Game 80, Cubs at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Travis Wood, 7:10pm
I looked at the pitching probables and saw “Chi: Wood” and instantly thought of Kerry Wood. He hasn’t pitched for the Cubs in years, and retired and all of that, but still…if you weren’t watching baseball in the late 90s, you missed one of the most incredible debuts in baseball history. Wood’s 20 strikeout game came in his 5th big league start, and it is by some measures the best pitched 9-inning game ever. So, uh, yeah, good thing the M’s are facing Travis Wood.
Wood’s had something of an odd career path so far. He came up with Cincinnati and was an above-average starter for half a year in 2010. That faded to something more like average for another half year in 2011, and then deteriorated to “bad” last year with Chicago. He’s a lefty with a straight, rising 90mph fastball who is about as grounder-averse as they come. Predictably, his results tend to be more volatile – if a bunch of fly balls go over the fence, his ERA and, especially, his FIP suffer. If they stay in the yard, he looks decent (think of Blake Beavan’s quality-start streak in his first half-season). This year, they’ve stayed in the yard, and Wood comes into the game with an ERA under 3 and a solidly above-average FIP.
He throws a very straight 90mph four-seam fastball, a straight, almost rising sinker with enough vertical movement that you figure Wood doesn’t quite get either the concept or the execution of a sinker, a slider, and a flurry of cutters. He throws the occasional change as well, but he throws about 30% cutters to both righties and lefties, along with 50-60% fastballs. So far this year, he’s benefited from a ludicrously low BABIP, but he’s helped himself by cutting back on free passes as well. Unlike with the Pirates hurlers in the last season, there’s really not much of a mechanical or strategic cause to point to for the changes in his results. His pitch mix hasn’t really changed. His delivery’s become more over-the-top, less 3/4, but that’s been a gradual shift since he came up, not a big move in 2013. Thus, the BABIP and HR/FB (both numbers are career bests for Wood) look a lot better as suspects.
Enough about Wood. Today’s going to be remembered by M’s fans for the line-up – both who’s in it and where they’re playing. Brad Miller makes his debut for the M’s in the starting line-up, batting 9th. Dustin Ackley gets his first start since his return from Tacoma too, and he’ll play center-field. I’m not clear on what Ackley’s done in the past day – he may have needed to prove to Wedge that he could handle playing CF in a spacious park, but I thought it was notable that he’ll debut against a lefty, and not the righty Jeanmar Gomez. Oh well. This may be the first start of a long-term double-play combo for the M’s, and hopefully this could be the first game of many for Ackley in the OF.
1: Chavez, RF
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, 1B
5: Ibanez, DH
6: Bay, LF
7: Ackley, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
That’s actually one of the most watchable line-ups the M’s have trotted out in quite a while. Ibanez DH’ing, Franklin, Zunino, Miller all in the line-up, Ackley in CF…this game’s not short on storylines.
The 40-man move to get Miller was announced – Josh Kinney’s been outrighted to Tacoma. As a guy still rehabbing his way back, that’s probably smart; if they’re able to slip someone through waivers, he’d be the one to slip. [Edit: The 40-man move is actually the DFA'ing of 3B Alex Liddi. The power hitting Italian really regressed this year, particularly in contact skills. We'll see if he gets through waivers.]
James Paxton starts tonight in Tacoma. Hultzen started last night, Tai Walker a few days before that (yes, I’ll have a recap of that – just have to wait until MillerMania dies down a bit) and Paxton winning the PCL pitcher of the week recently, the M’s pitching depth is finally rounding into form.
Chance Ruffin and Anthony Fernandez start for Jackson in a double-header, while Thyago Vieira and Tyler Pike start for Everett and Clinton, respectively. Good day in the organization.