Game 59, White Sox at Mariners
King Felix vs. Jake Peavy, 7:10pm
It’s absolutely perfect ballgame weather, and the M’s send their ace to the hill against an eminently beatable line-up. They’re coming off a game in which Raul Ibanez had the M’s at-bat of the year, which he capped with a homer off a lefty. To make the night even better, the Astros completed a sweep of the Angels, pushing the Halos into a tie with Seattle. Strip context away, and this is a game you look forward to, and move stuff around to try and attend. With all of that context, it starts to feel a bit more like our customary once-every-five-days respite from watching Astros scores a lot more than A’s scores, and of looking at Rainiers box scores more purposefully (“Zunino hit a double!”) than we do M’s box scores (“Endy Chavez had a good game, I guess”). I know this, you know this, but let’s pretend, for one night, that we don’t. I’m going to try and be the casual fan that gets more scorn from the die-hards than he/she deserves. TOday I’m going to ignore the fact that the M’s playoff odds are at 1.3% and watch Felix be Felix for a while.
This is tougher than it looks. I’m not sure how far to take it (can I be a casual fan and still revel in Jesus Sucre’s pitch framing ability?), and even a casual fan might find it odd that Endy Chavez (35), Jason Bay (34) and Raul Ibanez (41) are in the line-up together. Still, heading to Safeco tonight and just watching Felix versus Peavy and forgetting about injuries, depth, stalled prospects and the yawning chasm between the M’s and Rangers sounds awesome. There are times I worry about my own tendency to forgive the M’s just about anything as long as they employ Felix Hernandez, but that sort of navel-gazing, woe-is-M’s stuff is exactly what I’m taking a temporary break from. Go Felix! Let’s see some dingers!
Jake Peavy’s late-career renaissance seems like it’s flown under the radar a bit, though that’s easy to say for someone who doesn’t live in Chicago. After two injury-plagued, inconsistent seasons in 2010-2011, he produced a 4.5fWAR season for the White Sox last year, throwing 219 innings and holding/improving his K% despite his velocity dropping below league average. This year, he’s been just as good if not better: his K% is now over 25%, back where it was in his heyday in San Diego in 2006 or so. His cutter’s still a very good pitch, and he pairs it with two well-located fastballs, a curve and a change-up for lefty hitters. Peavy’s cutter initially helped him battle opposite-handed hitters, but he now uses it as a slider (essentially), and his results look a bit slider-y; he’s running sizable platoon splits this year. Some may quibble and point out that his splits are essentially BABIP-driven, but it’s not just seeing-eye singles – lefties hit many more extra-base hits and hit more line drives against him. The K rate is just the same (better even), but he’ll hang the occasional cutter, and good hitters need to punish his mistakes. As it happens, the M’s actually have a good lefty hitter or two in the line-up tonight.
1: Chavez, RF
2: Bay, LF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Ibanez, DH
6: Franklin, 2B
7: Saunders, CF
8: Sucre, C
9: Ryan, SS
SP: El Rey
Jesus Sucre is the M’s starting catcher, and his hitting spray chart looks almost identical to Munenori Kawasaki’s from last year. The guy who struggles to hit a pitched baseball over 180 feet or so is the de facto starter, and I can’t complain. Kelly Shoppach’s a great fit on this team, and actually gives the team something of an interesting bench bat against lefties, but the team loves Jesus Sucre and if he can help get this team’s runs allowed under control, they can play him all they want.
A casual fan may have missed the news that Franklin Gutierrez’s leg is still giving him problems, and that he’s not able to return despite his rehab stint ending. The M’s have petitioned MLB to get a second 20-day rehab start for Guti based on a report from team doctor, Edward Khalfayan. This is something of uncharted territory, as the rules are the way they are to both prevent teams from keeping big leaguers in the minors on bogus pretext, or for stashing players in the minors to avoid service time/roster limit rules. But if anyone actually needs more than the allotted time to recover, it’s Gutierrez. I sincerely hope he’s granted a rehab do-over, and that this becomes known as the Gutierrez Rule forever more.
I went to Cheney last night to check up on Brandon Maurer, who made his AAA debut against Sacramento. The raw numbers were very good – 6 2/3 IP, 3H, 1R, 3BB, 7Ks, but he struggled a bit early. He walked the first hitter in the 1st and 2nd, and gave up two warning-track fly balls in the 2nd. His command within the zone was spotty, but he was able to work his way out of bad counts and keep the ball in the park. As the game went on, he got more comfortable, and he cruised through the middle innings before a couple of singles ended his night in the 7th. The RiverCats have some free-swinging right-handers (Grant Green is not looking forward to seeing Maurer again), but he was better against lefties than he was in the majors (not a big shock, but still good to see), and his command seemed to improve from the first inning to the sixth and seventh.
Rainiers’ righty Andrew Carraway’d quietly put himself into contention (kind of) for the rotation spot currently held by Jeremy Bonderman, with a sub-3.00 ERA and a solid run of form in May, but he was hit fairly hard by Sacremento this morning, as the RiverCats beat Tacoma 6-2. Carraway’s not on the 40-man, and Erasmo Ramirez obviously has the inside track on the 5th spot, but stranger things have happened.
Chance Ruffin, whose move to the starting rotation has gone far better than I would’ve thought (and I have to tip my cap to Mike Curto who predicted he’d do well in the new role), starts tonight for Jackson against Tennessee.