Wow. The M's are 3-1. That's great news! They beat Oakland in those games. Not nearly as good of news. They have to play four games in Texas now. Bad news. Sure, the Rangers don't look like world beaters yet, but they've only played three games. To make matters worse, the only Mariner starter that won't throw in Arlington this week is Felix. So this series will certainly test the revamped rotation for the first time. Four games means four pitching showdowns.
April 9th: Hector Noesi vs. Yu Darvish
Darvish makes his major league debut while Noesi makes his Mariner debut and just his third career start. This means a few things. Neither team really knows how to hit either pitcher yet. No major league data exists on Darvish, and very lithe exists on Noesi. These guys are both unproven entities that will get tested for the first time on Monday. While the world will focus on Darvish, Noesi's debut is the more intriguing storyline for me. The Rangers have a top flight offense, and Noesi will get a real challenge in his first start as a Mariner. Darvish will pitch against a below average offense, so the result won't be nearly as telling. If Noesi pitches well, M's fans will rejoice regardless of the game's final score.
April 10th: Blake Beavan vs. Neftali Feliz
Two seasons ago, the Rangers sent Beavan to the M's in the Cliff Lee trade that helped them make their first ever World Series. Neftali Feliz was the closer for that team as a rookie. Flash forward to present day, and the two will duel in Texas in game two of the second series of the season. Feliz will make his first start as a full-fledged member of the Ranger rotation, while Beavan hopes to prove he belongs in a big league rotation. Feliz has terrifying stuff, but can he stretch out all of that ability over 30 starts in a full season? That will be the biggest question facing him this season. The M's will probably be the best-case scenario to begin such a transition. Beavan won't go down without a fight, but he definitely is a step down from most big league pitchers. He needs to show off rock solid consistency in order to stay with the M's all season.
April 11th: Kevin Millwood vs. Colby Lewis (1-0, 3.00)
The journeyman versus the anointed ace. Millwood made the M's rotation as a non-roster invitee to spring training after looking pretty impressive in a few appearances. Millwood must confront and diffuse questions about his age relative to his effectiveness in order to succeed in 2012. Colby Lewis on the other hand was named ace by default after C.J Wilson went to Anaheim in the winter. The Rangers truly don't have anybody else to take this spot from him though, and that could potentially hurt them this year as they try to make their third straight world series. Lewis usually dominates the M's historically and this one probably won't be any different.
April 12th: Jason Vargas (1-0, 2.31) vs. Derek Holland (0-0, 4.50)
Jason Vargas will make his league-high third start of the season on Thursday. Vargas has pitched like a number two starter in his first two appearances. He's posted a solid ERA but hasn't hit seven innings in either of his starts. So the jury is still out on Vargas. Holland threw six innings in his first start of the year last on Saturday, allowing three runs and getting a no decision in a Rangers loss. Both men don't fit the profile of a number two starter, so both have a lot to prove in 2012. Holland still has his awesome mustache though. Maybe that gives him the leg up.
Three to watch:
1. Chone Figgins: How can I choose anyone else? As I wrote yesterday, Figgins had a torrent weekend in Oakland. The M's needed that, because middle of the order mashers Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero combined for only three hits, all of them singles. That's bad. Figgins needs to continue to get on base and wreck havoc for the M's to have a legit shot of splitting let alone winning the road series in Texas. Gotta love his .412 average for now though.
2. Adrian Beltre: Buster Olney called Beltre and his teammate Elvis Andrus the best defensive left-side of any infield in baseball on Twitter yesterday. I agree. Mariners fans look back at the Adrian Beltre era with mixed emotions, but no one can argue that his defense didn't help win the M's games even when his strikeouts didn't. I will never forget the brick wall commercial that always kept me laughing and feeling good about having the toughest defensive third baseman in baseball. After leaving Seattle, Adrian also rapidly improved his hitting, becoming a perennial all-star with Boston and now Texas. He could give the M's a ton of trouble with his pop and defense this week.
3. Justin Smoak: Many Rangers scouts and fans thought Smoak would be their next offensive superstar in the hitters park that is the Ballpark in Arlington. Two years after being traded to the M's along with Beavan in the aforementioned Cliff Lee deal, Smoak returns to Arlington for the first time in 2012 needing a breakout year. One for eight with an RBI single in Oakland won't cut it for the rest of the year. He needs to drive the ball and get on base. He needs to rack up RBIs. He needs to go deep twice this week for the M's to have a shot in Arlington.
All indications point towards this series being a rude awakening for the Mariners, as they see for the first time in 2012 how good baseball teams play. Texas probably send their four most talented pitchers to the hill, while Felix misses the entire series. The Texas offense is on another planet relative to the Mariners' hitting, and so the M's will struggle to keep up without rock solid pitching. I see three out of four of these games going to Texas. Darvish out-debuts Noesi and the Rangers take game one 6-2. Beavan and the bullpen prevail in game two as the M's get to Neftali Feliz early and take it 5-3. Millwood pitches valiantly in game three but the M's can't touch Colby Lewis and the Rangers take game three 5-1. Game four comes down to Jason Vargas' split personalities. I have to think Mr. Vargas will rear his ugly head sometime soon. This seems like a probable time. Rangers win game four, 7-2.
I hope I'm wrong though. It would be great to see the M's ride their momentum and be over .500 coming back to Seattle for the home opener. May the Figgins be with you, and Go M's.