Game 115, Mariners at Rangers

marc w · August 13, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Dane Dunning, 4:10pm

The story of the M’s in 2022 was a simple one: would their improvement in actual talent make up for a decline in the historic, downright bizarre luck from their 2021 campaign? Would they win enough to make it to the postseason without whatever let them post a winning record at home despite hitting .214 as a club there? For several months, the answer seemed to be no, no they wouldn’t despite the best efforts of Julio Rodriguez. Then, it suddenly looked like it might be enough, particularly after bolstering their talent at the deadline.

The first few weeks of the second half offered a third answer, a synthesis of hypothesis (more talent) and antithesis (less luck): why not both? Even without Julio, the team is simply better than last year’s version. But take that new talent level, and add in Carlos Santana’s 2021-like timing and flair for the dramatic? Now you’ve got something. Take that – that luck/talent bouillabaisse, and bring back a healthy Julio? How does that sound? Now stop playing good teams and face Texas? Who’s hungry?

Dane Dunning continues to confound, as he’s a perfectly effective pitcher despite lackluster stuff, and whose K rate continues to fall. Texas pitching staff looked like a weakness coming into the year, and boy has that been borne out. Dunning’s been one of their better/more consistent starters, especially as Martin Perez declines, but he hasn’t been anywhere close to enough.

Dunning has a deep repertoire of sinker, slider, change, and curve. He throws the change plenty, but he’s still posting gigantic platoon splits this season: lefties, get ready to hit. But he’s also got sizable home/road splits, and has been much better at home; it’s another reminder that Texas isn’t a hitter’s paradise anymore, as hard as that is to get used to.

Marco’s still in the rotation despite struggling as much as Flexen did (if not more). He’s still got a good seasonal line, and he’s facing a lesser opponent so let’s hope the M’s can give him a cushion and let him coast.

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

The Arkansas Travelers completed their second no-hitter of the year. Prelander Berroa, one of the pop up prospects after being acquired from San Francisco, went the first 5 IP with 11 Ks and two walks.

With yesterday’s win, the M’s passed the slumping Blue Jays to nab the #1 wildcard spot, meaning if the season ended today, we wouldn’t it only get playoff baseball, but playoff baseball *in Seattle.* This has been a remarkable few months; the Orioles hot streak hasn’t ended, and trading their closer and offensive cornerstone hasn’t slowed them down. Cleveland is making its move as well, helped by a White Sox team beset by injuries and ineffectiveness.

Game 113, Yankees at Mariners: About Last Night

marc w · August 10, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Robbie Ray vs. Nestor Cortes, 1:10pm

Baseball’s long season has a tendency to de-value individual games. The shape of the season, the relevance of games to the postseason or World Series is something that can only reveal itself over time. The individual games make up the season, but the contribution of any one of them isn’t all that important. This is a blessing and a curse: it’s nice not to worry too much after an awful loss, but the relentless pace means we have to move on after a particularly noteworthy win. Last night’s instant classic was a game we’ll remember for years, a light so bright, it stands out in the fog of dozens and dozens of games, and decades of postseason drought. It was a taut, brilliantly pitched game with great defense and unlikely moments, capped by perhaps the most unlikely of offensive heroes. It’s a reminder that individual games have a power far beyond their contribution to playoff odds.

And the M’s felt it, too. Ryan Divish’s wonderful article on the game has quotes from Scott Servais marveling at the atmosphere and saying it was one of the best games he’s ever seen. While this blog and many fans downplay the impact of morale or momentum in the game, you really get the sense that games like last night’s fuel the team’s belief in themselves and their quest for the playoffs. But now the hard part starts: they have to go back and play the Yankees again hours after walking them off. Last night didn’t feel like just another game to the manager, the players, the fans, and even the beat writers. Still, the impact of the game wanes if they can’t keep winning.

Baltimore’s comeback against the Jays meant that a loss last night would’ve brought the M’s and O’s into a tie for the third wild card position. The walk-off pushed the M’s lead over Baltimore to a game, and they moved a half-game up on Tampa and into the 2nd wild card position. Wild card positions are much more important this year, with the top wild card team hosting the 2nd, while the 3rd wild card team plays a road series against the 3rd-best division winner (whoever wins the AL Central). Getting that top spot would be absolutely massive, as it would ensure Seattle would actually get to host a playoff game. The Jays are only one game ahead of Seattle as we start play today.

1: Frazier, 2B
2: France, 1B
3: Haniger, RF
4: Suarez, 3B
5: Santana, DH
6: Torrens, C
7: Moore, SS
8: Haggerty, LF
9: Kelenic, CF
SP: Ray

The M’s roster crunch was exacerbated by the trade deadline deals and the return of some players from injury. Today, the first series of moves to resolve that crunch came down, with Kyle Lewis and Brennan Bernardino going to Tacoma while Diego Castillo and Dylan Moore have been activated from the IL. Julio Rodriguez is still a few days away, with the plan sounding like he’d be activated on Friday. With Curt Casali still on a rehab assignment, it certainly looks like Luis Torrens could get DFA’d soon, and the M’s would have to make more moves to activate Matthew Boyd. For now, Jarred Kelenic remains, though he figures to make way for Julio soon.

In another move, the M’s have officially moved Chris Flexen to the bullpen. They’re trying to keep the hot George Kirby in the rotation and squeeze as many IP as they can before they need to shut him down, so Flexen’s stay in the pen may be temporary. He was warming up at the end of last night’s game.

It’s legitimately great to see Dylan Moore back. His flexibility can help a roster that had started to look a bit limited with Haniger/Lewis/Santana all needing to DH at least part of the time. Sam Haggerty’s emergence has helped the M’s immensely in Moore’s absence, and it’ll be interesting to see if Haggerty can navigate the incoming roster moves. It’d be tough to send him down at the moment, especially to keep a more limited player like Santana.

Game 111, Yankees at Mariners:

marc w · August 8, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Logan Gilbert vs. Jameson Taillon, 7:10pm

The M’s enter today’s game with Fangraphs’ playoff odds of 83.5%. Better than a 4 in 5 shot. Is that the high water mark during this long playoff drought? Well, no, but it’s pretty remarkable nonetheless. The M’s peaked in 2018 at 88%, but that was with a lot more season left: they hit that mark in early July. The 2014 M’s shockingly managed to crest 60% in *September* of that year, though that was more of a flash in the pan as the graph of their odds shows. This isn’t exactly uncharted territory for our fearless Mariners, but it’s close. And that’s why they need to keep the Yankees ice cold in this series.

It seems odd to say about a club that *still* leads the American League in winning percentage, but the Yankees haven’t looked quite right for a while now. The problem has been pitching, where their 4.63 ERA (their FIP is better, but not good) is one of the worst in the game the past 30 days. As we saw in the Bronx, one of the primary culprits has been the home run ball; they rank 27th in HR rate over the past month.

But guess who’s 26th? Seattle. The M’s FIP is actually just a tiny bit *worse* than the Yankees in the past month, and their HR rate is essentially indistinguishable. The only thing differentiating them is strand rate. The Yankees haven’t been able to end innings with men on base, while the M’s excellent relief crew is helping them work around walks and hits. That sounds – and often IS – volatile, and perhaps not the kind of thing you’d want to hang your hat on in a tough series. But at least a part of it seems to be the result of a considered strategy. The M’s don’t really care what you do with no one on base.

With no one on base, the M’s pitchers have yielded 84 HRs. That’s 3rd most in the game, and the teams around them are firmly in the rebuilding/hide-your-eyes camp. The Nats and Cubs, two of the absolute worst teams in the game, have given up a few more, while Oakland and Cincinnati, *also* two of the absolute worst teams in the game, have yielded a couple fewer. Looking at the list, you’d think this is just a grouping of the worst pitching staffs in the game, and to be fair, Fangraphs/Baseball Prospectus do not think much of Seattle’s hurlers. But while Seattle’s team ERA (this is a super-crude measure, and I half-apologize for using it, but go with me here) is 4th highest with no one on, it’s 4th *lowest* with men on base.

Some of this is the park. The M’s benefit from a low batting average on balls in play, because T-Mobile is small and the M’s infield is generally sure-handed. But some of it is approach. Let’s look at tonight’s starter. With no one on, Logan Gilbert is a strike-throwing, bat-missing pitcher. He’s got a career 10.24 K/9 in those situations, but a 1.34 HR/9 rate. With no one on, he’s going to challenge you in the strike zone, and if you can drive it, good for you. With men on, his K rate drops all the way down to 7.2, but he’s just under 1 HR/9. What’s he doing differently?

This is why Gilbert is such an odd pitcher. With no one on, Gilbert relies *heavily* on his fastball. It’s his best pitch, so if you beat him, you have to beat his four-seam. It’s susceptible to elevated contact, and thus HRs, though. What he’s doing in 2022 is to use his slider to generate contact. This season, his *slider* has generated balls in play more often than his fastball. That’s pretty rare. And whereas last year, his command of it was spotty, leading to a ton of called balls *and* hard-hit balls, this year, he’s getting more fieldable balls in play. It’s pretty normal for pitchers to get lower exit velocities off of their breaking stuff, and Gilbert’s definitely does. But it’s *still* not a great pitch on its own. If he ever figures out how to miss bats the way he does with his fastball, he’ll take the next step in his development. For now though, this is pretty good. His slider was a real problem last year, and the incremental improvements this year have turned him into a real asset in the rotation. His approach now lets him reliably strand more runners than you’d think given his lack of runners-on-base strikeouts.

1: Frazier, 2B
2: France, 1B
3: Haniger, RF
4: Winker, LF
5: Suarez, 3B
6: Santana, DH
7: Crawford, SS
8: Raleigh, C
9: Haggerty, RF
SP: Gilbert

Game 110, Angels at Mariners

marc w · August 7, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Tucker Davidson, 1:10pm

The M’s series win in the Bronx stabilized their playoff odds after the stumble in Houston, and importantly gave them some margin of error as they try to hold off Cleveland/Chicago for the wild card. As we approach 50 games to go, they don’t have to win series against the elite teams they may face, they just have to fare decently well against their remaining schedule. And critically, that remaining schedule is the easiest among wild card combatants. Sweeps would be nice, but they’re not required. Look, one of those teams is going to get hot, so the M’s can’t likely just coast in, but they don’t have to do more than they’ve already done.

All of that is a prelude to saying that the M’s desperately need this game. The Angels, a team coming into this series in utter disarray, with only the flimsiest excuse of a rotation behind Shohei and fresh off of trading away their closer and best non-Ohtani/Trout position player, have won two of three in Seattle. Losing the series just flubs away the momentum they just left New York with, and it puts an even stronger spotlight on an offense that’s scored 2 runs per game thus far against a given-up club. They’ll do so today against perhaps the Angels worst starter, Tucker Davidson. Davidson was the return from Atlanta in the trade that sent Raisel Iglesias to the Braves, and was coming off a very disappointing year. He made four so-so starts for Atlanta last year, and while he was the beneficiary of some luck, he put up solid-if-unremarkable peripherals.

This year, though, he’s lost the strike zone. Coming into today, he’s walked 13 and plunked one against just 10 strikeouts. He throws a four-seam, a slider, and a curve, but he’s just not hitting the zone enough, leading to a whole bunch of taken pitches and walks. Davidson is a lefty, and some combination of arm angle and mechanics seem to make his fastball absurdly easy to spot for right-handed bats. In his career, which is of course not a long one, but he’s logged 37 IP, righties are hitting .400 with a .650 SLG%. To be fair to Davidson, his slider is an equal-opportunity weapon, assuming he can induce a swing on it. Both lefties and righties have fared quite poorly against it, and that’s encouraging, but please read that fastball average/slg% line one more time. The M’s need a series split, and the Angels are doing everything they can to make it happen. Julio would’ve been huge in this game, and getting him back is the most important thing to the M’s chances now. But Ty France is here, and he needs to do some damage.

Against Davidson is Marco Gonzales, who needs to pull out of the tailspin he’s currently mired in. He’s gone 2-2 in his last 4 starts, but has yielded 18 runs in 24 IP for an ERA of 6.75. His FIP is near 6, and he’s yielding an OPS of just barely under 1.000. Again, with Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, and Logan Gilbert, no one needs Marco to be an ace. He’s put up a solid season over all, and he’s a reason why the M’s have playoff odds of *80%* right now. But these are the games where he needs to hold serve against a bad, bad team. He needs to give the M’s a chance to wear out Davidson and get to the Angels enervated bullpen.

The M’s offense has predictably stumbled without Julio. They posted a .313 wOBA, good for a 105 wRC+ per fangraphs in the first half, but that’s fallen to .285 for an 89 wRC+ now. They’re still getting credit for T-Mobile falling back into pitcher’s-haven, but they’re simply not swinging the bats well enough. I know Julio’s out, and they started the 2nd half against Houston. But they need to show they can grind out runs against lesser teams. A cupcake schedule won’t matter if they can’t score.

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

Travis Jankowski’s M’s tenure didn’t last long; he was DFA’d when the M’s activated Mitch Haniger. Kevin Padlo is once again on the move, as the Pirates claimed him off of waivers. The more shocking move was the M’s optioning Abraham Toro to Tacoma to add a bit more pitching depth. Understandable in a way with the day-night doubleheader yesterday, but it’s been a rough year (albeit punctuated with some high-profile hits) for Toro.

Haniger’s return comes at just the right time, and gives the M’s a slightly more balanced look against Davidson. Kyle Lewis gets the day off, which is somewhat odd considering his handedness, but he needs to split time with Haniger right now, and is 0 for his last 12 with 9 Ks.

Bryce Miller starts for Arkansas today, and Bryan Woo, another Cal Poly draft pick (like Taylor Dollard) continues his very strong season for Everett. Woo’s thrown 30 IP with 43 Ks and just 6 walks.

Prelander Berroa made his second start last night for AA Arkansas. He got a no-decision in Midland’s 5-1 win. Walks continue to trouble him; he’s now given up 9 in just 5 1/3 IP, against only two hits allowed. Stockton destroyed Modesto 8-1, and Hillsboro demolished Everett 13-2. Thankfully, Tacoma held serve against Sacramento, winning 4-2. Austin Warner pitched 5 excellent innings to start that one off, and Mason McCoy homered.

Game 105, Mariners at Yankees: Trade Deadline Round-Up

marc w · August 2, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Logan Gilbert vs. Jameson Taillon, 4:05pm

Ooookay, it’s been a day. Juan Soto ends up in San Diego in what may be an unprecedented move. The Reds finish off their down-to-the-studs-remodel by moving Tyler Mahle and Brandon Drury, and our Mariners made a series of minor but potentially helpful moves.

Let’s get to the M’s moves first. One of the big needs has been a lefty reliever. Ryan Borucki’s M’s career started off quite well, but he’s been shakier recently, and he remains a guy worth below replacement level since 2018. Would the M’s get Matt Moore, or pry Joe Mantiply away from Arizona? Well, no, but they do get an intriguing buy-low guy in Mercer Island’s own Matthew Boyd, the former Tigers starter. He’s been out the whole season with a shoulder problem, but just threw a 40-pitch simulated game with the Giants, his just-barely-former team. He may not be ready right away, but he could impact the race in September.

Not done with injured Giants (and I seriously want to know the record number of transactions between two teams during one season), the M’s also picked up rehabbing catcher, Curt Casali. Casali is definitely a glove-first guy, with a career slash of .227/.316/.398, but that’s a solid back-up addition to the club now that it’s become clear that whatever magic was in Luis Torrens’ bat is well and truly gone. Torrens was sort of interesting as a developing DH last year, but a bat-first C with no bat is not rosterable for a playoff team.

The return for these two players are some non-40-man minor prospects. Namely, RP Michael Stryffeler, who posted gaudy K rates for AA Arkansas, and was just called up to Tacoma, and C Andy Thomas, a 2021 draft pick playing for Everett. Like Thomas, Casali has a good eye, and could at least help out drawing walks. He’s also not all that bad against left-handed pitching. Unfortunately, that’s Raleigh’s better side, too. In any event, this is not much to give up, but there are clearly red flags with both new M’s, starting of course with the fact that both are currently hurt.

Just now, the M’s added another local kid, picking up Jake Lamb from the Dodgers in exchange for cash money ducats. Lamb was great for the Diamondbacks in 2016-2017, but fell hard as his BABIP cratered. Interestingly, Lamb’s production fell spectacularly against fastballs during those lean years. From 2018 to 2021, Lamb *slugged* .339, .333, .311, and .329 against fastballs, during some of the best fastball-slugging conditions the game has ever seen. His production on them this year isn’t back to his heyday level, but he’s slugging .429 off of them in something of a pitcher’s park. This is a low-risk move that might enable them to play match-ups late in games. He’s been strictly platooned this year, and so expect he would only ever face right-handed pitchers.

None of these moves are big, but I’ll give them credit: they address important areas of need. I’m not sure they address the *biggest* area of need, namely, that this team really needs to score a lot more runs. But the M’s weren’t in on Juan Soto, and so they decided to improve at the margins, but on three different margins at once. The M’s decided not to try and close the gap between themselves and the Yankees/Astros all at once, and as much as Soto would’ve been great, I kind of understand it. They DID take the opportunity to swing some very low risk moves to fix longstanding problems, and thus they chip away at those gaps. It’s been said a lot today, but given Luis Castillo’s club control, the M’s simply have to go all-in for 2023. This year is great, and they’re in a very real playoff fight right now. That’s cool. It’s also possible they won’t even get to play a playoff game in Seattle, and come up short against HOU/NYY in any event. Anything can happen in a short series of course, but this year is a fun lottery ticket. Next year, they *have* to be a great team. That means they simply cannot miss out on some of the free agent bats. Aaron Judge headlines the class, and he’ll get offers from everyone, but the M’s need to identify and *sign* a few bats. Not “be in on” or “had conversations regarding,” but putting-a-hat-on-at-a-press-conference.

Juan Soto was traded after all. The Padres moved a huge package headlined with MLB-level rookies like MacKenzie Gore and CJ Abrams and also a few of the Padres biggest prospects, namely Robert Hassell III and James Wood. They initially tried to include Eric Hosmer, but Hosmer blocked the deal, so the Pads threw in Luke Voit, while Boston swooped in for Hosmer. Juan Soto is 23 years old, under club control through the 2024 season, and has a career .427 OBP in about 2,500 PAs. He’s been a superstar since he was 19. Given the value the game currently places on elite talent *and* club control, Soto is probably the most valuable trade chip we’ve ever seen. Chris Crawford pondered if this was the biggest trade in baseball history, and of course your mileage may vary depending on how you define “biggest.” I loved the reply from Michael Baumann, who said it was the “biggest non-NBA trade of the 21st century.” I think that’s incontrovertibly true, and also goes to something pretty important. In the NBA’s salary cap era, players have a lot of leverage to demand trades because contract value can’t really differentiate teams – fit, winning chances, coaches, etc. all come to the fore in a way they don’t in baseball. Instead, in baseball, the young, cost-controlled star are what teams covet most. The entire economics of the game elevates them: they can’t leave, you pay a fraction of what they produce and a fraction of what you’d be a free agent. The salary structure essentially makes them absurdly underpaid and thus obscenely valuable. That is to say: the entire structure is set up so deals like this *can’t happen.* A youngster at the end of arb, or like Castillo, a year and a bit? Sure, maybe so. But players this transcendent don’t get traded much, and never so early. It’s possible that analysts saying he’s the reincarnation of Ted Williams are a tad hyperbolic (or not?), but it is not hyperbolic to say that this trade is pretty much sui generis.*

The Yankees aren’t done either, so I figure there are a lot of taxis heading to and from the stadium today. After picking up Frankie Montas, the Yankees just traded one of their remaining starters, Jordan Montgomery, to St. Louis for CF Harrison Bader. This is…perplexing, and it’s possible we’ll need an hour and another move or two to make sense of it. Bader is a good defender whose offense has backed up a bit this season, and he’s also on the IL with an injured foot. Montgomery’s been a solid back-of-the-rotation arm, with an ERA under 4 in 21 starts. He wasn’t scheduled to face the M’s this series. Are they going for Pablo Lopez? Carlos Rodon? We’ll see I guess.

1: Frazier, RF
2: Winker, LF
3: Suarez, 3B
4: Santana, 1B
5: Crawford, SS
6: Lewis, DH
7: Raleigh, C
8: Kelenic, CF
9: Toro, 2B
SP: Gilbert

The M’s weak line-up was exposed in yesterday’s game, as German was wild, but didn’t allow the M’s to take advantage of some base runners. It’s not surprising when you look at some of the slash lines the M’s are putting up. I feel legitimately bad for Jarred Kelenic, thrust back up to the majors in perhaps more pressure than he’s ever had to deal with (that’s debatable, of course) against two great pitching teams. But it is beyond worrying at this point that he doesn’t seem to be turning any corners. His failure to launch both made a potential Juan Soto add more valuable and simultaneously less likely, as a decent version of Kelenic is exactly the kind of young, MLB-level player the Nats were looking for in return. But as I’ve said, his trade value – even a year removed from being a top-10 prospect in baseball – is just not high enough to risk it.

After this series, the M’s host the Angels, who are busy selling off non-Ohtani players. Closer Raisel Iglesias is off to Atlanta, and Brandon Marsh is now a Philly.

* – I don’t think it’s quite the same, but one that would rival it is the one this blog spent years pooh-poohing: the very common idea among fans/writers that the M’s should trade young King Felix before he got expensive. That, of course, never happened. The A-Rod trade is another one mentioned as similar in importance, but it came long after Rodriguez signed that at-the-time-incredible contract with the Rangers, and he was going into his age-28 season. It was an in-his-prime star, and perhaps a bigger star with a longer track record than Soto, but the real comparison would be if the M’s had flipped A-Rod in 1998 or something.

Game 104, Mariners at Yankees: The Latest Most Important Series of the Year

marc w · August 1, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Domingo German, 4:05pm

After stumbling just slightly in Houston, the M’s venture east to face the top team in the American League. This morning, I might have set it up by talking about the new and improved M’s will have Luis Castillo make his debut, but then the Yankees went and got new and improved themselves. This is now the show and tell series.

The Yankees made a big move for a vaunted starting pitcher as well, grabbing Frankie Montas (and reliever Lou Trivino) from the Oakland A’s in exchange for pitching prospect Ken Waldichuk, Luis Medina, and current RP/swingman JP Sears (a former M’s draft pick who went to NY in the ill-fated Nick Rumbelow deal). They also sent along a non-pitcher, 2B Cooper Bowman. Waldichuk is probably the headliner, a strikeout maven who popped up a few years ago after being drafted in the 5th round in 2019. New York’s unbelievable pitching development has allowed them to keep trading their pop-up prospects, knowing that they can always grow more. The same’s happening in Los Angeles, where the Dodgers traded for Mookie Betts, Trea Turner/Max Scherzer and could still be in on…anyone they want, including Juan Soto. Waldichuk is a lefty near-majors starter with a solid repertoire who misses bats, and as big a name as he is, he’s not the Yankees top prospect.

Given the timing and the fact that both teams just picked up starters, it’s natural to compare the prospect outlays. There’s really nothing *good* that can come out of doing so, though. Sure, the Yankees gave up less for a starter with the exact same service time, so did the M’s get fleeced? No. I think Montas is a good starter, and would’ve been fine had the M’s picked him up, even assuming the A’s would deal him in the division. But Castillo remains a better bet: he’s been a full-time starter for longer, didn’t have a weird period of ineffectiveness in the recent past (though many of us had bad 2020s, so I don’t fault Montas too much for it), and Montas has a PED suspension and a longer injury history. I’m not saying he’s a back of the rotation guy; he’s not. But Luis Castillo based on track record and, more importantly, 2022, is just a better pitcher overall. Still, the Yankees can again look to their pitching coaches – this is the franchise that turned Clay Holmes into an elite reliever, and has had success with plenty of mid-tier acquisitions. I don’t want to make them out as miracle workers; they picked up Sonny Gray from the A’s, and that didn’t go well at all, AND Gray turned good again as soon as he left the Bronx. But the Yankees needed an upgrade in the rotation, and they got one.

That need in the rotation? Yeah, that’s today’s starter, Domingo German. He’s sort of fallen apart after a not-as-great-as-it-looks 18-4 season in 2019. German has never posted a great ERA, and then missed lots of time due to a shoulder injury. He’s always had a HR problem, and it isn’t really getting better. With the acquisition of Montas, this is likely his final turn in the rotation. All of which means it’s vital that the M’s start this series right and chase German early. German has a four-seam and sinker around 93, and he pairs them with a Yankees-style sinking change and a hard curve at 81. The secondaries aren’t too bad, but the fastballs have never really bothered opposing hitters. As a big-time fly-ball guy in a small park, he’s really struggled with home runs. Yes, Luis Castillo pitches this series, but he’s facing Gerrit Cole. The Yanks have an improving Jameson Taillon tomorrow. Get the win here and now, M’s.

Mike Petriello had the most interesting tweet of the day today, pointing out how the real playoff race in the AL may not be for a division (esp. since Houston rudely picked up Trey Mancini and Christian Vasquez), but for the first wild card position. “I’m starting to think the most interesting race here isn’t a division but SEA/TOR for ALWC1. Snapping a playoff drought isn’t the same w/ no home games? Robbie Ray might not be allowed into Canada. Tons of Jays fans in W. Canada. If it’s these teams, seeding is a *huge* deal.” Winning the third and final wild card would mean a three game series against the top non-division winner – ALL on the road. And *where* the M’s go could be critical, as Mike notes: if it’s Canada, then the M’s couldn’t use SP Robbie Ray. If it’s Tampa, then they could. All of which to say: do NOT get that final wild card position. Make Toronto or Tampa come *here* instead. If the season ended today, the M’s would go to Toronto while the Twins would host the Rays.

1: Frazier, RF
2: Winker, LF
3: Suarez, 3B
4: Santana, 1B
5: Crawford, SS
6: Lewis, DH
7: Raleigh, C
8: Kelenic, CF
9: Toro, 2B
SP: Marco

The injuries piled up in that Houston series, and thus the M’s face the Yankees with a less-than-ideal line-up. Julio’s on the DL, as is Dylan Moore, necessitating a lot more Abe Toro than is generally recommended. Jarred Kelenic’s back up, but with Ty France hurting a bit, the M’s backed up their infield by signing the recently released Jonathan Villar. Brennan Bernardino was optioned to Tacoma, while the M’s picked up CF/OF back-up Travis Jankowski while Julio heals. Man, did the M’s not need that.

M’s Officially Going For It, Trade for SP Luis Castillo

marc w · July 29, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Two things can be true: the M’s made a huge move that solves multiple problems, making the team much more formidable in the playoffs. And they probably overpaid a bit. That’s ok. After years of demanding more concrete actions to make the club not just better at the margins, but capital B Better, the front office has done just that. They snagged the clear #1 starter on the block. We can and will get into the return, but you have to like that as a starting point.

While Fangraphs likes the M’s offense due to their home park, they don’t score a lot of runs. Again, the park is part of that, but so is their nature as something of a low-average, boom or bust operation especially after Ty France. So why upgrade the rotation?

Three reasons. First, it lets them stick around in games when the offense isn’t scoring. Think of yesterday’s game, when Logan Gilbert kept the M’s in it, leaving with a tie game. They’re going to need a lot of such games to go their way, and as good as the staff’s been since June, they just acquired a pitcher with a better track record than Robbie Ray.

Second, pitchers like Gilbert and George Kirby are getting very close to innings limits. I don’t know where they are exactly, but Kirby’s never pitched 100 IP before, but is getting perilously close to it now. Will we see a situation where one or both of them get shut down for the playoffs, like Stephen Strasburg was back in 2012? Castillo gives the M’s some breathing room with their young starters, and can help pitch the innings that would go either to Kirbert or someone like Tommy Milone.

Finally, in part because of their offense, the M’s need a pitcher that can win against another ace. Robbie Ray is a good pick-up and is not being paid like a Cy Young winner/perennial favorite, but as we’ve seen, I’m not sure he can do that right now. If the M’s need to get past Houston, I’m not sure Ray is the best in-house option. Now, the choice is clear. Castillo’s the #1.

Castillo sits 97 with two distinct and great fastballs: a straight four seam with a bit of rise, and a devilish, swerving sinker – a pitch which has made him one of the top ground ball pitchers in baseball. But 97 with movement is perhaps not enough, so his true out pitch is a very hard change-up that essentially mirrors the sinker’s movement and arm side run, but comes in around 88-90. This is early-period Felix velo paired with peak-Felix game plan and fastball/cambio tunneling.

There’s an old saying that a trade *should* feel like an overpay, a trade *should* hurt if it’s a fair deal. Can confirm. This hurts. The M’s are sending two players in the top 50 in baseball: top prospect Noelvi Marte, who shrugged off a lousy start and who basically no one can get out in July. Marte is 21, and has been a big time prospect for a few years now.

But why stop at just one shortstop? The M’s are sending Modesto’s SS, Edwin Arroyo, too. Drafted last year out of Puerto Rico, Arroyo is one of the biggest pop-up/rising prospects in the game, blowing away his glove-first scouting report by outhitting Marte at the same level/affiliate a year later. There’s probably more power in Madge’s profile, and more speed and defense in Arroyo’s, but Arroyo’s hitting for solid power himself.

The M’s are also sending SP Levi Stoudt, a solid SP the M’s drafted in 2019. Stoudt’s numbers have backed up at AA, but he’s still a solid prospect, even if he’s behind the guys like Emerson Hancock, Bryce Miller and Taylor Dollard. Finally, the M’s sent RP Andrew Moore (not the former SP), another pop-up guy who’s touched 102 and hits triple digits regularly for Modesto. I was flabbergasted that the M’s sent *both* of their top SS prospects, but when I got over that, this last piece hurt surprisingly much. I think Moore, even at low-A, is not going to need a lot of MiLB seasoning.

Is this too much? It feels like a lot, given Castillo becomes a free agent after 2023. But the M’s solidified their playoff chances and position themselves very well for next year. The fact that they didn’t acquire a bat and don’t really have many in the high minors means it’s now essentially mandatory that they get one (or two) in free agency. They cannot miss; the team is getting good, and this trade shows their willing to go for it. So they need that follow up, a big free agent signing, to make all of this worthwhile.

Could the M’s have offered less? I’m sure they tried. But so many teams had interest, giving Cincinnati all the leverage. I’m surprised a system as deep in SS prospects wanted both of the M’s, but Cincy really went for the best players available, and they got them. I’ve seen Jarred Kelenic’s name in trade rumors, and I think this trade shows that, for all the talent he undeniably has, he doesn’t really have *trade* value. That is, what he adds to a deal isn’t worth the chance he bounces back for Seattle; the risk is essentially all on the M’s side.

This is exhilarating, exciting, and yes, it hurts a bit. Go win, M’s. Welcome, Luis Castillo.

Game 101, Mariners at Astros

marc w · July 29, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Robbie Ray vs. Justin Verlander, 5:10pm

A fun pitching match-up tonight between the ageless Justin Verlander, who’ll certainly rack up Cy Young votes this year, and the reining Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray. Ray’s velocity has been quite volatile recently, sitting over 95 just before the break, then dropping to under 93 in his last start. I’m kind of curious to see what it’s like today, particularly given his struggles against Houston. Verlander’s velo dipped noticeably back in 2014, but then he figured out how to get it back above 95, even after losing so much time to TJ surgery in his late-30s. It’s remarkable.

So much M’s stuff today. Fangraphs finished off their trade value series with players 1-10, and to no one’s surprise, Julio Rodriguez crashed the party in 4th position. Jake Mailhot’s got an article also at FG about the development of Penn Murfee and Matt Festa, and their resemblance (pitching-wise) to last year’s out-of-nowhere here, Paul Sewald. Michael Ajeto at BP notes George Kirby’s very recent development of a two-seamer (learned from Robbie Ray) and what looks to be a wholly-new sweeping slider. This last tweak is huge. I’ve noted here many times that Kirby’s breaking ball wasn’t good, and thus his ceiling was perhaps lower than you’d expect for a guy throwing that hard with elite control. Well, raise the roof. It’s early yet, but if that sweeping slider starts to elicit swings and misses, and if he becomes able to reliably put righties away, he’s an entirely different pitcher. Meanwhile, Julio Rodriguez continues to grow throughout the year. He’s cut his K rate dramatically from April all while improving his ISO by hitting far fewer grounders. He was an electric player early on with some slight flaws that he could work on. He’s essentially solved them on the fly.

Verlander always had ace potential, and he won an MVP and Cy Young with Detroit to prove it. But he wasn’t as consistent as you’d want. In 2008 and then 2014, he posted season-long ERAs closer to 5 than 4, and saw his K rate drop. His results bounced back each time, but I wondered what age and injuries would do to a guy who – even in his 20s and even healthy – would see his K rate mysteriously drop. In 2017, the Astros acquired him from Detroit in exchange for three prospects. It’s turned into one of the more lopsided deals you’ll see, and Verlander has achieved another level of performance – one he’s been able to stay at consistently, even after Tommy John surgery. It’s one of the more remarkable late-career surges we’ve seen since Randy Johnson’s departure from Seattle. Hey, at least the M’s did a lot better when they traded the guy.

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

Emerson Hancock had a rough first, and was untouchable after that, but Arkansas fell to Tulsa, 3-2. Dodgers top prospect Bobby Miller got the win; I wonder if they chatted before the game about what it’s like to see your name in Juan Soto trade rumors?

Tacoma best El Paso 4-1, with rehabbing MLBers Wil Myers and Mitch Haniger both homered.

Everett beat Vancouver with 3 runs in the 10th. Noelvi Marte went 2-4.

Modesto best Fresno 11-4. Victor Labrada went 2-3 with a homer and Edwin Arroyo was 2-5 with a double.

Game 99, Rangers at Mariners

marc w · July 27, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Jon Gray, 12:40pm

A matinee game for get-away day today as Marco Gonzales and the M’s go for a sweep of the Rangers. Texas is an interesting team, in that after a truly awful, dispiriting rebuild year last year, they were active in free agency to get a lot better very quickly. Part of this was the realization that their once-vaunted player development group hadn’t been doing well for a long time, and the old pipeline that supplied the big league team in their heyday was no more. Prospects like Willie Calhoun, Leody Taveras, Ronald Guzman, etc., seemed to show flashes, but stumble in the big leagues. They could bump along the bottom of the AL for years, like the Baltimore Orioles, or like the Tigers have done recently, or they could bring in an influx of talent.

The opted to go and buy a credible team. The fact that it hasn’t made them an instant contender is both unsurprising and, annoyingly, a kind of evidence for some that FA spending doesn’t “work” somehow. I think this view misses just how bad the Rangers offense, for one, was in 2021. They had a wRC+ of just 84, a sub-.300 OBP as a group, and they scored the fewest runs in the AL. No, bringing in Marcus Semien and Corey Seager hasn’t made them murderer’s row, but why would anyone think it should? I think a big part of this is the awful start that Semien got off to in a Rangers uniform. He’s dragged his season line to just shy of league average, but he dug himself quite a hole in April. As we’ve seen in this series, even a relatively hot double play combination doesn’t necessarily translate into a lot of runs when the back end of the line-up is so bad, and unfortunately for Rangers fans, their line-up is incredibly top-heavy. Part of this is due to injuries, and part of it remains their struggle to get league-average play from youngsters they’ve developed. At least Taveras is turning things around?

For all of the attention paid to Semien/Seager, the Rangers also brought in two veteran starters, Martin Perez and Jon Gray. Here, the results have been remarkable. Perez went to the All Star game, and while he won’t keep up the pace he set from April-June, he’s been a great, cheap starter who makes a rotation that was the worst in baseball last year into a so-so group. Perez has been their best and most durable starter, but today’s starter, Jon Gray, has been another quality find. He pitched for years in Colorado, with a tough home park and ridiculous inconsistency relegating him to a question mark. Brilliant in 2017, so-so for two years after that, truly awful in 2020, solid in 2021. The righty out of Oklahoma always had solid FB velocity and a slider that could elicit whiffs, but it all added up to something less than the sum of some intriguing parts.

His fastball played pretty well *for Coors Field*. Batters are slugging nearly .500 off of it over the course of his career, but you have to grade on a curve with Rockies pitchers, and its low spin and vertical movement actually turned it into a ground ball pitch – a neat trick in Colorado. His best pitch, though, was his slider. Batters are slugging just over .300 on it over his career, but while he threw it a lot, he – like the rest of the Rockies staffs in this period – threw a lot of four-seamers. A lot of that has changed this season. Gray’s now approaching 40% sliders, and his four-seam usage is just a hair below 50%. The shape of his slider’s quite a bit different as well. He’s gone from throwing a firm/cutter-y slider at around 88 to a very au courant “sweeper” with lots more horizontal movement, aided by a lower velo: 85-86mph. His slider was always effective against lefties as well as righties, but it’s at another level now. Lefties had a bad average against it last year, but managed 4 HRs on sliders. This year, they’re slugging .147 against it with 0 HRs. Gray was nowhere near as cheap as Perez, but his four-year deal now looks like a bargain, and if they ever want to, I’m sure they could get something interesting in trade for him.

Yesterday’s win was another 2021-style weird one. The game had everything: Julio’s first-inning HR, a truly Griffey-style moment, a solid start from George Kirby, and then late-game heroics from Cal Raleigh and Carlos Santana. I don’t know if the M’s will make the playoffs, or how deep they’ll get if they go. But kind of like last year’s team, this one has done enough. They’re a success. They’ve gotten the region to care, they’re playing attractive baseball, and while flawed, you simply can’t turn off a game that Julio is playing in. This is something we’ve struggled with for decades: is it OK that they don’t win if you get to see absolute legends of the game in Seattle shirts? This isn’t a zero-sum game, of course, and sure, we’d all like both – to see Julio lead this team to a championship. But that’s hard, and we’ve been through some, uh, rough times in the past decade. Did Felix single-handedly save some lean years? Yes. Does that kind of get the FO off the hook for some unconscionable decisions on who to surround Felix with? Also, maybe yes? It’s hard. You want accountability and for a team to clearly want to win it all. But baseball is entertainment, and sometimes it’s enough to just go and yell like a madman at whatever Julio’s done now. A part of me doesn’t want that to be enough, but the other part of me is too busy yelling like a madman at whatever Julio’s done, and it more fun to yell than to feel aggrieved all the time.

1: Juliooooo, CF
2: Winker, LF
3: Lewis, DH
4: Santana, 1B
5: Suarez, 3B
6: Crawford, SS
7: Frazier, 2B
8: Torrens, C
9: Haggerty, RF
SP: Gonzales

Tacoma blanked El Paso 2-0 last night thanks to another 4-IP of scoreless ball from Austin Warner (he did the same in his last start, I think). Jarred Kelenic was 2-4 with a 2B.
Tulsa beat Arkansas, 2-1. Levi Stoudt went 6 IP with 5 Ks, 0 BB and 1 R.
Everett beat Vancouver by the same 2-1 score, with Prelander Berroa pitching well. Noelvi Marte went 0-4, shockingly.
Modesto beat Fresno 8-6, as SS Edwin Arroyo tripled not once but twice.
The Complex-League Arizona team is 15-20 coming into today, and some of the 2022 draft picks are starting to show up down in Peoria. They struck out 21 ACL Texas Rangers last night, slowing down the league’s best offense by far.

Game 97, Rangers at Mariners

marc w · July 25, 2022 · Filed Under Mariners

Chris Flexen vs. Glenn Otto, 7:10pm

Another huge home series capping off a remarkable run and another deflating sweep. It doesn’t feel great, but it’s probably not that shocking. The Astros remain the best team in the division, and while the M’s have played them tough this season (and in this series!), they’re better than the M’s. That’s never going to feel great, but 1) the M’s are still on a hot streak and now face an inferior opponent and 2) they don’t need to beat the Astros to get to the postseason.

That kind of tees up the big question about the M’s 2022 season and their rebuild, really. What’s the goal? Is squeaking in with the last wild card enough (“the streak is over!”) or is the goal to win it all? To be a top seed? These aren’t exactly mutually exclusive; the former can set the stage for further development, enabling their full flourishing into an Astros/Yankee style behemoth. But the *way* the M’s have gone about their business suggests that they’re not attempting to jump to World Series favorite very quickly. Part of the frustration so many have felt has been the result of slow-playing free agency as they assess what they’ve got bubbling up through the system. That system has produced some starting pitchers, and it’s now produced a legitimate sport-bestriding colossus in Julio. But for a long while there, it sputtered out flawed players, and for a while there, the M’s trade acquisitions seemed geared more towards wild card squeaking than dominating a division or league.

Again, that’s not necessarily bad, but it means that they’re going to have to promote ending the streak endlessly, or they’re going to need to raise their sights. I hope they can acquire Juan Soto, but if not, they need to be active in free agency. The trade that brought them Winker and Suarez hasn’t quite gone to plan, but it’s worked (Suarez better than expected, Winker worse): now they need to do more of that. It’s tough, because all of that activity really could imperil the slow, measured improvement they’ve shown. In a lot of ways, it’s easier not only to build a wild card contender, but also to sell one to a public starved of any postseason games. It’s harder to actually go for it, and fans will cheer when you lose your job having gone for it and failed. But I sincerely hope they do. Series like this past weekend’s will keep coming. It’s never bad to measure yourself against a team like Houston. But I want the M’s to be the reference that the other teams in the division measure themselves against. I want the M’s to be the divisional bully for a change.

This year, the M’s are in the position they’re in because of their insane hot streak, but also because of how things are shaking out in the AL East. I’d initially thought that the non-Yankee contenders could beat themselves up, and that they’d all end up with around 85-87 wins or so, keeping the bar for the wild card much lower than last year, when two teams won at least 90 and didn’t make it. That could conceivably still come to pass, as Tampa’s now dealing with serious injury woes. But instead, we saw one of the three teams that were leading the WC chase in mid-June essentially drop out. The Boston Red Sox have a run differential of -72…in July. Giving up 28 runs in one game is part of that, but they have simply looked awful – completely unable to pitch at all, cycling through a bunch of fungible relievers. Boston is too good for this to continue, but the gap is now fairly sizable between the Sox and the Rays (4.5 games). If anything, the M’s biggest competitor may come out of the Central, where Cleveland’s a touch over .500 and the White Sox are at .500 and dangerously talented. It’s strange to see the league, or at least the Wild Card, break this kindly for the M’s, where even that rough home sweep doesn’t really dent their chances. At this point, the path is pretty clear: beat the teams you should beat, starting with Texas tonight, and don’t go on any crazy losing streaks. Vital towards *that* is health, which is why I’m not bothered that both Jesse Winker and Julio Rodriguez are out tonight. IL stints really change the outlook, so if they’re sore, give them some off days and don’t let a little thing fester. Get healthy, and then get some wins.

Robbie Ray was bad yesterday, as his four-seam – which has continued to look even better after he also started throwing a sinker – got hit a bit. I’d still say he’s not throwing enough of it, but I can’t really argue with how he’s looked since going to that sinker. Still, the novelty’s wearing off a bit, and it got hit quite hard yesterday. He showed more of the four-seamer in his last start against Texas, back before the break, but I’ll be interested to see if he does anything different in terms of his pitch mix going forward.

I’ve talked a lot about Glenn Otto in this space for some reason, and feel like I’ve kind of hit the maximum I can write about a guy who’s been pretty much replacement level.

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

The All-2B-OF rides again. Get well soon, Jesse and Julio!

Arkansas blanked Texas’ affiliate in Frisco last night, 3-0. This was a big pitching duel between Jack Leiter, one of the biggest pitching prospects around, and last year’s #2 overall draft pick, and Taylor Dollard, kind of an afterthought as a 5th rounder out of Cal Poly in 2020. Ah, but baseball doesn’t care so much about your draft position. Leiter, seen as one of the most MLB-ready pitchers in years coming out of Vanderbilt, is now 2-8 with a 6.24 ERA that’s not reflective of the 48 runs he’s yielded (6 unearned). He’s striking out batters, but walking too many, and has been oddly hittable. Dollard, meanwhile, is now 9-2 with an ERA of 1.54. His stuff is not Leiterian, but it’s proved very confusing to Texas league hitters. It’s been a remarkable season for Dollard, who K’d a lot in the low minors, but was bit by the HR bug in Everett. He’s been excellent in that regard in AA, and is now an actual Guy, and no longer a college-trained pitcher overwhelming kids. He’s a prospect.

Eugene continues to pound Everett pitching, so a Mitch Haniger HR couldn’t save the day for the AquaSox.

Salt Lake topped Tacoma 5-4 in 12 in a remarkable game. With 1 out in the 11th and a Bees runner on 3rd, the SL batter hit a screaming line drive to RF. Marcus Wilson made a diving catch of the liner, then popped up and threw a strike to the plate to double up the stunned runner (it wasn’t even close). One of the better plays you’ll see, considering the situation/context. Unfortunately, even though Tacoma pushed a run across in the 12th, Salt Lake scored two to win it.

San Jose easily beat Modesto 8-2. Prospects Joseph Hernandez (93 K’s in 72 1/3 IP) and Andrew Moore (56 Ks in 31 1/3 IP) were pretty good, but the Giants scored 5 in the middle innings to make it a comfortable win.

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