Game 22, Royals at Mariners
King Felix vs. Kris Medlen, 7:10pm
Happy Felix Day! Sorry for the site issues earlier – glad it’s resolved, and thanks for all of the questions via twitter and elsewhere. You all noticed before I did, which speaks to some poor management on my part, but also to y’all’s interest which I continue to be
baffled by extremely thankful for.
So, every prediction had the AL West tightly bunched, with the Astros slightly less mediocre than their rivals. If it’s true that the true talent of the teams is really, really close, that makes it less likely that one team is just going to run away with the division, and it also means that any small hot (or cold) streak matters much more to a team’s playoff odds. If true talent is tightly bunched around .500, then any bit of variance is going to play a big role in determining the winner. What we’ve seen thus far is a division that’s been every bit as bunched up as Fangraphs/BP forecasted… with one exception. Yes, it’s absurdly early, and yes, they still scare me a bit, but the Astros now have to play .532 ball (that’s 86 wins over a season) just to creep back to 81-81. It really helps that even now no one’s forecasted to GET to 86 wins, but it also means that their first big winning streak only gets them back to the starting point.
The biggest beneficiaries of this, of course, are the M’s, the preseason #2 club. The M’s playoff odds are up a few points from opening day not because of anything they’ve done, but because they’re now the favorite by default. The projections still see them as a .500 club, but suddenly, .500 ball has a better chance of winning this thing. In the Central, the Royals have helped themselves out too, and benefited from the Indians’ poor start. Of course, the projections have famously thought the Royals were terrible for several years, and thought they’d be terrible this year, but it certainly helps that the Indians haven’t raced out ahead. The team that HAS is Chicago, who’s projected to play .500 ball the rest of the way and hit 86 wins or so, around where the Indians are projected to finish. The AL Central has seen more teams deviate from their projections, but that division too was supposed to be very even. The result is that it’s the AL that’s seen all of the big changes in playoff odds, while variance means a bit less in the NL, where projections still see big differences in team talent levels.
The Royals have been a balanced team, perhaps more so than last year when their line-up and bullpen essentially carried a poor starting rotation. This year, their line-up is again unspectacular but solid, and gets a value boost from their baserunning and defense. Lorenzo Cain has been oddly ineffective thus far, but that’s been balanced by Mike Moustakas’ sudden power surge. Their pitching staff is an odd mix. They grade out fairly well overall, but as you might expect when most starters have pitched 4 times, the individual results are all over the map. Yes, they still have a starter who’s oddly destroying his FIP, but it’s not Chris Young, whose ERA is much WORSE than his FIP, but Ian Kennedy. Yordano Ventura’s been solid, but tonight’s starter, ex-Brave Kris Medlen, has been shaky.
Medlen seemingly came out of nowhere in 2012 to go on what we’d now call a Kershaw-like, or to be terribly current, Rich Hill-ian string of starts. He finished the year 10-1 with a sparkly ERA of 1.57 in 138 IP. He spent the first half of the year in the pen, and his true breakout came after a move to the rotation. In 83 IP, Medlen struck out 84, walked 10, and gave up 9 earned runs, for an ERA of 0.97. Sure, his FIP was worse, but Medlen’s sinker/change-up game looked dominant. He wasn’t quite as good the next year, but the Braves looked to have a cost-controlled, effective starter for years. Unfortunately, his UCL snapped, requiring Tommy John surgery, so he wasn’t able to pitch in 2014. As his rehab progressed, the Braves’ decided to completely overhaul their franchise in a way that they say is totally not a rebuild, but is self-evidently a rebuild, and thus they let Medlen go. He signed on with KC and pitched in 58 IP last year.
In 2012, his change-up was his out-pitch back in 2012, getting swings 2/3 of the time, and getting whiffs on over 40% of those swings. The change and his great sinker, with solid arm-side run and very different movement from his rising four-seamer, helped him get plenty of grounders, too. The post-rehab Medlen doesn’t really have swing-and-miss stuff anymore. He throws his change-up much less than he used to, and in its place is a pitch he didn’t even throw back in 2012 – a slider-like cutter. It’s thrown with the same speed as the change – around 85 – and has impressive vertical drop. It *looks* like a good pitch, and he uses it as a strikeout pitch to righties, but it hasn’t brought back the glory days of 2012. This season, Medlen’s out-of-zone swing rate has collapsed, which is a big reason he’s walked 11 in 15 innings. He pitched around walks in his first two games, but he’s coming off a poor game against Baltimore in which he gave up 7 runs in 3 2/3 IP. There’s still the makings of a solid #4-5 starter here, but it hasn’t quite come together for him. I like the *idea* of the change/cutter combo, but he obviously hasn’t quite figured out how to make it work yet.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH (yussss)
5: Lind, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Marte, SS
9: Martin, CF
SP: El Rey
Tacoma and Las Vegas played through the rare, rare desert rain yesterday before the game was called after 5. Apparently, Las Vegas doesn’t even own a tarp, so the infield got pretty drenched as a series of showers rolled over Cashman field. Donn Roach continued to demonstrate spring training stats’ lack of predictive power by turning in another awful start, giving up 8 runs on 10 hits in 2 1/3 IP. Chris Taylor and Mike Baxted had the only R’s hits. Joe Wieland starts today against longtime Mets’ prospect Rafael Montero.
Jackson topped Mobile 6-3 behind a great start from Dylan Unsworth, who gave up a run in 6 2/3 IP. They beat D’Backs prospect Zack Godley who dominated the club last year. Tyler O’Neill walked and doubled, while Tim Lopes walked and singled. Jackson and Mobile were rained out today.
Bakersfield lost another hearbreaker, giving up a run in the 8th and then two in the 9th to lose 5-4 to Lancaster. Ramon Morla blew his 2nd save opportunity, which kind of obscured Andrew Moore’s solid start. The OSU product struck out 8 and gave up just 2 runs in 6 IP, but oddly had three walks. That’s 7 on the year in about 30 IP; he gave up 2 last year in 39 IP for Everett. Still, he’s been hard to hit and he’s pitched well in a very difficult league. Anthony Misiewicz starts for the Blaze today.
Clinton beat Bowling Green 6-3. Lukas Schiraldi pitched around 6 walks in 4 2/3 IP, and then the Lumberkings held on after reliever Nick Kiel gave up 3 runs in one inning. Dalton Kelly continued his hot start with a single and three walks. Art Warren starts for Clinton today as they start a series with 5-16 Dayton.