Game 72, Red Sox at Mariners

marc w · June 17, 2018 at 12:31 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Mike Leake vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, 1:10pm

Last night, Wade LeBlanc, the guy the M’s signed off of waivers at the end of spring training, tossed 7 2/3 brilliant innings at one of the top offenses in the league, yielding 2 hits and no runs with *9* strikeouts. If this blog has any sort of purpose (don’t answer that), it would be to help explain a result like that. Sure, we need explanations of the macro phenomenon, with the M’s 21 over .500 and swatting away good teams – even teams that appear to be better in a true-talent sense. But the micro as well: what the hell is Wade LeBlanc, journeyman soft-tosser, *doing* when he frustrates an offense like Boston’s?

I know what I’m supposed to do, but here’s the honest truth: I have absolutely no idea. I’m looking at data like it’s going to explain it, and it’s just not. Did he keep the ball out of the center of the zone? No, not really. Different pitch mix? There were a lot more change-ups, but he’s done similar things before, and let’s be honest here: ALL of the pitches, of whatever type, were thrown by Wade LeBlanc, so pure stuff probably isn’t the key to this mystery. Did he have a velo spike? Ha ha ha, nooooo. So, dear readers, I’ve got nothing. He attacked, he showed good command, he refused to give in and walk hitters, and all of that matters. But he does that a lot – there’s precious little to point to and say, there, that’s where LeBlanc did something different, and that’s what made his night so special.

I’ve been thinking about that with regards to the team’s performance overall. They’ve won in different ways, with different players powering them for a week or so at a time. Coming into this series, the story was about their offense, which helped bail out their pitchers who were themselves bludgeoned by Mike Trout. Haniger, Healy and company slugged their way through the Angels bullpen, and that was enough. This series is the inverse of that, where the Red Sox have stymied the M’s offense, only for their pitchers – including Felix and LeBlanc – to toss some of their best games of the year and keep them in it. Both offense and pitching have been a bit above average on the year, but again, the key has been the timing of it all – the pitchers were great in low-scoring games, and the offense stepped up when Trout went all Trout on the M’s. It’s hard to pick out a signature style or aspect of the game that the M’s dominate at, except their sense of drama and style.

But the longer this goes on, the more I keep thinking about something I talked about way back when Dipoto got this GM job and announced from his first few hires what he wanted to do. Dipoto clearly cared about development, and that’s been an aspect of his tenure that I’m still not fully on board with. I still think the M’s minor league player development system isn’t quite firing on all cylinders, but it’s equally true that they haven’t needed it this year. That’s because the other half of Dipoto’s development strategy – seen with the hiring of Andy McKay and Scott Servais – was development *at the big league level.* That was intriguing, and a little less proven. Can you really teach plate discipline or command after a player’s had years of coaching in the minors?

As I said at the top, there’s nothing definitive here, but the returns are starting to mount for a cautious “maybe so.” It’s not team-wide; we’ve seen Mike Zunino struggle to maintain the gains he made last year, and Felix has been maddeningly inconsistent. But something’s going on – players in slumps pull out of them and don’t linger on the roster pulling down overall production. Marco Gonzales seems to be *exactly* who Dipoto thought he was going to be in 2017, despite the fact that he spent much of 2017 disappointing. Mike Leake was great in September, surprisingly terrible in April, but has been great since. Dee Gordon hasn’t been great in a while, but let’s not forget the fact that he had to learn to play CF at the big league level – and did it pretty well – before moving back to 2B. This isn’t so much about players blowing projections out of the water, though Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura have certainly done that. It’s about not allowing black holes to develop. It’s those black holes that have sunk so many M’s seasons in the past – those rally-killing spots at the bottom of the order. Ben Gamel looked like he was on the way to becoming one in April, and at other times, Ryon Healy looked like he’d do it too – but neither has.

I hadn’t really seen this aspect of the M’s before – it always seemed like players had to leave to really get better: Zunino and Paxton in Tacoma, for example, or Chris Taylor in Los Angeles. They’re not miracle workers or anything, but I’m glad to see this development.

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


5 Responses to “Game 72, Red Sox at Mariners”

  1. WTF_Ms on June 17th, 2018 2:02 pm

    I think the Sox lineup is too good for Leake. We’ll need the bullpen to step up big time today. Oh, and the offense needs to put up lore than one run.

  2. WTF_Ms on June 17th, 2018 3:16 pm

    We’ll i guess 2 runs is ok. Houston has to lose at some point. They can’t possibly sustain this pace.

  3. WTF_Ms on June 17th, 2018 3:24 pm

    Well, so much for stepping up. Like I mentioned before, the schedule will not allow us first place again, unless Houston completely falls apart.

  4. Grayfox3d on June 17th, 2018 4:10 pm

    Glad I didn’t watch this one, I just had that sinking feeling that Red Sox were eventually going to break out and well that’s exactly what happened. Seemed like the Mariners had a few chances to score runs but no one really stepped up.
    I’m only watching the box score but did something happen to Segura? I noticed he was lifted for Romine.

  5. mrakbaseball on June 17th, 2018 5:02 pm

    He was lifted from the game due to the game being out of reach.

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