Game 153, Mariners at Twins
James Paxton vs. Kyle Gibson, 5:10pm
That walk-off win against the Jays kept the M’s playoff hopes on life support, and they’ll get a further boost from the fact that the teams chasing the wild card all finish off the year playing intradivisional games. That means the M’s finish up against the out-of-it-A’s, while the Orioles and Jays are beating up each other, and tussling with the Red Sox. Of course, the Astros get the Angels to end with, AND they face the M’s at home after this series. Any gains the M’s get from their easier closing schedule are moot if they can’t actually win some series against the team’s they’re chasing.
But first, they face the Twins, a team whose rebuild looked great last year, but has collapsed to 98 losses thus far. They’ve done it despite Brian Dozier setting the HR record for 2Bs, and the team as a whole has drawn a decent number of walks. It’s just that so many of their youngsters have scuffled – Byron Buxton was the headliner here, but Miguel Sano took a step back as well – and the team compounded its weaknesses by being an inept defensive club. The pitching hasn’t helped either. Today’s starter, Kyle Gibson, was coming off of two consecutive better-than-league-average-by-fWAR seasons, but he’s fallen back thanks to a spate of home runs. Those HRs haven’t just troubled Gibson – they’ve been an anchor around a Twins staff that still doesn’t strike enough batters out to get away with dinger problems. For Gibson, part of the problem has been a spike in his platoon splits – lefties are destroying him this year. As a sinker/slider pitcher, you’d expect this, and he’s had sizeable splits his whole career, but this year, his results against lefties have gone from bad to gross.
No team in the AL’s given up more HRs than the Twins – the M’s are in 2nd, of course, 9 back of Minnesota. While Minnesota’s given up a lot of fly balls, the problem affects everyone, including GB guys like Gibson. I’ve been looking at park data for yet another post about Safeco, so I’ll say that this doesn’t appear to be just a case of awful pitchers pitching awfully; the Twins have given up more HRs at home, and a LOT more extra-base hits. I mentioned this way back in early July, but thanks to all the new data we have access to, there are a lot of ways to think about park factors. Tony Blengino’s batted-ball factors show Target Field as a good doubles park, but somewhat hard to homer in. But just this week, we got another way to think about this. Ex-M’s employee and saber-man-about-town Tom Tango and BaseballSavant guru Daren Willman came up with a new way to categorize really well-hit balls. They’re called ‘barrels’ – as in, when a batter really barrels up a ball. The definition combines launch angle and velocity such that the *minimum* ‘barrel’ has a slugging percentage of 1.500. These are elevated shots hit hard, so most HRs in the game qualify. Anyway, the point is: Target Field’s seen a lot of ‘barrels’ this year…even more than Safeco Field (they’ve had to pitch more in Target Field, so Safeco wins on a rate basis). I’m trying to square this circle wherein Blengino tells us that Safeco and Target are still limiting home runs with all of the actual home runs flying out of both parks. More on this shortly.
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
Speaking of Buxton, he’s had a very rough year and ended up getting sent back to AAA earlier, but man, he’s looked like a different hitter since returning. He’s hitting .300/.355/.686 in September (77 PAs). No, he’s not drawing enough walks and yes, the K rate is still vertiginous, but he’s driving the ball after spending most of the year popping the ball up to infielders.
As you probably expect, the M’s leader in ‘barrels’ is Nelson Cruz, who’s hit 60 of them. Exactly half have come at home.
The Astros welcome the Angels to Houston, with Alex Meyer and Doug Fister facing off right as the M’s game starts. The Orioles host the D-Backs (who are thinking about canning their front office, apparently), while the Jays host the Yankees.