Game 99, Rangers at Mariners

marc w · July 27, 2022 at 12:31 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Marco Gonzales vs. Jon Gray, 12:40pm

A matinee game for get-away day today as Marco Gonzales and the M’s go for a sweep of the Rangers. Texas is an interesting team, in that after a truly awful, dispiriting rebuild year last year, they were active in free agency to get a lot better very quickly. Part of this was the realization that their once-vaunted player development group hadn’t been doing well for a long time, and the old pipeline that supplied the big league team in their heyday was no more. Prospects like Willie Calhoun, Leody Taveras, Ronald Guzman, etc., seemed to show flashes, but stumble in the big leagues. They could bump along the bottom of the AL for years, like the Baltimore Orioles, or like the Tigers have done recently, or they could bring in an influx of talent.

The opted to go and buy a credible team. The fact that it hasn’t made them an instant contender is both unsurprising and, annoyingly, a kind of evidence for some that FA spending doesn’t “work” somehow. I think this view misses just how bad the Rangers offense, for one, was in 2021. They had a wRC+ of just 84, a sub-.300 OBP as a group, and they scored the fewest runs in the AL. No, bringing in Marcus Semien and Corey Seager hasn’t made them murderer’s row, but why would anyone think it should? I think a big part of this is the awful start that Semien got off to in a Rangers uniform. He’s dragged his season line to just shy of league average, but he dug himself quite a hole in April. As we’ve seen in this series, even a relatively hot double play combination doesn’t necessarily translate into a lot of runs when the back end of the line-up is so bad, and unfortunately for Rangers fans, their line-up is incredibly top-heavy. Part of this is due to injuries, and part of it remains their struggle to get league-average play from youngsters they’ve developed. At least Taveras is turning things around?

For all of the attention paid to Semien/Seager, the Rangers also brought in two veteran starters, Martin Perez and Jon Gray. Here, the results have been remarkable. Perez went to the All Star game, and while he won’t keep up the pace he set from April-June, he’s been a great, cheap starter who makes a rotation that was the worst in baseball last year into a so-so group. Perez has been their best and most durable starter, but today’s starter, Jon Gray, has been another quality find. He pitched for years in Colorado, with a tough home park and ridiculous inconsistency relegating him to a question mark. Brilliant in 2017, so-so for two years after that, truly awful in 2020, solid in 2021. The righty out of Oklahoma always had solid FB velocity and a slider that could elicit whiffs, but it all added up to something less than the sum of some intriguing parts.

His fastball played pretty well *for Coors Field*. Batters are slugging nearly .500 off of it over the course of his career, but you have to grade on a curve with Rockies pitchers, and its low spin and vertical movement actually turned it into a ground ball pitch – a neat trick in Colorado. His best pitch, though, was his slider. Batters are slugging just over .300 on it over his career, but while he threw it a lot, he – like the rest of the Rockies staffs in this period – threw a lot of four-seamers. A lot of that has changed this season. Gray’s now approaching 40% sliders, and his four-seam usage is just a hair below 50%. The shape of his slider’s quite a bit different as well. He’s gone from throwing a firm/cutter-y slider at around 88 to a very au courant “sweeper” with lots more horizontal movement, aided by a lower velo: 85-86mph. His slider was always effective against lefties as well as righties, but it’s at another level now. Lefties had a bad average against it last year, but managed 4 HRs on sliders. This year, they’re slugging .147 against it with 0 HRs. Gray was nowhere near as cheap as Perez, but his four-year deal now looks like a bargain, and if they ever want to, I’m sure they could get something interesting in trade for him.

Yesterday’s win was another 2021-style weird one. The game had everything: Julio’s first-inning HR, a truly Griffey-style moment, a solid start from George Kirby, and then late-game heroics from Cal Raleigh and Carlos Santana. I don’t know if the M’s will make the playoffs, or how deep they’ll get if they go. But kind of like last year’s team, this one has done enough. They’re a success. They’ve gotten the region to care, they’re playing attractive baseball, and while flawed, you simply can’t turn off a game that Julio is playing in. This is something we’ve struggled with for decades: is it OK that they don’t win if you get to see absolute legends of the game in Seattle shirts? This isn’t a zero-sum game, of course, and sure, we’d all like both – to see Julio lead this team to a championship. But that’s hard, and we’ve been through some, uh, rough times in the past decade. Did Felix single-handedly save some lean years? Yes. Does that kind of get the FO off the hook for some unconscionable decisions on who to surround Felix with? Also, maybe yes? It’s hard. You want accountability and for a team to clearly want to win it all. But baseball is entertainment, and sometimes it’s enough to just go and yell like a madman at whatever Julio’s done now. A part of me doesn’t want that to be enough, but the other part of me is too busy yelling like a madman at whatever Julio’s done, and it more fun to yell than to feel aggrieved all the time.

1: Juliooooo, CF
2: Winker, LF
3: Lewis, DH
4: Santana, 1B
5: Suarez, 3B
6: Crawford, SS
7: Frazier, 2B
8: Torrens, C
9: Haggerty, RF
SP: Gonzales

Tacoma blanked El Paso 2-0 last night thanks to another 4-IP of scoreless ball from Austin Warner (he did the same in his last start, I think). Jarred Kelenic was 2-4 with a 2B.
Tulsa beat Arkansas, 2-1. Levi Stoudt went 6 IP with 5 Ks, 0 BB and 1 R.
Everett beat Vancouver by the same 2-1 score, with Prelander Berroa pitching well. Noelvi Marte went 0-4, shockingly.
Modesto beat Fresno 8-6, as SS Edwin Arroyo tripled not once but twice.
The Complex-League Arizona team is 15-20 coming into today, and some of the 2022 draft picks are starting to show up down in Peoria. They struck out 21 ACL Texas Rangers last night, slowing down the league’s best offense by far.


3 Responses to “Game 99, Rangers at Mariners”

  1. bookbook on July 27th, 2022 3:31 pm

    Julio Rodriguez with the timely contact avoids being optioned back to the minors for yet another day.

  2. Stevemotivateir on July 27th, 2022 8:41 pm

    These afternoon games are welcomed. I missed the Julio home run, but still caught most of the game.

  3. MKT on July 28th, 2022 3:29 pm

    At the start of this stretch of Hou-Tex-Hou-NYY, the announcers said that it would be fine if the Mariners could win 6 or 7 games against that tough opposition.

    I think that is still a good benchmark, that is challenging but achievable. It would be extremely nice if the Ms could avoid another sweep, even going 1-3 against the Stros would be okay (although they’d then need to win 2 out of 3 against the Yankees to meet their goal of at least six victories).

    There’s a good chance the Ms will win fewer than half of these next seven games. But that’s okay, 3-4 is fine.

    2-5 is not great but not a reason to panic; it could mean that the Ms are on their way to doing what I was expecting a few weeks ago, that they’d play .500 ball the rest of the way. But that was before their recent hot streak. In the aftermath of that streak, it’s not impossible that the M’s could win half of their remaining games and thanks to their current pretty good standing, that might be enough to make the playoffs.

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