Series Preview: Texas Rangers

Will the Mariners be able to get on track against a Texas team they typically beat up on? InsidethePark.com's Jason A. Churchill predicts the M's take two-of-three from the Rangers, and breaks down why in the series preview.

The Venue: SAFECO Field

The Matchup: Seattle Mariners (2-7) vs. Texas Rangers (5-5)


Pitching Probables:

Game One: Friday, April 16th, 7:05 p.m.
Gil Meche (0-1, 2.70 ERA) vs. Chan Ho Park (0-2, 5.93 ERA)


Mariners vs. Park:
The M's haven't had the success against Chan Ho Park that most would think considering the immense struggles the 30-year-old has seen over the past three seasons. Entering 2004, Park has held the Mariners in check in five career starts. Seattle has beaten Park twice and lost to him twice, once while he was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Since joining the Texas Rangers in 2002, the Korean native has gone 1-2 versus the AL Western Division rival, posting a 3.79 ERA in four starts.

The projected lineup for Seattle has it's bright spots, however, starting with 1B John Olerud (6-14, 4 RBI, 6 BB). Catcher Dan Wilson (5-10, RBI) is the only other regular with solid success against Park and manager Bob Melvin was originally planning on starting switch-hitter Ben Davis.

Ichiro Suzuki (3-11, 2 BB), Bret Boone (4-17, 4 RBI), Edgar Martinez (1-7, HR, RBI), and Rich Aurilia (6-36, HR, 5 RBI), have all had their troubles with Park, who has a career 1.35 ERA at SAFECO Field in 20 innings pitched over three starts.

Rangers vs. Meche:
The Rangers' offense has tallied up 37 hits off of Gil Meche in the six starts the 25-year-old has made versus Texas. The right-hander has given up 12 home runs to Texas hitters and a .298 average, with the vast majority of the damage coming last season. Meche managed to win two of his five starts against the Rangers in 2003, thanks to the Mariners' bats and the depth of the bullpen.

The departure of Alex Rodriguez, 3-11 with three homer versus Meche, and the addition of Alfonso Soriano, 0-8, 2 K, has caused the lineup to lose some of its force against Meche. Former 1B Rafael Palmeiro who was a thorn in the side of Meche as well as every other Seattle pitcher of late, was let go and took his .333 career average against the Mariner's righty east with him.

Michael Young (5-14, HR) and Hank Blalock (6-15, HR, 4 RBI) have had Meche's number and could provide enough offense to carry Texas.

The Lousiana native has handled Rangers' 1B Mark Teixeira (2-11, 3 K) but second year outfielder Laynce Nix has hit two home runs in five plate appearances against him. The M's 1996 first round draft pick will need to continue to locate all of his pitches to keep the powerful Rangers lineup within reach.

Meche's career 3.31 ERA at SAFECO in 28 starts bodes well for the M's in game one.


Game Two: Saturday, April 17th, 7:05 p.m.
Jamie Moyer (0-1, 8.44 ERA) vs. Colby Lewis (1-0, 3.48 ERA)


Rangers vs. Moyer
Jamie Moyer is still looking for his first win of the 2004 season after two rocky outings against the top two teams in the AL West. The Rangers will not be an easy opponent for the left-hander to gather his pitching marbles and sharpen his arsenal. Texas has scored 60 runs in 10 games coming into the series and lead the league in hitting at .337.

Rangers' 2B Michael Young (10-33) is the only problem spot in the lineup for Moyer, and his success at the top of the order is vital for the Rangers' offense. The middle of the order has struggled mightily against Moyer and without Alex Rodriguez (13-42, 2 HR) and Rafael Palmeiro (13-51, 3 HR, 12 RBI) to provide the punch, could fall into the black hole that is the comical over swinging of Master Moyer's changeup.

The 41-year-old Mariner ace was 2-0 with a solid 3.65 ERA in four starts against Texas in 2003.

Mariners vs. Lewis
Manager Buck Showalter was pleased with Colby Lewis' first start of the year and is hoping for a carbon copy from the 24-year-old right-hander on Saturday night. Lewis has been tattered around by the Mariners, and despite his 2-1 career record, has yet to give the Rangers a quality outing versus Seattle. Seven appearances, five of them starts, have resulted in a 5.73 ERA and a .341 average for M's hitters as Lewis has allowed 46 hits and 16 walks in just 33 innings pitched versus Seattle.

Edgar Martinez (5-12, 2 RBI), Bret Boone (5-13, 2 RBI), Ichiro Suzuki (7-16, 2 RBI), and Randy Winn (5-9), have given Lewis nightmares that would leave even Elm Street jealous. Don't count on a 2-1 ball game in game two.


Game Three: Sunday, April 18th, 1:05 p.m.
Joel Pineiro (0-1, 11.17 ERA) vs. R.A. Dickey (1-1, 6.94 ERA)


Mariners vs. Dickey
R.A. Dickey could surface as the Rangers' ace this season if the right-hander is as effective all year as he was in his first start on April 9. Dickey has a 1-1 career record versus Seattle but all three appearances were in relief. The right-hander has been effective in 7.1 innings , allowing eight hits and three earned runs.

Seattle has pounded out the eight hits against the Rangers' 1996 first–rounder, but has simply not been able to cash in when a rally began.

Bret Boone has made the most of his plate appearances against Dickey, bashing two home runs in three at-bats. The small sample size and the role change for Dickey do not provide for much to look for as far as trends go, but the M's projected lineup has hits in eight of 19 at-bats with three homers and a triple. Outfielder Raul Ibanez is the owner of the third round-tripper, his only hit in four at-bats against Dickey.

Rangers vs. Pineiro
Entering the 2004 season the Seattle Mariners were torn between Jamie Moyer and Joel Pineiro as the team's ace. Although it seemed clear that Moyer was the proven commodity, Pineiro was the young, up-and-coming right-hander. Then Spring Training started and that answered the Mariner's question for them

Since the middle of spring, Pineiro has struggled to get to the highest of levels with his command and has appeared to be fighting his own pitching philosophy. The war between his right arm and the figure in the batters box is taking a back seat to the battle Pineiro is having in his head about which pitches to throw and when. The right-hander is armed with a fastball clocked at 90-94 MPH, a biting 12-6 curve ball, a solid changeup and a recently developed slider. Pitching Coach Bryan Price has been working with Pineiro on finding three pitches that are working and sticking to them, as opposed to trying to baffle hitters with four or five separate pitches. Despite Joel's career success facing the Texas Rangers, the M's need Pineiro to find the strike zone early and attack hitters with a simple but well mixed arsenal. The key to a solid outing may be to simplify.

Pineiro enters the series with a career 3-2 record and a 2.41 ERA versus Texas in nine games, four of them starts. Only DH Brad Fullmer (8-20, HR, 4 RBI) has hit Pineiro well, as the heart of the lineup relies on the big fly to push runs across. Michael Young (2-15, 3 K), Hank Blalock (1-12, 3 K), Mark Teixeira (2-10, HR, 4 RBI), and Alfonso Soriano (2-13, HR, RBI) combine to hit just .140 off Pineiro. If Pineiro is going to get off the snide, this is the match up that presents that opportunity.


What to Watch For:
The Seattle Mariners are looking to get well and quick by beating up on the perennial doormats of the AL West. Since 2000, the M's have beaten the Rangers in 52 of 77 games and have won 29 of 38 at SAFECO Field. Seattle begins the homestand coming off of a 2-4 road trip, and a win Thursday night in Anaheim. Manager Bob Melvin will certainly try and feed off the confidence that came from Thursday's win.

Texas is coming off of a four-win, seven-game homestand after beatung the Oakland A's Thursday night 7-2. The Rangers haven't been at or above .500 after 10 games since the 1999 season and need a win Friday night to accomplish that minuscule feat.

Since we have established that I can be persuaded to gamble if it means getting to make a series prediction, I will take Seattle twice this weekend.

Notes:
Edgar Martinez enters Friday night's action with an eight-game hitting streak, extended with a lead off single in a five-run sixth inning versus Anaheim on Thursday...The M's rank dead last in the AL with four home runs, three of them are off the bat of 2B Bret Boone. Only Montreal (3) has fewer home runs... Texas SS Michael Young has seven multi-hit games and is hitting an even .400 on the season...The Rangers have four players hitting over .350 for the year (Soriano, Young, Blalock, and Fullmer) and are the only team to have more than two in the AL's Top 15 in hitting.


The Unexplainable Stat:
Through 10 games for Texas and nine for the M's, the Rangers have logged five quality starts from their starting rotation, including four-straight to start the season. The Mariners have mustered up just three quality starts (Garcia, Meche, Franklin), all by the bottom three starters in the rotation...Seattle has finished in the top three in the American League in ERA four straight seasons, while Texas has finished last in all but one of the same four years. A quality start consists of six or more innings pitched, allowing three earned runs or less or five plus innings pitched allowing two earned runs or less. Any complete-game victory is considered a quality start.


Jason resides in Tacoma, Wash., where his father is his best friend and his nephew continues to develop the fastball-splitter combo that he hopes to have mastered by age 3. Jason enjoys the failures of the New York Yankees and despises the slider speed bat. Feedback is always welcome at JasonAChurchill@InsidethePark.com

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