Game 146, Mariner at Angels
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jhoulys Chacin, 7:05pm
The M’s have won seven in a row, and that tends to amp up your emotional response to each event, but when’s the last time an M’s game was as much fun to watch as last night’s? Every facet of the game, with the possible exception of defense (what the hell happened to you, Ketel Marte?), was clicking, and the result was not only an easy win over a rival, but a number of performances that offer a lot of hope for the future.
Obviously, the biggest takeaway was Taijuan Walker’s comfort and effectiveness, mixing three pitches in a way we’ve simply not seen before. For all the talk of mechanical tweaks, Walker remains metronome-like in terms of the movement he gets on his pitches. Any mechanical adjustment should impact either movement or velocity, and that’s just not what we’ve seen. Here’s Walker’s vertical movement over his career:
You’d expect more variance from game to game just due to pitch fx calibration (which Brooks largely corrects for) or just because Walker woke up 15 minutes earlier. Walker’s done a lot of things wrong in his MLB tenure, but he does not have a problem with repeating his delivery. It may be a bad delivery or a good one, but it IS consistent.
What hasn’t been consistent is his pitch mix. In my opinion, he’s been far too fastball-reliant, making it easier for batters to focus on location. To be fair to the M’s and Walker, a lot of that reliance was a product of poor secondary pitches. Coming up through the minors, I thought his curve could become a plus pitch. Many other observers came to the opposite conclusion, and suggested he scrap it for a cutter. I’ve seen the cutter in the minors and the majors, and I’ve simply never seen an average, let alone plus, pitch. This may be my own weird issue; some scouts raved about it when he’d first developed it, and it’s possible the real issue isn’t with the cutter, but overall consistency (though again, that seems unlikely to be his issue). Worse, whenever he DID throw the curve against big league hitters, it looked noticeably worse than it did in Tacoma. I’m assuming some of this was just rust – he’d focused so much on his fastball, the new cutter/slider thing, and his splitter, that the curve was an afterthought. That feedback loop built on itself, and you had games where he’d throw it once, or as he did against the Rays this year, not throw it at all. He’s thrown it less than 10% of the time this year, about the same as he did last year.
It wasn’t a great pitch, but it at least offered a change of pace. His splitter’s been hit fairly hard, too (7 HRs off of it this year), but no one would suggest he scrap it. What we saw last night was Walker in command of both the curve and the splitter. We’ve really never seen Walker command and actually utilize three pitches in a game. There’ve been games where he’s thrown a bunch of cutters, and games where he’s thrown a few dozen splitters, but these two things didn’t really overlap. Last night’s mix of – in rough terms – 50% FB, 25% CU and 25% CH/SP worked well, and they worked because he was able to throw them for strikes. The curve ball he struck out Trout on was a great example, and a great job by both Walker and Zunino to have the confidence to throw it in that situation.
The M’s clawed to within 2.5 games of the 2nd wild card, so this win came at an opportune time, and it helped the M’s chances, etc. It also gave me much more confidence – maybe too MUCH more confidence – in 2017. It must’ve felt incredible for Walker, too – remember that when he was sent down, the M’s called him out publicly, with Servais saying he needed to work deeper into games and compete more. I have a feeling Walker reminded Servais of that when he (successfully) lobbied to go back out in the 9th and go for the complete game.
The Angels were supposed to start Tyler Skaggs today, but he was scrapped, and Jhoulys Chacin, the ~ replacement-level innings-sponge will start instead. This’ll be Chacin’s 5th appearance against the M’s this year, and while he was very effective in his first 2, he’s been destroyed in the last two, giving up 9 runs and 14 hits in 8 2/3 IP. Chacin’s been particularly bad against left-handers this year; he’s been surprisingly decent against righties. The M’s seem well-positioned to take advantage, with both Seth Smith and Nori Aoki suddenly hot.
1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Vogelbach, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Iannetta, C
9: Marte, SS
Everett lost the Northwest League Championship to Eugene last night, falling 2-1 thanks to another great game from lefty Manuel Rondon. Reggie McClain was the hard-luck loser, giving up both runs in 4 2/3 IP with 6 Ks. Congrats to the Emeralds.
Jackson’s story is a bit happier, as they took a 2-0 lead in the Southern League Championship series with a, er, 2-0 win. Brett Ash started and went 7 scoreless. Ryne Harper made it hold up with 2 shutout innings for the save. The big hit was a HR by Adam Law, a 3B the M’s picked up during the year. Guys like Ryne Harper and Law have really helped, and also highlight how active the M’s have been in making minor trades..wait…really? The M’s just sent Joe Wieland to Atlanta for a PTBNL. Yesterday, they sent Wade LeBlanc to Pittsburgh. Dipoto can’t stop.
The Midwest League Championship series kicks off today, with Clinton hosting the Great Lakes Loons, a Dodgers affiliate. Luiz Gohara takes the hill for Clinton opposite Jordan Sheffield, a 2016 draftee out of Vanderbilt with some pretty good blood lines. His father is Gary Sheffield, and his little brother Justus (who signed out of HS) was part of the big Andrew Miller deal this year.