Game 16, Tigers at Mariners
King Felix vs. Max Scherzer, 7:10pm
Happy Felix Day.
I’m not sure why, but I’ve been thinking about Dustin Ackley a lot today. Part of it may be that he came up in Dave’s fangraphs chat, and then Jeff went a wrote a post about him below. We’re *all* thinking about Dustin Ackley and wondering when things will change, and, increasingly, IF they’ll change. The M’s are set up to be OK against left-handed pitching, with Mike Morse in the middle, Franklin Gutierrez at the top and even Kelly Shoppach and his career .375 wOBA (better than Morse’s career figure) keeping the pressure on pitchers and away from Jesus Montero who could sit back and mash. Against right-handers, the M’s had Morse again (who’s got essentially no splits), Kendrys Morales (who has huge splits), and the kids: Seager, Saunders and Ackley. The M’s team wOBA is below .300 against both lefties and righties, so it’s not that one side or the other is driving the M’s struggles scoring runs. But I would love to have more faith in the offense tonight than I do, and Ackley’s a big part of that.
Max Scherzer is a fastball/slider/change-up pitcher who throws from a low three-quarters arm angle. With plus velocity, a sharp slider and that low angle, he’s crushed right-handers historically. In his career, he’s held righties to a sub-.300 wOBA, and he’s been even better in recent years. In his breakout 2012 campaign, Scherzer struck out 35% of righties, holding them to a .244 OBP. He’ll throw the occasional mistake, so his HR rate is essentially identical, but he strikes out so many and walks so few right-handers, that the M’s absolutely need their lefties to produce. This is where Ackley should shine – just like in the minors, righties find it nearly impossible to strike him out, but his walk rate against them has tumbled as he’s steadfastly refused to punish them for staying in the zone. Kyle Seager’s done what he can, as all of his doubles have come against righties. Hell, even Shoppach’s done well against them in one of those April-split-oddities. This has been a problem, but it hasn’t become a huge one. If Dustin Ackley can’t drive fastballs from righties, we’ll have one.
King Felix attempts to stop his personal losing streak against what’s probably the best line-up in the AL, but the bullpen should be ready after they used Bobby LaFromboise and Yoervis Medina in high-leverage situations last night. Hopefully Carter Capps, Oliver Perez and, if things go well, Tom Wilhelmsen, will be ready. The M’s went and built themselves a specialist bullpen, with three (3) lefty specialists, but they haven’t really been able to deploy it. They had their sidearm-lefty (well, one of them anyway) pitch to Prince Fielder in a tight spot one inning, then left him in to face Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Matt Tuiasosopo and Austin Jackson the next inning. Before his demotion, Lucas Luetge’d faced 16 righties and only 5 lefties.
SP: King Felix!
This has been entirely too pessimistic. Today’s game is a brilliant pitching match-up, and it’s Felix day. Baseball often seem designed to stamp out hope, to tantalize and then hide talent, to snip the ligaments you’d been tracking and wishing on for years. As the near-decade of futility casts shadows over every move, every discussion about this team, I find I *need* Felix more. I need to stop wondering about whose seats are hot and why Ackley can’t stop 4-3ing his way out of a job. I need to stop seeing frustration and confusion and something like resignation on the faces of so many faces, from Montero to Wedge. It’s kind of dumb, in that special way sports can be the exactly-right-kind-of-dumb, that an awesome change-up can temporarily push that away, but I’ll take it. I’ll take my optimism where I can find it, and if only Felix is convinced he’s playing for a championship-caliber team, I’ll at least enjoy watching his championship-caliber pitching. Enjoyment is good.
Seems timely to point out Austin Jackson’s strong start and his unbelievable improvement in K rate. See! It’s technically possible to improve, M’s youngsters! If you were worried it was illegal, morally questionable or at least discouraged, it is none of those things.
James Paxton starts in Tacoma against Fresno – game’s at 7pm.
The Jackson Generals lost a tough one today as noted marc w fave’s poor start continued: he blew the save as Mississippi won 3-2. Cuban lefty Roenis Elias was solid for the Generals.