Series Preview: Texas Rangers @ Seattle Mariners - Battle in Seattle

At least that armpit looks breathable - Harry How

The Rangers visit Seattle for the second time this season and draw the Mariners' best starters in this three game set

Series Schedule:

Friday, May 24 9:10: LHP Joe Saunders vs. RHP Justin Grimm

Saturday, May 25 9:10: RHP Felix Hernandez vs. LHP Derek Holland

Sunday, May 26 3:10: RHP Hisashi Iwakuma vs. RHP Nick Tepesch

The Rangers are following up a 4-3 homestand, wherein they lost a home series for only the second time in 2013, by heading to Seattle to begin a five game road trip that concludes with a scheduled doubleheader against their newest Interleague rival, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The early season schedule has been filled with bizarre twists and turns but nothing is as strange as seeing a late-May 30 win Rangers team starting someone named Ross Wolf.

It's worth noting that in the series the Rangers lost, to the Oakland A's, the Rangers started Josh Lindblom and Wolf. To say the pitching staff has faced its share of injuries is like saying Mitch Moreland (new positional player team leader in fWAR) has been a bit of a surprise. It's an understatement.

But no one is going to cry for the Texas Rangers. In fact, the Rangers winning a game where Wolf and Neal Cotts combined to throw seven innings of one-run ball probably just makes teams want to cry themselves. In past years, the Wolfs and Lindbloms of the world would be getting 20 starts from here on out to see if they could stick as major leaguers and just get the Rangers through a season. Now, even the cannon fodder hits the target.

In this weekend series against the Mariners, the Rangers have Justin Grimm, Derek Holland, and Nick Tepesch going. It's humorous to me that Grimm and Tepesch are a new sort of normal. If you were to have stated in February that getting Tepesch back from a blister would feel like a win, you'd have gotten sideways looks; maybe even in Round Rock. If you were to have stated even in mid-April that you were looking forward to a start from Grimm, you were probably Justin Grimm's parents.

But this is it. This is the sort of depth that Jon Daniels and the Rangers have been preaching for and attempting to amass. These are the sort of pitchers that the Rangers couldn't find for the life of them last season (and in some cases, like Grimm, it was pitchers who just weren't quite ready) when they turned to the likes of Roy Oswalt. Without Colby Lewis, Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison, and Martin Perez, the patchwork has done a remarkable job.

Here's a breakdown of the pitching match-ups against one of the contributing factors for depression in the Pacific Northwest, the Seattle Mariners:

  • Justin Grimm: 3-3, 8.03 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, .317 BABIP, 76.9% LOB, 3.98 FIP, 3.96 xFIP, 0.7 WAR - Last three starts: 12 runs allowed in 16.2 innings
  • Joe Saunders: 3-4, 3.76 K/9, 3.42 BB/9, .310 BABIP, 68.2% LOB, 5.15 FIP, 4.81 xFIP, -0.2 WAR - Last three appearances: 12 runs allowed in 16.2 innings

Advantage: This will be Justin Grimm's third crack at the Seattle Mariners this season. In his season debut on April 11, Grimm allowed 2 runs in four innings at Safeco in a game where the Rangers beat Felix Hernandez. Ten days later, at The Ballpark, Grimm went six innings, allowed a run, struck out nine Mariners and picked up his first win of the season.

This will be Joe Saunders' third crack at the Texas Rangers this season. On April 13, Saunders went seven shutout innings at Safeco to harken back to the gruesome October Wild Card start. On April 19, however, the Rangers finally did to Saunders what they should have done all along; Saunders allowed 7 runs in 4 2/3 innings at The Ballpark to expel the nasty ghosts of Saunders dominance.

Of course, it's no surprise then to find out that Grimm has pitched better at The Ballpark (home FIP: 2.58, road FIP: 5.28) and Joe Saunders has pitched markedly better at Safeco Field (home FIP: 3.18, road FIP: 7.46). Perhaps this match-up favors Seattle given the ballpark it will be played in, but I still can't ever accept Joe Saunders being better than anyone.

  • Derek Holland: 3-2, 8.10 K/9, 2.10 BB/9, .304 BABIP, 73.0% LOB, 2.80 FIP, 3.30 xFIP, 1.9 WAR - Last three starts: 9 runs allowed in 17.1 innings
  • Felix Hernandez: 5-3, 9.30 K/9, 1.55 BB/9, .295 BABIP, 79.2% LOB, 2.23 FIP, 2.55 xFIP, 2.3 WAR - Last three starts: 7 runs allowed in 19.0 innings

Advantage: Anyone pitching against Felix Hernandez is outclassed. Anyone. Everyone. Maybe except for Clayton Kershaw. But other than Yu Darvish, of the current rotation, Derek Holland is the guy you'd like to see try to match zeroes with The King. The Rangers sort of have a long history of pulling out wins against Hernandez that they have no business winning. Like when Grimm came up to replace Matt Harrison in April and the Rangers won even though Grimm lasted only four innings.

Of course, the Rangers also have a long history of Felix having games where he shuts them down and sends the offense into a funk for a week. He's that sort of pitcher. He's a slump-creator. The key, I feel, is to let the Mariners do their brand of magic where they don't score at all and then hope someone hits the one mistake Felix throws up there all game.

  • Nick Tepesch: 3-4, 6.49 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, .291 BABIP, 75.0% LOB, 4.15 FIP, 3.81 xFIP, 0.7 WAR - Last three starts: 8 runs allowed in 15.0 innings
  • Hisashi Iwakuma: 5-1, 8.49 K/9, 1.53 BB/9, .220 BABIP, 85.6% LOB, 3.51 FIP, 3.23 xFIP, 1.1 WAR - Last three starts: 9 runs allowed in 20.0 innings

Advantage: Hisashi Iwakuma has been a great story for the Mariners. After pitching out of the 'pen for most of the 2012 season, Iwakuma got his chance to start in the second half, pitched well enough that he was penciled into the rotation heading into this season, and earned a spot in spring training. This season, Iwakuma has been a success in the rotation for the Mariners and makes up a formidable No. 2 in a 1-2 punch with Felix Hernandez. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they'll be getting that 1-2 punch this weekend.

It doesn't help that these games will be played at Safeco. If you thought Joe Saunders had favorable home/away splits, Iwakuma has been nearly untouchable at Safeco this season. Opponents are hitting .146 off of Iwakuma at home, he walks less than a one batter per nine, and therefore has a home WHIP of .58. Iwakuma has a 1.84 FIP in Seattle compared to 4.63 in parks across the rest of the league. The Rangers faced Iwakuma in Seattle on April 12 and Iwakuma allowed a run in 6 2/3 innings.

As for Tepesch, the last time he faced the Mariners he was hit by a Jesus Montero line drive in the second inning on LSB tailgate night and was replaced by Derek Lowe. Lowe then threw four hitless innings in his best outing as a Ranger. Neither Jesus Montero or Derek Lowe are in the big leagues anymore. The baseball season is long.

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Seattle Mariners (20-27, 3rd Place in AL West)

Rangers' Record vs. Seattle: 5-2 (2-2 at Safeco)

Seattle's Recent Results: 0-2 swept by Anaheim Angels in Anaheim

Seattle's 2013 Home Record: 11-9

Safeco Field Park Factors (LHB/RHB): HR: 82/74 - Runs: 78/80

SB Nation Mariners Blog: Lookout Landing

Match-up: (as of 05/24) Rangers Mariners Advantage
Batting (RAR) 5.2 (9th) -6.6 (16th) They're going to have to move the walls in even more
Base Running (RAR) -5.9 (30th) -0.6 (16th) I'm going to blame this on Geovany Soto somehow
Starters (RAR) 30.5 28.9 Even their best isn't better
Bullpen (RAR) 19.1 (5th) 4.1 (17th) Neal Cotts has got this
Defense (UZR) 11.7 (3rd) -7.1 (24th) That's what you get when you sign Raul Ibanez
Overall (UZR + RAR) 60.6 18.7

Rangers, naturally

Questions to Answer:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10: How surprised are you that the Mariners sent Jesus Montero back to Triple-A?
  • Who is your Return of the McLemore Approved Player to Watch in this series? (I'm guessing King Leonys out-plays King Felix.)
  • Over/Under: 2.5 XBHs by Ranger middle infielders in this series?
  • What's your guess for line (IP/H/K/BB/ER) by Nick Tepesch in his start on Sunday after his blistered finger allowed Ross Wolf to get a feel-good first big league win?
  • Yea or Nay: The Rangers leave Seattle with a series win?
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