Game 18, Mariners at Rangers
Joe Saunders vs. Yu Darvish, 5:05pm
Yesterday’s game, like the proverbial half-filled glass, confirmed the previously-held suspicions of pessimists and optimists alike. I woke yesterday morning pretty firmly in the former camp, but there’s something about beating Justin Verlander that leads you to re-evaluate and, at the least, keep your options open. The M’s are midway through one of the toughest stretches in the season’s schedule, and they’re still standing. I went on a twitter rant yesterday about how the team is so ill-prepared to face quality right-handed pitching, but they’re actually doing better against righties than lefties (though that’s not saying much at all). They’re winning despite their offense, but the flip side is that their pitching has kept them in a lot more games than I would have thought. The M’s were absolutely throttled by Detroit pitching, but they fought off what seemed like an inevitable sweep. To the optimists, the team has gotten great performances when they’ve needed them most, and they’ve shown they won’t wilt under pressure. To the pessimists, the rotation’s peripherals still aren’t great, and the less said about the line-up’s production, the better.
The M’s now head to Texas and what we still expect is a very different run environment*. It’s too early for batted ball rates to mean much, but the M’s have been about as fly-ball heavy as they were a year ago. I’m surprised by that, but again, it may just be a sample-size glitch.** Joe Saunders’ career numbers are every bit as bad in Texas as they were good in Seattle, and both splits contain less actual, relevant information than many suspect. That said, Saunders needs to keep the ball down and avoid mistakes to Beltre and Kinsler. The bullpen’s still presumably gassed a bit after the marathon game the other night and after Pryor’s injury. With Wilhelmsen pitching three innings in the past two days, it’s not likely he’ll be available. That means Hector Noesi may make his return to the majors in Arlington, and they may not be able to wait until garbage time. Yoervis Medina may pitch some extremely high-leverage innings as well. C’mon bats, let’s score 21 runs again.
Yu Darvish has pitched against the M’s five times, and he’s given up 21 runs and 17 walks in just 29 innings. The big problem has been the first inning – he’s given up 12 runs in the first frame against Seattle. The bad, of course, is that he’s been pretty stingy after that. Given his arsenal of pitches and a fairly normal arm slot, it probably comes as no surprise that his platoon splits are fairly normal. I’d worry more about the match-up if the M’s hadn’t just beaten the guy less than a week before they’d beaten Justin Verlander, but the M’s still look weaker against really tough righties (and Darvish is one of them, his ‘career ERA’ against Seattle notwithstanding). Robert Andino and a huge pinch hit helped the M’s squeak past Verlander, and the M’s took advantage of Darvish’s wildness back on the 12th. There’s still time for Dustin Ackley to show that the proximate cause of his early season struggles was that pre-swing timing mechanism; having a high-OBP hitter in the line-up against righties would be huge if the M’s are going to maximize the impact of adding Morse/Morales. That’s exactly what Ackley was drafted for.
Franklin Gutierrez is still out with his groin issue, but in this particular case, that’s probably OK. Not that Endy Chavez is a great hitter, but a not-at-full-strength Guti against a righty just seems like a bad idea. This team needs Michael Saunders healthy, and they need him soon. Speaking of OF groin problems, Julio Morban is practicing and doing some running with AA Jackson, but isn’t in the line-up quite yet. Chris Harris estimates he’ll see the field again this weekend.
1: Chavez, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, 1B
4: Morse, RF
5: Smoak, DH
6: Ibanez, LF
7: Shoppach, C
8: Ackley, 2B
9: Andino, SS
SP: Joe Saunders
* Fun fact: The M’s gave up 28 runs to the Astros in four games, but held Texas and Detroit to 15 in a combined seven games.
** The big difference from last year is Hisashi Iwakuma, who had the best GB% on the staff in 2012, but has been a fly-baller so far in 2013.