Game 88, Angels at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. CJ Wilson, 7:10pm
The Angels win last night brought them into a tie with Houston for the AL West lead. The Astros recent skid has reshuffled the playoff odds a bit; the projections never saw Houston as a very good team, and has been looking for an excuse to push the Angels back to the top. Well, they’ve got one now. At Fangraphs, the Angels odds of winning the division are about 53%, and at BP, they’re just shy of 51%. The M’s preseason projections – and predicted runs per game – mean their division odds are still at 7% by Fangraphs, while BP’s always been more skeptical, and puts the odds at just over 2%. That’s pretty poor, but the M’s have benefitted from this Astros slump and are just 7.5 games back as we enter play tonight.
The M’s face another left-hander tonight in old foe CJ Wilson. We’ve talked a bit about how the M’s have struggled against *right*-handed pitching this season, which is at least in part a result of Nelson Cruz’s impact on the overall offense. But the M’s have actually fared worse against lefty starters than right-handed starters. Strong performances from Austin Jackson and especially Cruz have been counteracted by the struggles of Robby Cano, Mike Zunino and Brad Miller. Last night, Hector Santiago found the weak spots and strangled the M’s for the second time in a few weeks. Hopefully, Wilson will make a few more mistakes.
Last year, Wilson appeared to be headed towards the end of a solid career. His walk rate spiked, he couldn’t get out right-handers, and only his home park’s HR-suppressing ways kept him from replacement level. Heading into his age-34 season, I thought he’d be a very wealthy 5th starter, with occasional glimpses of his old self against lefty-dominated line-ups. Instead, he’s putting together a solid middle-of-the-rotation kind of year largely because he’s – at least temporarily – been better against righties. There’s not a whole lot he’s doing differently – he’s throwing more change-ups and fewer curves, which makes sense given the damage righties did against his hook. He’s throwing a few more sinkers, but that doesn’t seem like it’s enough to explain anything. Part of it seems like a commitment to throwing strikes, as his walk rate is down and batters are swinging at more pitches this season. But by pitch fx, he’s not actually throwing more balls in the zone – he’s just getting people to chase a few more. Central to that improvement has been his change, which he struggled to control at times last year. In 2014, he threw it for a ball 40% of the time, and got swings on 42% of them. This season, it’s a ball only 28%, while batters swing at it over 51% of the time. Unlike many change-ups, it’s never been a swing-and-miss pitch, and it still gets far fewer whiffs than average, but he’s been remarkably good at getting grounders with it this year. That’s helped his HR rate and his platoon issues.
Oddly for a guy who’s struggled against righties so much, Wilson’s best pitch to lefties and righties alike has been his slider. He struggled with it early in his career, and he’ll hang one every now and again, but for years now, he’s posted great results on the pitch, even as he faces line-ups stuffed with righties. There’s nothing terribly odd about the pitch’s shape or velocity, but it’s worked for him. The same can’t be said for his opponent, whose slider has been hit hard over his career – Iwakuma’s SLG%-against on the slider is .510 for his career, and lefties are slugging *.710* against it. Ryan Divish wrote about Iwakuma’s slider in the Times, and there are some great quotes from Hisashi about why he thinks it’s happening and what he might do about it.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Gutierrez, DH
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Trumbo, LF
7: Montero, 1B
8: Miller, SS
9: Zunino, C
I’ve never wanted the mariner layer more than tonight. Iwakuma needs a decent start and the bullpen could use a break.
Welcome to the M’s organization, Chien-Ming Wang. The ex-Yankee star signed a minor league deal with the M’s and is now in the Rainiers’ bullpen, but the plan is for him to move to the rotation after the all-star break. In the meantime, he can help out with a bullpen that’s been a bit unsettled with all of the comings and goings. The Rainiers had a bullpen night yesterday, with RHP Andrew Kittredge starting. In the end, the Reno Aces won it on a walk-off against lefty Edgar Olmos with 2 outs in the 9th. Tonight, Forrest Snow gets the start in homer-friendly Reno.
Jackson lost to Birmingham 8-3, and to save THEIR bullpen, the Generals had IF Luis Caballero pitch the final frames. Julio Morban recently returned from the restricted list and is trying to shake off the rust – he’s still got a sub-.600 OPS, but he did have 3 hits last night. Dylan Unsworth is back in AA tonight to make the start. Before today, his last start for Jackson came back on April 25th.
The Bakersfield Blaze played yet another extra-inning game last night against San Jose – and yet again, the Giants came out with a win. San Jose walked it off in the 12th on a single. A while earlier, the Giants got the tying run in the bottom of the 9th off of Blaze reliever Paul Fry, who’s been very tough this season. Brett Ash was brilliant for the Blaze, throwing 8 innings of one-run ball while striking out 8, but Jason Forjet almost matched him, throwing 7 IP with 7 Ks of his own. Tonight, Eddie Cambpell takes on Blake Perry and the Visalia Rawhide.
Peoria dominated Clinton 9-4 despite two hits and a double each from Austin Cousino and Joe DeCarlo. The delightfully-named Kenny Peoples-Walls homered for the Chiefs, who knocked around L-Kings starter Jefferson Medina. Zack Littell shares the mound with Cardinals prospect Austin Gomber.
Boise beat Everett 8-6, scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the 8th. Corey Simpson had 2 hits, and Jordan Cowan doubled for the AquaSox. Lane Ratliff starts tonight for Everett against the Hawks’ Logan Sawyer.