Martín Perez, and the left arm that launched a thousand ships
There's no denying it. The Texas Rangers have surpassed their early-season expectations. The problem is, the A's are 13-5 and showing no indications of slowing down in their quest for a third consecutive AL West crown. So, albeit too early to call any of this week's games "must-win," or what have you, it's certainly more critical than the average mid-April series.
Monday -- Yu Darvish (1-0, 0.82 ERA, 3.23 xFIP) vs. Dan Straily (1-1, 5.40 ERA, 3.92 xFIP)
Darvish has been every bit as good as we've grown accustomed to, as he's still striking out better than 1-in-4 batters (27%) while, thus far, cutting his walk percentage (4.7%) down from 10.9% in 2012 and 9.5% in '13. He is, quite simply, one of the two or three best pitchers in Major League Baseball.
Dan Straily, meanwhile, is your classic MORP whose stuff tends to play up pitching half his starts in Oakland. On paper, Texas has the better arm on the hill, but this is the Athletics playing in their home ballpark, so it's foolish to think the Rangers have a true edge in this matchup.
Tuesday -- Nick Martinez (0-0, 4.50 ERA, 5.13 xFIP) vs. Tommy Milone (0-1, 4.09 ERA, 4.78 xFIP)
Traditionally I would consider this a throwaway game. Nick Martinez has one big league start under his belt, he's pitching in Oakland, and he's facing Tommy Milone -- ostensibly a left-handed platoon pitcher -- who owns a lifetime earned run average of 3.21 in 176.0 innings at O.Co.
Then the other half of me is thinking... but it's Tommy Milone. Just as Milone has an advantage pitching his night games under the bay area marine layer, maybe Martinez can benefit from it, too. Maybe Milone gets hammered and Nick shines with 6.0 strong innings of work. Or maybe I'm just doing anything I can to convince myself this won't be a 10-2 loss. And I'm afraid the latter is the most likely outcome.
Wednesday -- Martín Perez (3-0, 1.86 ERA, 3.2 xFIP) vs. Sonny Gray (3-0, 1.80 ERA, 3.12 xFIP)
This is the best pitching matchup of the series, maybe of the entire week in baseball. When Jarrod Parker went down with Tommy John surgery before the season, it was a major blow to a rotation that already had a few question marks. However, in his absence, Sonny Gray has assumed Parker's role as the #1 starter on staff, blending a power fastball with a strong complement of secondary offerings. After 25.0 innings he's basically been worth one FIP-win, a solid start for a blossoming young TORP.
Martín Perez has, too, performed extremely well out of the gates. His 1.86 ERA ranks 10th in the American League, and, per FanGraphs WAR, only Darvish (+1.1 fWAR), Felix Hernandez (+1.1 fWAR) and Jon Lester (+1.0 fWAR) have a better mark than Perez's +0.9. And that's not just the AL; that's all of MLB. Now, I'm not quite ready to jump in on the Martin Perez For Cy Young block party, but up until now he's done a marvelous job filling Derek Holland's shoes as the team's #2 starter.
Though I'm not big on the prediction game when it comes to regular season baseball -- in April, no less -- I will say it would be nice for the Rangers to secure two wins in this series. Two of three, on the road, in a place like Oakland, is not an easy task, so one could perceive that as wishful thinking. Winning only one wouldn't kill Texas, either, with the worst-case scenario of course being a sweep to drop Texas back to .500, 6 full games behind Oakland in the loss column.
But that all remains to be seen. For now, we can all enjoy a nice division rivalry between the two best teams in the American League West.