Game 120, Mariners at Athletics: The Showdown

marc w · August 13, 2018 at 5:18 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Sean Manaea, 7:05pm

The M’s unlikely sweep of the Astros in Houston has remade the AL West. The M’s are just 4 out of first, and 1.5 back of the A’s in 2nd place. The season seemed to be settling in to the M’s in 2nd behind the Astros who looked like they’d run away with things the way everyone expected. Injuries and trouble in the clutch have confounded those expectations, at least temporarily. The biggest beneficiaries of the Astros’ stumbles, though, have been the A’s, who continue to steamroll their way through their 2nd half schedule. The A’s are a very good team, but they share a common attribute with the M’s, one that’s essentially the inverse of the Astros’ current foible: they are dominant when they get a lead.

Edwin Diaz just racked up a save in all four wins against Houston, the perfect capstone to the perfect series for the Mariners. On paper, the Astros are better at hitting, pitching, and defense, but Diaz gives the M’s a clear edge in an important phase of the game. While the new crop of situational relievers (and the pre-deadline set-up men) have had their ups and downs, the M’s essentially have things won when they turn the ball to Sugar. That’s essentially the A’s plan, too. In Blake Treinen, the A’s have a similar kind of lock-down closer, one who enables them to overachieve their base talent level, particularly given the rash of injuries they’ve had to deal with.

By Fangraphs’ WAR, Eddie Diaz is the top reliever in the game at 3.1, thanks to an other-wordly FIP borne of his K:BB dominance. By RA9-based WAR, Treinen jumps ahead, and essentially blows MLB out of the water. Treinen doesn’t have the same kind of K rate as Diaz, but he’s given up all of 1 HR and has stranded more runners. To be clear: some of this is due to factors outside of Treinen’s control – his spacious home park, the A’s excellent defense (especially 3B Matt Chapman). Still and all, the A’s closer has an ERA that starts with 0, and while you can justifiably say it won’t last, it’s a huge reason why the A’s keep on surging.

Diaz has his psychedelic slider, a pitch with late, angry break, to confound hitters with. Treinen generally sticks with his fastball, using his 98-MPH four-seam and sinker over 60% of the time. A west coast Zach Britton, Treinen’s sinker often looks like a near-100-MPH breaking ball, with serious late downward break. The sheer life on the pitch make any kind of worries about platoon splits moot. Sure, they’re there…kind of, but he’s got a FIP below 2 against both lefties and righties. Picking who’s got an “advantage” seems like a great way to miss the point.

Of course, we wouldn’t be talking about either Diaz or Treinen if they didn’t have save opportunities, and that’s meant that much of the focus on both clubs has gone towards the starting rotation. The M’s were high on the rotation coming into the year, and health is a big reason why that faith has been at least partially rewarded. Sure, they could’ve used another starter at times, and maybe they’d be neck and neck with the Astros if they’d splurged on someone, but their starting pitching has been remarkably solid all year long. Contrast that with the A’s, who’ve already gone through a few years worth of starting pitchers. When the year started, their rotation looked like this:
1: Kendall Gravemann
2: Sean Manaea
3: Daniel Mengden
4: Andrew Triggs
5: Daniel Gossett

Top prospect AJ Puk waited in the wings for either the super 2 deadline or just a few weeks to give the club an extra year of club control.

Within a few weeks, the rotation was a smoldering pile of ash. Gravemann was demoted and has since had TJ surgery. Daniel Gossett was demoted and had TJ surgery. Andrew Triggs remains on the 60-day DL with forearm tightness but as of this writing, has not yet had TJ surgery, which makes him a kind of success story. Daniel Mengden was merely demoted, so is even more of a success story. AJ Puk had TJ surgery before the year even started. Only Sean Manaea remains, and he’s been reinforced by a motley crew of journeymen, ex-prospects and waiver fodder. Trevor Cahill joined at the end of April, followed by his old teammate Brett Anderson in early May. Paul Blackburn and Frankie Montas joined near the end of May. Chris Bassitt and Edwin Jackson came on in June before the most recent signing, Mike Fiers, joined at the deadline. Blackburn and Bassitt have already departed, the latter optioned to AAA while Blackburn was shut down with, yes, an arm injury. This last iteration of the rotation has been their most successful yet, and currently includes:
1: Sean Manaea
2: Edwin Jackson
3: Trevor Cahill
4: Mike Fiers
5: Brett Anderson

Manaea’s been the rock, but the club wouldn’t be handing the ball to Treinen without Jackson, Cahill, and Anderson turning the clock back to the early years of this decade. Jackson in particular seems like an out-of-nowhere savior, as he hasn’t posted a big league season above replacement level since 2014, and hasn’t posted at least 1 win by RA9-based war since 2012. Everyone gets hot from time to time, but this is every bit as fascinating to me as the Yankees pitching PD success. At least those guys are working with youngsters (CC Sabathia excepted) – the A’s are fueling their comeback with has-beens.

Sean Manaea was once a potential 1st overall draftpick with a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, but arm trouble and inconsistency knocked him down the draft board. With a low 3/4 slot and low spin rate fastball, he seemed like a great Justin Masterson-style high-GB% starter, albeit one who might struggle with right-handed bats (Manaea’s a lefty). In his first two years, those platoon split problems plagued him, but he still managed league-average years in the A’s makeshift rotations. This year, he’s taken a step forward despite a somewhat worrying drop in velocity. As LL’s Jake Mailhot detailed back in May, he pitched around his declining velo with swerving horizontal movement and increased confidence. Only, a strange thing has happened to his plus horizontal movement – it’s dropping just as fast as his velocity. When he came up, he had sidearm-quality armside run, averaging over 11″. It’s now down to something like 7″, pushing him from long-tail edge case to…normal pitcher. It hasn’t exactly hurt; he’s having his best season even as his K rate drops. The key’s been that his change and fastball are now confusing *righties*. He doesn’t really throw his slider to righties, so his developmental arc has been predicated on developing his solid split-change into a useful weapon. Armed with a new release point that’s practically on top of 1B, Manaea seems to have upped his deception, and that’s enabled him to be an equal-opportunity pitcher. Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson always had more muted platoon splits, but they too seem to be doing something more deceptive than in the past. And while Andrew Triggs can’t stay healthy, he was the right-handed version of Manaea – a very low 3/4 sinker/slider guy who looks for all the world like a situational reliever but whose mechanics or stride or something seems to be confusing to opposite-handed batters. I have no idea what the the A’s are doing with these guys, but as of today, the A’s starting pitchers – including a bunch of guys who’ve been demoted and injured or both – have a lower ERA and way, way less hits-allowed than the M’s. Sure, they’ve pitched fewer innings, but even on a rate basis, they’ve given up fewer runs.

The M’s control the zone much better, and the A’s are among the league’s worst at missing bats. But then, they know they don’t have to get outs themselves. Their job is to keep things close, rely on their defense (and yes, their spacious park), and then turn things over to Treinen and company in the bullpen. That *seemed* to be the M’s plan, but Marco Gonzales’ development and Mike Leake’s sheer durability have allowed them to get more innings out of their starters…which is good, as relief arms like James Pazos and Nick Vincent seem to be slowing down a bit. In the past 30 days or so, the A’s starting pitching has morphed into a strength, kind of the way the M’s SPs did in May. How each group fares in September will determine who picks up the second wildcard.

Tonight’s line-up:
1: Haniger, RF
2: Maybin, LF
3: Segura, SS
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Heredia, CF
9: Romine, 2B
SP: Gonzales


10 Responses to “Game 120, Mariners at Athletics: The Showdown”

  1. Stevemotivateir on August 13th, 2018 7:15 pm

    Speaking for myself, I’m amped!

  2. Stevemotivateir on August 13th, 2018 7:57 pm

    Chapman was probably out, but it doesn’t surprise me to see that not overturned, given the camera angles.

    And of course it immediately haunts them.

  3. Stevemotivateir on August 13th, 2018 8:02 pm


    I wasn’t actually anticipating Seattle dominating this game, but was hopeful they wouldn’t get killed early.

  4. schwingy on August 13th, 2018 8:03 pm

    I was going to write a long post of strength of schedule and wins vs winning teams since Jun 15th, As v Ms, but…. nevermind

  5. WTF_Ms on August 13th, 2018 8:08 pm

    I wonder if Billy Bean is having “Money Ball” flashbacks? This is painful. Cano had better crush tomorrow.

  6. Stevemotivateir on August 13th, 2018 8:09 pm

    Chapman is good.


  7. Stevemotivateir on August 13th, 2018 8:36 pm

    Not to nit-pick, but why is Maybin in left instead of Heredia?

  8. schwingy on August 13th, 2018 9:00 pm

    Soft landing for the King in mop-up?

  9. WTF_Ms on August 13th, 2018 10:05 pm

    Herman and Romine. Double A hitters at best. That’s the best we can do?

  10. LongDistance on August 14th, 2018 10:09 am

    Teetering on the edge…

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.