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Mariners at Rangers: Series Preview

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James Jones (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

James Jones (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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(1090 The Fan) — Despite dropping two consecutive series (Tampa Bay and Minnesota), the Mariners do have something going for them: the emergence of rookie outfielder James Jones.

Since being called up from Triple-A Tacoma, Jones is hitting .326 (14-for-43), has tallied four doubles and carries an on-base percentage of .396 entering Tuesday’s game in Arlington against the Texas Rangers.

Not to get too excited, but if we look at the stat “RE24,” Jones’ impact so far is even better than you may have thought. Here’s a quick explanation by Fangraphs:

RE24 (runs above average by the 24 base/out states): RE24 is the difference in run expectancy (RE) between the start of the play and the end of the play. That difference is then credited/debited to the batter and the pitcher. Over the course of the season, each players’ RE24 for individual plays is added up to get his season total RE24.

Essentially for an offensive player, it’s a way of measuring the actual on-the-field manner in which the player boosts or fails to boost the team’s chances of scoring. Jones’ RE24 is already 4.6 this season, with only Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano ahead of him.

Pitching Matchups

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
Tuesday: Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP –- 2-0, 1.59 ERA, .179 BAA, 15 SO, 1 BB, 22 2/3 IP vs. Colby Lewis, RHP –- 3-2, 4.99 ERA, .349 BAA, 20 SO, 7 BB, 30 2/3 IP
Iwakuma is up to his old tricks after spending weeks on the shelf with a finger injury, and while it seems reasonable to expect a slight regression from his Cy Young run in 2013, there are no signs of that just yet.

The right-hander has used the sinker more thus far in 2014, but it’s a reliable pitch that has helped him induce a 56.3 percent ground ball rate. He’s pounding the strike zone – he’s issued just one base on balls to 80 batters faced – and those ground balls have more than made up for a small-sample size that has produced fewer strikeouts overall. He has fanned 13 in his last 16 innings, however, and hasn’t given up a run during that span – not pure coincidence.

Most of the velocity is back –- the fastball is sitting 88-89, touching 91, and all of his pitches have been effective, including the slider, curveball and splitter. According to Pitchf/x Pitch Values, Iwakuma has four pitches that rank above average with the curveball falling just shy.

Combine that with plus command and the natural deception created by his delivery and, well, good luck goes out to the batter.

The Rangers have not had much success against Iwakuma, but the one major exceptions is a big one; Adrian Beltre is 8-for-22 with a double and two homers off Iwakuma. Elvis Andrus is 4-for-19 with five strikeouts, Leonys Martin is 1-for-12 with four punchouts and Alex Rios is 3-for-14, though two of the three hits are for extra bases.

Lewis has faced the Mariners twice already this season, allowing seven runs on 13 hits over 10 1/3 innings via two mediocre starts. The veteran right-hander is coming off his best outing of the year, however, shutting out the Houston Astros for 5 2/3 innings and piling up eight strikeouts.

But that was against the Astros and despite the jokes that the Astros are as good as the Mariners – they’re not – the difference in the lineups is pretty significant. Lewis has regained his velocity from 2011-12, sitting 88-90 mph with his fastball. He’s shown a better slider and curveball in recent starts, suggesting the Mariners will see a different pitcher this time around.

Kyle Seager (6-for-14, 2B, HR) Justin Smoak (6-for-11, 2-2B, HR) and Michael Saunders (4-for-16, 2B, 3B, HR) have all had success against Lewis in their careers. Mike Zunino homered off Lewis in the first meeting while Saunders and Seager went yard in the second.

Lewis is allowing tons of baserunners and has not done a good job of keeping the ball down and out of the middle of the plate. If he makes the same mistakes Tuesday, the Mariners have to take advantage and get to the Rangers’ bullpen early.

Wednesday: Chris Young, RHP – 3-1, 3.22 ERA, .210 BAA, 18 SO, 17 BB, 44 2/3 IP vs. Nick Tepesch, RHP – 0-0, 1,69 ERA, .111 BA, 8 SO, 3 BB, 5.1 IP
Young’s luck finally ran out last start in Minnesota, an outing that serves as a great single-game example of why fly ball pitchers that cannot neutralize a lineup with strikeouts is likely to struggle.

Young yielded five earned runs on 10 hits –- two long balls, making it six homers allowed in his last 36 innings of work –and did not record a single strikeout. Twenty two – yes, 22 – fly balls were hit off Young in this game, raising his season GB/FB ratio to 40-107, and he’s fanned just five of the past 81 batters he’s faced. That’s a combination that doubles as a recipe for disaster.

To avoid that, Young has to weave his way through a Rangers lineup that remains relatively unfamiliar with him – 4-for-27 combined – with more than half the roster having never faced him. That’s Young’s lone advantage.

The Rangers, led by Shin-Soo Choo, rank No. 5 in the American League in on-base percentage and will force Young to throw strikes. Oddly, they have been better on the road than at home, but with the weather warming up that will not last.

Tepesch has made just one start in 2014, but he did face the Mariners three times in 2013, allowing 16 hits and six earned runs. He did post a 14-1 K/BB ratio in those three outings, but served up a pair of home runs. Unfortunately for the M’s, both of those homers were hit by players not on the ’14 roster – Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales – but the good news is Kyle Seager is 4-for-7 with three doubles off Tepesch.

The 25-year-old employs an average fastball with some life, a low-to-mid 80s slider with late bite down and away from right-handed batters and a two-seam offering that he can sink and ride away from lefties. His changeup is a rare sighting, at least partially explaining his struggles versus left-handed batters — .297/.348/.493, 10 HR in 19 appearances, 17 starts. He’s nearly abandoned the pitch, however, in favor of more fastballs.

Tepesch will make the Mariners swing the bats; he doesn’t nibble and will climb the ladder with his fastball to undisciplined batters. His slider is an above-average pitch that flashes plus and when he has command of the two-seamer, he’ll use the slide piece to set up the two-seamer that shows good, late armside run.

Sandmeyer Says

Same refrain for the Mariners offense as it was for the Minnesota series:  a huge disappointment if they don’t put up runs against these starters.  They only chased one of the three Twins starters in the Minnesota series, which was unfortunate, as the Mariners should have at least won two of three games, instead of letting Felix bail them out for their only win last weekend.

Colby Lewis and Nick Tepesch shouldn’t provide a big obstacle — but we’ve all seen the Mariners struggle against subpar pitching in the past.  Hisashi Iwakuma has taken one-to-nothing leads into the ninth inning in each of his last two starts — a win over Kansas City two weeks ago and a loss after Fernando Rodney blew his second have of the season last week against Tampa.  It would be nice to see the Mariners give him (and Rodney) a little more wiggle room, especially during a start at Texas.

Believe it or not, the Mariners have scored more runs than the Rangers this year.  It’s true.  Look it up.  Okay, I’ll do it for you.  The Mariners have scored 178 runs in 43 games, which is three more than the Rangers have scored in 44 games (175).

Robinson Cano was recently quoted by Bob Dutton of the News Tribune:

“I’ll tell you one thing,” he said, “I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to be there at the end of the season. I’m going to tell you why:  We’ve got pitching. I think we have the best bullpen in the league. And our rotation…we’ve got what you need. We’ve got pitching. That’s what you need to win.”

With the absence of any other teams in the American League besides Detroit and Oakland, there is certainly the possibility Cano could be prophetic.  But the Mariners won’t be there, or be close, if they can’t put away opponents’ mediocre pitching.  They were unable to do it in Minnesota.  Let’s hope for better results in the two games from Arlington, Texas.

Key Notes

Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
Amazingly, the Mariners, who have scored just 178 runs in 43 games, rank No. 12 in baseball in runs per game, good for No. 8 in the AL. To date, the M’s have averaged more runs per contest than the Indians, Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers. The M’s have plated 81 runs in 18 games in May, an average of 4.5 runs per … Despite six blown saves, the Mariners bullpen ranks No. 3 in the league with a 3.29 ERA and No. 6 with a 3.65 FIP. That same ‘pen ranks No. 2 in the AL with a 77.4 percent Left-On-Base rate and No. 4 in strikeouts-per-nine at 9.82 … Robinson Cano’s recent hot streak has his average up to .318, good for No. 4 in the league, just 11 points behind leader Victor Martinez … Smoak is batting .471/.526/.941 with runners in scoring position and two outs … Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen has allowed just six hits to right-handed batters this season (.140 BAA) while teammate Danny Farquhar has given up just eight (.178 BAA) and Dom Leone just five (.152 BAA) … as a whole, the Mariners pitching staff has held opposing right-handed batters to a .226/.297/.370 triple-slash … M’s relievers throw more cutters than any other bullpen in baseball at 14.8 percent. They’re starters throw the fewest cutters at 0.3 percent.

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