Game 17, Tigers at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Justin Verlander, 12:40pm
(Note the early start-time today for getaway day)
First of all, thank you Felix. Thank you for that display of mastery, for rising to and far beyond the challenge the Tigers line-up provides. Thanks for breaking the will of Prince Fielder, and in so doing, making Franklin Gutierrez feel less bad about HIS night (or at least making him feel less alone). There’s only so much you can say about a mid-April loss to a good team, and thankfully you can read all you need from Jeff and Dave.* Thanks for appearing to care and for expending so much effort in a game with a result that seemed so inevitable. The M’s were never going to hit Scherzer, for reasons I talked about yesterday. That the M’s nearly won is remarkable and the game is very, very close to his perfecto or maybe some of his better games from 2007 in Felix’s sheer dominance. But ultimately, Felix (and M’s fans) needed help. Ultimately, Felix needed help from people remarkably ill-prepared to give it.
Dave’s article breaks down many of the managing issues, and they were legion, but the injury issues mitigate some of the blame. That Endy Chavez is here doesn’t explain away why he was used the way he was (I mean, what), but the fact that Saunders *wasn’t* available directly led to Franklin Gutierrez facing tough right-handed pitching in high-leverage situations. This is Franklin’s whiff rate by location against right-handed pitchers, compared to *other* right-handed batters. Guti’s career wOBA against righties is almost exactly the same as Brendan Ryan’s career wOBA. The M’s may have successfully purged one “part-time player” who couldn’t be trusted late in games due to his splits, but really needing hits from Gutierrez is roughly equivalent to requiring Endy Chavez to spark a two-out rally against Max Scherzer as a pinch-hitter.
Of course, the final, unavoidable case of a player attempting to do something he’s just not capable of was watching Smoak try to score from 1B on a sharp double to right. The decision to send him was the right one, given how long the game had gone on and how rare scoring opportunities were. But the M’s will win exactly when they do not need Endy Chavez to pinch hit while Jason Bay pinch runs. When Franklin Gutierrez faces a lefty with men on base, and when Justin Smoak is telling an actual runner to slide, not angrily barreling into a catcher who’s already got the ball safely tucked away. At this point, the line-up has known problems and other teams are unsurprisingly exploiting them.
So, today, the M’s face Justin Verlander. All of that stuff I said yesterday doesn’t necessarily apply. Verlander’s arm slot means his splits aren’t as extreme as Scherzer’s. And that’s all I’ve got as far as hopeful signs go.
1: Chavez, CF
2: Bay, RF
3: Morales, DH
4: Morse, LF
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Shoppach, C
7: Ackley, 2B
8: Andino, 3B
9: Ryan, SS
Hector Noesi was scheduled to make his 2013 debut with Tacoma today after impressing with AA Jackson. But that’s on hold now, as he’s been surprisingly recalled to Seattle, with Bobby LaFromboise heading down I-5. Last night’s long game means they need a long man, and hey, he was on the 40-man. Speaking of Jackson, Chance Ruffin continues his surprising run as a starting pitcher.
* The first gif in Dave’s article at Fangraphs may be in my top 5 all-time. *That’s* Felix. An unearthly pitch to a good hitter, and the reaction combines excitement with an air of inevitability. He’s excited, because he did exactly what he wanted to do, and it was about as difficult for him as dropping the resin bag, or putting on a hat.