Game 81, Cubs at Mariners
Aaron Harang vs. Jeff Samardzija, 4:15pm
Odd start time, and odd uniforms today. The M’s and Cubs are wearing uniforms from 1909 – the Cubs sporting the, er, Cubs uniforms of that year and the M’s donning Seattle Turks jerseys. The Turks were in the old Northwest league, then categorized as class B. With the Pacific Coast League pulling back from the northwest, the B-division NWL was pretty advanced, and it wasn’t too rare for players to jump from the NWL to the majors. There were plenty of local teams in the league – Tacoma’s original Tigers played in the league from 1906-1917, Seattle joined in 1907, and over the 12 or so years the league operated, there were teams in Bellingham, Spokane, Victoria, Vancouver, Grays Harbor, Aberdeen, Everett, Butte and Great Falls.
Seattle’s club was known as the Siwashes for its first two years, but they changed it, perhaps realizing that “Siwash” was a racist, derogatory term for Native Americans.* So, in 1909, they became the Turks** (sensitivity isn’t a light switch you just flick on, apparently) and the club won an astounding 109 games to win the league title. Maybe because they wanted to go out on top, and maybe because the Ottoman Empire was both far away and fading, they changed their name again the following year – this time to the Giants. The Northwest League had some pretty good names, if you look past things like ‘Siwashes’ (they probably went with that since Spokane was already in the league as the Indians). The Vancouver club’s name in the inaugural season was the “Horse Doctors.” “Veterinarians” was apparently too hifalutin. Victoria was the “Legislators” which is the sort of name that probably wouldn’t make anyone’s short list these days (though Sacramento had a similar name, the Solons, around this time).
Minor League baseball was in flux around the turn of the century, trying to stay profitable in the sparsely populated far west. There’d been a Pacific Northwest League years before, which then merged with a California league to form the Pacific Coast League. The Seattle Indians were a part of that first season in 1903, but the league contracted in 1906, and Seattle merged with the four-year old Northwest League. Tacoma migrated to the PCL for just one season before essentially re-joining the Northwest League. Portland also moved from the PCL (where they were the Beavers) to the NWL (where they became the Pippins).
OK, enough history. The M’s face the Cubs’ immensely talented right-hander Jeff Samardzija today. The Cubs famously bought Samardzija away from the NFL (he was a great wide receiver at Notre Dame) and then watched in horror as he moved through the minor leagues with Blake Beavan-ish strikeout numbers. He threw a darting 95-98 sinker, a slider and a splitter, but these generated contact, not whiffs. Something clicked for him in 2008, and he started getting K’s – he struck out over a batter an inning in is initial cup of coffee that year. In 2009, his K rate fell again, and paired with his poor control and home run problem, he regressed to a sub-replacement-level pitcher. In 2010, he was actually even worse, with fewer K’s, more BBs and HRs. He’d dumped his sinker, become an extreme fly ball pitcher, and changed his delivery from a whippy three-quarters to more of an over-the-top release. He looked like he was well on his way to becoming a very expensive bust.
In 2011, everything changed. He moved his delivery back closer to where it was when he came up, ditched his sub-par curve that he threw in 2009-10, and his velo played up as a reliever. He had a very good year, so it surprised me when the Cubs moved him back to the rotation in 2012. His fastball is still oddly hittable for a 96mph pitch with plenty of movement, but his splitter is a real wipeout pitch, especially to lefties, and his slider’s very good against righties. But one of the biggest things that helped Samardzija take his big step forward was refinement in his location. Both lefties and righties have punished Samardzija on middle-in pitches, and they still do. Early in his career, his command was terrible, so he mixed a ton of walks with centered pitches (and, I’m guessing, some ill-advised advice to “control the inside corner” and push people off the plate). As his command improved, he was able to pitch to the outside edge much more effectively, and that’s helped him get to his breaking balls – his first strike percentage moved from about 56% from 2008-2011 to 62% these days.
The M’s send Aaron Harang to the hill, with Nick Franklin getting an off-day. You’re looking outside and really considering blowing this one off, aren’t you?
1: Chavez, RF
2: Miller, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Smoak, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, CF
9: Ryan, SS
Franklin’s off-day isn’t just to give him a rest – he’s got a stiff neck, but is still available to pinch hit. Michael Saunders hurt his finger, so he’ll be out for a few days.
* – It’s amazing to look back at something like ‘Siwashes.’ I mean, it’d be inconceivable that you could get away with naming a sports team something like “Redskins” today, right? Wait, what?
** – The Young Turks revolution in 1908, which led to the restoration of Parliament that had been suspended in the 1870s and the re-imposition of the constitution of 1876, may have led to the somewhat strange-seeming decision for Seattle to have a club named the Turks. This situation held until the Young Turks coup of 1913 after the Empire’s lost nearly all of its possessions in the Balkans. I always wondered if that, and then the Empire’s participation in World War I got that line about the Dardanelles included in UW’s fight song “Bow Down to Washington.” Maybe the guy really just needed a rhyme for “excels.”