Game 89, Red Sox at Mariners
King Felix vs. Jon Lester, 7:10pm
Local boy Jon Lester faces the M’s ace in the best match-up the series tonight. Felix has been Felixing now for quite some time, staving off velocity loss, the occasional injury scare and wear-and-tear-related decline to post four consecutive excellent seasons, with a fifth half completed. These five years, 2009-2013, come after several more where he was merely ‘very good,’ of course. Jon Lester’s tenure as one of the best pitchers in the American League also began in 2013, but it’s well and truly over now, after a large step backwards in 2012 and stagnation in 2013. His fastball, which averaged 95mph in 2009, is now in the 93mph range, and the cutter he’s used as his outpitch is less effective than ever. Lester also uses a change and curve, and while the curve wasn’t bad early in his career, it’s clearly been his third- or fourth-pitch since 2009 or so.
None of this makes Lester a terrible pitcher. He’s still capable of getting strikeouts and grounders, and wasn’t as bad as his ERA made him look in 2012. Unlike many pitchers, Lester’s peak lasted more than a season or two, and he’s still adding value in the years following it. But barring a miraculous turnaround, it’s starting to look like Lester’s finished as an elite starter. It’s the sort of thing that makes you reflect once more about how strange and wonderful it is when a pitcher’s able to sustain greatness for a long period of time. Regression, age, attrition and even advanced scouting all pull pitchers back towards their less transcendent peers, and mostly succeed. A handful refuse, and through a combination of adaptation and talent, continue their run.
1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Ibanez, LF
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Bay, RF
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Saunders, CF
SP: Felix Hernandez
Dustin Ackley gets the day off against a tough lefty…so that Mike Saunders can face him. Hmmm.
The M’s double play combination looks great, but of course it was about a month ago that M’s fans still held out hope that Dustin Ackley would reclaim his spot at 2nd and spend a decade getting on base and playing surprisingly good defense. In “it’s not just the Mariners” news, the Athletics DFA’d Adam Rosales and called up Grant Green, the ex-SS/ex-CF who moved to 2B and is hitting well in his second tour of the PCL. There are a lot of story lines in this – from Green finally finding a defensive home to the A’s middle infield depth (remember Hiroyuki Nakajima anyone?) shriveling – but the one I want to highlight is that the A’s finally gave up on their one-time 2B of the future, Jemile Weeks. Weeks debuted in 2011, just like Ackley. In his half-season, he posted a 110 wRC+ and if his walk rate and power were minimal, he looked to have well above-average contact skills. Weeks regressed so badly in 2012 that he was sent to the minors, and began 2013 there. A few weeks ago, both Weeks and Ackley were PCL 2Bs, trying to recapture their hitting stroke, and then watched as other prospects moved past them. And so, just like Ackley, Weeks is now attempting to learn center field.
Tyler Pike, Luiz Gohara and James Paxton highlight a prospect-rich day in the M’s minor leagues.