Game 137, Mariners at Athletics
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Sean Nolin, 1:05pm
The M’s enter the game looking like a reasonably decent team. Sure, they’re a go-nowhere team beating up on a last-place team, but watching them is sort of fun as opposed to the chore it was a month or so ago. They’ve made roster changes, weathered injury issues and generally looked like a team with some semblance of a plan. All the same, this exact phenomenon – the September or second-half surge in a lost season – looks awfully familiar. 2012 was a classic of the genre, when the M’s were over .500 in the second half. The M’s offense late in 2011 was rounding into shape too, once the team cut Jack Cust and let Mike Carp and Alex Liddi get regular play. Baseball’s such a data-rich environment, it will always offer you reasons for optimism.
That’s perhaps an overly dim lead-in to a random September game, so let me say that as bad as this year’s been for us, I think it must be worse for A’s fans. At some level, you have to learn to love the process and churn itself. The games, and the people who play them, may turn out good or bad, but to be an Oakland fan, you have to put your emotional investment in the front office the way other people do in players. I don’t think that’s obviously “wrong” or stupid, but it’s pretty unique. If you DON’T do so, you run the risk of buying Josh Donaldson jerseys for your kids and watch as the A’s trade him away. GMs should always listen to offers, and there are fair returns for everyone, but this off-season was something of a test for A’s fans.
It’s probably a bit early to fully judge the deal, but at this point, things look pretty bad for Beane and company. Josh Donaldson may be the favorite for AL MVP, and while the A’s got a few near-MLB ready arms (and of course 3B Brett Lawrie and young SS prospect Franklin Barreto), their ceilings are extremely low. Today’s starter, Sean Nolin, was one of the arms the A’s got in exchange for the best 3B in baseball. Along with Kendall Graveman, Nolin wasn’t highly touted, but tore through the Jays minor league system. While Graveman’s sinker didn’t miss any bats, Nolin’s deceptive, rising four-seamer allowed him to post consistently good K rates. Injuries and exposure in AAA and in brief MLB call-ups slowed his progress, and scouts still don’t see much more than #4 upside.
Nolin’s four-seam fastball is only 90-91, but it has extreme vertical rise – it looks a lot like Chris Tillman’s. And like Tillman, that means that Nolin’s an equally extreme fly-ball pitcher. He pairs it with a good change-up. He’s got a slider and curve, but neither offering elicits a lot of praise from those who’ve seen him pitch. It sounds like he spent much of his time in AAA Nashville learning from Barry Zito, and his slow curve may be better for it.
One of the things that a straight, rising FB is supposed to do is suppress platoon splits. Thus far, that hasn’t really happened – in the minors, Nolin has dominated lefties while battling righties to a draw. That’s kind of hard to square with the idea that his change-up’s a plus pitch; I suppose we’ll see today. Likewise, Nolin’s control was never above average, which hurts his ability to pitch around the home runs that anyone with his flyball% will give up. If he can’t get back to the high strikeout totals he showed in the low minors, and I wouldn’t bet on that, then he’ll have to post consistently low BABIPs. Guys with better control, like Wei-Yin Chen, can be reasonably effective, and Marco Estrada’s volatile but decent as well.
1: Marte, SS
2: Seager, 3B
3: Romero, RF
4: Cano, 2B
5: Trumbo, LF
6: Morrison, 1B
7: Miller, 2B
8: Sucre, C
9: O’Malley, CF
Keep the ball on the ground, ‘Kuma. A long-time journeyman 2B is the best defensive OF for the M’s.
A late rally carried Las Vegas past Tacoma 8-7. Jesus Montero hit another HR, and Mike Montgomery was decent in a tough park to pitch in, but Sam Gaviglio and JC Ramirez couldn’t hold a 7-4 lead. Chien-Ming Wang starts today in Vegas.
Jackson beat Chattanooga thanks to 3 hits from lead-off man Ian Miller and 5 2/3 sharp innings from Dylan Unsworth. The South African has really settled down after a poor start to the year in his first taste of AA. After getting demoted to Bakersfield, Unsworth seems to have overhauled his pitches -his GB% is up sharply, and he’s been able to compete in the Southern League. The video-game level walk levels (he walked 2 batters in 2013, for example) aren’t going to survive the transition to the high minors, but he’s still learning and adapting – a good sign. Jimmy Gilheeney starts today against Twins prospect Brett Lee. Lee studiously avoids strikeout (you can see why the Twins drafted him), but has given up very few earned runs at every level he’s pitched at. He’s given up a remarkable number of UNearned runs, however.
Bakersfield edged San Jose 3-2 thanks to Tyler O’Neill’s 32nd HR of the year. Ryan Yarbrough struck out 8 over 7 IP; he’s looked light-years better since his return from extended spring training. Today, Brett Ash shares the mound against San Jose’s Jodan Johnson.
Cedar Rapids mauled Clinton 9-3. The L-kings actually out-hit the Kernals. That kind of year in Clinton. Today, Zack Littell makes his final start of 2015.
Everett got shut-out by Vancouver 6-0. The AquaSox host Tri-City tomorrow in the NWL playoffs. Congrats to them as well as the rookie-league Arizona Mariners as the only affiliates to make their league playoffs and the only clubs to finish over .500. Both teams were laden with college draftees, but signs of life are signs of life.