Game 64, Mariners at Giants
Taijuan Walker vs. Tim Hudson, 7:15pm
The M’s begin play today with the fewest runs scored in the AL, rapidly fading playoff hopes, and a system that can’t boost the big league club the way their rivals’ can. Following a depressing series in Houston that saw their already dire run differential worsen, they’ve called up James Jones to bolster the bench. I understand completely that this is a short-term move, and that all of the roster re-jiggering had more to do with a series of really short outings by the starters than anything, but all the context in the world doesn’t make it any easier to explain. The M’s haven’t gotten an immediate boost from trading for Mark Trumbo, and since then, with the team in real danger of falling completely out of the race in a wide-open, no-great-teams AL, they’ve juggled relievers and brought up a pinch-runner. “What else could they do?” asks the sympathetic fan, unwittingly damning the front office even more.
The Giants strong start has petered out, and they enter tonight’s game on a four-game losing streak. They’ve fallen 3.5 games behind the Dodgers, who’ve played .500 ball for a month. Despite the highly anticipated match-up with Madison Bumgarner, it’s been the Giants offense that propelled them to that great start. And that offense is, from the point of view of an M’s fan, absurdly balanced. Buster Posey is consistently great, but they’ve been buoyed by the development of Brandon Crawford, their erstwhile glove-first SS, and his double-play partner, Joe Panik. Their patience with Brandon Belt has been rewarded, and unheralded prospect Matt Duffy has held his own at 3B after Casey McGehee crashed and burned. Thanks to their post-season successes in recent years, they’re an easy team to hate, but we’ve once again reached the point in the year where I just want to learn as much as possible from the teams who seem to be building a better mousetrap than the M’s. Houston’s rebuild looks nothing like the Giants retooling, as you’d expect, but the Giants success is clearly not just about throwing all of that World Series tv revenue at problems. *No one* thought Brandon Crawford was going to hit. The Joe Panik draft pick was almost universally derided. While we in M’s land have to remind ourselves over and over that aging curves describe a population, not a player; that the growth we expected from [Fill in player you are currently most frustrated with] isn’t some kind of birthright, and hey, luck of the draw, right? Other teams seem to be doing a bit better with raw talent – flawed talent – and molding it into roster help. At this point, it’s probably easier to start looking for people who know how to do this than to hope for rapid improvement in the current front office.
Tim Hudson makes his 25th career start against the M’s tonight, and tries to recapture his 2014 form against the struggling M’s offense. A year ago, Hudson continued his late career success with a 2.1 WAR season. His sinker’s lost only a few ticks, and it still allows him to post elite ground ball rates. Coupled with good control and an above-average infield defense, and Hudson can still succeed despite the fact that his K rate continues to fall. His strikeout pitch is a cutter at about 83-84mph that he typically saves for righties. He’s also got a splitter that functions as his change-up, so lefties see a lot more of that. But so far this season, something’s been amiss with that splitter. Last year, he got whiffs on about 16% of his splitters, and batters put it in play about 22% of the time. This season (small sample alert, of course), lefties have swung and missed at just *6%* of splitters, and they’ve put it fully one third of them in play. Without a swing-and-miss pitch to lefties, Hudson can’t strike southpaws out. He’s faced 124 lefties this year, and has struck out all of 7 of them. 2 of those came against Francisco Liriano, a pitcher. While his splits don’t show it this year, this is a good time to set a lefty-heavy line-up.
Taijuan Walker is coming off of three consecutive strong starts, with a K:BB ratio of 21:3 in that span. What’s actually changed for him is somewhat tough to determine. His pitch mix has changed a bit – before this streak he threw his cutter/slider more and his four-seam fastball a bit less, but that doesn’t seem like it could explain this. I don’t think he’s using his high fastball more – if anything, it looks like he’s using it less (compare this picture to this one), and burying some fastballs at or below the knee. Whatever it is, the quality of contact against him has dropped markedly. Sure, some of this is his HR luck regressing a bit, but a lot of this is simple control. He’s throwing both his fastball and splitter for strikes more often, and presumably getting into better counts as a result. He’s also avoiding the center of the plate, though that may be due to the counts he finds himself in as well. Whatever it is, this version of Taijuan is as encouraging as the previous iteration was frustrating.
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Smith, LF
7: Miller, SS
8: Zunino, C
Forrest Snow struggled with his command yesterday, but still threw 7 strong innings, yielding just one hit and one run against Albuquerque. Snow has given up exactly one earned run in each of his last 6 starts. Logan Bawcom starts for the Rainiers today, who are going with a bullpen day to open the series against Reno. Danny Farquhar’s arrival can help bail out the bullpen in the rest of the series.
Jackson beat Mobile 8-6 thanks to HRs from DJ Peterson and Dario Pizzano. The latter’s HR came off of rehabbing big leaguer Patrick Corbin. Jackson won an early game today behind a solid outing from Misael Siverio and three hits from SS Tyler Smith. Of note, reliever Brian Moran struck out 4 in 1 2/3 IP in his 2nd outing with the Generals. The righty was once on the cusp of a 40-man spot with the M’s – and a possible active roster spot, but he was picked by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft then blew out his elbow. This was his fourth outing of the year as he rehabs from TJ surgery. The righty with a fastball that sits 87-88 has surprising deception, and has racked up strikeouts throughout the minor leagues.
Bakersfield destroyed Modesto 11-3, getting starter Eddie Campbell his third straight win after his awful start to 2015. Tyler O’Neill and Austin Wilson had 2 hits each, but Jay Baum led the team with 4. Dan Altavilla takes the mound for the Blaze as they face ex-affiliate Inland Empire, who’ll start Victor Alcantara.
Clinton’s slide continued, as they were swept in a doubleheader at Fort Wayne. One was a pitcher’s duel that the Tin Caps won by a score of 2-1; Tyler Herb was the hard-luck loser, throwing 6 IP with 6 Ks and 2 runs allowed. There was no hard luck loser in the other game, as Fort Wayne won 16-1. Osmer Morales started and pitched poorly, but Rohn Pierce followed with a nightmare of an outing. In just 1/3 of an inning, Pierce gave up 8 earned runs on 8 hits, including a 3R-HR. Ouch. Jefferson Medina starts today for the reeling L-Kings.