Game 54, Mariners at Rangers
Taijuan Walker vs. Yu Darvish, 5:05pm
Last night’s game almost – almost – makes up for what feels like thousands of agonizing 1-0 Felix losses and pointless, punchless 3-1 games that make you question why you’re even following at all. Given the stakes, the opponent and all of that, it can be surprisingly easy to hand-wave it away – the M’s made a miraculous comeback against a team whose owner calls them “miserable failures.” Given the nature of baseball, and the fact that the sheer number of games on the schedule makes *some* remarkable outcome almost a weekly or monthly occurrence, it’s tempting to downplay this. But it seemed like a sign, or at least, those of us who want to see something out of this franchise would like to take it as one, even if that sign is in an incomprehensible foreign language. The M’s big off-season pitching acquisition pitched, uh, poorly, and is teetering around replacement level, but the M’s can hit. Like, not “hit pretty well for a team at Safeco” and not, “MUCH better hitting team than they’ve been in the recent past,” but HIT without modifiers or caveats. I don’t know if that’s enough, but it’s remarkable. More than anything save perhaps Dae-ho Lee, it’s made this team’s game worth watching. If they go on to lose, at least they’ll do so differently.
Today, they head to Texas and a showdown with the team they share first place with. Making his second start since coming back from TJ surgery is Yu Darvish, one of the most unique and absurdly talented pitchers in the game. Pull up his repertoire on BrooksBaseball and you’ll find 8 separate pitches. Does he use each of them in every start? No, of course not, but sometimes I feel like that’s just because he runs out of time. The sheer variety makes him sound like a classic pitch-to-contact junkballer, or the tinkering by necessity when a pitcher finds his fastball keeps getting smashed. I see Lou Piniella in my mind, shaking his head at the thought of 5-6-7 pitches per game. But let’s be clear: Yu Darvish is not the Persian-Japanese Ryan Franklin.
Darvish’s fastball averaged 95-96 and touched 98 in his last start. But beyond velocity and arm speed, Darvish spins the ball like no pitcher I’ve ever seen. With his sweeping, plunging slider and hard, hellish sinker, Darvish’s pitches spanned a range of about 10″ in gloveside break to 12″ in armside run. His four-seam fastball has 10-11″ of vertical rise, and he’ll drop in a slow curve at 67mph with 14-15″ of drop. Given the sheer number of pitches, you keep expecting them to sort of bleed into one another – a four-seamer/sinker thing that doesn’t sink much, and doesn’t spin enough to get rise, or a hard curve and slider that are really two ends of a single spectrum. But somehow, Darvish keeps the edges clean – there’s separation and intent in each offering, and he’s somehow able to command them.
If I had to pick a favorite, it might be his slider, which has incredible two-plane break. No pitch moving that fast has any business moving that far to the gloveside AND down, and if it’s going to do THAT, then it really shouldn’t be thrown for a ball under 30% of the time. The only clear parallel among starters is Corey Kluber’s: pitches with hellish break that batters both can’t stop swinging at, and can’t do much when they contact it. It’s one reason why Darvish has been nearly unhittable against right-handed hitters in his career. Over 900+ PAs, righties are posting a sub-.600 OPS. Lefties aren’t exactly doing well, of course, but righties have been completely flummoxed.
The M’s have been lefty dominant as an offense in recent years, which may be why they’ve actually fared pretty well against Darvish. This year, they’re actually balanced, . Darvish will only throw 85-95 pitches tonight according to the Rangers, so having an actual bench is going to be useful.
1: Aoki, CF
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, DH
7: Lee, 1B
8: Clevenger, C
9: Sardinas, SS
The Rainiers beat Tim Lincecum’s Salt Lake Bees 5-1 last night, with Tacoma scoring 3 off of Lincecum in the first two innings. Mike Curto reports that Lincecum got into a groove after that, and made it through 5 innings with only the 3 R against him, and on only 88 pitches. Not bad for a guy who’s probably quite rusty after not throwing in a meaningful game since late June of 2015. Adrian Sampson outdueled the ex-Cy Young winner for the win. Donn Roach starts tonight at Cheney. I’d suggest going to the game given the weather and Seattle’s road trip, but it sounds like it’s sold out.
Jackson won their 8th consecutive game, 8-4 over Tennessee. Tyler O’Neill was 2-4 with a walk – not bad for the Southern League’s player of the month in May. Edwin Diaz pitched two scoreless with 2 Ks in relief. Kyle Hunter will make a spot start for Jackson today.
Bakersfield came back to beat Stockton 2-1 with single runs in the 7th and 8th innings. Tyler Pike struck out a career high 12 in only 5 IP for the Blaze. Today, Eddie Campbell takes the mound against A’s prospect Casey Meisner, who came over from the Mets in the Tyler Clippard trade last year. Meisner was ranked as the A’s 2nd best pitching prospect after Sean Manaea, who’s now in Oakland’s rotation, by MLB before the year, but he’s had something of a rough go. A lower K rate, a spike in walks, and lots of hard contact has Meisner sitting at 0-8 with a 4.09 ERA, but a 5.68 RA/9.
Clinton lost a tough one, 4-3 to Quad Cities. The Bandits got a run in the top of the 9th to take the win. Pablo Lopez, a 2013 international signing out of Venezuela, made his second start for Clinton and picked up the win.