Game 119, Mariners at Rangers
Taijuan Walker vs. Cole Hamels, 5:05pm
After giving up 45 runs in a 3 game series, the M’s turn to Taijuan Walker to stop the bleeding. *Despite a no-hitter last week* the M’s staff has produced at replacement-level as a whole since the all-star break. Ill-timed swoons from Mike Montgomery and, as much as it pains me to say, King Felix have meant that the team hasn’t been able to benefit a whole lot from Hisashi Iwakuma’s resurgence and a good stretch of solid-if-unspectacular work from Taijuan Walker. Worse, the team’s allowed far more actual runs than their FIP would predict. They’re allowing a few more runners, and then many more runners are managing to come around to score. It’s not a BABIP issue, though – it’s home runs.
The M’s are allowing HRs at a frightening clip these days, with 43 allowed in the 29 games since the break. Only one team, the Red Sox, have allowed more. Sure, some of the blame lies with pitchers no longer employed by the M’s, like JA Happ. But Felix, Montgomery and, yes, Tai Walker have all contributed. Walker’s improved throughout the season, and his newfound confidence in his curve has allowed him to maintain a low walk rate while still missing plenty of bats. Returning to his curve made a lot of sense, given that his cutter/slider has been terrible; he’s had essentially no breaking pitch to throw to righties. Against lefties, he had a splitter, and that’s helped him neutralize them to a reasonable degree. But pretty much all of Walker’s attributes: the high arm angle, splitter and slow curve, are correlated with flat or reverse platoon splits, as this great bit of research shows. In any event, Walker *still* throws his curve more often to lefties than righties, meaning he’s a FB/Split pitcher (for the most part) to right-handed bats. And it’s righties that Walker’s struggled with. Of Walker’s 21 HRs allowed this year, 12 have been hit by righties, and that’s despite the fact that only 44% of the batters he’s faced have been right-handed. His FIP to righties is 1.5 runs above his FIP to lefties, and while a chunk of that is luck, some of it isn’t – over his career, his FIP-splits are similarly (though not quite as) bad. I’ve mentioned it before, but job 1 this off-season for Taijuan has to be developing a true slider.
His opponent, Cole Hamels, has had similar HR issues recently. Thanks to a slight groin problem, this’ll only be Hamels’ 3rd start for Texas. In his 2 previous starts, including against the M’s back on the 7th – the LAST time I was returning from a camping trip – Hamels has allowed 5 HRs. Walker’s giving up too many, but 5 in 5 starts (including 1 in Colorado) is quite different from 5 in 2 starts. Deadline acquisitions often have sky-high expectations thrust upon them, as each start gets magnified when viewed through the lens of a playoff run. Carlos Gomez’s struggles in Houston seem significant, just as Hamels’ struggles would seem to make him a target of fans, but the Rangers have won 4 in a row. If the Rangers keep it up, Hamels could struggle and still be seen as an important signal to the team and the league. Old-time M’s fans might remember this with Andy Benes’ acquisition in 1995 – the M’s are going for it, they’re serious contenders, etc. papered over the fact that Benes was pretty awful down the stretch. Hamels is a much better pitcher, but he’s had HR issues – the kind of problem that isn’t normally helped by moving to Arlington.
1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, RF
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Jackson, CF
7: Trumbo, DH
8: Morrison, 1B
9: Zunino, C
Walker’s been tough in his last 3 starts, which is remarkable given how distracted he must’ve been: Taijuan’s younger brother Deshaun underwent brain surgery on the 11th. Apparently it went well, but my thoughts are with the whole Walker family. Scary stuff.
Tacoma lost to Oklahoma City 9-1 yesterday, so instead I’ll mention that Chien-Ming Wang threw his best start in years on Saturday, blanking the OKC Dodgers 2-0 in a complete game shutout. Because this is Wang, he struck out just 2 and walked 4, but because this is Wang, he had 19 ground-ball outs to just 2 fly balls. Today, Jordan Pries shares the mound with Eric Surkamp, a lefty with some big league time with the Dodgers and White Sox.
Jackson dropped the deciding game of their 5-game set with Jacksonville yesterday, 9-2. Tyler Marlette doubled, helping him maintain a hot start to the 2nd half after a dismal early 2015 split between Bakersfield and Jackson. It’s a travel day in the Southern League; Biloxi heads to Jackson to take on the Generals tomorrow.
Bakersfield beat Modesto 6-5, getting a run in the top of the 9th to decide the game. Still, the story of the weekend came from Saturday’s 1-0 *loss*. In that contest, Ryan Yarbrough had perhaps his best outing of the year – and while that’s damning with faint praise, Yarbrough went 4 IP, giving up the only run, but striking out 6 without walking anyone. Progress. Scott DeCecco starts for the Blaze today as they host last-place Lake Elsinore.
Clinton dropped a pair of games over the weekend, including yesterday’s 3-2 loss in 10 innings. That’s left them at 37-81. They get a break today before heading to Burlington to face the Bees tomorrow.
Everett was no-hit yesterday by Kyle Twomey and the Eugene Emeralds bullpen. Apparently getting no-hit is the only way to stop SS Drew Jackson, who saw his 21-game hitting streak snapped in the 3-0 loss. Today, Enyel de los Santos starts for Everett as they face Tyler Davis and the Spokane Indians.