Game 63, Mariners at Astros

marc w · June 14, 2015 at 10:35 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Roenis Elias vs. Lance McCullers, 11:10am

Well that’s more like it, Mariners. The M’s playoff odds got slightly better, but they’re given less than 1/2 the chance of winning the division as either Houston or LA, and that’s a problem. BP’s odds, which seem to rely less on preseason projections somehow (they regress actual wins/losses less, I’d guess) have Texas with twice the odds of winning the division, whereas Fangraphs still sees them as a bad club that’s played out of its mind for a month.

Texas and Houston are two of the stories of baseball this year, as both clubs seemed to be in rebuilds, but are now fighting for playoff spots. Neither team had a lot of established MLB talent on their opening day roster, especially with Yu Darvish missing the year. There’s Adrian Beltre, sure, and then there’s…Dallas Keuchel? Scott Feldman? Elvis Andrus? They had mostly young rosters, and a wave of talent in the minors – if they struggled, they could presumably sell off whatever vets they had and bolster the ranks of cost-controlled prospects. As it’s happened, they haven’t struggled at all, and thus this wave of talent is entering the league playing meaningful games on good teams. Joey Gallo is filling in for Adrian Beltre, and hitting balls like this. Houston recently brought up a decent chunk of their AA-affiliate’s opening day line-up with SS Carlos Corea, today’s starter Lance McCullers, and Vince Velasquez. The Twins were expected to be going nowhere, but they’ve called up OF Byron Buxton as they fight to re-take the lead in the AL Central from KC. Today, the Indians got into the act, bringing up SS Francisco Lindor. As Jeff mentioned earlier, the AL has completely defied the projections – the Twins are above .500, the M’s aren’t – and thus the teams laden with prospects aren’t playing for next year.

Take McCullers, for example. A year ago, he was in high-A Lancaster’s rotation, where he struggled with control and the long-ball. He struck out more than a batter an inning, but walking 5.4/9IP and giving up 18 HRs in 97 innings pushed his ERA to the mid-5s. He had a live arm (see the K’s), but little idea where it was going. Houston moved him up to AA Corpus Christi, and something clicked. In 29 IP, McCullers struck out *43* while giving up just 15 hits, and posting an ERA safely under 1. When injuries hit Houston’s rotation, the Astros called him directly to the big leagues. Despite the huge K%, McCullers control still wasn’t perfect in AA. And as we’ve heard from high-K sluggers like Kris Bryant and Joey Gallo, the big-league strike zone is actually a bit smaller than the one called in the minors. What would the over/under on McCuller’s walk rate in the majors be, considering these facts? So far, McCuller’s walk rate is just 4.9%, half what it was in AA, and about 8 percentage points lower than his Cal League mark. McCullers is still striking everyone out, and he’s still hard to hit, but he’s finding the zone much more often.

Moreover, he’s continued to dominate opposite-handed hitters. The big league sample is tiny, of course, but lefties haven’t figured him out at all – they’re hitting .143. Kind of like with Mike Montgomery, though, we can see that this isn’t new – he was very tough on lefties through the minors, posting a better K rate against lefties than righties. But unlike Montgomery, McCullers has a low 3/4 arm slot – his release point is more than a foot lower than the big lefty’s. And while Montgomery used a great *pitch* to post reverse splits, I think something else is going on with McCullers. To be fair, McCuller’s change has looked quite good, but he just doesn’t throw it enough to explain why lefties have struggled. Instead, I think his delivery is especially deceptive to lefties. His arm drops down and back during his delivery, and as he turns and strides forward, his body hides the ball, especially to left-handers. He doesn’t hide the ball by throwing across his body (the way Danny Hultzen did, and which made him so effective against righties), but by that point, it’s probably tough for lefties to know where the ball is.

So the first-place Astros have two members of 2014 Lancaster’s rotation, both of whom scuffled in the Cal League, and both of whom then annihilated AA in short stints. If something’s going on with player development here and this isn’t either bad luck in 2014 or great luck in 2015, then this is a remarkable story.

Today’s line-up:
1: Smith, RF
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Ackley, LF
8: Miller, SS
9: Sucre, C
SP: Elias

Mark Trumbo was supposed to start in LF, but he’s been scratched due to back spasms. Rickie Weeks was DFA’d yesterday to make room for Danny Farquhar – we’ll see if anyone picks him up. I thought for sure someone would take a flyer on Justin Ruggiano, but they didn’t, so he’ll get outrighted to Tacoma.

Tacoma rallied late, but couldn’t come back from a 6-0 deficit in yesterday’s 6-3 loss to Albuquerque. Shawn O’Malley and John Hicks had two hits each, and Andrew Kittredge was fantastic in relief of Sam Gaviglio – Kittredge pitched 4 shutout innings, striking out 2 against no walks. Kittredge continues to rack up frequent flyer miles shuttling between AA Jackson and Tacoma. Forrest Snow starts for Tacoma today against the delightfully named Yohan Flande.

Jackson beat Mobile behind a solid start from swingman Moises Hernandez and another good day at the plate by LF/DH Dario Pizzano. Trey Cochran-Gill got a nearly 3-IP save in the 7-2 win. Today, Jake Zokan faces off against Brandon Sinnery.

Bakersfield held on to beat Modesto 5-4, thanks to another big day from Tyler O’Neill, who hit his 14th HR of the year. The Canadian corner OF will turn 20 later this month, and while his OBP is ugly, he’s starting to hold his own in the Cal League. Austin Wilson also homered, but that brought his SLG% – again, in the Cal League – to .299. It’s been a rough season. Eddie Campbell takes the hill today for Bakersfield, while the well-traveled TBD starts for Modesto.

Clinton was rained out yesterday in Fort Wayne, so they’ll play two today. Tyler Herb and Osmer Morales are the starters for Clinton.


24 Responses to “Game 63, Mariners at Astros”

  1. jak924 on June 14th, 2015 11:06 am

    Boss, I can’t work today–back spasms.

  2. Westside guy on June 14th, 2015 12:24 pm

    I guess these teams agreed in advance to alternate scoring a buttload of runs.

  3. Westside guy on June 14th, 2015 12:39 pm


    (trying to jinx it)

  4. Westside guy on June 14th, 2015 12:44 pm

    Somebody accidentally brought AAA Elias to the game rather than MLB Elias.

  5. Westside guy on June 14th, 2015 12:52 pm

    While the Astros may indeed be “playing out of their mind” this year, they certainly seem to have a young talented team that’s going to be in the running for the division crown for the foreseeable future. A bunch of young guys, youngish guys like Rasmus, no absurd financial commitments potentially hamstringing them in the next 4-5 years….

    Contrast that to the Mariners, who (ever since Blengino left) seems to be looking more and more like a Bavasi team – aging one-dimensional veterans, some of whom were overpays on too-long contracts; no obvious help on the farm, except for pitching…

  6. Westside guy on June 14th, 2015 12:54 pm

    Did Sound Transit FINALLY ditch the commercials with the old lady? Thank goodness!

    Oh, and CRAP!! They are annihilating us.

  7. Dennisss on June 14th, 2015 12:54 pm

    Unfortunately Sucre is not available to pitch today.

  8. Woodcutta on June 14th, 2015 12:54 pm

    Valbuena, the destroyer of M’s pitchers.

  9. msfanmike on June 14th, 2015 12:57 pm

    At least Farquar appears to have turned things around.

  10. Dennisss on June 14th, 2015 1:02 pm

    Yeah, Westside, a big problem with the Mariners putting themselves into wait-til-next-year mode is that things don’t look so great for the Mariners going forward. Cano is having a bad year, Felix may be starting a “mere mortal” phase, Cruz is at an age where decline would be expected, Iwakuma will be a free agent, Rodney may be near the end.

    There are still some nice players — Seager, Miller, Walker, Paxton, and Felix is still there — but I don’t think it’s enough.

  11. WestyHerr on June 14th, 2015 1:08 pm

    Just think how much joy and anticipation you’ll have next February and March! How you’ll write down potential line ups on your computer and how productive they’ll look in pixels! World Champion on paper!

  12. Westside guy on June 14th, 2015 1:13 pm

    Dennisss, I’d be happier with our younger core if it seemed like we had a bunch of guys on the farm, ready to come up and supplement them. But I have no faith in the ability Jack Z’s org to develop those guys any more… not to mention Jack Z seems to think the solution to any problem is adding another old guy. (yes, I’m exaggerating a little… but not a lot)

    Plus, look how Z/McLendon have been jerking around one member of that core – Miller. He’s one of the most valuable members of this team this year, and yet he’s being treated as a failure.

    I have no faith in Jack Z. He has no business being a GM – he needs to go.

  13. Westside guy on June 14th, 2015 1:17 pm

    Oh, man… why am I watching this? The sun is shining!

  14. Westside guy on June 14th, 2015 1:19 pm

    The umpire apparently just wants this game to end as quickly as possible. That was NOT a strike.

  15. Westside guy on June 14th, 2015 1:23 pm


    That is NOT his thigh, Blowers.

  16. gloo on June 14th, 2015 1:34 pm

    Thank you A-Jax

  17. Westside guy on June 14th, 2015 1:46 pm

    Okay, I’m a glutton for punishment but even I’ve had enough. See you all later (if any of you are still here! haha)

  18. justcruisn on June 14th, 2015 2:52 pm


  19. jak924 on June 14th, 2015 4:58 pm

    Great. Just great.

  20. wtnuke on June 14th, 2015 5:26 pm

    Hey marc w, would you turn out the lights when you’re done? I think you might be the last man standing here.

  21. gloo on June 14th, 2015 6:48 pm

    Team may not be good ( for a while now I know) but at the same time, this is my favorite team, and this is my favorite blog. You shut your whore mouth.

  22. don52656 on June 14th, 2015 7:55 pm

    How long does this go on before someone comes to the conclusion that Lloyd might be part of the problem? The lack of fundamentals (base running, bunting, forgetting how many outs there are), his (mis)use of the bullpen, crazy handling of Brad Miller, insistence on keeping Rodney at closer, overuse of the intentional walk, putting Nelson Cruz in RF virtually every day…doesn’t this begin to add up?

    I’m not sure that a managerial change would be the solution, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that this team has no playoff chance with the current manager.

  23. Dennisss on June 14th, 2015 8:23 pm

    I wonder about Lloyd too. The conventional measure of a manager, absent any real sabrmetrics, is whether the team is playing as well as expected. By that measure, Lloyd was a good manager last year, but he’s very bad this year. The manager is often the one who gets blamed for something like this.

    That said, I don’t think another manager would do much better. Another general manager maybe…

  24. csteavens on June 14th, 2015 9:13 pm

    Hey, the Mariners have a long history of sticking with closers. From Charlton to Sazaki to Gaurdado, they know that not just any old pitcher can pitch in the 9th inning. The demise of each closer is like a pre historic eclipse of the sun. What do we do now? Who will lead us?

    The ultimate Mariner’s manager is Kirk Gibson, the king of intangibles. There are so many unknowns he brings to the table, and he’s tall.

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