Game 21, Mariners at Astros
King Felix vs. Brad Peacock, 5:10pm
The M’s have dropped three straight, and seven of their last ten ballgames. They’re 1-9 in Felix Hernandez’s last 10 starts. They’re exactly where most thought they’d be, in fourth place in the division, and looking like an also-ran. Larry Stone’s post states what we all feel/intuit: this front office is in trouble if things don’t change, and this series is about as critical as a series of cellar-dwelling teams, in April, can be. There have been rational calls in recent days to avoid going overboard. Everyone slumps, and it’s not like the M’s are 3-17 or something like that. A fanbase can deal with a rebuild, and Zduriencik and company had so much goodwill to start off with first because they were able to articulate a plan and second because he wasn’t Bill Bavasi. It’s not that the M’s haven’t yet caught up with the Rangers (seriously, where’s the ‘Moneyball’ book about that club?), it’s that they don’t appear to be moving forward at all.
So far this year, the M’s have used Jason Bay as a pinch runner, and Endy Chavez and Brendan Ryan as pinch hitters. Raul Ibanez has the third-most defensive innings, and nothing, not even becoming the worst hitting 1B in MLB history with at least 1,500 plate appearances, can move Justin Smoak from 1B. Jesus Montero’s lost his starting job, Dustin Ackley appears lost, and Michael Saunders remains hurt. The M’s come into a make-or-break series suffering from a noxious combination of offensive malaise and injuries, and it’s not clear what they can do about it. The M’s have appeared to place a great degree of emphasis on confidence, and about making commitments to players to remove doubt and angst about playing time. They did it with Chone Figgins in 2012, and they did it this spring with Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero. I wonder what the confidence levels are like in the GM’s office right now.
Like Matthew, I was initially just floored by the decision to use Brendan Ryan as a pinch hitter in the 9th the other day. The more I looked at it though, I was floored by how, well, not rational, but *understandable* it was. Dustin Ackley’s 0-12 against lefties this year, bringing his career wOBA against LHPs to .287. Ryan’s is .296. If you want to discount Ryan’s for his recent history, I’m with you, but you may need to do the same with Ackley’s. The pinch-hitting penalty means you’d have to be really, really down on Ackley’s approach versus lefties right now, and, well, that’s not exactly pants-on-head crazy. Some of Eric Wedge’s managerial decisions this season (particularly in Felix’s last start) have been head-scratchers at best, but this one had more to do with weakness in the M’s young core than in the M’s grizzled manager. With Franklin Gutierrez both hurt and cooling off against RHPs (after a fast start), the M’s are settling into a team that’s exceedingly easy to pitch to. I’m hopeful that things will improve as Saunders returns and Morse heals, of course, but the Astros are in the odd position of being *in* a series; they’re not favorites, especially given the match-ups, but they’re not prohibitive underdogs.
Brad Peacock faced the M’s at Safeco and cruised to a relatively easy win, though he did give up three runs in five innings. The righty uses a Justin Grimm-like mix of a 91-93mph fastball and curve, though he’ll mix in a few more change-ups than Grimm. Of course, Grimm looked excellent against this team, so that’s not exactly damning with faint praise (or damning with so-so comps). Shockingly, Peacock did *not* set a career high in K’s when last he faced the M’s, though he did manage to go five and qualify for the win. As you may have noticed in the three-game set at Safeco, the Astros are attempting a soft ‘piggy-back’ rotation strategy, where their starters pitch relatively few innings and then turn it over to the bullpen. The Astros’ starters have averaged about 4.5IP per game this year, and that’s not *solely* because they’ve been getting pummeled. Erik Bedard pitched in long relieft on opening day, then yielding after four shutout innings in Seattle on 4/9.
Peacock’s fastball is arrow-straight, with a bit of rise to it. It’s enabled him to get a decent amount of K’s, and he’s all but eliminated platoon splits, but he’s an extreme fly-baller who pitches in Houston. I mentioned the last time he pitched against the M’s that they needed to get a long-ball or two against him. As it happened, they did – both Shoppach and Guti hit solo shots. But it didn’t matter, as the M’s were already essentially out of the game. Today would be a good time for Kendrys Morales to get it going, but so would yesterday and the day before so……
1: Gutierrez, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Morales, DH
4: Morse, RF
5: Smoak, 1B
6: Ackley, 2B
7: Montero, C
8: Chavez, LF
9: Ryan, SS
SP: King Felix
Wow, Smoak-Ackley-Montero in the middle of the order. Bet you thought you’d relish seeing that in the line-up a year or so ago.
Today’s dog-bites-man news: Franklin Gutierrez is mystified by his latest injury, and says it’s nothing he’s had before. I mentioned it before the season, but at some point, Gutierrez’s non-recurring injuries become *worse* than one chronic problem. A chronic back/ankle/hamstring problem is severe, and it’s the kind of thing that get a player tagged with the ‘injury prone’ label, but they’re manageable. Gutierrez has a different, serious, out-of-nowhere problem every year, and at this point it looks like evidence of a systemic as opposed to localized/contained problem. The M’s need his bat. You’re awesome, 2013.
Important start for James Paxton down in Salt Lake tonight, as he tries to maintain the plus stuff he showed last time, while limiting walks (he walked four in six innings in his last start). Paxton’s put a sub-par spring behind him, and flashed excellent stuff in Tacoma; with the walks and some big innings, he’s still dealing with the perception that his home is in the bullpen, but the M’s may give him a shot in the rotation this season. Hultzen’s first in line (depending on Erasmo Ramirez’s health, I suppose), but Paxton could get a chance as well. Gametime’s 5:35.