Game 115, Zombie-Mariners at Mariners
Joe Saunders vs. Kyle Lohse, 7:10pm
Ah, the Brewers. For a team that’s been in the National League since 1998, and (thanks to the M’s incompetence) never really figured in playoff races during the time both teams played in the AL West, the Brewers are easy to mock. It all starts with the Pilots, of course, and Bud Selig’s acquisition of the bankrupt Seattle team, which he quickly moved to Milwaukee.* Then, the late 80s and early 90s saw a series of violent (for baseball) brawls between these two teams, including a day game that is forever imprinted on my memory. On May 28th, 1989, the Mariners were in Milwaukee, and they took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the 3rd behind Bill Swift. The Brewers got a run back behind an error and two singles, and had the bases loaded with no one out. Swift got Gary Sheffield to pop out, then induced a comebacker from Rob Deer. Swift threw home to get Billy Speiers, and Dave Valle had enough time to pivot and get Deer at 1st. After the throw, however, Speiers took out Valle’s legs, injuring the catcher’s knee. Valle couldn’t walk on it, so the M’s trainers worked on Valle as he lie in the dirt of the batter’s box. After 10 minutes or so, Milwaukee pitcher Chris Bosio decided he was tired of waiting and, with his catcher crouching about three feat from Valle, started his warm up tosses. Valle was displeased, miffed even.
The resulting brawl was significant, though it may have been upstaged by the brawl the two clubs had a bit over a year later. Still, the image I’ll never forget as the crowd panned over the chaotic scene was an extremely tall man with an unidentified Brewer clasped in a headlock. Welcome to the Mariners, Randy Johnson. RJ had been acquired in the big Mark Langston deal three days earlier, on the 25th, and wouldn’t make his first appearance for the M’s, er, in a playing capacity, until the 30th. In the days before cable contracts, only a few games were on TV. In my mind, this was RJ’s introduction to Seattle – a tall, gangly man running in from the bullpen to put a chokehold on Terry Francona. It’s possible that the M’s had another game televised between on the 26th and 27th; I have no idea. I just knew I was having some trouble believing that Langston was gone, and the M’s acquired three guys I’d never heard of. For whatever reason, that scene helped me get over not only the trade but Langston’s less-than-pretty exit. Both Langston and the M’s seemed annoyed they couldn’t agree on a deal to stay, so Langston made some disparaging comments about the team on his way out. The M’s were weighing on offer from the Mets that would’ve brought in Sid Fernandez and Rick Aguilera, and I think many in Seattle saw the Expos’ prospect haul as a much worse return. I don’t think Johnson brawling for Valle’s honor and knee tendons changed that equation, but I decided to stop worrying and learn to love the freak in the #51 shirt.
Ok, enough of that. These are the present day Brewers, the team that fancied itself a contender in the NL Central this spring, and whose dreadful 2013 includes compiling the 2nd worst record in the NL behind the not-really-trying Marlins, the suspension of Ryan Braun (just a reminder, his big contract extension kicks in for the *2016* season), and injuries to Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart.** Like the M’s, the Brewers aren’t, in 2013, a high payroll club. But look where their money’s going. The highest paid Brewer in 2013 is today’s starter, Kyle Lohse. the 2nd through 6th spots go to Rickie Weeks (victim of an Ackley-like collapse; -0.2 fWAR), Hart (out for the year with a knee injury, free agent in 2014), Aramis Ramirez (injured, power mysteriously missing, 0.4 fWAR), Braun (suspended, had 9 HRs on the year), Yovani Gallardo (frustrating, bad RA, Brewers apparently tried to move him at the deadline), and John Axford (team’s star closer in 2011, then collapsed in 2012 and hasn’t yet recovered; -0.4 fWAR). There’s a lot of luck in there, and there’s the big suspension caveat of course, but the Brewers’ highest paid guys are giving them less than stellar production. It’s reminiscent of the M’s teams of the Bavasi years, with Carlos Silva, Miguel Batista and, to be fair, Ichiro, earning the big bucks while King Felix was paid like a journeyman 4th OF.
Lohse has actually been pretty good this year, with a so-so fWAR offset by a solid ERA. He’s still the same guy he was most of the time in St. Louis: a sinker/slider/change/curve guy with absolutely no eye-popping stuff who just seems to generate outs. Many people assumed that pitching to Yadier Molina (he of the pitch framing Molina brothers, and incredible defense overall) and working with Dave Duncan combined to make his fWAR and W/L records much better than his true talent, and thus bidding for Lohse’s services this year was surprisingly muted. The Brewers walked away with him for a three-year, $33m contract. Lohse still relies on a located 89mph sinker, a change and curve to lefties and a slider to righties. He’s not afraid to the throw his slider to lefties as well, however; he throws it about as much as his change-up to them. While this strategy was pretty successful in St Louis, it hasn’t worked as well this year. His change has been effective, however, and thus his splits are essentially even overall. As a result, this isn’t a great match-up overall for the M’s, but it’s still good to face a righty. It’s also nice that the Brewers have been one of the worst teams in the league against lefties overall, thanks to the worst HR/9 against them.
1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Morse, RF
6: Ibanez, LF
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Saunders, CF
9: Quintero, C
SP: J. Saunders
The big name prospect starting in the M’s minors today is Edwin Diaz for Pulaski. Jordan Shipers has had a miserable, injury-riddled season for High Desert, but he’s talented and could help his stock with a good final month. He’s starting for High Desert. Hector Noesi has had a miserable season for multiple teams, but he too is talented, and…honestly, I’m not sure what to make of his stock at this point, but he’s starting for Tacoma in wild, wondrous Albuquerque. Lefty Anthony Fernandez gets the ball for AA Jackson.
The Rangers completed their slow-motion acquisition of ex-White Sox OF Alex Rios today, supposedly for IF Leury Garcia.
* Wikipedia tells me Selig had tried to keep the Braves in Milwaukee, and then worked tirelessly to “prove” Milwaukee could support a team, including hosting White Sox games at County Stadium in the 60s. This whole “so hurt by his hometown franchise moving, he devoted himself to moving someone else’s franchise” dynamic has at least some similarities with the Sonics saga of the past five years, a comparison that sounds much more damning than I mean it to.
** Somewhere on the East side, Dave Valle has a spring in his step as a feeling of contentment washes over him. He flashes that wide smile as he realizes his knee hasn’t felt so good in years.