Game 132, Mariners at Rangers
James Paxton vs. Cole Hamels, 5:05pm
The M’s have now lost 6 of 7, and everyone wants to know why. Nathan Bishop’s article at LL notes that the M’s have struggled because they’ve ran into some really good opposing starters, all bunched together – a string that continues tonight, with Cole Hamels on the hill. Greg Johns of MLB.com refines this by noting that the M’s are really struggling against left-handed starters; it’s not just that the M’s have run into a string of top starters, it’s that the majority of them have been southpaws, and for whatever reason, the M’s just don’t do very well against such pitchers.
After reading Johns’ article, I looked at the batting splits at BBREF, and if anything, it’s even worse than Johns thought. The M’s line-up has been much worse against lefty starters than either righty starters or lefties in general. While Robbie Cano, Nelson Cruz, Franklin Gutierrez and even Kyle Seager have been solid or better against lefty starters, the drop off from there is severe. Chris Iannetta, Adam Lind-and-Dae Ho Lee, Leonys Martin, Guillermo Heredia and especially Norichika Aoko have all been varying shades of disastrous, and that’s been a big factor in the fact that the M’s are now 20-29 in games started by an opposing southpaw. Lind and Seth Smith were never supposed to *play* in these situations, and guys like Leonys Martin had so many question marks, the fact that we’re only talking about very specific platoon splits is encouraging in itself. But Iannetta (and Zunino too, by the way) and Ketel Marte needed to be better. Marte and Martin are up-the-middle defenders, and that means it’s much harder to think about platoons, so the bat-first platoon guys really needed to step up.
The other factor that I’d bring up to explain the M’s sudden slide is the bullpen. This is all really obvious and hardly needs stating, but here we go: the M’s bullpen was never as good as the group that looked unhittable in early August, and they’re not as bad as the group that’s given up 8 HRs in their last 41 IP. This is what happens when you build a bullpen out of high-K, high-HR hurlers, which seems to have been the plan all along. Because Ks are relatively frequent and HRs are relatively infrequent, they’ll have strings of games where they strike out errybody and keep the ball in the park, and look amazing. Then, some of those balls in play go over the fence, and you get a flurry of gut-punches. The back of the pen is now as good as it’s been in years thanks to Edwin Diaz, but the middle of it goes as Vidal Nuno or Nick Vincent or Tom Wilhelmsen, three of the more predictably volatile relievers you’ll find.
Cole Hamels is putting together another good year for Texas, with a sub-3 ERA despite a merely ‘good’ FIP. Hamels is walking a few more batters, but he’s still a tough match-up for right-handers thanks to his excellent change. That said, he’s been throwing more of his cutter in recent years, and that’s pushed his platoon splits more in the ‘normal’ direction after years of running slightly reversed splits. I’m hoping he’s still atypical enough that the M’s bats that have scuffled against lefties might have a chance, but 1) he’s a very good pitcher and 2) commanding his cutter has made him tougher on left-handed bats like Martin and Cano. We’ll see. His change is still a weapon, but he’s prone to mistakes with it. Righties have a low batting average against the pitch, but they’ve always connected for a fair number of HRs. Just like the M’s reliever corps, he may get some Ks against this M’s line-up, but a HR or two will really change the game.
1: O’Malley, RF
2: Marte, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Gutierrez, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lee, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Heredia, LF
That’s an…that’s not a great line-up. Nelson Cruz is out with an injured hand, which leads to O’Malley starting at corner OF against Cole Hamels. Marte batting 2nd? I have no idea.
Tyler O’Neill headlines three Jackson Generals named to the Southern League All Star team – the others are Ryan Yarbrough and 2B Tim Lopes. O’Neill’s in the running for league MVP, an award that’ll be announced tomorrow.
The Arizona League playoffs kick off tonight, and the AZL M’s are playing in the league’s first round – the top 2 teams in the league have first-round byes. The team’s lead by CF Anthony Jimenes, 3B Joe Rizzo and SS Christopher Torres.
After losing last night, the Rainiers turn to Sam Gaviglio to beat Fresno and keep the M’s on track to win the PCL north. The game’s at Cheney, so head over if you’re in town.
Jackson’s on a losing skid, punctuated by yesterday’s double header sweep at the hands of the Biloxi Shuckers. Paul Blackburn takes the mound for the Generals as they look to hit the playoffs on a winning streak.
Tyler Pike leads Bakersfield against the San Jose Giants.