Game 102, Astros at Mariners – How Do You Top THAT?

marc w · July 27, 2021 at 4:06 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Chris Flexen vs. Lance McCullers, Jr., 7:10pm

We’re less than 24 hours removed from one of the most unlikely comeback wins I’ve ever seen. Darren McCaughan gave up 6 runs in the first, and Luis Garcia was dealing, and it just looked like he needed to eat innings. The M’s spotted a far, far better team a six spot in the first. And they won. I… this whole team makes no sense whatsoever, and it is glorious.

I mentioned yesterday that Joe Sheehan had found that the M’s performance in high leverage situations was the best *compared to their own overall performance* of any team since integration. The gap between how the M’s play in low-leverage situations vs. high-leverage situations (close/late, etc.) was massive. I worried during the game that the M’s were messing with that narrative, especially when Cal Raleigh hit a three-run double in a game that still felt 100% done. But the M’s had more up their sleeve, and sure enough, they chipped away until they actually got themselves into a high-leverage plate appearance, and on cue, Dylan Moore hit the winning grand slam to left.

That winning grand slam capped a rally that started with a man on and two outs, and the next batters had OBPs of .190, .250, and .274. I remain unsure how that group won the game for the M’s, just as I’m unsure how they had 7 runs by that point in the first place. I mentioned this on Twitter, but this gap between how the M’s play when no one’s on and how they play in these crucial moments is something that would get laughed out of a script. Cal Raleigh still has no hits with the bases empty. Make this make sense, if you can!

Statcast has new zones to categorize pitch locations beyond divvying up the strike zone into a 3X3 grid, with zones outside of the zone as well. They break into four big buckets: pitches in the heart of the plate, which are 99% *always* called a strike, so it’s really a subset of the rulebook zone, which they call “heart” pitches; then, the pitches on the edge of the zone in either direction – some are in, some are out, but all of them are *close* (“shadow” pitches). Then, tough pitches that might induce a swing (“chase” pitches), but which are unambiguous balls, and finally “waste” pitches which generally don’t get swings at all. Pitches in the “heart” category have the highest wOBA against – right now, the league has a .361 wOBA against them. (Why not higher? Because they’re all strikes, so if you don’t swing, it’s a guaranteed strike against you. This is just wOBA, not wOBACON).

With nobody on base, the M’s wOBA on “heart” pitches is .295, by far the worst in the game. Remember, league average is .361. This is remarkably low, and the M’s are the only club below .300. Now, what happens on “heart” pitches with runners in scoring position? The M’s hit to a .467 clip, easily – *easily* – the best in baseball.

I don’t think there’s any real way to spin this into a skill or a kind of heightened concentration. This is hilarious and deeply silly, and I think that odd blend really captures what it *feels* like to watch this team.

1: Crawford, SS
2: Haniger, RF
3: Seager, 3B
4: France, 1B
5: Raleigh, C
6: Torrens, DH
7: Kelenic, CF
8: Moore, 2B
9: Long, LF
SP: Flexen

It’s funny that the M’s have just completely blown up any correlation between run differential and record, or between “being bad at hitting” and “contending” but here we are. It’s odd, because as Robert Arthur notes, the Majors are set up for a supremely boring end of the season in terms of playoff drama. In a fascinating post, he notes that the playoff races are pretty much over, with some very good teams taking early leads and running away with things, and even the wildcard races looking fairly clear, at least to projection systems. This means that the results of each game changes the playoff odds less than in other years – a trend that’s accelerated recently. We don’t get playoff chaos anymore. I would note that the projections all giving the M’s odds at under 5% even with them a game out of the wild card says quite a bit about those projection systems. That is, I completely get why there IS such unanimity around a pending M’s collapse out of the running, but man, I would give this bizarre, dumb, fun, weird team a better than a 1/20 chance given that they are, somehow, 9 games over .500. Every projection assumes the Angels will finish ahead of Seattle, and, uh, I’ve seen the Angels. I dunno that I’d put money on that. (That said, I wouldn’t put money on the M’s magical run continuing, either).

The M’s hired a new President of Business Operations today, Catie Griggs, who recently held a similar position for Atlanta United in MLS. This is something like Kevin Mather’s replacement, but as you may recall back when Mather was fired, M’s owner John Stanton really wanted to separate the President position from Baseball Operations; Mather had a foot in both sides of the house. I don’t know anything about Griggs, but the M’s made an exhaustive search, and she seems like she’s been vetted pretty well. Welcome to Seattle, Catie.

Tacoma beat Sacramento 7-4 at home, with Jake Hager homering and helping Logan Verrett earn his sixth win. Vinny Nittoli starts the final game of the series tonight. It’s off to Nevada after this, with 6 in Las Vegas and 6 in Reno.

Arkansas visits Springfield today to start their series. Alejandro Requena takes the mound for the Travs opposite former M’s prospect Tyler Pike. Pike was sent to Atlanta in one of the M’s many trades with the Braves before the 2017 season, and played some independent league ball in 2019.

Everett hosts Eugene, with Stephen Kolek on the mound for the AquaSox.

Modesto kicks off a series with Rancho Cucamonga.


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