Game 132, Mariners at Astros

marc w · August 31, 2015 at 5:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Vidal Nuno vs. Dallas Keuchel, 5:10pm

Let’s be honest : the M’s arrive in Houston without much to play for. Now it’s the Astros turn to feel the pressure of playoff expectations, as crazy as that would’ve sounded 6 months ago. Crazier still, their primary opponent is suddenly the Texas Rangers, as the Angels ill-timed slide has pushed them back to .500 on the year. The M’s are a game above .500 in August, and they’ve made some improvements in the 2nd half of the season, but they simply haven’t been able to make a sustained run, the kind of surge that pretty much every team in the league has made at one time or another…even the Phillies, somehow.

A good chunk of the blame for that has to fall on the M’s black holes. As Jeff Sullivan wrote in his post-mortem of the Jack Z years, the M’s have had insanely low production from various line-up spots for years. The M’s went from Jack Wilson to Brendan Ryan, with a brief stop in Ronny Cedeno purgatory. The M’s have employed Rob Johnson, Adam Moore, Miguel Olivo and Mike Zunino at C, and received a total of more than -106 batting runs for their trouble. At 1B, they’ve gone from Casey Kotchman’s worst year to the Justin Smoak slow fade to Logan Morrison’s struggles. As we’ve talked about, other teams have been successful with a black hole in their line-up, but the M’s couldn’t get past the event horizon of theirs, and were crushed by them. Futility became a force of nature.

The Astros are of course no stranger to positional black holes. Matt Dominguez at 3B, Humberto Quintero at C, Brett Wallace at 1B, etc. There’s a reason the recent Astros teams were some of the worst in a decade. But a big part of why their rebuild has gone faster than anyone suspected is that they’ve avoided them this year. They’re not average everywhere – their DH production has been awful, for example – but they’ve avoided the kinds of abysmal performances that the M’s have fallen victim to yet again.

But as tonight’s starter proves, they’re not simply a team full of average guys playing over their heads. Dallas Keuchel’s status in the top tier of starting pitchers seemed far fetched a year ago, and even early this year, many of us waited for regression to pull Keuchel and his 88mph sinker back to earth. The low K rate, the freakish GB% and what looked like luck on line drives and fly balls – they produced some spectacular results in 2014, but you can’t rely on that stuff for your career. Can you? In nearly every facet of his game, Keuchel has battled regression and won. His GB% is still 2nd in baseball, just where it was last year. And last year’s seemingly impossible .438 OPS-against on ground balls? Well, it’s now .379. Batters are slugging below .200 on grounders this year, and he’s coupled that with better production when batters DO elevate the ball – batters are SLUGGING .286 on FLY balls. Years ago, we’d chalk this up to some kind of luck or to brilliant defenders, but Keuchel is helping change everyone’s idea of what pitchers can control. And while he’s doing all of that, his plain old FIP stats are better. He’s now got an above-average K rate, and he’s pushed his walk rate below 2/9IP. With a FIP and xFIP aroudn 2.70, Keuchel is clearly an elite starter no matter what stats you look at.

That said, the M’s aren’t 9 games below .500 because they’re hopeless against ace-level starters. The M’s beat Keuchel this year back in June, and they are 7-5 in games started by pitchers in the top 20 in pitching WAR this year. We’ll leave aside what it says about the M’s facing mediocre starters and just extract the part that gives us a modicum of hope going into today’s game.

1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Cruz, RF
4: Cano, 2B
5: Gutierrez, LF
6: Trumbo, 1B
7: Montero, DH
8: Miller, CF
9: Sucre, C
SP: Nuno

Austin Jackson was penciled into the line-up in the lead-off spot, but that won’t be happening, as the M’s just traded him to the Cubs for a international bonus pool slot and a PTBNL. Given the Cubs injuries in the OF, it makes sense for them, and they obviously didn’t pay a whole lot. Brad Miller is officially a CF for a while. Justin Ruggiano’s hurting a bit in Tacoma, but he could see some time soon, as could James Jones, recently returned from his own injury rehab. Jackson’s tenure in Seattle probably won’t be remembered fondly; Seattle bet on regression and got age-related decline. It happens.

The Rainiers completed their home schedule yesterday, battling the rain and the Nashville Sounds to a draw. The crowd must’ve gotten wet, but the R’s got both games of the doubleheader in, and split it at a game apiece. The Rainiers got a walk-off 6-5 win in Game 1, before losing the nightcap 8-4 despite two more HRs from Jabari Blash. The R’s head down to Salt Lake tonight, with Mike Montgomery trying to right the ship against the Bees’ Drew Rucinsky.

Jackson beat Pensacola 8-2 behind a 2-HR game from 2B Tyler Bortnick and Dylan Unsworth’s best pitching performance of the year. The South African hurler went 6 scoreless, striking out 5, while Bortnick was named the SL Player of the Week after a 5-hit game earlier in the week set the stage for his 2 HR, 1 BB, 5 RBI game yesterday. Jimmy Gilheeney starts for Jackson today against Pensacola’s Cody Reed, one of the prospects Cincinnati acquired from Kansas City in the Johnny Cueto deal. The lefty has plus velo, and has struck out 43 in 35+ innings in the Southern League.

Bakersfield’s bullpen couldn’t stop the High Desert Mavericks, resulting in a 7-3 loss. Ryan Yarbrough was so-so, tossing 4 innings and giving up 3 runs (1 earned) while striking out 5. But while HD kept adding on, the Blaze couldn’t figure out the Mavs bullpen. Tyler O’Neill had 2 doubles and Kyle Petty homered for Bakersfield. The Blaze are off today.

Clinton’s Eddie Campbell pitched well, and the L-Kings took a 3-2 lead into the 8th, but Wisconsin scored 4 in the inning off of two Clinton relievers. Campbell went 7 IP, giving up 2 runs and striking out 6 (to just one walk). Lukas Schiraldi takes the mound for Clinton tonight.

Everett beat Tri-City 5-4, as the Everett bullpen came up big after Jake Brentz was chased in the 2nd without recording an out. Joe Pistorese finished things off with a rare 3 1/3 IP save; he gave up 0 runs and 0 hits while striking out 3. As gaudy as his K:BB ratio is (46:7), his hits-allowed is noteworthy, too: he’s given up 28 in 42 1/3 IP. Yarbrough shot up the prospect ranking last year after his 53:4 K:BB ratio and 25 hits in 38 2/3 IP in Everett. Pistorese’s numbers aren’t quite in that league, but the fact that they’re close is noteworthy. Yarbrough was a budget-minded senior sign out of Old Dominion, while Pistorese was also a senior out of WSU, taken in the 17th round.


16 Responses to “Game 132, Mariners at Astros”

  1. heyoka on August 31st, 2015 5:57 pm

    Imagine the M’s now if their prospects had lived up to their projections.

  2. WTF_Ms on August 31st, 2015 6:38 pm

    Decent defensive player traded to the Cubs, and yet we keep Miller. I don’t recall Austin Jackson being a defensive or even an offensive liability. The org is screwed from top to bottom, if Miller is the best we can do in CF.

  3. eponymous coward on August 31st, 2015 6:45 pm

    So, did you black out the month of September 2014? Because I didn’t, and I remember a lot of weak grounders and pop flies from AJax.

    He hasn’t been very good as a M. Miller’s been better, but if you need to hate, whatever gets you through the season.

  4. Dennisss on August 31st, 2015 7:01 pm

    For a couple of games there, I was hoping the post-Jack-Z era might bring greatness and winning streaks, but I guess these things take a little more time.

  5. WTF_Ms on August 31st, 2015 7:42 pm

    I didn’t forget, but Miller also is at a career high for E’s. I’m thinking that he’s going to make throwing errors no matter where he plays (Ibanez anyone?). AJax is solid defensively, and has played CF for a LOT more games, and has the experience. I’m tired of “experiments” at this level. AJax was coming around at the plate. I guess I’m tired of losing. Is that bad?

  6. groundzero55 on August 31st, 2015 7:44 pm

    He was coming around, and that’s probably the only way we got anything for him. He was a FA at the end of the season, and we aren’t playing for anything. Better to get any kind of return now than to keep him for no reason.

    Sadly he was another example of us signing a good player, years past when we should have acquired them.

  7. WTF_Ms on August 31st, 2015 8:00 pm

    I agree. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of 2 things in the off season:

    1) Clean house.

    2) Stay with the already proven, annoying patterns of the past 10 years.

    I would prefer #1.

  8. JMB on August 31st, 2015 9:26 pm

    Jackson was pretty awful offensively. No walks and no power, all his value tied up in a batting average that wasn’t good enough to carry the lack of walks and power.

    I have no idea if Miller can hang in CF, but his bat is better than Jackson’s and he’s younger. Let’s at least give him the last month of the season as a trial; there’s nothing to lose at this point.

  9. WTF_Ms on August 31st, 2015 9:29 pm

    JMB, that pretty much sums up Miller’s last 2 seasons…let’s give him a try, there’s nothing to lose. We need to stop that type of thinking.

  10. Rick Banjo on August 31st, 2015 11:32 pm

    I’d buy a ticket to see Jabari Blash come up and play…

    …because we’ve reached silly-ball.

  11. JMB on September 1st, 2015 12:12 am

    He’s barely got 1,000 major league at-bats and is all of 25 years old. Jackson is 28 and regressing. All I’m talking about is a month of Miller in CF. I’m not handing him the job in 2016.

  12. JMB on September 1st, 2015 12:13 am

    Also, strike that bit about Ruggiano, as he was dealt to the Dodgers.

  13. eponymous coward on September 1st, 2015 5:16 am

    JMB, that pretty much sums up Miller’s last 2 seasons…let’s give him a try, there’s nothing to lose. We need to stop that type of thinking.

    Brad Miller has been worth around 5 WAR over those barely over 1000 MLB at-bats. AJax has been worth less than that during a similar period (around 3).

    There really isn’t anything wrong with looking at Miller for a month in CF in a lost season. The M’s are not exactly flush with guys who project as ~league average players at positions, which is what Miller has been at SS, throwing errors at SS and all.

    Throwing away good players for dumb reasons (Jaso, Wellington Castillo) has also been a hallmark of the Mariners in recent years. Perhaps we should avoid that going forward too, instead of assuming that “well, you’re not a great shortstop so you suck, and we’ll let some other smarter team figure out a better role for you”.

  14. JMB on September 1st, 2015 8:34 am

    Exactly, ec. There are tons of problems on this team, but Miller isn’t one of them.

  15. bluemoonking on September 1st, 2015 9:03 am

    At this point, you get rid of the veterans that won’t be on the club next year. Bring up Blash, Taylor, Romero, Choi, Jones, Kivlehan, Bonilla and some pitching to see if these guys can play. You shutdown any pitchers that have been injured. Zunino should go to Arizona along with Peterson. Picking on Miller is a little unfair…

    Ruggiano and Ajax should have been traded at the deadline at least. But it was the “if we can only win 8 straight” mentality. So, two months later it is time to do what’s needed to be done.

  16. eponymous coward on September 1st, 2015 1:13 pm

    The problem with that is if you’re not careful, you end up with the Willie Bloomquist Effect; you let Small Sample Size Theatre at the end of the season outweigh a much larger minor league portfolio of work that says “nope, this guy isn’t really ready”.

    Take Kivlehan, for instance. A .763 OPS in AAA doesn’t exactly scream “I’m dominating my league”…

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