Game 11, Rangers at Mariners
Felix Hernandez vs. Justin Grimm, 7:10pm
The Astros series offered something of a no-win bargain: if the M’s won the series, or even swept it, eh, who cares? They were playing the Astros. If they lost it, oh my god, you just lost to the ASTROS? Today’s match-up isn’t no-win. Anytime you get to see Felix Hernandez, you’ve won. But if Felix pitches the M’s past Justin Grimm, eh, of course you won *that* game. And if he doesn’t, more and more fans will start to watch from home, or maybe give a Sounders game a go. I don’t envy the M’s here. The Supreme Court promotion tonight is great, and it shows that sometimes, rarely, the right ballplayer actually can put a dent in attendance numbers all by himself.
The context for the game is troubling, as it always is when these two teams face off. The Rangers are, in my opinion, one of the best-run franchises in sports. The M’s are…struggling, as they have been for several years now. Jack Zduriencik and crew clearly faced tremendous obstacles when they began their work in Seattle, and I don’t mean to minimize them in any way, but Bill Bavasi left in 2008, and it’s not impolite to point out that the obstacles the franchise faces now are largely self-imposed.
Everyone – every team in baseball -makes dumb trades. Jaso for Lueke comes to mind. So I’m not going to argue that Jon Daniels is a miracle-worker who out-thinks his rivals. He’s good, but that’s not enough. Where they seem to shine is in player development. They extract value from more players, and more *types* of players, than anyone. Justin Grimm is a decent example. The year he was drafted (in the 5th round in 2010, a few picks after Stephen Pryor), he pitched for the University of Georgia. He went 7-12 over three years with the Bulldogs, and gave up 138 runs in a bit over 180 total innings. He had a live arm, so-so control and zero command. In the Rangers system, he’s been excellent at every stop, coming out of nowhere to land in the top 10 of the Rangers top prospect list at Fangraphs (and the Rangers had a great system). I’m not sure what the Rangers have done with Grimm, and if asked, they probably wouldn’t say. But the Rangers took a talented kid who was quite obviously doing something, or several things, wrong and they fixed it well enough to get to the majors.
They’re not infallible. They’re still working on 2010 1st rounder Kellin Deglan, and Julio Borbon just got DFA’d as he never learned to hit. And every system has its successes – the M’s tweaks to Brad Miller’s swing mechanics appear to have paid off so far, and their work with Taijuan Walker has been excellent. But it seems like every time these series pop up, the Rangers are sloughing off some adversity by pulling up some nobody that they developed. Meanwhile, every time these series pop up, Mariner fans are worrying about their struggling blue-chip franchise-core players. Colby Lewis went from a joke of an acquisition to an extremely important starter to injured, but the Rangers had depth in someone like Alexi Ogando that they could move between the pen and the rotation. Borbon sucked, but they acquired Leonys Martin and developed defensive whiz Craig Gentry.
OK, enough meta-gloom (metancholy?). Justin Grimm is a fastball/curveball righthander with low-mid 90s velocity. He’ll mix in a change-up to lefties, but he’ll use the curve to both lefties/righties, especially once he’s ahead in the count. He had average-ish ground ball rates in the minors, but I’d expect they’d be lower in the big leagues, especially as he hardly ever throws his sinker. The M’s still aren’t a great on-base team, so as usual, they’re going to need a long ball or two this year (man, that’s still weird to type). Grimm hasn’t shown much in the way of exceptional splits, so the M’s aren’t loading up with as many lefties as they could. So of that is by choice (see below), and some of that has to do with Michael Saunders’ shoulder.
In 2010-2011, the idea of Dustin Ackley facing a guy like this would’ve made us excited. Now, while I’m definitely leaning a little closer when Ackley’s up, it’s for slightly different reasons. Tonight, he’s got the day off, against a righty. Gotta be flexible. Gotta get everyone out there.
1: Gutierrez, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, DH
4: Morse, RF
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Montero, C
8: Andino, 2B
9: Ryan, SS
SP: King Felix
Saunders shoulder injury was severe enough that he’ll head to the DL for 15 days. Saunders himself said it wasn’t too bad, and described it as ‘day to day’ but the M’s wanted to bring in some help: they have apparently called up Endy Chavez who was off to a red-hot start in Tacoma (though several guys down there can say the same). They’ll need a 40-man move to do that, but I haven’t heard what it is.
The Tacoma Rainiers home opener is tomorrow night. You should probably go. All the dingers of the big club, with none of the ennui! Tonight though, they finish off their series in Sacramento, with Jeremy Bonderman on the hill, trying to keep himself in the discussion for pitching depth.
Two other M’s affiliates faced one of the most dreaded occurrences in the minors: rain-outs on home opening days. Jackson’s home opener’s off, and Clinton’s was scratched due to a water-logged field. Teams can count on great attendance only a few times a year, and so they do a collective rain dance around opening day, and generally try to get the game in unless the rain’s torrential. If you went to the first game in the redesigned Cheney Stadium, you know the phenomenon. The wind and rain that night were awful, and it had chased 60-70% of the fans by the 6th inning or so, but they were not going to suspend the park’s grand opening. I always wonder how many rain-out teams have on their big mid-summer games – the 4th of July in some parks, the 3rd of July in Tacoma. From what Mike Curto says, calling off one of those games can have huge financial ramifications.