Game 52, Angels at Mariners

marc w · May 28, 2014 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

King Felix vs. CJ Wilson, 7:10pm

Ah, April 1st, 2014. The M’s were riding high off of Felix’s opening day masterpiece, and they faced CJ Wilson in game 2 of the season – a familiar divisional rival who’d been extremely tough on them in 2013. That success, of course, came against the OLD Mariners. You know – the hitless wonders who paraded a series of failing DHs, Oylerian glove-first, declining shortstops and prospects that failed to develop. These were the NEW Mariners – with dynamic lead-off man Abe Almonte, with elite SS Brad Miller, and with enviable pitching depth.

On that day, the M’s battered Wilson for six runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings. Brad Miller took Wilson, a lefty, deep, and then he hit another one out off of righty Michael Kohn. Almonte doubled to set the table for Cano and Smoak, and Dustin Ackley hadn’t looked this good since 2011. Meanwhile, Erasmo Ramirez was brilliant – giving up only two runs (on a mistake pitch that Raul hit out) over seven innings and striking out NINE without a walk. The M’s were firing on all cylinders while the Angels still appeared to have holes. Pujols wasn’t hitting. WIlson’s dominance of lefties seemed to be faltering, and the Halos bullpen was *clearly* crappy. We’d said at the start of the year that the M’s needed to hang around .500 until Iwakuma and Walker got healthy, and then their offense could carry them to contention. At least on April 1st, that looked like a foregone conclusion – they could take charge of the division BEFORE Walker threw a pitch.

Last night, I had a twitter conversation with Colin from Lookout Landing about the year so far. The M’s ARE hanging around .500, and have been all year, despite missing Iwakuma for a month and Walker entirely. So why don’t we feel good about the team? What is it about a loss like last night’s, or the losses to Price and Odorizzi in the Tampa series, that feels so deflating? If the M’s had the exact same record, but LOOKED like the team that played on April 1st, would we feel the same way?

I think the answer’s no, and it’s not just because bloggers are hypercritical, soul-sucking, joy-denying losers. The promise of the season rested on two assumptions. First, that the division was incredibly tight, with no great teams, and only one terrible outlier. Second, that the M’s offense was going to be significantly better, and that the second wave of prospects could cover both pitching injuries and the holes left by failures/stagnation of the first wave of prospects. Tons of parity and growth from future starts like Miller, plus contributions from solid players like Kyle Seager and Erasmo, meant that the M’s could hang around and peak during the final months. Neither assumption appears correct at this point. The Oakland A’s are good. Again. This is the third straight year they’ve looked so-so (or worse) on paper, but the third straight year they’re actually good on the field. Pujols’ health, Garrett Richards emergence and CJ Wilson’s refining of his junkball arsenal have helped the Angels take a step forward as well. They’re now forecast for 88 wins – 8 more than the M’s. Meanwhile, the M’s rank last in the AL in OBP, and second-to-last in wRC+. It’s all so familiar.

The problem clearly isn’t their record, which is fine. It’s not that there’s been nothing to cheer about; Roenis Elias is a great story, and if he’s not been as untouchable as he was in Yankee Stadium, he’s still done far more than I’d have ever believed. Chris Young’s been solid. The back of the rotation has simply not been the problem we all thought it was, and thus, the M’s pitching’s been solid. The problem that it still seems like the aging curve for position players just doesn’t work in Seattle. Dustin Ackley was great when he came up, then struggled. Jesus Montero was great for the Yankees, then OK, but encouraging in Seattle, and then simply atrocious. On April 1st, I would’ve picked Brad Miller as an all-star, and a candidate for a big extension in the off-season. To his credit, Ackley’s actually improved, but that says more about how bad he was in 2013 than anything. A left-fielder with a just-below-league average bat is a platoon player, and that’s what Ackley’s become. Smoak’s Smoak. Nick Franklin has plenty of promise, but after his first month in the big leagues, he was hitting .302/.368/.500. I haven’t looked, but I think his line since then is a bit worse.

These are, theoretically, independent events. Montero has no bearing on Zunino, and Ackley’s arc isn’t predictive of Franklin’s. But a team with such a poor track record of player development needed to show that it had figured something out, whether that “something” was internal processes/coaching, or player selection. The M’s have shown a freakish ability to develop minor league infielders. I have no earthly idea why that doesn’t translate into MLB production. Not superstar production, just production. The M’s are right around .500 – basically right where I hoped they’d be. But their problems seem more systemic than they did in March, and that’s a problem.

They could erase a lot of these doubts with a big winning streak, of course. So let’s do that, M’s. I miss April 1st because that first week was one of the very few since I’ve been doing this that I didn’t feel dispassionate and clinical. I felt like a fan. I’m still a fan, and I always will be, but I recognize I’m a very different kind of fan. I don’t mind that, and of course there’s no right or wrong way to BE a fan, but April 1st felt pretty good. Hopefully someday soon we can feel like that again, whatever the M’s record is.

1: Jones, CF
2: Romero, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Buck, “DH”
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Franklin, SS

The M’s have injury problems, and a manager has to choose from among the players available, but John Buck is a questionable DH pick. I get it – the other options are Bloomquist and Cole Gillespie (CJ Wilson has large platoon splits over his career, so you really want a righty at DH). But if you’re not going to use Gillespie, go get someone you’re OK playing. My guess is that this has to do with Buck’s “career success” against Wilson – he’s 3 for 5 against him, with a double and a homer (which came in 2007 and 2008, respectively). I know, I know: this team had Brendan Ryan at DH last year. Twice. Endy Chavez DH’d three times. There’s a precedent for necessity to invent some of the worst line-ups imaginable. I just wish we were past this point a bit. In my mind, I’ll just transpose Buck and Zunino’s positions.

Ok, so that preview was a bit glum. You want good news? Taijuan Walker makes his 2014 debut today for Tacoma. Go watch it at Cheney tonight. He’ll throw around 75 pitches or so, and then Erasmo Ramirez may get some work in (April 1st feels like yeaaarrrrs ago).

Victor Sanchez starts for Jackson; the Nimitz-class righty’s struggled following his DL trip. Here’s hoping he snaps out of it against Mobile. Tyler Pike blah blah blah K:BB ratio, blah blah disappointing. I don’t want to pick on either of these two, both of whom came into the year far, far, far more highly regarded than Roenis Elias. I just want to see some signs of improvement.


21 Responses to “Game 52, Angels at Mariners”

  1. JasonJ on May 28th, 2014 5:49 pm

    Great post and it completely sums up how I feel about this team.

    To me, the most deflating part about this year is how badly Miller has fallen flat on his face. I really felt like he was going to be the player that made us forget about the failures of Ackley, Smoak, and Montero but alas he’s making those guys look good.

  2. _Hutch_ on May 28th, 2014 6:09 pm

    Sweet Jesus sign Morales. DHing your backup catcher?

  3. Westside guy on May 28th, 2014 6:19 pm

    One thing that’s disappointing to me is the way this team is managed, both in the front office and in the dugout. We expected this would be a mediocre team, and it has been – but, because of the way the AL has shaken out so far, they’ve actually somehow lucked into being quasi in the running. For a team like this one, every win is extremely important… but various decisions seem to be made, over and over, that to my mind probably have likely cost this mediocre team a couple wins already. If they manage to keep muddling through, and no other team heats up, come September those extra losses may loom large.

  4. bookbook on May 28th, 2014 6:27 pm

    According to Fangraphs, the M’s have also been the luckiest team in baseball in terms of sequencing of their hits leading to extra runs (about 26 runs better on the differential than “neutral”). If you adjust for that, it’s about 3 wins, leaving the team just about as good as it was last year. Especially given the Cano signing, it’s hard to see progress being made here… (And now we don’t have shiny prospects in the minors to distract us, much.)

  5. MrZDevotee on May 28th, 2014 7:21 pm

    Interesting to note that the M’s have an above .500 record against the AL West and we’ve also played the most games in the League against the AL West… We actually have the most wins of any team against the West… Meanwhile… Of all teams OUTSIDE our division, only 3 have winning records against the AL West (four actually, but Baltimore is only 2-1, so don’t really count). **might be one or two more now, I noticed this over the weekend**

    I think the fumes of the Houston/Florida series earlier this season taint a lot of the early season, too.

    This year’s team reminds me a bit of the year where Ichiro started on the DL, and we were quietly okay as a team. We’re not a great team, or even above average, so it’s not all that exciting. But there are plenty of likable things about this team… Cano, Jones, Elias, Chris Young (for me anyways, I was expecting awful), the fact we’re still missing 2/5ths of our starting rotation… Our run differential is in the positive… 5th best in AL>

    Being league average at things isn’t fabulous, but it damn sure is an improvement in a lot of different ways.

  6. MrZDevotee on May 28th, 2014 7:31 pm

    A’s & Mariners are also the only 2 teams left in the AL that haven’t given up 200 runs yet.

    bookbook– I think our defense (especially in the OF) is markedly improved over last year. Again, perhaps just league average, or a little worse than that, but that’s still bit time improvement. Our current OF can get to balls Raul, Morse and/or Bay couldn’t have stopped if they all 3 threw their gloves at it at the same time.

  7. absolutsyd on May 28th, 2014 7:36 pm

    I think I might have been able to beat that throw…

  8. MrZDevotee on May 28th, 2014 7:50 pm

    Felix is firing it tonight… 9 up, 9 down… 4 K’s. A nine pitch 3rd inning. Hold on to your seats, kids.

  9. MrZDevotee on May 28th, 2014 7:53 pm

    James Jones is fun… He just looks like he’s enjoying the HELL out of playing major league baseball. Good for him. One of those kids that just has “something” when the lights are on.

  10. bookbook on May 28th, 2014 8:09 pm

    I agree that our outfield defense is much improved. Our infield defense is probably a bit worse.

    We are seemingly a SS, 1b, DH, and arguably a right handed #4 hitter away from fielding a full line up we can be proud of.

  11. californiamariner on May 28th, 2014 8:18 pm

    John Buck as the DH inspires me to comment.

  12. kimalanus on May 28th, 2014 8:22 pm

    And I’m guessing that your comment would be, uhmmm, unprintable?

  13. absolutsyd on May 28th, 2014 8:26 pm

    WTF Franklin? Shouldn’t that be an error?

  14. californiamariner on May 28th, 2014 9:15 pm

    Really good game from Felix, wonder if he’s done after 8. Game threads have been a little dead lately but I really appreciate the write ups still Marc!

  15. Longgeorge1 on May 28th, 2014 9:25 pm

    If Felix was struggling I would understand Rodney but this will be just stroking the ego of Rodney if they pull Felix. Zunino works well with Felix so I think DHing Zuni instead of Buck would be a bigger mistake. I really don’t see any bats on the bench so WTF

  16. Section329 on May 28th, 2014 9:37 pm

    Oh no, Rodney .

  17. Don Money on May 28th, 2014 9:42 pm

    This team is much improved over the previous couple of years teams. Zunino is a pleasure to watch and will only be getting better. The bullpen is solid when not overworked. Aside from Maurer, I’d take our rotation over 90% of the leagues. James Jones is the next in our line of superb defensive center fielders and has Ichi ability to leg out infield hits. He and Elias could be the surprises of the season with big long term impacts. Cano has been a great addition. A few guys like Romero, Miller and Franklin might need to some more work in the minors but I’m patient. Been to a couple of games so far, great time at both! Looking forward to the rest of the season! Happy Felix Day!

  18. Longgeorge1 on May 28th, 2014 9:50 pm

    Walker as expected was less than impressive tonight. He needs more work but if he feels good tomorrow I’ll take it

  19. LongDistance on May 29th, 2014 9:21 am

    Reading this post, I found myself quickly saying: wow, that point’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. And then it happened again, and again, and again. And when it got to the point of saying what we’d like to see is some goofy (my words), streaky (everybody’s words) series lift them out of this eternal loop of .500-ness, it was just spooky.

    I would, of course, so love to see that. BUT … given their incredibly profound statistical mediocrity — so far — that would mean that they are just as capable of a disastrous streaky series, as a good one.

    So, in the end, this near-flatline win-one-lose-one … I can live with it. It isn’t showing a true, strong pulse, but at least it isn’t moribund.

    The only thing I’d like to see at this point, if they are what they seem to be … is that the shape of their win-loss sine wave maintains .500 as the trough, rather than the peak, across the season.

    And then I’d like to see what the Front Office is looking towards, if anything.

  20. gred1104 on May 29th, 2014 11:19 am

    While the Mariners are an improved group over the last few years there are still glaring organizational problems. The majority of our young hitters are unable to hit the ball up the middle and the other way. Using Ackley and Montero as examples, both were great at using the entire field prior to becoming a Mariner. Both had slight success early on and as they spent more time in our system they regressed.

    Oakland is great at getting players to acknowledge their skill sets and work within their abilities. They stay on the ball when behind in counts and take chances when ahead. To see why they are successful and we struggle just watch the front shoulder of our hitters and their hitters. We pull off the ball, while the stay on it, intent on working middle and away. For some reason the inability or unwillingness to go the other way increases at home vs on the road.

  21. eponymous coward on May 29th, 2014 1:31 pm

    Chris Young’s been solid.

    He’s been solid so far, but a guy who’s walking and striking out about 4 guys per 9 IP and has a .192 BABIP against him… well, the weather is warming up soon. I wouldn’t count on him being a rotation anchor.

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