Game 89, Cardinals at Mariners

marc w · July 2, 2019 at 5:13 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Matt Carasiti/Wade LeBlanc vs. Jack Flaherty, 7:10pm

Hello – sorry for the delay in coverage, but I took what I personally think was a well-earned vacation to Hawaii. I’d say I apologize for the lack of content, but my heart wouldn’t be in it. It was great to recharge with the family and do something other than chronicle the struggles of my beloved Mariners, but as so often this year, the team played decently in my absence. They’ve gone 6-6 in their past 12 games, which counts as “pretty good” for this group. They backed up a 3-of-4 series win over Baltimore (yes, yes, low bar, I know) with a win in Milwaukee, which counts as solid opposition. Then, of course, they got swept by Houston, but there’s no real shame in that, and they played Houston fairly tough. The M’s had that ugly stretch where it seemed like they were giving up 10 runs per game and each loss felt like a laugher. They’re not doing that over the course of the past few weeks, and I guess that counts as progress.

The pitching staff has settled in somewhat after a disastrous May. Their overall line for the month of June isn’t worth getting excited about (team ERA/FIP over 5), but they looked better recently, and that’s borne out by their numbers. Finding hope in small sample variance from “avert your eyes” to “not the worst thing I’ve seen” isn’t great, but I’ve been desperate to see some evidence that the M’s can coach their pitchers to just mediocre performance, and that’s happened recently. Yusei Kikuchi looked as good as he’s looked in a while in his last start in Houston, and while the numbers don’t fully show it, he deserved a lot better out of that performance. Marco Gonzales’ velocity free fall has stopped, and he’s been trending up recently, though I’d still like to see him sit at 90 MPH. But it’s been the newcomer Tommy Milone who’s really been fascinatingly good, riding a career high K-rate with ultra-low groundball rates to post a very effective month. I hope he can keep it up, and I hope the M’s have helped him unlock something.

The bats, meanwhile, continue to be amazingly solid. He’s been hot recently and getting a lot of press, but JP Crawford has blown his projections out of the water, and he’s demonstrating that he can be much more than the average-bat+good-glove guy I thought he’d be at his peak. He still doesn’t have elite bat-to-ball skills, but if he keeps posting an ISO near .200, it doesn’t matter. This is remarkable, and I hope he can keep it up – he’s been a notoriously streaky player (a problem exacerbated or even caused by his injury woes). Dan Vogelbach will represent the M’s at the All-Star Game, and like the pitchers, he’s bounced back from a tough May to show that he can make adjustments as the league adjusts to him. The high average he showed in April is probably not going to be a feature of his game, but it doesn’t matter if he can combine patience and power like he has. The M’s needed a few players to take the leap, and make their old scouting reports irrelevant, and in Crawford and Vogelbach, they have two such players. I’m not convinced that’s anywhere close to enough for the M’s to really compete, but it’s a start. I think it helps the M’s avoid the worst-case-scenario outcome of really struggling in 2020-2021, but they’ve got a lot of ground to make up, and they need a superstar or two sprinkled about their roster. As eye-opening as these two have been, I’m not sure they’re there yet. Crawford is obviously closest to that mark, so it’ll be fun to watch him the rest of the year, but as amazing as another 3-4 WAR player would be, the M’s need a 6-7 *somewhere*. Deliver us from mediocrity, Jarred Kelenic.

Today, the M’s host St. Louis and their young potential ace, Jack Flaherty. Flaherty was famously a part of the most heralded high school pitching rotation ever, with Lucas Giolito and Max Fried, at Harvard Westlake in California. St. Louis drafted him at the end of the 1st round in 2014, and he made his big-league debut in September of 2017. He had good but not great K rates in the minors, but he broke out in his first full big league season last year, striking out nearly 30% of opposing batters, or 10.85/9 IP. A high walk rate and some mild dinger trouble kept him from the truly elite starters in the NL, but he was 22 last year. This, his age 23 season, has seen him regress somewhat severely. He’s walked fewer, but he’s missed fewer bats as well. His GB rate has fallen, but that’s pushed his HR rate into the stratosphere. As a result, FIP hates his campaign, while other measures, like BP’s DRA, is still broadly optimistic (but still sees his 2019 as worse than his 2018). He uses a straight, almost cutter-ish four-seam fastball at 94, a rare sinker, and a slider and curve. He has a change, but hardly ever uses it. His slider is his out-pitch, as it induces swings and plenty of whiffs. But it’s an unusual pitch in that batters can elevate it if they’re able to make contact. Thus, even in his excellent 2018 campaign, batters struggled against it…but hit 8 sliders for home runs. This year, it’s much the same – they’ve struck out against it a ton, but they’re slugging well over .500 against it with 6 HRs thus far. His four-seamer is similar: it’s an excellent pitch, it misses bats, but if batters put a good swing on it, they can drive the ball out.

Ex-M’s prospect Tyler O’Neill was just recalled to the Cards, and is batting 5th tonight. The kid from southern British Columbia should have plenty of family/friends at the game, but he’s having a rough 2019 after a promising debut in 2018. As always, contact is the big issue with O’Neill.

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Santana, RF
4: Vogelbach, DH
5: Narvaez, C
6: Seager, 3B
7: Nola, 1B
8: Williamson, LF
9: Gordon, 2B
SP: Carasiti, LeBlanc

The biggest story in baseball the past week was the tragic and as-yet unexplained death of 27-year old Angels pitcher, Tyler Skaggs. The game’s lost too many young talents to accidents and natural causes recently, and my heart goes out to Angels fans and of course Skaggs’ family, including his wife of about 1 year, Carli. The Angels postponed last night’s game, as did their AAA affiliate, Salt Lake, who was in Tacoma to play the Rainiers.

The July 2nd signing period opened today, uh, obviously, for international prospects. The most heralded of the bunch, OF Jasson Dominguez of the Dominican Republic, signed with the Yankees. The A’s made a big play to nab #2 ranked player Robert Puason, who’s been followed semi-obsessively for a few years. He’s a SS, also from the DR. The M’s have nearly $5.4 million in their bonus pool to spend, but didn’t sign any of the top-30 ranked players according to MLB Pipeline…at least not yet (a few are still available, or haven’t had their signing announced). They’ve made moves, though, including signing OF George Feliz for $900,000 and SS Luis Suisbel and Andres Mesa.


2 Responses to “Game 89, Cardinals at Mariners”

  1. MKT on July 3rd, 2019 2:03 am has an article about Danny Hultzen, who after years of injury rehab is in the Cubs’ minors now.

    It’s not clear if he will make it in the majors but he’s recovered from the various injuries and surgeries and is throwing harder than ever.

    Nice feel-good story, but an implicit indictment of the Mariner’s minor league pitcher development: Hultzen was pitching in ways that led to injury, had to re-learn how to pitch, and is now potentially pitching his way into the majors — but he had to get away from the Mariners to do that.

    The article might be behind a paywall:

  2. Westside guy on July 3rd, 2019 1:20 pm

    Maybe so, but it would be problematic to attempt putting the onus on the current regime, since Hultzen was already in pretty bad shape by the time Dipoto took over. There’s also the issue of extrapolating from a single data point, which is a trap a lot of writers fall into.

    However in any case I’m glad to hear Hultzen is healthy and pitching again! I always feel bad for guys like him (although it’s somewhat tempered by the knowledge they’re still set for life – even if they don’t make it).

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