In a battle of the early season AL West leaders, the Seattle Mariners visit the Texas Rangers for a four-game set in Arlington, starting tonight. This is the proverbial David (Mariners) vs. Goliath (Rangers) matchup that Goliath has dominated for the last couple of years (Texas has won 27 of the two team’s last 38 matchups). Here are the most interesting storylines to watch for the series:
1. It’s all about Yu
Yu Darvish will start in his first MLB game tonight for the Rangers, facing off against Hector Noesi. All other storylines from this series pale in comparison to the significance of Darvish’s first appearance in a MLB game on US soil. Ichiro Suzuki will be hitting 3rd in the lineup for the Mariners, and their first matchup will be of great significance, especially in Japan. Suzuki is the greatest Japanese hitter to ever play in the MLB, and Darvish is the new hope for being the greatest Japanese pitcher to play in the MLB. Nothing about Darvish has disappointed since he set foot on US soil, and expectations may never have been higher than they will be tonight. Many are expecting a great performance (myself included), but Darvish will still have to overcome the pressure of the moment, contain some control issues he experienced in the Spring, balance his vast array of pitches, and face a major league lineup that will be highly motivated to ruin his big day. Almost anything could happen tonight, and I wouldn’t be surprised.
2. Neftali Feliz looks to no-hit the Mariners forever and ever
Feliz has pitched in 17 games against the Mariners, all as a relief pitcher. In those 17 games, 53 Seattle Mariners have stepped to the plate; 4 have drawn a walk, 1 was hit by a pitch, and the remaining 48 failed to reach base. The Mariners have never registered a hit against Feliz in 48 official at-bats, and have struck out 21 times. Feliz will face the Mariners as a starting pitcher for the first time on Tuesday night. For a pitcher who may need a confidence boost in a new role after a crushing end to his 2011 season, perhaps there is no better team for Feliz to face.
3. No King sighting
Felix Hernandez (“King Felix”) is not scheduled to pitch against the Rangers, despite it being a four-game series. Even though Hernandez has a career 4.03 ERA against the Rangers, he is always near the top of a team’s “don’t want to face” list. This is a bullet dodged for the Rangers, and an additional obstacle for the Mariners to overcome. It will be up to Noesi, Blake Beavan, Kevin Millwood, and Jason Vargas to carry the load. Oddly, Hernandez and Vargas are the only two pitchers for Seattle with a start so far this season due to their odd schedule.
4. Possible fatigue for Seattle
Seattle began their season with a 2-game set against the Oakland Athletics on March 28th, more than a full week before any other team in baseball. The reason this game was so far ahead of schedule was that it was played in Tokyo. After returning from Japan, Seattle played a couple of exhibition games in Arizona, and then played two more real games in Oakland. The Mariners had the day off for travel yesterday, but still have already traveled an estimated 17,000 miles this season without a single night in Seattle, while the Rangers have opened the season at home. One thing that baseball players really like is getting into their routine of the season. So far, the Mariners have had little opportunity to find any kind of routine.
This is never a fun one to have to think about, but the weather forecast is calling for scattered/isolated storms nearly every day in Arlington this week. Texas weather can be a bit unpredictable, and Texas has a great grounds crew and a quick drying field, so this may not be a factor. But don’t be surprised if we see a rain delay or two over this four-game series.