Game 46, Twins at Mariners

marc w · May 16, 2019 at 5:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Erik Swanson vs. Michael Pineda, 7:10pm

The Twins come to town with a 4 1/2 game lead in the AL Central and the 2nd-best record in the American League. Powered by a deep, potent offense, they’re scoring over 5.2 runs per game and trail the M’s and Astros for the lead in HRs by just 7. And while the M’s have hit more total dingers, they’ve done so in 168 more plate appearances.

But they’re also getting a lot more out of their pitching staff than anyone expected. Jake Odorizzi was an intriguing acquisition last year, but he face-planted a bit as the Twins fell back after the successes of 2017. He’s taken a big step forward this year, though, leading the team in WAR thanks to a much-improved strand rate. That’s the case with Jose Berrios as well, as his ERA is now well below his FIP for the first time as runners are stranded on base. Part of that is their excellent team defense, but another part has been the growth and development in their bullpen. Their overall numbers don’t reflect it thanks to some sketchy work put in by the up-and-down guys, but the core of the bullpen – Taylor Rogers, Trevor May and, inexplicably, ex-M’s org-depth-guy Ryne Harper – have been excellent.

Michael Pineda’s one of a few reclamation projects the Twins have, and the one I’d have bet on working out. But thus far, Pineda’s struggled with the juiced ball and a slower fastball than he’s used to. Instead, ex-Rangers lefty Martin Perez has been the cream of the scrap-heap-crop, but you’ve got to think that Pineda can figure something out if he stays healthy. He’s still a fastball-slider pitcher, and his fastball – while it no longer sits at 95 – still has the same almost cutter-ish movement without a lot of rise. But as always when you think of Pineda, you think of his slider, the one Dave Niehaus famously called “diabolical.” The problem this year, after another long injury layoff, is that his slider is refusing to slide. It’s never been big in terms of horizontal movement, but it would get to the glove side. This year, it’s staying glove side. If his fastball had tons of horizontal/arm-side run, maybe that could work. But with a straight fastball, a straight slider pairs…less well, and batters are hitting better off of his slider this year than his fastball.

Going back to his first season, many of us worried that he’d show platoon splits given his slider-happy ways and so-so change-up. That hasn’t happened; he’s done just as well against lefties in his career. Instead, the decline in effectiveness in his slider has led righties to fare a lot better recently. This isn’t a guy they really need a lefty-line-up for, and with Haniger/Encarnacion, I guess they can’t, really.

Back with the team is CF Mallex Smith, who couldn’t hit at all in the month before his demotion, but could not STOP hitting in AAA. That’ll help, as Braden Bishop looked a touch overmatched in his first taste of MLB. So too did Shed Long, who was optioned back to make room for Smith. Long went 0-9 in 11 PAs, and it’ll be good for him to get regular time again in Tacoma.

Erik Swanson needs a good outing against someone other than the Indians, and I’m not sure this is the line-up that’ll allow that to happen. That said, old friend Nelson Cruz isn’t in the line-up as he works his way back from a wrist injury he picked up on Sunday. He’s not on the IL, so we may see him this series, but I’m sure Swanson won’t mind facing CJ Cron at the DH spot instead tonight.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Haniger, RF
3: Encarnacion, 1B
4: Vogelbach, DH
5: Santana, LF
6: Narvaez, C
7: Healy, 3B
8: Crawford, SS
9: Smith, CF
SP: Swanson


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