Game 129, Mariners at Red Sox
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Allen Webster, 10:35am
Wildcard Odds – Fangraphs.com: 49.7% Baseballprospectus.com: 52.4%
Sorry for the lack of a game thread yesterday – after the incredible five-run 9th inning on Friday, and the seven-run inning yesterday, the M’s are in position to sweep a three-game series in Boston for the first time in franchise history. Perhaps more importantly, they’re in position to go 6-3 on this road trip and push their wild card lead to two games as they head home to face the playing-out-the-string Rangers.
Allen Webster’s a heralded righty who came to Boston in the massive Crawford/Gonzalez/Beckett trade/salary dump a few years ago. He’d been one of the Dodgers top arms (along with Rubby De La Rosa, who came with Webster to the Red Sox system), with solid velocity and a potential plus change-up. He’s never shown even average control/command, but a 94mph fastball, a slider and a change-up meant he could post solid numbers in the minors. He made his big league debut in 2013, but his seven starts were unmitigated disasters. His walk rate soared, and worse, he gave up way too many home runs. Lefties torched him, and as a result, his ERA hovered near 9, and his FIP was over 6. He went back to the minors to start this season, and showed enough to get a return trip to Boston. He posted his lowest walk rate since rookie ball for Pawtucket, and got his HR rate back under control. Perhaps more encouragingly, he’s been decent against lefties thus far – since joining the Red Sox, he hasn’t allowed a HR to a LHB yet (although he’s only faced 62 of them).
That said, the control fixes didn’t make the jump to the big leagues. Webster’s walked 18 and hit another 3 so far in just 26 innings. His K rate’s falling too, as he’s gotten just 13 strikeouts. This is how you can have an RA/9 and a FIP around 5 despite not allowing many HRs and enjoying a .247 BABIP. If you needed any further proof of the irrelevance of the win statistic, Webster’s 3-1 despite it all. How’s he changed since last year, when the M’s knocked him around? Well, he’s throwing noticeably slower. In his call-up in 2013, his four-seamer actually averaged about 95mph, with his sinker at 94. This season, both are just shy of 93. He’s not throwing any more strikes with his fastball; his ball% is actually up this year. He’s still potentially useful, as his change-up really has the makings of an effective pitch once his fastball gets sorted out. He’s getting experience to see if he can help the Sox make a run next year. It’s really fun, and really odd, to be on the other side of games like this after spending so many Augusts getting a look at prospects who might help down the road, or trading for Henry Blanco, or trying to play spoiler. As the M’s media information staff pointed out, the M’s can win their 71st game today. Last year’s win total? 71.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Ackley, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Morales, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Denorfia, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Taylor, SS
I’m not trying to minimize this M’s game at all, but the correct Baseball Play today is to head to Tacoma and watch the Rainiers host the Iowa Cubs. Hey, you can watch/listen to most of the game before heading to Cheney. Why a AAA game? The Iowa Cubs came into the season as the most prospect-laden club in the land, with guys like Javier Baez, Junior Lake and Arismendy Alcantary in the line-up. I worried that most of them wouldn’t still be on the club by the time they rolled into the northwest in late August, and indeed, Baez, Lake, Alcantara and others have made the leap to the big leagues. Ahh, but as it turned out, the best prospect in the system may not have been Baez after all – it’s 3B Kris Bryant, who has laid waste to the upper-minors, with a combined 42 HRs in 130 games. He’s got a .660 SLG% in AAA, which is down a bit from the .700+ figure he put up in the Southern League. He’s hit for average (which a lot of people thought he might struggle with), he’s certainly hit for power, and his defense hasn’t been disastrous. He’s an easy top-5 prospect in all of baseball, and you should go see him in this series. I have to figure he’ll make an appearance in Chicago when the calendar page flips over. But it’s not just Bryant. Cuban OF Jorge Soler’s now with Iowa as well, and he’s shown some impressive power as well. Mike Olt, the one-time top-prospect of the Rangers, is now protecting Bryant in the line-up and is producing at AAA (though he again face-planted in another big-league trial). Finally, the Cubs signed a rather unusual player/coach to keep an eye on all of these prospects: Manny Ramirez. The 42-year old Manny has earned 72 ABs thus far, and seems to enjoy his role as an instructor who can still come in and hit dingers every now and then. As Mike Curto notes, you really need to get to Cheney for this. Today’s game at 5:05, and the next two are both 7:05 starts.