The Mariners play the Rangers for the final time this season, thanks be to God.
The Mariners continue to play really well against their direct competitors in the AL Wild Card race. With their series win against Toronto last weekend, they’ve now gone 27-23 against the likes of Houston, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Boston, New York, and Toronto. That excellent record against the best teams in the American League is one of the biggest reasons Seattle is still in the thick of the playoff race. From here on out, the Mariners schedule will essentially alternate series between a direct competitor and a below .500 team. If they continue to play well against the best teams, these series against woeful teams present key opportunities to continue to pad their win totals.
Despite outranking Texas in every category except fielding, the Mariners have struggled to thoroughly whoop the wayward Rangers in any decisive manner. Jonah Heim walked the Mariners off twice in Texas in the series at the end of July, and then didn’t have another hit until…he saw the Mariners again last week. Maybe it’s just a function of these two teams playing each other so often over the month of August (nine times! What is this, the California League?), but it’s hard not to feel like the Rangers have it in mind to play spoilers against the Wild Card hope-against-hoping Mariners, like Lucy pushing on Linus’s head in the old Peanuts strips to try to keep him from getting taller than her.
After going full fire-sale mode at the deadline, you’d be forgiven for not recognizing the vast majority of names in the Rangers lineup. The Rangers didn’t deal versatile infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa, their version of Dylan Moore, and they also held onto Adolis García to be their cheaper (although somehow not younger) version of Joey Gallo, along with Nathaniel “Don’t Call Me Nate” Lowe, acquired from the Rays prior to the 2020 season. The rest of the lineup is filled out with waiver claims from other organizations and fringe prospects getting a shot at the bigs. After making the bizarre decision to start #2 organizational prospect Sam Huff in the majors last year, he’s back in Double-A, along with a trio of top-ten infield prospects including Josh Jung, Justin Foscue, and Josh Smith (#3 prospect RHP Cole Winn is there too). While they wait for the Frisco RoughRiders to make it to the majors, Texas is biding its time looking for diamonds in the rough to supplement their next wave of prospects.(Also, if you’re interested, this week Seattle’s Double-A affiliate, the Travelers, who have climbed into second place in the North Division, are playing the Southern Division-leading RoughRiders. To be honest, those games might be more interesting/fun/less frustrating than the big-league club’s set.)
A long string of injuries have derailed Taylor Hearn’s development path. At one point, he was a promising prospect that profiled as a back-end starter but he’s made nearly all of his major league appearances out of the bullpen so far. Without much to play for and a rotation in desperate need of warm bodies, the Rangers have been stretching Hearn out over the last month. He made a pair of starts at the end of July and was the bulk pitcher after an opener in his next two appearances. His fastball is his best pitch and he leans on it quite heavily. He doesn’t really have a strong secondary offering, which is the biggest reason why he failed as a starting prospect.
From a previous series preview:
Spencer Howard was the big acquisition coming back to the Rangers in the Kyle Gibson/Ian Kennedy trade. He had a rough major league debut after some conditioning issues caused him some problems with his fastball velocity last season. This year, the Phillies couldn’t commit to using him as a reliever or out of the starting rotation and bounced him from the bullpen to the minors and back to the majors and all around. The talent is there — he ranked 33rd on FanGraphs 2021 top 100 prospects — but he could use a stable development environment to really harness the stuff he possesses. The Rangers should be able to provide that for him since they’re not in the middle of a playoff race.
Howard piggybacked with Hearn in his previous start against the Mariners. He threw three innings of shutout baseball, allowing just two base runners and striking out three.
From a previous series preview:
Back in 2018, Mike Foltynewicz’s fastball reached a peak velocity of 96.3 mph leading to a breakout season with a 2.85 ERA backed by a 3.37 FIP. But the next year, he struggled to follow up on his success and 2020 was an even greater disaster. After just one start last year where his fastball velocity was just 90.9 mph, he was designated for assignment and released by the Braves. He signed with the Rangers in the offseason in the hopes that his fastball velocity could return to its former glory. So far, it’s mostly returned, hitting 94 mph regularly. But that’s still well below what he was throwing in Atlanta during his peak seasons. His biggest issue is the long ball, as batters have crushed his fastball now that its elite velocity is gone.
It wouldn’t be a Rangers series without an appearance from Foltynewicz. I wrote the blurb above back in early May and absolutely nothing has changed in his profile. I suppose it’s a comfort to have that kind of consistency eating up innings, but it’s not very exciting. In his last start against the Mariners, Foltynewicz allowed three runs in seven innings while striking out six.
The Big Picture:
The Astros won their three-game series against the Angels over the weekend but started off a four-game set against the Royals with a loss yesterday. They managed to gain a bit of ground in the AL West because the A’s lost their weekend series against the Rangers and lost the opening game of a big series against the White Sox yesterday. Oakland actually has one of the toughest remaining schedules of any of the AL competitors with this series against the White Sox followed by a stretch against the Giants, Mariners, Yankees, Tigers, Blue Jays and White Sox again.
After a run of really poor play, the Red Sox got everything back on track with a sweep of the Orioles over the weekend. They outscored Baltimore 30-5 in three games and welcomed Chris Sale back to their rotation. They play the Yankees three times over the next two days. After losing the Field of Dreams game last Thursday, New York beat the White Sox twice over the weekend and won a one-off makeup game against the Angels yesterday. The Blue Jays will head from Seattle to Washington to play the Nationals twice this week before returning to Toronto this coming weekend.