Game 17, Astros still at Mariners

marc w · April 19, 2018 at 12:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Charlie Morton, 12:40pm

I feel like I’ve spent this entire series lavishing praise on the Astros rotation, but you can kind of see why: the M’s have scored 4 runs in 3 games. Now, they face the guy who might just be the *best* starter of the bunch, at least right now. The M’s avoided Justin Verlander this series, but that’s cold comfort now that Charlie Morton of all become is become death, destroyer of worlds.

Morton is 34, and while he’s been in the league a long time, has never tossed more than 172 IP in a season. Injuries played a part, but it was more that he just didn’t quite warrant more innings. In that peak workload year of 2011, he had a sub-4.00 ERA (in the hitting little ice age), but a K/9 of 5.77 and a BB/9 of 4.04. You looked at his line and it screamed overrated or even replacement level. It helped that he threw pretty hard, but it was nothing eye-popping. What saved him was a solid sinker that enabled high ground ball rates, and thus, in the days when the strike zone was exploring new territory to the south, it could be hard to hit HRs off of him. But due to a combination of injury and general mediocrity, that sharpness that allowed him to avoid the center of the plate (even if it meant walking too many) was hard to produce consistently.

Like with Gerrit Cole, things began to change when he left Pittsburgh – Morton signed a cheap deal with Philadelphia and started throwing harder while retaining his elite GB%, but injuries nuked his season after less than 20 IP. The Astros signed him on the basis of an intriguing couple of games, and set their development staff to work on him. Whereas he always had horrible platoon splits before, he now destroys left-handed hitters. Whereas he threw hard in the past, here’s Morton now, at age *34*, with the 4th highest FB velocity of any starter in the game – it’s ahead of Paxton’s, and hell, it’s ahead of Gerrit Cole’s. He closed out the World Series not by design, but because no one on the Dodgers could touch him, so the Astros just left him in there. And now? In 2018, his GB% has spiked again, as has his K%. The average exit velocity against him was below 7 degrees last year, but thus far in 2018, it’s *below zero*. He’s throwing 98 MPH darts that sink and if you somehow hit them, they go for topped ground balls. Right now, Charlie Morton, free agent afterthought, clearly established MLB journeyman, is one of the best pitchers in the game, and that’s backed up by stuff, performance, peripherals, whatever else you want to use.

Not going to lie: this feels a bit unfair. The Astros needed an amazing free agent bargain (Morton) about as much as they needed an amazing trade bargain (Cole). People point to the Astros tanking for years, and how that enabled them to get Carlos Correa with the #1 overall pick, but do you remember how everyone howled that picking Correa was just a way to save money? And how they used those savings in 2012 to sign Lance McCullers to an overslot deal? They’ve done OK with their super-high draft picks, but it has clearly NOT made the difference for them. Not when afterthoughts like Jose Altuve, Collin McHugh, or even Morton are around. They built an amazing system not just with #2 overall draft picks, but by developing a slew of players they could send out across the league for whatever they needed. Hell, sometimes it blew up in their face, as when they sent a chunk of talent to Milwaukee for Carlos Gomez. Josh Hader, who Jeff Sullivan just said is becoming the game’s most valuable reliever, was part of that deal, as was OF Domingo Santana who hit 30 bombs and put up a 3 WAR season. Gomez sucked, but who cares? The Astros moved George Springer over and, after they’d helped him overcome some contact issues, watched as he blossomed into an all-star.

Years ago, I lamented that there was this huge, huge gap between the M’s and the Rangers. Not only was the Rangers roster better, but so was their system and player development, which makes it hard to foresee how you begin to CLOSE the current gap. Chronic injury woes, some front office moves, and the closing of a contention window conspired to close that gap, and that’s nice, I guess. It took about 8 years, but there you go. The problem is that the gap between the M’s and Astros is bigger than that older gap ever was, and it comes at a time when the M’s don’t have 5-8 years to play with. Some M’s fans were angry that the M’s weren’t more serious players in free agency this off-season, and others defend the club, pointing out that there wasn’t much to go after, particularly starting pitching. The Astros turned Charlie Morton – literally, Charlie Morton – into one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. After watching that, I just can’t argue about what the right offer to, I don’t know, Lance Lynn should’ve been.

I’d be fine if the M’s signed a league-average starter; that’d be nifty. But what I want is for the M’s to take some half-formed prospect, or some waiver claim, some guy with the dreaded AAAA label, and turn him into something even the Astros feared. The M’s seemed really high on Marco Gonzales, and their ability not only to keep him healthy, but to tap into hitherto unknown levels of talent. It still could happen. Maybe it’ll happen today. But we’re all still waiting.

The guy Gonzales was traded for, OF Tyler O’Neill, was called up by the St. Louis Cardinals, so that’s just a fabulous bit of context. Sounds like the Cards made a series of changes to his stance and swing, and while he’s still whiff-prone, they’ve enabled him to cut down on pop-ups. He’s hit 18 HRs in less than 50 games in the Cards org, and is slugging over .600 since the deal, so, uh, great for him. Former M’s SP prospect Enyel de los Santos, whom the M’s sent to San Diego for Joaquin Benoit, was moved to Philadelphia just before the year in exchange for SS Freddie Galvis. De los Santos is in AAA and is striking out a bunch of dudes. Ryan Yarbrough is in Tampa pitching as a swing man, and while he’s walking too many (odd for him), he’s getting some experience. I really want to be hopeful about the M’s ability to develop pitching. I want to think that bad luck happens, and that the M’s have their successes with other clubs’ flame-outs just as often as the reverse occurs. I don’t think that today, and thus I’m not all that hopeful today. Marco, buddy, help me be hopeful again.

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

The Rainiers got a grand slam and 7 RBI from C Chris Herrman in a 14-2 drubbing of Albuquerque. Rob Whalen was sharp over 6 IP. The R’s send Max Povse to the mound tonight, as he tries to put his last start in Sacramento behind him.

Arkansas kicks off a series with the Springfield Cardinals today. Johendi Jiminian takes the mound for the Travs, opposite Conner Greene. Greene was part of the package in the deal that sent Randall Grichuk to Toronto.

Modesto scored 3 in the 9th to edge Stockton 6-5 – and the rally started with 2 outs and no one on base. Danny Garcia started and pitched 6 2/3 IP, while Wyatt Mills picked up the win with a scoreless 9th. With 2 outs, the Nuts got a single, then two walks to load the bases. Evan White then got plunked, which made it 5-4, before Logan Taylor lined a two-run walk-off hit. White added 2 hits, his first 2-hit game of the year, but he’s still searching for that elusive XBH.

Clinton faces the Burlington bees, weather willing. Ryne Inman starts for the Lumberkings.


4 Responses to “Game 17, Astros still at Mariners”

  1. mrakbaseball on April 19th, 2018 1:37 pm

    Cruz has looked off since he’s come back.

  2. mrakbaseball on April 19th, 2018 2:12 pm

    Well, the Mariners simply aren’t in the Astros’ league.

  3. Westside guy on April 19th, 2018 3:26 pm

    Tuning in here in the 8th, just in time to see another Astros home run.

    These guys are simply better than our guys. But I still want to check out the triple play video!

  4. Westside guy on April 19th, 2018 3:45 pm

    Man, I enjoyed having the Astros to laugh at for all those years… but that’s obviously a thing of the past.

    On the plus side, it sounds like Gonzales pitched much better than my assessment of him yesterday would lead one to believe.

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