Game 29, Athletics at Mariners
Taijuan Walker vs. Sonny Gray, 7:10pm
Well. The M’s begin a homestand against a key divisional rival, and tonight’s pitching match-up pits the A’s ace against a promising youngster, and if the M’s take *this* one, then that just opens up the rest of the series, and…. I would love to be excited about this series. This really is a big one, considering that either the M’s or A’s could see their playoff odds absolutely smashed at the end of it. But as everyone knows, we’ve had way too many “huge” or “critical” series in May, when the M’s have one last chance to stay relevant. We’ve had precious few September series that really, really mattered, where you were scanning the pitching probables days ahead and planning exactly how to watch the first few innings of that 4:05 east coast start. Somehow, last year, we had both. We had the 8 game losing streak and irrelevance in late April, and then, miraculously, a run at the wild card that wasn’t over until the last day.
Two consequences of that set of facts: one, I think some M’s fans greatly overestimate the odds of it happening again, and two, another group of fans are reacting to the mismatch between expectations and early results and just giving up. The M’s were bad last April, and were under .500 in May, but the 2014 M’s were never this far down, and, crucially, they never had this many teams to leapfrog. At some point, and reasonable people can argue that we haven’t hit that point yet, it’s more about the number of teams in the way than it’s about the gap to the front of the pack. Could the Astros go 0 for June? I’ve seen recent Astros teams, and I think some of them actually did that – so yes, yes, they could. But that’s not all that needs to happen. The other side of the coin, though, is that it’s too early to say the season has nothing to show us. The odds on the M’s winning the division aren’t great, and they’re dropping by the day, but I’m interested in some/any sign of what the next really good M’s team will look like. We thought we’d assembled it, and a mixture of normal variance and even-more-normal over-rating some players illustrate that we’re not quite there yet. OK, so exactly what needs to change? Does the team look radically different with Brad MIller in CF, or does it look like a team running a streaky-hitting SS in center because they bet the house on an Austin Jackson rebound? It sounds pathetic to hope for a different, fake kind of relevance, but we’re all used to it and it’s still true that the team is better than they’ve played thus far. It may be too late for that to matter, but I’d love them to prove me wrong.
The A’s have had every bit as disappointing a year as the M’s. Even after trading in Josh Donaldson, they seemed like a dangerous team poised at the fringe of the playoff race, and they could easily push their chips in if they found themselves in a good spot in July. Instead, they’re 12-18, percentage points above the M’s. I’m fascinated, because so many of the things that looked like serious weaknesses or risks haven’t actually bitten them. It’s not that Ike Davis and Marcus Semien haven’t hit – they have, and hell, Ike Davis has even *pitched* well. Sonny Gray hasn’t regressed, he’s just as good as ever. Instead, they’ve been undone by sequencing and depth. The back of their rotation was in worse shape than we thought, and thus Kendall Graveman now toils in the PCL. Their overall wRC+ and ERA are perfectly fine, but their pythagorean winning percentage is still bad. They look good every now and again, but they have been utterly annihilated by the Minnesota freaking Twins. Tough team to understand.
Sonny Gray’s their ace, a small right-hander with a 94mph cutter-ish four-seam fastball with essentially no horizontal movement and plenty of rise. He pairs it with a sinker, a curve, a rare change-up and a slider that he’s reworked for 2015. Last year, his slider came in at 87 and had more sink than horizontal break – it moved horizontally about 3.5″ more than his arrow-straight fastball. This year, it’s breaking over 6″ more than his fastball, and it’s dropping more too. It’s still at 87, so it’s not like he’s taking something off – its spin that doing this, not gravity. It was a tough pitch before, but it’s lethal now, especially to righties. Gray’s always had platoon splits, and he’s always been tough on righties, but this situation is tailor-made for the platoon-capable M’s. This really should be an off-day for Austin Jackson, and that’s in fact what we see:
1: Smith, LF
2: Miller, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Ackley, CF
9: Taylor, SS
I get that you can’t just assume an ideal line-up all the time and that Miller isn’t ready to be a big league CF yet. But here’s Miller’s first start since the big announcement that he’s the new Ben Zobrist – your erstwhile shortstop DHs so you can shift your LF, the guy you didn’t like in CF last time, over to center, all of which necessitates your righty-hitting SS starts against Sonny Gray. I’d complain more if I was sure that Jackson’s a better hitter against RHPs than Chris Taylor right now, but I’m not. That’s the larger problem, of course, and one that Miller’s move may eventually assuage. But the M’s HAVE a lefty SS *on their team* *in their line-up* and have him DH, with Ackley playing CF. It’s… it’s very Mariners.
The R’s have good ol’ TBD on the mound tonight against Fresno. Andrew Heaney was no great shakes against Tacoma last night in Salt Lake, but the Bees still killed the R’s 11-4. Ketel Marte and Jesus Montero each hit three singles.
Scott DeCecco starts for Jackson against the Chattanooga Lookouts. Misael Siverio suffered his first really bad outing as the Lookouts beat the Generals 10-4 last night. DJ Peterson did have 2 hits, and Dario Pizzano had 2 as well, pushing his season line to .416/.444/.519 on the young season.
Tyler Pike will look to extend his modest streak of games without serious control lapses tonight against Visalia. Modesto blanked the Blaze 5-0 last night.
Pat Peterson starts for Clinton against Kane County. Gianfranco Wawoe’s hitting streak ended last night unfortunately.