Game 68, Astros at Mariners
Roenis Elias vs. Lance McCullers, 7:10pm
The last series against the Astros went…very poorly, and after dropping the home-and-home series with the Giants, this clash with the division leaders takes on even more importance. The M’s have languished behind Houston (and Anaheim) for months (staying mostly between 6-10 games back), and the only thing that’s changed over the past month is that Texas (?) suddenly started playing out of their mind and passed the M’s too. The M’s are running out of time. Opportunities like these, to make up a small chunk of the gap quickly, are vital if they want to get back into the race. It just feels odd, though, to talk about opportunities and playoff odds. This team has been unlucky, to be sure, but it’s flawed.
The M’s face fireballer Lance McCullers again today – the young righty held the M’s hitless for 5 innings 5 days ago. McCullers uses a plus fastball – it’s 95+ – and a big curve with two-plane break. He has a change-up that he uses sparingly, but he’s essentially been a two-pitch pitcher thus far, and that limited repertoire has been more than enough. As I mentioned last time, McCullers has shown some odd reverse platoon splits thus far, and he had them (though not as extreme) in the minors as well. His curve in particular has given lefties fits; they’ve come up empty on nearly half of their swings at it, and they’ve taken it for strikes a bunch, too. In all, lefties have put less than 9% of his curveballs in play. In the minors, McCullers big flaw was his control, but he’s been remarkably accurate thus far in the majors. His control lapses 5 days ago are somewhat noteworthy – his 4 walks were the most he’d given up thus far. The M’s need to be patient and make him work the way they did in Houston. Only this time, you know, get some hits too.
The Astros have seen essentially all of their prospects hit the ground running in the big leagues. McCullers has been dominant, Vincent Vasquez looks intriguing, if flawed, and Carlos Correa currently sports a line of .349/.378/.628, which is not too shabby. This week they’ve called up slugger Domingo Santana, a Joey Gallo-like all-or-nothing slugger that had torched the PCL this year. Santana bats righty, so we’ll see him tonight against the left-handed Roenis Elias. Evaluating prospects based on their first 1/2 season – or first month – is a fool’s errand, but it’s harder and harder to escape the conclusion that the M’s player development lags that of their rivals. Carlos Correa was the #1 overall pick, and had been anticipated for a while. But McCullers and Santana offered a mixture of upside and major question marks, but over time, they’ve…what’s that thing that prospects are supposed to do? oh yeah…*improved.* The Rangers were excellent at this until injuries and some down years pushed them to the brink of a wholesale rebuild. But Chi Chi Gonzalez arrived earlier than expected, and Joey Gallo’s prodigious strikeout rate has been balanced by his prodigious power. The M’s simply don’t have the impact prospects that can change their outlook in the near term. Chris Taylor’s a good player, but not someone who can impact the overall team offense. The M’s needed DJ Peterson to take a big step forward, but it simply hasn’t happened yet.
That’s an issue, as the M’s are noteworthy in their reliance on homegrown talent. Perhaps it’s not a huge surprise that the team led by a former scouting director is a draft-and-hold teambuilder and not a compulsive wheeler-dealer like Billy Beane or the Rays under Friedman and Silverman, but the M’s have given their prospects a very long leash. This isn’t a criticism, by the way – you can develop a team in a number of different ways, and building through the draft is a great way to do it. The Rangers have essentially done this too, making a splash in the trade for Fielder or the signing of Choo, but developing the complementary pieces themselves. But if you’re going to go that route, it’s all the more important that the players you identify and teach produce. Kyle Seager was a home run for the player development group, and Brad Miller is a solid single at this point. But the M’s badly needed to fill out the roster with others, and for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened enough.
Today’s Star Wars night line-up:
1: Morrison, 1B
2: Jackson, CF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Trumbo, RF
7: Smith, LF
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
A week ago, John Lannan of Albuquerque dominated the Rainiers, firing 8 shutout innings at Cheney Stadium. The Rainiers appear to have figured out what went wrong, as they knocked Lannan around on their way to 12 runs on *22* base hits. Sam Gaviglio, who gave up 6 runs in 5 IP 5 days ago, threw 6 shutout innings for Tacoma. Zach Shank and Steve Baron, two recent call-ups from AA, both had four hits in the game. Today, Forrest Snow makes the start opposite Yohan Flande. Mike Curto reports that Justin Ruggiano is expected to join the club in time for the game.
Jackson had their own blowout win, beating Birmingham 10-1 behind another solid start from Edwin Diaz. It looks like Diaz has made some adjustments to AA. In his last three starts, he’s thrown 20 1/3 IP, given up 4 runs on 13 hits with 18 strikeouts. The Generals knocked out Barons starter Tyler Danish (a top-10/top-5 White Sox prospect) out in the 3rd, scoring 9 runs on 9 hits off of him. Today, they’ll face another big Sox prospect, righty Frankie Montas. Moises Hernandez starts for the Generals. [EDIT: This game has been rained out]
Bakersfield lost a pitcher’s duel to Stockton 1-0. Blaze starter Brett Ash was effective in 6 2/3 innings, but Stockton’s Raul Alcantara and a bunch of relievers kept Bakersfield off the scoreboard. Today the Blaze send Eddie Campbell to the mound against Dylan Covey of the Ports.
Clinton lost another tight game 5-4 to Quad Cities. Starter Lukas Schiraldi was solid, but reliever Rohn Pierce coughed up 3 runs late. Pierce, a 19th round pick out of Canisius, has had an up and down year. In late May, over four games, Pierce pitched 9 innings, giving up no runs on 4 hits while striking out *14*. But in his last 3 games, Pierce has thrown 4 innings, giving up *13 runs* on 15 hits while striking out 3. Yikes. Clinton welcomes Cedar Rapids today, and the L-Kings will send Zack Littell to the hill against Zach Tillery of the Kernels.
Everett won their season opener last night, downing the Eugene Emeralds 6-1. The AquaSox got great pitching from starter Luiz Gohara and reliever Spencer Herrman, who gave up 1 run on 3 hits while striking out 13 emeralds. The offense hit 9 singles, with 1B Ryan Uhl going 3-3 and Braden Bishop going 1-2 with a walk. Today, Taylor Byrd starts for Everett against Justin Steele – both were drafted in 2014 in the first 10 rounds – Byrd was a 7th rounder, while the Cubs popped Steele in the 5th.