Game 141, Mariners at Athletics
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Daniel Mengden, 7:05pm
Is it better to finish a bit above .500, on the edge of contention, where a late-august swoon rips your heart out, or is it better to fall out of it early, try a bunch of new players and see if you can discern the first stirrings of a new, competitive core? You can say that there’s merit in the Astros’ recent rebuild or even the Phillies’ nearly instantaneous move from “too old” to “stocked with fascinating young players, but still not ready to compete,” but the case of the Athletics is somewhat different. With the A’s, you’re never sure it’s going to end, and while they were more than competitive just a couple of years ago, the trade of Josh Donaldson highlighted that developing elite young talent is kind of a double-edged sword. Hooray for watching that player come up to the majors and succeed! Boo, because he’s going to need to be traded as soon as that success is sustained. I don’t think the M’s or their front office wants the M’s to be a .500-ish team for several years, but that almost seems like the goal in Oakland. The M’s are going to be an old, old team next year, and that’s not ideal in terms of trying to contend in 2018-19, but the M’s signed Kyle Seager to an extension, and locked up Felix, Cano and Cruz. I know I pick on the A’s too much, especially as a sabermetrically-inclined guy, but it really has to be hard to be a fan in years like this one.
2015 was a pivotal year, as they dealt Donaldson away, and then moved decisively once they fell off the pace in the AL, acquiring Daniel Mengden from the Astros in a mid-year trade for Scott Kazmir last year. Mengden’s not overpowering, though his fastball will touch 95, but he has four pitches (five if you include a sinker) that he’ll throw pretty regularly. That diverse repertoire pairs with a…throwback delivery that may add a bit of deception. He was untouchable in the minors this year, but it’s been a very different story since joining the A’s. It’s not platoon splits, it’s just that *everything’s* gotten worse. His walk rate’s soared, nearly doubling from where he was in AAA. He’s giving up more HRs, and that may be a long-term issue, given that he throws over-the-top and is running a ground ball rate below 40%. His BABIP’s too high, and his strand rate’s absurdly low. This mixture of bad peripherals AND bad luck account for his diabolical ERA of 6.66 headed into tonight’s game.
Mengden’s still young and anyone who can come close to commanding four pitches this early has a real shot. But he’s another example of how tricky the A’s rebuild is. Sean Manaea was their top pitching prospect coming into the year, and while he’s recovered from a ghastly start, he’s only shown flashes of being more than a #3. Mengden’s adjusting to the big leagues slowly, and Andrew Triggs hurt his back. Sonny Gray’s been one of the biggest disappointments in the league, which increases the chances that he’ll stay in Oakland, but decreases the chances that A’s fans will be stoked about that in 2018. Zach Neal and Kendall Graveman have pitched pretty well, but can’t strike anyone out, Jharel Cotton CAN, but he’s only pitched one big league game thus far, etc. Having this many young starters is great, though of course it means something’s gone wrong. But the A’s haven’t seen the kind of instant star they had with Gray. Maybe with time to develop they’ll put together a great, cheap core. Or maybe they’ve got a whole lot of perfectly serviceable players but don’t yet have the pieces they need to challenge Texas and Houston, no matter how much development time you give them.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Marte, SS
Another solid night in the minors, as Bakersfield won to give Sam Lynn another home game before the whole team’s contracted out of the Cal League. Jen Mac Ramos had a great article on the ballpark and club as they face the inevitable end of their team today at the Hardball Times. The Blaze dominated from start to finish last night, beating San Jose 7-1 to equalize the series at 1 apiece. It’s a best of 3. Zack Littell struck out 11 in 7 1/3 dominant innings. Tyler Pike starts the deciding game tonight in Bakersfield opposite Jake McCasland who was called up for this start – he hasn’t played for San Jose yet, spending his 2016 repeating the Sallie League in Augusta.
Tacoma lost by that same 7-1 score, so their series with El Paso’s also tied 1-1. Wade LeBlanc’s on the hill for the Rainiers today against Bryan Rodriguez who gave up 108 hits in 86+ innings while striking out 51 AAA hitters this year. Go Rainiers.
Montgomery simply can’t hit Jackson pitching. A day after Andrew Moore twirled a 9IP, 1H, 0R game at them, Brett Ash and the Generals bullpen limited the biscuits to 1 run in Jackson’s 2-1 win. Brent Honeywell was as advertised, giving up 2 runs on HRs by Tylers Marlette and O’Neill, but that was it: his final line was 7 IP, 4H, 2R, 1BB, 7Ks. Jackson goes for the sweep tonight in Montgomery behind Paul Blackburn, the pitcher the M’s got in the Vogelbach/Montgomery trade.
Clinton beat Peoria 4-3 to win the best-of-3 series in the first round of the MWL playoffs. Luiz Gohara was unhittable through 5, and though he gave up 3 runs in the 7th, the bullpen made it hold up. Luis Liberato led the offense with 3 hits, and was a defensive star, too: The game ended on a play at the plate, as Liberato threw out Matt Davis at home after Magneuris Sierra singled. Phew. They’re off today, but face Cedar Rapids tomorrow with Pablo Lopez on the hill.
Everett beat Spokane in Game 1 of their series, as the Sox to an early 5-1 lead and held on for an 8-5 win. Everett plays game 2 of the series tonight in a pretty special location: Safeco Field. Just like the Rainiers’ 2010 playoff run had to be moved to Safeco Field as Cheney Stadium was being renovated, Everett will get a playoff start in Seattle tonight as their home field hasn’t quite drained from the rains that scuppered the Wednesday start. Tickets are $12, and they’re only opening 100 level seats.