Game 14, Astros at Mariners

marc w · April 16, 2018 at 5:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

James Paxton vs. Dallas Keuchel, 7:10pm

The Astros haven’t run away with the division yet, and head into Seattle in a virtual dead heat with the M’s, who are coming off yet another series win. I’ve said before and still believe that the Astros are comprehensively better, top to bottom, but that fact doesn’t actually mean they should just cancel the series and add three wins to the Astros’ total. The M’s need to play really well and hopefully get a bit of luck, but that’s not asking for the impossible.

One thing that makes it a bit easier: the Astros formidable offense is slumping a bit. Similar to the Indians, the Astros are simply underperforming at the plate. They’ve got a decent walk rate, but the two things that made them so great last year – high ISO/power AND elite contact skills – have eroded. Their K rate ranks 17th in the early going, while their ISO is down in 21st place. They were the league’s best in both measures in 2017. Youngsters like Alex Bregman and Derek Fisher haven’t hit their stride yet, while Jose Altuve (while productive over all) hasn’t hit for power. George Springer’s also gotten off to a bit of a slow start, and it’ll be interesting to see if the M’s can keep it that way; he killed the M’s last year, posting an OPS over 1.000 against M’s pitching.

Today’s starter, Dallas Keuchel, hasn’t been himself, either. After years of a walk rate under 6%, he comes into tonight’s game with a rate over 12%. Meanwhile, his K rate has dropped as well, and while he was effective without missing a ton of bats once before, it’s tougher to do now that the ball is supercharged (if it still is; it’s been a weird year). His pitch location’s up slightly compared to last year, but it’s still lower than it was in 2016, so I don’t think he’s doing anything radically different – he’s just not as effective. Thus, tonight’s game – with ace James Paxton on the mound – may be the M’s best chance, and so they’ve got to take advantage. It’s baseball, so momentum is a weird concept, but everything feels different when the team’s coming off a win against a Cy Young winner like Keuchel.

It’d also make me less worried about the rest of the series. The Astros are 10-5 *despite* some mediocre offense because their pitching (Keuchel aside) has been phenomenal. They’ve got the best runs allowed per game mark in the, uh, game, at just over 3. Charlie Morton looks like an ace now, and so do both Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. The bullpen has half a dozen absolutely ridiculous strikeout arms, from Brad Peacock to Chris Devenski to Hector Rondon and even Collin McHugh.

Paxton’s looked quite good in his last two starts, and I’m fine with just forgetting about his initial start of the year, but I’d love to see him run off a string of great starts in front of the Maple Grove. As a team, the M’s have a better K:BB ratio at home, and their low-BABIP plan is working to perfection in a park like Safeco which suppresses BABIP. The problem, and I know you’re sick of hearing me say this, is home runs, or more broadly, really hard contact. Safeco Field has seen the highest percentage of pitches turn into “barrels” – Statcast’s definition of ideal contact – of any park. Sure, you say, that’s because the Mariners play there, and we just had a nice tall glass of A’s bullpen, too. True! But the M’s seem to think Safeco will minimize the impact of hard contact, and that’s just not true anymore.

The M’s pitching staff has plenty of problems, and they lead the league in barrel frequency when they’re on the road. But they give up *even more* at Safeco. From what we’ve seen this year and last, pretty much the only thing that can slow Paxton down is a big HR, and that’s why he’s got to try and limit them against a line-up like Houston’s that can punish mistakes…even if they’ve not done so yet this year. Yes, the K:BB ratio is great, and yes, the M’s are pitching around those dingers, as exemplified by Felix yesterday. But they’re giving up soooo many dingers, and a team that considers itself a playoff contender can’t be neck and neck with the patently-not-a-major-league-staff Cincinnati Reds in this measure. The M’s HR/9 coming into today is 1.74, and that’s without needing a 5th starter *at all* this year.

1: Gordon, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Heredia, LF
8: Motter, 1B
9: Freitas, C

Motter starts at 1B with Vogelbach on the bench against a tough lefty.

Lots of talk about a steep drop in attendance in baseball this year. The weather has clearly played some role, and game cancellations are up dramatically, but that’s not the only factor. Jeff Passan’s article points to the number of teams “tanking” this year as a potential contributing factor, and the perennial issue of cost came up a lot on twitter. I’m not sure what to think at this point, but I’ll just note that Seattle hasn’t been affected – attendance is pretty solid thus far for the M’s. We’ll see how it stacks up at the end of the year, but they’re 4th in the AL in average attendance.

Christian Bergman continued his hot start yesterday in Sacramento, throwing 5 IP of 1R ball to raise his season ERA to 0.51. Kirk Nieuwenhuis and John Andreoli homered in the R’s 15-5 win – rehabbing Ben Gamel walked 3 times, and should head north in this series.. a move that could come with some tough choices. Tacoma’s game today was rained out.

Arkansas lost to Corpus Christi in 11 innings on 3-run HR from Yordan Alvarez. Andrew Moore struck out *9* in 4 2/3 IP, but gave up 5 runs. Moore’s now struck out 26 in 16 1/3 IP in AA. The new extra inning rules are going to play havoc with reliever numbers, as poor Stephen Perakslis gave up 5 runs for the Travs yesterday…but had the pleasure of starting TWO innings with a runner placed on 2B. Those runners scored in each inning, and were charged to Perakslis. Sure, they’re unearned runs, but the runs are still there, and it’s got to change how you pitch. Arkansas sends Spencer Herrman to the mound tonight against Cuban Cionel Perez of Corpus Christi.

Speaking of extra innings, Modesto lost in 12 4-3. The game was tied at 1 after 9, then both clubs scored their free runner in the 11th, before Visalia scored 2 to the Nuts 1 in the 12th. Randy Bell went 7 IP, giving up 1 R on 3 H and 1 BB (he K’d 2). The Nuts open a series with Stockton today, and they’ll send Ljay Newsome to the hill. Catching him, at least to start off, will be Mike Zunino, who’s starting his rehab assignment. Sounds like he’ll catch 5-6 IP tonight, DH tomorrow, and then catch 8-9 IP the following day.

Clinton was snowed out yesterday, and they’re off today. Lots of bad weather in the midwest this year, with a ton of snow falling in April.


11 Responses to “Game 14, Astros at Mariners”

  1. mrakbaseball on April 16th, 2018 8:10 pm

    Yes Nelson Cruz! Both runs accounted by home runs. This is what baseball has become.

  2. stevemotivateir on April 16th, 2018 8:19 pm

    We’ve got a ballgame goin’ on here.

  3. Westside guy on April 16th, 2018 8:34 pm

    Nice catch by Haniger there!

  4. Westside guy on April 16th, 2018 8:41 pm

    Two Astros stumble in a row – we’ll take it!

  5. stevemotivateir on April 16th, 2018 8:44 pm

    I really hate bunt attempts with a RHH facing a LHP and a speed demon at 2B.

  6. stevemotivateir on April 16th, 2018 8:55 pm

    Gorman has been cruel to LHH’s on the outside.

  7. mksh21 on April 16th, 2018 9:20 pm

    Well Diaz time to see what you are REALLY made of!

  8. mksh21 on April 16th, 2018 9:34 pm


  9. Sowulo on April 16th, 2018 9:46 pm

    Great team effort today. Yay! Zunino 1-3 today in Modesto. The future of this season is looking brighter…..

  10. Westside guy on April 16th, 2018 9:46 pm

    Marc should be pleased with this game from Big Maple.

  11. flightrisk on April 17th, 2018 8:19 am

    “hopefully get a bit of luck”…And the baseball gods provided a little in the form of the George Springer pratfall after Gordon dumped the single in right. Would Freitas have rumbled home on the basehit without the stumble? I kinda don’t think so. Thank you, gods of the northern maple!

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