seager scored, M. Saunders to third, M. Olivo to second
- B. Ryan struck out swinging
- C. Figgins grounded out to third

4 runs, 4 hits, 0 errors
Seattle 4, Texas 0

That's what Yu Darvish's first inning as a Major League Baseball pitcher looked like. It was awkward. I know. I was there. People didn't know what to do. There was an electricity in the stadium with Yu on the mound in a similar way that there was when Nolan Ryan or Cliff Lee took the bump. Only on top of the 7:05 start time post-Soulja Boy buzz was a winter's worth of hype. People wanted to know what he'd look like pitching in the United States in the best league of his profession, sure, but people mostly expected to see something special. At the very least, the bare minimum, people expected to see him succeed. Instead, they got Chone Figgins batting twice. That's the very definition of not special.

I've had people tell me they can't enjoy the show Curb Your Enthusiasm simply because it mines embarrassment and awkward moments for humor. Cringe-worthy humor only works if you laugh in between cringing. Personally, uncomfortable silence is one of my favorite things to rally from socially. That's what Yu's first inning reminded me of. Larry David asking anyone on the streets of Los Angeles to help him change a flat tire. Only it was impossible to find the humor in those first eight hitters. It was only uncomfortable. I understood how some would change the channel rather than suffer the mortification.

I really believe people--the Ballpark as a living, breathing entity that day--expected Darvish to strike out the side. So once that didn't happen, once Chone Figgins took the honor of being the first player ever to reach on Darvish, I think people expected Darvish to strike out the next three and get out of the inning. Every strike to Dustin Ackley was met with a "There ya go!" from dozens in the stands. It was almost like a chant had formed with so many people saying it in unison. We were like a collective nervous parent watching our child struggle during his first Little League start with a nagging thought that maybe he'd enjoy soccer more (and be better at it).

By the time Olivo singled to drive in the fourth run, and Darvish was falling behind Kawasaki, the ERA on the scoreboard read 108.00. A young fan seated next to me asked rhetorically if this was the worst debut of any pitcher in baseball history. By this point, the collective that once expected something special now only wanted the inning to end to get sweet relief from what felt like farting in front of a million first dates.

Thankfully, Yu got Brendan Ryan to strike out and exorcised the demons of Chone Figgins to end the inning. We were allowed reprieve from our naked-at-school nightmares come to life. You know the story since then. Including Kyle Seager's second inning RBI double, but excluding that first inning, Yu Darvish's ERA on the season is 1.94. In fact, nearly 25% of all the runs Yu's allowed all season came against the first seven hitters he faced. Since then, Yu's been sort of King Felix-esque.

That leads us to tonight. I guess what we really wanted to see in that first inning was Yu Darvish be something like Felix Hernandez. King Felix is probably the best starting pitcher in the American League not named Justin Verlander. Mariners fans have come to expect something great from Hernandez every time he pitches and he often delivers. And with Yu getting all the disappointment we could ever handle from his first inning out of the way, Darvish has been delivering on our expectations as well.

Felix is still better. Felix doesn't walk 4.50 per game (though I suspect Darvish won't always do that). Felix allows fewer baserunners. Felix allows fewer home runs. Felix induces more ground balls. And Felix has been doing this for years and years now. But since that first inning, Yu Darvish has been as advertised. Tonight, the King goes up against a contender to the throne. Match-ups like this are why the Rangers paid to bring Yu Darvish here. Imagine for a moment that tonight was Bud Selig's One-Game Playoff Play-In. It would seem sort of weird that these Mariners qualified for the "playoffs," but Yu vs. Felix is exactly the kind of pitching match-up we would see. That's exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Kind of like that first inning.

Perhaps Yu will have memories of his first inning floating around in the back of his mind. There is also added significance here in that the Mariners will be the first team that will have faced Darvish a second time. But now, with all that first appearance fidgeting long gone, and with Yu pitching like how we expected on that April evening, it's easier to laugh at just how awkward it was.

Monday, May 21 9:10: RHP Felix Hernandez vs. RHP Yu Darvish

Tuesday, May 22 9:10: RHP Hector Noesi vs. LHP Matt Harrison

Wednesday, May 23 2:40: RHP Kevin Millwood vs. RHP Scott Feldman :(

Here's a breakdown of the pitching match-ups against the hated if you remember the 1990s Mariners:

  • Yu Darvish: 6-1, 10.04 K/9, 4.50 BB/9, .293 BABIP, 83.1% LOB, 3.47 FIP, 3.58 xFIP, 1.2 WAR - Last three starts: 7 runs allowed in 19.0 innings
  • Felix Hernandez: 3-3, 8.76 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, .310 BABIP, 74.9% LOB, 2.74 FIP, 3.26 xFIP, 1.7 WAR - Last three starts: 10 runs allowed in 18.1 innings

Advantage: Being a Yu Darvish homer over the Rangers kind of hitting Felix Hernadez relatively well over his career and Felix on something of a mini-slump over his last couple of starts [fingers crossed].

  • Matt Harrison: 4-3, 5.59 K/9, 2.42 BB/9, .321 BABIP, 66.6% LOB, 4.15 FIP, 3.92 xFIP, 0.7 WAR - Last three starts: 10 runs allowed in 18.1 innings
  • Hector Noesi: 2-4, 5.61 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, .242 BABIP, 64.7% LOB, 5.23 FIP, 4.98 xFIP, -0.1 WAR - Last three starts: 7 runs allowed in 20.1 innings

Advantage: Matt Harrison and The Cuckoo Clock of Doom over Hector Noesi being quietly terrible.

  • Scott Feldman: 3-1, 7.80 K/9, 4.85 BB/9, .213 BABIP, 82.6% LOB, 4.51 FIP, 4.73 xFIP, 0.5 WAR - Last three appearances: 3 runs allowed in 8.1 innings
  • Kevin Millwood: 2-4, 6.34 K/9, 3.62 BB/9, .305 BABIP, 65.0% LOB, 3.35 FIP, 4.10 xFIP, 1.0 WAR - Last three starts: 6 runs allowed in 21.0 innings

Advantage: Statistically, and by just being able to throw more pitches, Kevin Millwood somehow probably has the edge in this battle of former Ranger Opening Day starters. Somehow. You know, with him still being Kevin Millwood and all.

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Seattle Mariners (19-24, 3rd Place AL West)

Rangers Record vs. Seattle: 3-1 (All at Ballpark)

Seattle's Recent Results: 3-0 series sweep against the Colorado Rockies

Seattle's Home Record: 7-8 (39-45 in 2011)

Safeco Field Park Factors (LHB/RHB): HR: 95/82 - wOBA: 96/95

SB Nation Mariners Blog: Lookout Landing

Match-up: (as of 05/20) Rangers Mariners Advantage
Batting (RAR) 43.4 (2nd) -22.6 (26th) Rangers
Base Running (RAR) -0.2 (17th) -1.6 (20th) Rangers
Starters (RAR) 19.6 23.3 Mariners
Bullpen (RAR) 20.3 (1st) -1.5 (28th) Rangers
Defense (UZR) 15.9 (2nd) 12.4 (3rd) Rangers
Overall (UZR + RAR) 99.0 10.0 Rangers

Questions to Answer:

  • Yu vs. King Feliz: Which has the higher number of Ks and which allows the fewest number of baserunners in tonight's game?
  • Who is your pick to lead the Rangers in Safeco dongs? (I'm thinking Mike Napoli gets going at Safeco.)
  • Over/Under: 85 pitches thrown by Scott Feldman in his start in this series?
  • What are the odds: The Mariners score more than 600 runs this season?
  • If you could have one non-Felix Hernandez player off of the Mariners roster, who would it be?
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