Game 10, Rangers at Mariners
JA Happ vs. Yovani Gallardo, 7:10pm
Great night for a ballgame tonight, and you head to Safeco to see the M’s and Rangers, or go south to Cheney for the Rainiers’ home opener. The M’s gut-wrenching sweep in LA hurt, but the M’s now get 16 straight games against the Rangers, Astros and Twins, the teams projected to rank 15th, 14th and 12th in the AL this year. The M’s Fangraphs projections haven’t taken too much of a hit thanks to that faceplant in Chavez Ravine because the Angels were swept by Kansas City a bit before. The Baseball Prospectus odds haven’t changed much, because the M’s were never favored in them – they saw the Angels as the clear favorite, and still do.
The Rangers acquired Gallardo from the Brewers to solidify the middle of their rotation. They had Yu Darvish and Derek Holland ahead, and would be bringing in some youngsters for the back, so getting a veteran #3 seemed like a great move even for a team that wasn’t ready to compete in 2015. Thanks to the injuries that continue to ravage the club, Gallardo’s now the de facto ace, and that’s asking a lot from the 29 year old. As I mentioned when the M’s faced him this spring, one of the issues facing Gallardo as he moves to the AL is the plethora of left-handed hitting thanks in part to the DH and in part because that’s just how the AL West rolls. The A’s have been platooning for years, the M’s have moved from a bunch of switch-hitters to a more Oakland-style of platooning. Gallardo’s straight-over-the-top delivery minimzed his platoon splits, but he still had some, and in the NL Central, he still got to face more righties than lefties.
When he’s on, his four-seam fastball’s a weapon against all hitters, and he can mix in a slider and a curve as well. Even as his strikeout rate has fallen, he’s maintained a level of effectiveness because he’s been able to get ground balls and limit walks. That’s what’s going to be interesting to see if he can maintain in the new league – his walk numbers are worse against lefties, but he’s balanced it by limiting HRs and getting K’s. If neither of those two things hold, and limiting HRs in Arlington is kind of a challenge, his stats may tumble. It’s early yet, but he’s been hit fairly hard, and by lefties in particular (and as you’d guess, he’s now facing more lefties than righties instead of the other way around). To counteract this, it looks like he may make more use of his change-up. He threw all of 20 of them in 2014, and he’s already at 12 just 9 innings and change into 2015. It’s something he’s been toying with for years, and his success with it will go a long way towards his overall value.
Among the fun things you can do with one week of data is scan through the list of each team’s most valuable player of 2015. The M’s most valuable position player has been Nelson Cruz, of course. The Rangers’ most valuable player has been ex-Mariner Carlos Peguero. The big Dominican didn’t get a shot last year in Kansas City, so he’s moved to the Rangers org, and he’s been forced into duty with injuries to Shin-Soo Choo and opening day LF Ryan Rua. Prince Fielder looks great at the plate, and he’s struck out just twice in 44 plate appearances this year, but he’s not hitting for power at all. But at least he’s hitting *something*. The Rangers come in with a slash line of .210/.290/.335 thanks to slow starts from Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, and Leonys Martin. The splits are even more meaningless given the sample, but they’ve been worse against lefties, which makes sense given that only Fielder and Peguero are hitting, and they’re both southpaws. Fielder’s got sneaky large platoon splits over his career too, so it’s not a bad match up for JA Happ tonight.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Smith, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, SS
Zunino’s now struck out 14 times in 30 at-bats, and has just a single XBH. He’s never going to be a high-contact guy, so he needs to hit for power to (partially) offset all the whiffs. His o-swing has actually improved a bit this year, only to have his IN-zone contact plummet. Right now, pitchers are beating him with fastballs in the zone, and that simply can’t happen. Not sure what needs to change, but the poor kid is totally out of sorts thus far.
The Rainiers kick off their home schedule tonight with a 7:05 start against the El Paso Chihuahuas. Mike Kickham starts for Tacoma opposite James Needy; these two faced off five days ago in a forgettable 7-6 El Paso win. Needy gave up two HRs in that one, to Carlos Rivero and Patrick Kivlehan. The R’s picked up a win in extras yesterday, getting a great performance from Sam Gaviglio, who went the first six, and then 5 scoreless innings from the ‘pen.
AA Jackson continued their rained-out home opener yesterday, then played a 7 inning game after it. They lost the continuation game, but won the nightcap behind HRs from Gabby Guerrero and Jabari Henry. Moises Hernandez capped off a bullpen day to get the win. DJ Peterson’s slow start continues; after notching a single in game 1, he went 0-3 in game 2, dropping his season line to .080/.115/.080. Tyler Pike starts tonight against Mississippi.
Everything about Bakersfield’s game last night was terrible, with the exception of Tyler Marlette’s 3-3 night. They send Carlos Misell to the hill tonight against San Jose in the hopes of giving me something good to say tomorrow.
Clinton won 7-6 yesterday thanks to two Joe DeCarlo HRs. The over-slot 2nd rounder from the 2012 draft has taken a loooong time to get going in pro ball, and he’s moved down the defensive spectrum, but he’s off to a respectable start in the pitcher-friendly MWL. Alex Jackson went 0-6, but his line of .111/.219/.185 is better than Peterson’s. Tonight, Patrick Peterson gets the ball against Kane County.
The most anticipated baseballing event of the day had nothing to do with the M’s or its affiliates. Instead, the eyes of baseball fans were on Wrigley Field for the MLB debut of top prospect Kris Bryant. His brilliant spring and the Cubs decision to send him to the minors for
service time manipulation seasoning/defensive work has been the talk of baseball for a month, perhaps even overshadowing much of the majors’ first week. He debuted in the clean-up spot, just like legendary Mariner prospect Al Chambers, and went 0-4 with 3 Ks. Bryant will always have some Ks, but he looked pretty lost against James Shields’ great change-up.* It was something of a let down for a crowd that was there to heap praise on the rookie. Bryant’s first AB became a sustained standing ovation, as the entire crowd stood and positioned their cell phones to capture Bryant’s first AB, which was over after 3 consecutive whiffs. I know it was a home game, but it struck me how things have changed that an entire crowd would be hanging on Bryant’s arrival. M’s fans didn’t do that with A-Rod, though in hindsight, we really should’ve. We probably WOULD have done it with Griffey, but of course he started off on the road. Mike Trout’s debut came at home (against the M’s), but I don’t remember anything like what Bryant got. Felix debuted on the road in a game that wasn’t even televised, so that definitely wouldn’t compare. Can you think of another MLB debut that’s been so anticipated? And who was the first prospect you were really, really excited to see join the big club?
* You know who never had a problem with James Shields’ change-up? Carlos Peguero, that’s who. The M’s weren’t a lot of fun in 2012-2013, but THAT – Peguero’s mastery of James Shields – always brought a smile to my face.