Game 46, Astros at Mariners: Caring

marc w · May 27, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Chris Flexen vs. Justin Verlander, 6:40pm (This is the last of the early starts this season. Tomorrow’s game will begin at 7:10).

The M’s are in last place after a disastrous stretch of poor play. The game itself seems to stumble; the ball is dead on the whole, but subject to striking variance from game to game. This is both kind of annoying and also lends itself to conspiratorial thinking. I mean, if you *wanted* to enrich your new partners in the gaming industry, wouldn’t this be a good way to do it? Baseball’s broadcasts are splintered into several competing platforms, as MLB tries to profit off of the streaming wars that threaten its big cable revenue streams. And, yes, all of it – good and bad – pale in comparison to what we see on the news every night. I’m a parent, and needed some off days from whatever this is. Now, more than ever, it’s harder to have a great answer when someone asks why you like the Seattle Mariners.

Roger Angell famously said, “It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look – I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring – caring deeply and passionately, really caring – which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté – the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball – seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”

Today, David Roth wrote a great post at Defector on Angell and caring, and it struck a chord. We all care so much about this strange game, and we seem to get so little out of it – especially those of us following such a flawed entity as the Mariners. I keep wanting there to be a great origin story of my fandom, an answer to why we might care about the haphazardous flight of a distant ball. But there’s not.

I don’t remember anything before loving sports. I would wake up early every Sunday and stare at the Ed Hume gardening show because once it ended, the NFL pregame show would appear. I could’ve watched something else until then, or nothing at all, but I couldn’t move lest I miss a note of the opening theme. Football was always a TV spectacle, and kids are attuned to things that reek of spectacle, so maybe that was easier. But baseball did the same thing. I think I saw bits and pieces of the 1980 World Series, and that was just that. I liked what was going on without knowing what was going on, and I haven’t stopped yet. Little bits and pieces just get appended to your identity at that age, but that one stuck.*

Much of the next decade was having that care – the unearned, almost subconscious care – rewarded and bolstered by things like going to the Kingdome, the arrival of Mark Langston and Alvin Davis, and then, the miraculous and all-conquering coming of Ken Griffey Jr. It was not rewarded with a whole lot of winning, but by the sense that winning would arrive soon. I wasn’t in the area for the miracle comeback of 1995, but I was in grad school in 2000, the beginning of that short, glorious period of M’s success. A friend got tickets to game 3 of the ALDS in 2000, the first playoff game in what is now T-Mobile stadium, and we sat out in center field on a warm fall day. Memorably, the game ended on a walk-off drag bunt by Carlos Guillen, and the stadium went wild. It was cathartic, it was ecstatic, it was repayment for years and years of frustration and potential moves and awful owners. We stood and yelled, not moving, for a long time, and then, suddenly, Mike Cameron leapt on to the CF wall. To this day, I smile every time Cameron pops on a broadcast, or when he’s shown working with OFs in spring training. He was there, literally climbing the barrier between player and fan, when all of that caring seemed to be repaid, when all of us, players and fans, knew how deep that care went.

The Mariners are, again, bad. Or at least: they’re playing like a bad team. This week of all weeks it is easy to stop caring and get back to caring about the things we all need to care about. It is *harder* to care now, and it’s why I am consciously trying to keep doing it. As Roth writes, “When that light goes out, it stays out; what keeps it on, whatever keeps it on, seems very valuable.” I don’t want the light to go out, and I hope you don’t either. I can’t blame you if it does, and there are days when it seems like it’d be easier – more rewarding, maybe – to let it. But that’s too easy – we care about hard, imperfect things, and boy do the Mariners check both boxes.

1: Frazier, LF
2: France, 1B
3: Rodriguez, CF
4: Crawford, SS
5: Suarez, 3B
6: Lewis, DH
7: Trammell, RF
8: Raleigh, C
9: Haggerty, 2B
SP: Flexen

Connor Jones threw a 7 inning no-hitter for Arkansas yesterday as the Travs swept a double header. Levi Stoudt starts tonight for them against the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

Las Vegas is in Tacoma to take on the Rainiers. Vegas won last night 5-2; Pierce County native Nate Mondou went 0-4 for the Aviators.

Adam Macko starts for Everett tonight.

* One that didn’t was being “Steve.” There were so many Steves in the NFL that it seemed like a smart move to re-name myself to fit in with what I assumed would be my future colleagues.

Game 43, Athletics at Mariners

marc w · May 23, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Zach Logue, 6:40pm

After a disastrous series in Boston, the M’s again turn to their stopper. No, not the defending Cy Young, or one of their young phenoms, but Marco Gonzales. I’d worry that he wouldn’t have the same competitive fire facing a near anonymous starter in Zach Logue, not a name brand Ace like Max Scherzer, but I think Gonzales is literally made of competitive fire.

Look, this has been a rough month for the M’s. Nathan Bishop wrote a great blog post about the feeling they’ve inspired. It’s hard to remember when they’re on a losing jag like this, but they’re not a horrible team – they’re a perfectly fine team who’s *playing* poorly at the moment. But the flip side to that, and one Nathan hits on, is that so much of the hope that April engendered wasn’t real either. Apparently, JP Crawford isn’t an 8-9 WAR player, who can hit for average and power, while playing a brilliant SS. Apparently, Matt Brash is going to take some time, and apparently, Logan Gilbert – while great – is not nearly unhittable.

Still, I loved reading Ryan Divish’s reminder that the club that won 90 games last year were very close to this a year ago. The M’s were 21-26, in 4th place in the AL West. They were the worst hitting club around, with the lowest average and OBP. Their bullpen wasn’t yet the savior of the team, as the first group had to make way for Paul Sewald and others. So it’s possible for a team to look lost, to look punchless, and come out of it. The problem is that, outside of a brilliant bullpen, the M’s didn’t come out of it by playing like a 90 win team – they came out of it by…I mean, I watched it, and I still have no idea how it happened. The M’s will improve in the coming weeks. Their worst hitters won’t stay this bad, and they’ll bolster the line-up by getting guys off the IL. The bullpen will play better.

That said, this team is not competing for a title. This club that fancied itself among the AL’s up-and-comers simply isn’t. That sucks; this fanbase has waited a long, long time. But for a number of reasons, they’re just not as good as the top clubs in the league, and may not be as good as mid-tier teams. What’s tough to figure out is what to do from here. Think of a guy like Adam Frazier, who’s a free agent at the end of the year. Mitch Haniger, too, and I just can’t see the M’s making a run at keeping him. The M’s are going to need to be very active in free agency to stay on the outskirts of contention, and they’ll need continued growth from Julio and a massive bounce-back from Jarred Kelenic.

That sounds like a tall order from a club that’s been hesitant to do much in free agency, and whose record with their top prospects has been, uh, spotty. But it’s not impossible. That said, what may be impossible is to re-focus on something more than contention. It’s so easy to say, but it’s not so easy to do.

Today, the M’s face the rebuilding A’s, the one team below the M’s in the AL West. Today’s starter is Zach Logue, whom the A’s acquired from Toronto in the Matt Chapman deal. A low 3/4/side-arming lefty, Logue throws a 90mph four-seamer, a change-up, a slider/cutter, and a slurvy curve. Despite his low vertical movement, his fastball isn’t really a sinker – especially given the way he uses it.

Logue slings in his fastball at or above the top of the zone.
plot_profile

In the high minors, this approach gave him the ability to rack up strikeouts. 90mph isn’t going to allow that at the big league level, but it does have another effect: Logue has one of the league’s lowest GB%. He’s really like a left-handed Paul Sewald, er, with 3mph less oomph, and as a starter. Sewald ran a sub-30% GB rate last year, and Logue’s at 25% himself. In an earlier era of baseball, like 2019, this would be…a really bad plan. But in 2022, with a dead ball, playing in Oakland (and visiting Seattle), that’s a decent idea. A .264 BABIP is probably not all that unlucky, though his strand rate of 93.4% most definitely is.

1: Frazier, 2B
2: France, 1B
3: Crawford, SS
4: Rodriguez, CF
5: Suarez, 3B
6: Winker, LF
7: Moore, RF
8: Torrens, DH
9: Raleigh, C
SP: Gonzales

The end of Kyle Lewis’ rehab forced a choice from the M’s front office. And thus, Lewis is on his way to Seattle and might play tomorrow. For a guy who has needed days off after playing less than a full game in the OF, he seems likely to be a full-time DH. And that’s fine – the M’s are platooning Luis Torrens and Mike Ford in that position now. But it also means that the M’s professed desire to wait until Lewis was 100% healthy couldn’t survive this losing streak.

Game 42, Mariners at Red Sox: Desperation Time?

marc w · May 22, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Logan Gilbert vs. Nathan Eovaldi, 10:35am

After another heartbreaking loss – another big early lead squandered – the M’s will need to make even more roster moves. Abraham Toro’s injury in yesterday’s game will necessitate an IL stint, and Steven Souza’s poor play necessitated a roster move as well. The ideal replacement for the latter would be Kyle Lewis, but the organization is talking about his health the way they did about Jay Buhner’s in 2001: general soreness and years of wear and tear making it all but impossible to say whether he’ll be able to play the field on a given day (a reminder that life is often cruel, and baseball is crueler). So, the M’s have made a short term move and a longer term one. For the former, they’ve brought Taylor Trammell back from extended spring training where he’d been rehabbing an injury he picked up in the season’s first week in Tacoma. For the latter, they’ve signed free agent OF Justin Upton, who’d been cut by the Angels at the end of spring.

With Souza’s DFA’d and Toro IL’d, there’s still an open active roster spot. Thus, old friend Sam Haggerty is back from Tacoma to fill in. Adrian Sampson, who’d just been signed on May 13th, has been DFA’d to make room on the 40-man. Let’s be clear: the M’s needed to make moves. What’s less clear is if these moves will help. The M’s decided to punt defense a bit with Souza, and it now seems like they’ll re-prioritize it with Trammell, whose MLB hitting performance is…not great. The back-up to the back-up infielder doesn’t matter so much, but the M’s depth is being sorely tested, and they’re getting kind of desperate. Dylan Moore may need to stick around the infield more going forward, and the M’s just have to hope that Trammell is ready to go despite not playing a minor league game, or that Upton can get back to game speed in the next few weeks.

Today, the M’s will be desperate to salvage a game in this series. They get perhaps their best starter on the mound, and facing an opposing starter who got demolished in his last outing. But that doesn’t make the M’s favorites. Nathan Eovaldi was off to a great start for Boston, and has a great walk rate and K rate, but 5 HRs in one disastrous inning against the Astros mar his seasonal stats. Sure, that game was essentially played in a wind tunnel, but the HRs counted just the same.

As a guy with a big fastball, does Eovaldi’s game plan run right into the M’s batting strengths? Eh, not really. While it’s 95-97mph, Eovaldi’s throwing his four-seamer only 40% of the time, far less than yesterday’s starter, Garrett Whitlock. Eovaldi’s arsenal is a deep one, and he mixes in a curveball, a slider, a splitter, and a rare cutter. The slider’s his primary breaker against righties, and it’s been weaker than normal in 2022 thus far, but his curve’s been solid against both lefties and righties. He uses the splitter not as a change-up, where he’d target lefties with it, but as an equal-opportunity weapon.

Gilbert’s given up at least 3 R in the last three starts, but he’s been the victim of poor defense and some bad luck. He’s remained a surprising strikeout threat throughout even this dip in form, and he’s yielded so few HRs on the year. That combination makes him a serious threat to win every game he starts.

1: Frazier, 2B
2: France, 1B
3: Crawford, SS
4: Rodriguez, CF
5: Winker, LF
6: Suarez, 3B
7: Ford, DH
8: Raleigh, C
9: Trammell, RF
SP: Gilbert

Tacoma’s game last night featured one of the most eye-popping performances in years. Starting pitcher Daniel Ponce de Leon started the game with *9 consecutive strikeouts.* That’s clearly a Tacoma record, and it’s believed to be the most in the long history of the PCL. de Leon finished with 5 scoreless innings, giving up only 1 hit and striking out 12 against 1 walk. That’s…astonishing. Nick Margevicius gave up 6 runs in 2 in relief, but the Rainiers had built up a big lead and won 10-6. Jarred Kelenic went 3-5 with a couple of doubles, and SS Mason McCoy had two HRs. Today, Justus Sheffield gets the start; he’s had a rough start to his PCL stint this year.

NW Arkansas took Arkansas apart, winning 11-4. Today, SP prospect Emerson Hancock gets the start for the Travelers.

Everett won 9-3 over Hillsboro, hitting three home runs in the process. Adam Macko had a so-so start, going only 4 IP, walking 5, but striking out 6. Bryce Miller starts for Everett today.

Stockton blanked Modesto, 4-0.

Game 41, Mariner at Red Sox: Let the Worrying Commence

marc w · May 21, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Chris Flexen vs. Garrett Whitlock, 1:10pm

After another loss last night, the M’s are now two back of the Rangers in 4th in the West. Sure, it was good to see the Astros lose so the gap to the division leaders didn’t grow, but watching Martin Perez of all people throw a complete game shutout against them (in 2022??!) made it much tougher for M’s fans. The Rangers might hang around here for a while. The M’s, meanwhile, fell to 17-23 after 40. No, last year’s club wasn’t great in May, but they were 20-20 after 40 games. Three games down isn’t a ton, and there’s a lot of baseball left. But they need to show some signs of life, and signs that they can not just win the odd game against a Max Scherzer or Aaron Nola or whoever, but that they can grind out series wins against good teams. That’s what they did time and again last year, and it’s something they’ve struggled with in 2022.

What are the M’s good at, as a group? One of the more surprising things, at least for me, is this: they’re the league’s best team at hitting fastballs. By pitch type run values, no team’s done better on fastballs. Convert it to a rate, doesn’t matter: they’re really good at it. Part of this is just the kinds of hitters they have – Julio has struggled with spin, but does a good job against heat. Part of it is that they have a great approach: they’re good at knowing when to swing and when not to. But against the pitches thrown most often, they’ve done a great job.

The flip side of this is that the scouting report or opposition research kind of writes itself. Give them change-ups. Sliders. Curves. Doesn’t really matter; just avoid the fastball. Thus far, the M’s have seen comparatively *more* fastballs than other teams, though that may just be the result of facing the Twins and then Justin Verlander twice. Still, I worry that other teams knows what the M’s are good at it (and less good at), and can pitch accordingly. I worry that this may be behind their poor performance late in games – relievers with a good breaking ball can be effective.

Last year, the M’s bullpen was a major strength. They were good, but they played better than that, and when it mattered most, they somehow played even better. The true talent in this year’s pen is probably better, but…they’re not really playing well. We marveled at their clutch score last year, but this year, it’s just above zero (which is in itself cause for muted celebrations, given their overall performance and win probability added). They have 22 games in which they’ve significantly bettered the M’s chances of winning (measured by win probability added), but 21 in which they’ve significantly hurt it – last night’s game was such an occasion. That ratio of shutdown games to meltdown games is in the bottom three in the league; no one is close to Seattle except Washington and Cincinnati. In 2022, you do NOT want to be near those clubs in anything.

Garrett Whitlock is probably the best Rule 5 pick of recent years. He’d been a Yankee farmhand and pitched very well, but went down in late 2019 with an elbow problem and needed Tommy John. The Yankees, in one of their perpetual 40-man roster crunches, thought they could leave him unprotected after he missed 2020 with rehab. Boston picked him anyway, and he rewarded them with a brilliant season of in relief last year. He tossed over 73 IP in 2021 with an ERA under 2, firing a mid-90s sinker with a very good slider and change-up.

After starting in relief this season, the Red Sox moved him into their rotation, figuring that a good three pitches (plus a fourth, a rarely-used four seamer) would play for multiple PAs. The only question would be platoon splits. His platoon splits were pretty elevated last season, with his slider – his best pitch, probably – not as much of an option against lefties. Well, so far, it hasn’t mattered. His change was solid last year, but it’s been a dominant pitch this year. Cameron Grove’s pitching bot rates it a 70 by stuff+, and 65 (on the scouting scale) overall. In fact, he’s running reverse splits thus far. I don’t expect that to last, but it shows that Whitlock has the arsenal to stick in the rotation and to do it well. His K rate is up over last year, and it’s up even more as a starter. The saving grace here for the M’s is that he relies pretty heavily on fastballs. Get a sinker and drive it, M’s.

1: Frazier, RF
2: France, 1B
3: Crawford, SS
4: Rodriguez, CF
5: Winker, LF
6: Suarez, 3B
7: Toro, 2B
8: Ford, DH
9: Torrens, C
SP: Flexen

Don’t look now, but the Rainiers are actually hot. They won their second straight shutout yesterday, blanking Sacramento 2-0. Konner Wade won his 2nd game as the R’s yielded just 3 hits. Of course, they only got 3 hits themselves, but made ’em count.

Arkansas slipped past NW Arkansas 2-1, with Jake Haberer getting a win in relief and Levi Stoudt tossing his best game, with 5 2/3 scoreless and 7 Ks.

Everett got 2 in the 7th to get past Hillsboro 7-5. The deadly top 3 of the Frogs line-up (Marte/Packard/Alberto Rodriguez) went 0-13 with 7 Ks, but the bottom of the line-up picked ’em up. C Andy Thomas had 3 hits including his 3rd HR. Adam Macko starts today’s game for Everett.

Modesto demolished Stockton 11-3, as Edwin Arroyo hit his 8th bomb of the year. The 18 year old now has a .952 OPS on the year.

Game 40, Mariners at Red Sox – RIP, Roger Angell

marc w · May 20, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Robbie Ray vs. Michael Wacha, 4:10pm

“My gratitude aalways goes back to baseball itself, which turned out to be so familiar and so startling, so spacious and exacting, so easy looking and so heartbreakingly difficult, that it filled up my notebooks in seasons in a rush; a pastime indeed.”
– Roger Angell’s Hall of Fame Induction speech

The greatest baseball writer of all time, Roger Angell, died at his home today in New York. He was 101. He watched essentially every great star of the game, from Babe Ruth, to a rookie Willie Mays, to Mike Trout and Juan Soto. We’ve lost a brilliant prose stylist, a keen observer, and someone who made you proud to be a baseball fan. But because he’d been watching and thinking about the game so long, he seemed to essentially embody baseball history itself, at least the part after it became a big, professional institution. It is sad to lose that first-person perspective on baseball history, but I am always thankful he turned those memories, those sights, into something timeless.

I’ve been thinking in recent years about just how *glad* I am that a writer like Patrick Dubuque chose to write about baseball. There are so many things to write about, so many things to care about or follow. The odds seem stacked against the alignment of a singular voice and this odd game, one that always frets it’s too old and past its prime. So when it happens, I don’t want to forget to feel thankful. Roger Angell is the clearest example of that, the writer who made it possible for thousands to come after him, to raise this silly game into something worthy of his words.

It’s weird; just given things like blogs, I’ve probably read more words from Dave Cameron and Jeff Sullivan than I have of Angell’s (though I’ve read a lot of them). At no point ever did I think, “Wow, that’s very Angell-ian.” But he didn’t inspire imitation; that would be difficult, and the potential for cringe would be sky-high. He inspired coming at the game honestly, and thoughtfully, and thus I think people like Sullivan or Dubuque or Rowley or DMZ really can be seen as heirs.

Yesterday’s game was a brutal one, a big early lead given back almost immediately, and then a bizarre gaffe by a manager just trying to execute a pitching change. Whatever the cause, the M’s seemed helpless to stop the Red Sox and Trevor Story, who hit three home runs. The Sox enter today just a half-game back of the M’s. An already-cluttered wild card race could get even more stuffed soon. It’s not a shock or anything; this Sox club is way too talented to be a bottom-feeder, even in the AL East.

With three wild cards, the M’s chances aren’t as dour as they’ve looked on this road trip, but the problem is the two-tiers of playoff hopefuls, with the Angels/Rays/Jays looking like a very different group of hopefuls than, say, the Guardians and M’s. I think you could add the White Sox to that former group as well. The M’s simply aren’t this bad, and should start winning more games sometime soon, perhaps after this brutal road trip. But the first 39 games happened; they don’t get to start fresh.

Robbie Ray’s K rate is down slightly this year, as he’s getting just a couple fewer swinging strikes each start. It’s not a lot, and he’s striking out more than a batter an inning, so it’s not necessarily a problem. It’s not like those missing whiffs and K’s are turning into HRs; just like the rest of the league, his HR/9 is down. The problem is that those missing Ks are turning into balls in play. As a result, some innings look fine, but if some hits string together, he’s suddenly given up a big inning. But why is he giving up more balls in play?

One reason is that after moving back to the AL, he’s not facing very many lefties anymore. Over his career, Ray has had the platoon advantage in 22% of his PAs-against. It was slightly higher with the Diamondbacks, then it dipped to 18% last season. This year, it’s just 14%, a clear low mark in his 9-year career. And while his K% against righties has been high, and almost as high as it’s been against lefties, it’s still lower – and this year, that gap has grown.

Michael Wacha came up as a phenom in 2013, pitching well in critical postseason games just a year after being drafted by St. Louis. As a change-up maven without a huge fastball, he flew through the system, and essentially cut the trail that Marco Gonzales would follow just a year later; Gonzales was drafted in the summer of 2013, and got some postseason experience in 2014. But after a brilliant first full season, injuries and ineffectiveness took over.

The Cardinals let him go, and his 2020 campaign with the Mets was a disaster. He found himself with Tampa a year ago, and I think a lot of fans expected that if anyone could fix him, it’d be the Rays. It didn’t happen. Too many HRs, occasional injuries – it just didn’t work, and after one year and an ERA over 5, he landed with Boston. He’s already had one IL stint, but so far, so good for Wacha.

He’s got strong reverse splits for his career thanks to that change, but he still strikes out more righties. It’s weird; even against righties, if he needs a chase or a strikeout, he goes to the change. It’s mostly effective, but if they hit it, it tends to go a long way. Lefties make awful contact on the pitch, and thus have poor overall numbers against Wacha (he throws the change more than his FB to lefties). Wacha’s worked on other pitches for righties – a cutter, a curve – but he remains mostly a FB/CH guy.

1: Frazier, DH
2: France, 1B
3: Crawford, SS
4: Rodriguez, CF
5: Winker, LF
6: Suarez, 3B
7: Toro, 2B
8: Moore, RF
9: Raleigh, C
SP: Ray

Today’s roster move is that Matt Festa’s back, replacing Wyatt Mills. Festa’s remade slider has him missing more bats than his prior stint in the bigs, but he’s been unable to avoid the home run.

The bigger roster move is upcoming. Kyle Lewis’ rehab stint officially ends on Monday. He’s played three games in a row for Tacoma, but they’ve all come as a DH. As Mike Curto notes, Lewis played 7 innings in the OF back on May 4th, and hasn’t played there since. It seems exceedingly unlikely the M’s could hope to use Lewis there in the majors. But with their offense sputtering, maybe they could actually use a part time DH? The M’s have said repeatedly that they wanted Lewis 100% before calling him up. A few weeks into his rehab, he’s not there yet. They could re-start the 20 day clock after Monday, and if they want something more than a DH, that’s what they’ll have to do. But the bottom of the line-up is rough, and the guys the M’s keep rotating through the DH spot could all play the field; this isn’t a Dan Vogelbach situation. This is one to keep an eye on. Please get healthy, Kyle.

Speaking of health, apparently C Tom Murphy had a setback with his shoulder, and thus won’t be coming off the IL when his stint ends. Damn.

Dipoto talked about Jarred Kelenic on 710am yesterday, saying that they just want him to have fun. I get what they’re saying, but they almost seemed wary of giving him specific things to work on, outside of potentially take/swing decisions.

The Rainiers are in Sacramento, and they destroyed the hosts 11-0 yesterday with old friend Tommy Milone getting the win after 5 scoreless. Jarred Kelenic hit his first AAA HR of the year. Konner Wade makes his third start for Tacoma tonight against Tristan Beck.

Arkansas blanked NW Arkansas 5-0, as Jake Scheiner hit his 6th HR. Levi Stoudt starts for the Travelers tonight.

Everett didn’t get the memo, and gave up a solo HR in the first, but then got things on track, and shut out Hillsboro the rest of the way to win 6-1. Spencer Packard hit his 7th for the Frogs. Prelander Berroa, the SP the M’s got from San Francisco a few weeks back, makes his second start in the org.

Modesto misinterpreted the memo, and got shut out by Stockton 5-0. Ports starter Luke Anderson was scoreless, obviously, for 5 2/3 IP with 8 Ks but 7 BBs. That’s filling up the box score.

Game 39, Mariners at Red Sox

marc w · May 19, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

George Kirby vs. Rich Hill, 4:10pm

Yesterday’s win was the second-straight crucial win in a game the M’s were just overwhelming underdogs. Both were started by Marco Gonzales, and in both, he was opposed by one of the best starters in baseball. I know we all know Marco’s a competitive guy, but he seems to take it *personally* when he’s given no chance, or has his stuff compared unfavorably against, you know, Max Scherzer and Kevin Gausman. It is Marco’s superpower, I think, and it’s what makes him compelling.

The win prevented the M’s from getting swept, but they need to start passing some of the teams in front or tied with them. There’s an awful lot of clutter in the wild card standings, and while the M’s aren’t out of it by any stretch, it’s always daunting seeing so many damn teams in the way. Some of them will have easier schedules. Some will just get hot randomly. And sure, some will fall by the wayside, and they should begin doing so. But it’s one thing to be behind the Jays and Angels, and another to have to deal with the Guardians and Rangers. Just clear the decks, and let the M’s have their straigh-uphill battle with top-shelf teams in the wild card race.

Today’s game is another great contrast. George Kirby, the young fireballer, makes his third MLB appearance. Opposing him is 42-year old Rich Hill, making appearance 331. Every move of Kirby’s has been scrutinized with pitch tracking. The M’s undoubtedly knew his spin rate before they drafted him. Contrast that with Hill, whose career predates PitchFX and pitch tracking. He just threw a cool curveball; he was into a mid-career renaissance before anyone knew how and why it worked (I guess because, for a few years there, it really didn’t).

Hill has always been primarily a fastball/curve guy, though he’ll mix in a slider and a rare change and cutter. He was up to about 55% FB/40% change in the pre-pandemic seasons, but now throws them equally, if you believe MLB’s statcast, and is fully 53% *curve* to 42% fastball by PitchInfo. His fastball was never overpowering, and now comes in at around 88mph, with solid carry/ride thanks to solid backspin. That helps it pair well with his big, slow curve, which is in the 68-72mph range with big two-plane break.

A lefty, Hill is used to facing overwhelmingly-right-handed line-ups. And he hasn’t really minded. In his long career, he’s yielded a .301 wOBA to righties, and .291 to lefties. His splits were noticeably higher last season, but nothing in the surrounding years (including 2022) shows that he’s lost his touch against righties. Still, it’s not a great AB for lefties, so no surprise the M’s have their righty-heavy line-up in. The fanbase is irate that Souza remains on the team, but if he does, this is when to play him. I’m not sure he should be, but he’s here, so he should probably play against Hill.

1: Frazier, LF
2: France, 1B
3: Rodriguez, CF
4: Winker, DH
5: Suarez, 3B
6: Torrens, C
7: Toro, 2B
8: Moore, SS
9: Souza, RF
SP: Kirby

Drew Steckenrider is back from the restricted list now that the M’s are out of Canada. Roenis Elias heads back to Tacoma. Ryan Divish reports Matt Festa is with the team, so it sounds like another move is coming.

Taylor Dollard won his first in AA (Despite already having a pitcher of the week win!) as Arkansas beat NW Arkansas 5-4. Everett beat Hillsboro 3-2, but Modesto fell to Stockton 9-7. Modesto did slug 5 HRs, with Edwin Arroyo getting his 7th, and Robert Perez blasting numbers 13 and 14.

Game 38, Mariners at Blue Jays

marc w · May 18, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Kevin Gausman, 4:05pm

Well. I thought that choosing between Steven Souza and Dylan Moore was a problem without a solution, and that Souza’s minute advantage vs. LHPs made it an understandable hold-your-nose-and-choose sort of a move. Then, the game absolutely turned on two plays in the 2nd inning. In the top, Souza grounded into a double play with the bases loaded, ending an early threat. In the bottom, he broke a bit late on a flare to right, dove, missed, turning it into a bases-clearing triple. Two bases loaded situations, both involving Souza, and the M’s lost 3-0 despite a brilliant game by Logan Gilbert. That’s the high quality of analysis you depend on here at USSM.

The other frustrating thing about the game is that it highlighted just why things aren’t going the M’s way. They were facing a pitcher with big platoon splits, and needed good lefties in the line-up. JP Crawford is a good lefty, but he’s also incredibly streaky – like, Raul Ibanez streaky. As hot as he was in April, he’s cooled off dramatically since. It’s fine; he’s a great player, and his season line would still be a career high. But you…notice that he’s in one of *those* zones right now, and thus the M’s aren’t able to really take advantage. What about Jesse Winker? Yeah, I think we all wanted a bit more from Winker, and it’s possible he’s going to be one of those guys whose value gets nuked by the deadened ball, but I also have to think he’ll get hot at some point. But the real vacancy, the real glaring hole last night was Jarred Kelenic. His demotion is what set the stage for the Sophie’s Choice Servais had to make. His struggles leave a team that just isn’t quite ready to play up to their potential.

Kelenic played for Tacoma today, and in a weird Monkey’s Paw sort of scene, was sandwiched by Kyle Lewis and Evan White in the batting order. The Rainiers were shut out in Sacramento, and the rehabbing trio went a combined 0-8. Kelenic had 3 Ks in his 0-4. Evan White went 6 innings, going 0-2 in that time; they’re still taking it easy with him, and this was his first game since his sports hernia surgery.

It’s easy to forget just how lost Robbie Ray looked before his move to Toronto in 2020. He was terrible in that Covid-shortened season, playing his way out of Arizona with an ERA near 8 and -0.5 fWAR. But the Jays unlocked something, and Ray won the Cy Young the next season. How would they replace him? Apparently, with another turnaround story. Ok, Kevin Gausman’s turnaround actually happened in San Francisco, but I was worried that whatever he learned wouldn’t stick, especially in a park that rewards elevated contact as richly as the Rogers Centre. One of the drawbacks Gausman had going back to his early years in Baltimore was HR issues, and even though he had solid control, he was more hittable than you’d want in an ace.

Well, that was wrong. Gausman’s splitter remains every bit the unhittable monster it became in SF, and while he’s still a bit hittable, he’s turned his good control into elite control, with a K:BB ratio this year of 54:2. Oh, and the HR thing? He doesn’t do that anymore. He’s pitched 45 IP thus far and still hasn’t yielded one. Nate Eovaldi gave up 5 in an *inning* yesterday to Houston, but Gausman, even in Toronto, is still at 0 for the year. Because his best pitch is that insane split, Gausman has run reverse splits for his career, and lefties have a sub-.200 wOBA against him this year. Let’s go Ty France! I love that France continues to rack up hits, but have to point out that he’s slugging .317 in May, so he’s going to need help. Let’s see if Julio can get Gausman off the dinger schneid today.

1: Frazier, RF (!)
2: France, 1B
3: Crawford, SS
4: Winker, LF
5: Suarez, 3B
6: Rodriguez, RF
7: Toro, 2B
8: Ford, DH
9: Raleigh, C
SP: Gonzales

As mentioned before, Tacoma lost 5-0 today. Darren McCaughan is off to a rough start, unfortunately. Matt Brash K’d 3 in 2 scoreless, without a walk I might add. They won the first game of the series last night 8-3, beating 6’11” pitching prospect Sean Hjelle in the process.

Arkansas beat NW Arkansas 7-6 as Cade Marlowe hit his second home run. Taylor Dollard starts for Arkansas tonight.

Everett and Hillsboro had an unfortunate Covid cancellation.

Modesto lost 4-3 to Stockton and rehabbing A’s starter Cole Irvin. Edwin Arroyo homered for the Nuts.

Game 37, Mariners at Blue Jays

marc w · May 17, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Logan Gilbert vs. Jose Berrios, 4:05pm

After yesterday’s listless loss in Toronto, today’s game takes on added significance. No, it’s too early to matter much in the grand scheme of things, but they can’t be the spark that ignites a big Jays run, particularly as they’ll likely be a Wild Card threat all year. The M’s are already behind a lot of teams, and while there’s plenty of time to catch them, the first step in doing so is to stop digging the hole they’re in.

It’s also important for Logan Gilbert. After a brilliant April, he’s been slightly hittable in May, and for himself and the team, this would be a statement game (as much as a below-.500 team in May can make a statement… maybe a defiant head-nod, or a confident grin). And you have to like his odds. He’s facing off against a much more well-known and heralded pitcher in Jose Berrios, but he may have the upper hand tonight. Gilbert may be the closest thing to the opposite of Jose Berrios, an anti-Berrios, if you will.

Berrios throws from a low arm slot, and at over 3′ away from the center of the plate, he’s pitching from half-way to third base. That’s intended to create all sorts of odd angles and to make his best pitch, a slurvy, sweeping curveball, play up. This is a little bit like a starting version of Paul Sewald, though Berrios has a full four pitches he’ll mix in: four seam, sinker, curve, and change.

The problem is that without a ton of velocity or some interesting movement (where “interesting” here would be something that differs from what you’d expect given his arm slot), it’s a profile that looks like it should have platoon splits. And he really, really does. The curve breaks enough that it’s still a decent pitch to lefties, and the change-up isn’t bad. But the fastball coming in at the angle that it does breaks right onto lefties’ barrels.

Since the beginning of the 2020 season, lefties are hitting .343 and slugging *.685* on his four-seam fastball, the pitch he’s thrown them most often. His sinker has been far more effective, but that’s a low bar to clear; they’re still slugging .456 off of that one. He’d been much more effective against lefties earlier in his career, but we’re looking at a sustained (read: years) period where lefties are just teeing off. He’s given up 4 long balls to lefties in 13 1/3 IP against them this year, and he’s walked/plunked 7 against 7 Ks. At the heart of it is a fastball that just doesn’t play.

Gilbert’s biggest problem to date has been the lack of a fully-operational breaking ball that he can deploy against *righties*. Righties are slugging over .500 on Gilbert’s slider – that shouldn’t be possible. It’s not a high-spin, high-movement offering, but it shouldn’t really need to be. Oddly enough, both it and the change have been quite effective against *lefties* and thus Gilbert’s running strong reverse splits in his brief MLB career. I don’t think that’ll last, but it brings up two points that get at Gilbert’s effectiveness: first, his fastball is good enough that he can get anyone out with it. Second, the change is probably his best secondary at this point.

Gilbert’s extension gives him a sneaky-fast four-seamer, and it has a bit more rise than batters might expect. He uses essentially the exact same release point as George Kirby, but gets a few inches more vertical movement than Kirby’s. But that’s not necessarily good; there’s essentially nothing in Gilbert’s pitch movement that can adequately explain the real trouble batters have in squaring him up, so we’ll have to stick with the extension thing. There’s also something to be said for plus command, as his stuff+/pitchingbot command marks are great on that fastball, even if its raw stuff grades out more average-to-slightly-above.

1: Frazier, 2B
2: France, 1B
3: Crawford, SS
4: Winker, LF
5: Suarez, 3B
6: Rodriguez, CF
7: Ford, DH
8: Souza, RF
9: Raleigh, C
SP: Gilbert

I like Winker at clean-up for this one, but it’d be nice if there was a bit more left-handed pop here behind Cal Raleigh, whose numbers are bad enough all around that it’s tough to talk about a “better side” of the plate for him yet. Both Dylan Moore and Steven Souza are better vs. lefties, as you’d expect, but neither is well-suited to a platoon role. The problem here is roster construction and injuries more than anything; you could make a case for Moore, but it’s just not a huge deal.

Mike Curto has a great article over at WeRTacoma about tonight’s introduction of the long-awaited robo umps in the PCL. They’ve been collecting data and testing them out in the first month of the season, but they’re going live tonight. A sound is supposed to instantly tell the ump if the pitch crossed any part of the plate (a little bit wider than the plate, actually), and then the ump makes the call. As Curto notes, this is something of an experiment, and it’s going to be fascinating to hear what players think of this after a few weeks. Many have been clamoring for this for years (though the tech wasn’t quite ready a few years ago), and others warn that it could have big unintended consequences. I guess we’ll find out?

Tacoma’s first run-in with the robo umps takes place tonight as they open a series in Sacramento

Arkansas’ long-simmering tensions with breakaway region of Northwest Arkansas once again erupt into active fighting tonight.

Jimmy Joyce leads Everett into its defense of Funko Field from Hillsboro.

Modesto faces off with league cellar-dwellers, Stockton. Modesto’s run differential is nearly 100 runs higher than Stockton’s, as Stockton given up more runs than any team in the league.

Game 36, Mariners at Blue Jays

marc w · May 16, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Chris Flexen vs. Yusei Kikuchi, 4:07pm

The M’s head to Toronto to continue their swing through the east, but crossing the border means some teammates have to be left behind. The M’s had rearranged their rotation to give Robbie Ray the start in yesterday’s game in New York, and now we know why. Ray won’t be with the team for this series, and hasn’t been placed on the restricted list. Apparently, MLB was worried that teams would game things to essentially allow them to gain an extra player when facing Toronto, so starters who’ve pitched within the last 4 games aren’t eligible to be on the list. But as a reliever, Drew Steckenrider *was* eligible, and to the restricted list he goes. That move allows the M’s to add a pitcher, and they’ve done so by recalling old friend Roenis Elias from Tacoma.

Elias hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2019, and has spent the past two seasons hurt, but was off to a…perfectly decent start in Tacoma. I don’t think they’ll keep him around, but he’s depth and a known quantity, so it makes sense. But what about Ray? How did he avoid the vaccine while pitching in Toronto last year? Apparently, there was a waiver for professional athletes and others in Canada that expired on January 1st of 2022. That kind of makes sense, and shows why 2021 was a different story than 2020, when the Jays had to play elsewhere.

Today’s game allows the M’s to check in on yet another old friend, today’s Jays starter, Yusei Kikuchi. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Kikuchi’s looked good, averaging 95. He’s throwing a lot of his slider, and slightly less of his hard cutter. He’s striking out more than a batter an inning. Aaaand he’s still struggling with actual runs coming across, with 15 given up in 26 innings. In a weird inversion of his Seattle tenure, his ERA isn’t too bad, though 4.15 isn’t what it used to be with baseball’s run scoring deflation. But his FIP continues to rise, this time more due to control issues than his old bugaboo of the long ball.

The Jays as a team are in something of a weird spot. Some elements of their plan have worked: Kevin Gausman would get plenty of Cy Young votes if the season ended today, Vlad Guerrero is hitting, Santiago Espinal is breaking out. But others aren’t: they didn’t get the good version of Matt Chapman, apparently, and Kikuchi may need more than a change of scenery. They’re not a bad team, but they are seriously underperforming, and with the Yankees running away with things and the Rays still…the Rays, they need to break out of that rut quickly.

So, when Kikuchi first came to Seattle, he featured a curve as his third pitch, and it occasionally looked solid – you may recall him freezing Joey Votto on one in his first spring. The results on the pitch sucked in 2019, but, well, they kind of did on his fastball, too. But in any event, he came back the next year with new mechanics and plenty more velo. But he never threw that curve again. Since that time, his slider has looked great occasionally, and bad at times (like now). Same with the cutter. I just don’t know why he hasn’t tried it again, especially as part of the problem with it originally was that he had a much shorter stride while throwing it. The stride length thing was fixed in 2020, but the curve remains MIA.

1: Toro, 2B
2: France, 1B
3: Crawford, SS
4: Rodriguez, CF
5: Winker, LF
6: Suarez, 3B
7: Torrens, C
8: Souza, DH
9: Moore, RF
SP: Flexen

Game 34, Mariners at Mets: Another Day, Another Giants Trade

marc w · May 14, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

George Kirby vs. Chris Bassitt, 4:10pm

It’s been raining all day in Queens, but it sounds like they’re going to try to get this game in. George Kirby returns home to New York to take on the Mets and their big off-season pitching acquisition, Max Scher…wait, no, it’s Chris Bassitt. The former A’s (and White Sox) starter is off to a great start, and is *nearly* matching Scherzer game for game. Bassitt mixes a full five pitches to keep hitters off balance, and has slowly but surely improved his bat-missing ability as well. He’s not just a command/control guy, but he has those skills up his sleeve.

Today, the Mariners once again made a trade with the San Francisco Giants for players on the back end of each roster. A day or so after being DFA’d in the burst of transactions that happened right before the M’s flew to NY, Stuart Fairchild will head to San Francisco (or their AAA affiliate in Sacramento). In exchange, the M’s get cold hard cash and former Reds IF, Alex Blandino.

The Giants have a roster crunch, and it’s hitting the IF/utility guys hardest, but they simply cannot resist taking a look through the back end of the M’s system. Since the season began, they’ve taken a look at Mike Ford, Kevin Padlo, Donovan Walton, and now Fairchild. The M’s have received cash, but also Prelander Berroa and now Blandino. There’s so much activity between two teams, and so much of it doesn’t seem to make sense from the Giants’ point of view. They can’t roster all of these guys, and they know that, but they just can’t stop. Donovan Walton doubled for the Giants today, and good for him. I’d still be worried about joining Mike Ford on the out-of-options and/or minor-league-free-agent path of endless transactions.

So, what does Blandino do? Well, he’s got a good eye at the plate, and it’s helped him post solid walk rates throughout his career (he was a first-round pick back in 2014). The problem is…pretty much everything else. A middle infielder (primarily 2B), he’s hit for very little power, and despite that great eye, he’s struck out at a 30% clip in 279 MLB PAs. It’s true: Blandino does not chase bad pitches. But the problem is that he’ll watch strikes as well. He’s got a freakishly low swing rate overall. Back in 2018, he and Daniel Vogelbach were two of the least-frequent swingers in the game, and that approach clearly hurt Vogelbach, but since 2018, he’s started swinging…even less?! It’s part of the reason why he’s bounced around to so many teams, but at the end of the day, Vogelbach can crush the odd mistake. Blandino…well, hey, Blandino plays 2B. He’s out of options, but will probably be IF depth in Tacoma for a bit.

1: Frazier, 2B
2: France, 1B
3: Crawford, SS
4: Suarez, 3B
5: Winker, LF
6: Rodriguez, CF
7: Ford, DH
8: Souza, RF
9: Torrens, C
SP: Kirby wooooo!

Yesterday’s 2-1 win was one of the best of the season. Pregame odds had the Mets with a nearly 70% chance of winning; odds that lopsided are very rare. They went down 1-0 in the first inning, and it looked like a boring, inevitable loss. But Marco hung tough, and the Mets pitched to Ty France, and just like that, the M’s came out with a 2-1 win. I don’t know if it’s a turning point, but it’s got to calm a lot of nerves in that clubhouse after struggling for a few weeks. It’s baseball – even bad teams will get a lot of wins, but the M’s beat one of the best teams, starting their ace, who played really well. Winning *those* games is a slightly different matter, and it was fun to see.

Levi Stoudt’s on the hill for Arkansas tonight, while Adam Macko takes the mound for Everett. Daniel Ponce de Leon faces off against Reno’s Dan Straily in Tacoma – a match-up of MLB vets.

Tacoma scored a walk-off win last night as Marcus Wilson homered to win it. It was Wilson’s second dinger of the game. Wilson’s a high-ISO, high-K OF they got off of waivers from Boston. He hits the ball hard, and has a good eye, but hasn’t really hit for average, and a bad BABIP this year has his slash line down to .215/.312/.495, which would be great in MLB, but is below average in AAA. Still just 25, it’d be good to see if he can make a bit more contact and raise his profile a bit.

San Antonio destroyed Arkansas 9-1, and Tri-City blanked Everett 8-0. Inland Empire held off Modesto 8-5, so thanks to Wilson and Tacoma for avoiding the org sweep.

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