Game 86, Mariners at Royals
James Paxton vs. Danny Duffy, 5:10pm
The M’s hid croutons of excellence amidst a vast sea of iceberg-lettuce mediocrity in Houston, and they paid the price in the form of a three game sweep. It’s not just that the M’s gap to 2nd place in the AL West is now 3 games, but that it was the Astros, and not the M’s, who chipped away at the suddenly-mortal Rangers. The M’s playoff odds got trimmed by 8 or so percentage points, and the Astros’ own odds are now above 60%. It was a series of bad outcomes, headlined by Tai Walker’s trip to the DL and the M’s overall problems in the clutch.
The M’s now face Kansas City, who are in a very similar position. Despite having a slightly better record, the Royals find themselves in 4th in the AL Central, which, combined with their poor preseason projection, has their playoff odds in the single digits. I don’t think they’re that bad, and think they could/should pass Chicago and possibly Detroit fairly soon, but they’ve got problems. Their starting pitching is an absolute mess, and I say that despite seeing the back end of the Orioles’ rotation not too long ago. Baltimore at least had some competence at the top, but Kansas City’s starters are the worst in the AL for a reason: they’ve got more depth to their badness. Chris Young’s weird HR/FB luck has snapped back this year, and he’s now packing a career’s worth of gopher balls into a half season.
Into this mess has stepped Danny Duffy, the guy who’s been projected as a key contributor to the rotation for what feels like a decade or so now. Thankfully for KC, he’s actually producing now, although he’s only made 10 starts to date. The lefty’s once-poor control’s now one of his greatest strengths, as his walk rate’s only 5% this year. Coupled with a K% near 29%, and you’ve got the makings of a dominant pitcher. Unfortunately, getting more of the plate often means giving up more dingers, and that’s the case here. No, it’s not as bad as Chris Young’s 4 HR/9, but it’s a problem – 9 of his 10 HRs allowed have come in his 10 starts. Now, the M’s DID just face a Houston team that’s also struggling with their rotation, and that didn’t go well. It’s not enough to score runs – the M’s rotation has to step up, too.
Duffy’s always had a big fastball for a lefty; it’s averaged around 95 for his career. But like his opponent today, it’s playing up this year, averaging 96+. Sure, sure, that’s partially the product of some relief appearances at the beginning of the year, but even while starting, his velocity’s a bit higher than his 2013-15 baseline. It looks like it took a jump up at the end of 2015, and it’s stayed there throughout 2016. Of course, no velo jump’s as insane as Paxton’s, but this will still be a fun match-up of high-octane lefties. He throws a hard slider to lefties, and then mixes in a change-up to righties. The slider’s a plus pitch, and as a result, lefties fare poorly against Duffy – over his career, they’re putting up a line of .205/.277/.287. Righties, though, have done just fine (.254/.337/.427), hence the right-handedness of today’s line-up:
1: Marte, SS
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Robertson, LF
9: O’Malley, CF