Game 142, Padres at Mariners

marc w · September 14, 2022 at 12:47 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Mike Clevinger vs. Luis Castillo, 1:10pm

Sorry I’ve been away – a camping trip plus Covid in the family has made it impossible. And what a week to miss: the M’s had perhaps their signature win of the year on Sunday to beat Atlanta, and have essentially sewn up a playoff spot in 2022. The drought is about to end. All that remains is seeding.

So, let’s talk about that. The new playoff format from MLB is somewhat odd: the overall #1 seed in the AL (overwhelmingly likely to be the Astros) faces the winner of the match-up between the second and third Wild Card teams. The third wild card team faces off against the worst division winner, quite likely to be the Cleveland Guardians. Importantly, the winner of *that* series faces the AL’s second-seeded division winner, or the Yankees if they can hold onto it. There’s no re-seeding, and the three wild card teams are, at present, neck and neck. You could make a very good argument that the 6th overall seed has an easier path to the AL pennant than the top wild card team, and very clearly easier than the second wild card team.

The M’s schedule and the fact that Toronto and Tampa play each other so much gives Seattle a clear pathway to that top wild card seed. That’s good, to be clear: it would give them something we’ve been dying for since 2001: HOME playoff games. It’s not just a single game anymore, so that’d be three playoff games at T-Mobile. That’s pretty good. But the M’s record is *better* in road games this year, and for a very good reason: they still haven’t quite figured out how to hit at T-Mobile. After a good start at home, the team’s gone cold: they’re hitting .219/.303/.376 on the year in Seattle. Now, that’s better than last year’s mark, but it’s depressingly close to last year’s mark. Meanwhile, they’re hitting .238/.320/.398 on the road, and maaaan is it easy to forget just how depressed batting is right now.

Not every player has a T-Mobile problem. Julio Rodriguez is slightly better at home, and Ty France is clearly better there. But the players impacted by the low run enviroment are often *really* impacted by it. Jesse Winker is hitting .200/.329/.281 at home. Your starting bat-first LF has a home SLG% of .281. That shouldn’t be possible. Adam Frazier hasn’t been great anywhere, but Seattle’s BABIP-suppression and general lack of extra base hits means he’s been almost unplayable at home. All of this means that, at home, the line-up just gets a bit shorter. It’s not night-and-day different the way it was last year, and of course the pitchers get all of the power- and BABIP-suppression that Winker loses, so they’d be a tough out anywhere. But as we saw last night, the M’s can sometimes struggle to score runs at home.

Would you rather the M’s get the third wild card and face and ALDS series with the Yankees, a team they’ve beaten in the last two series (home and away)? Or get the top seed and face a red-hot Houston club in the second round? Would you rather the M’s get home field for the first round and then go to Houston, or be the road team against a mediocre Cleveland club and have a line-up that’s better prepared to do damage from 1-9?

There are good analytic, galaxy brain arguments to be made here, but let’s be clear: I care a lot more about M’s fans than the line-up’s BABIP woes. Give me the home series in round one every day of the week. Waiting to face Houston in the ALCS vs. the ALDS just isn’t some sort of supremely-valuable prize. If you want to win it all, you’ve got to face them at some point. Guarantee yourself home playoff games, and this entire fanbase can breathe a little bit easier, and that’s far more valuable than an edge in road pythagorean winning percentage.

Luis Castillo’s generally been the guy the M’s wanted when they traded a massive prospect haul to Cincinnati. He blanked the Yankees for 8 IP, but has had some hiccups along the way, notably in his last start in Oakland. Castillo has an absolutely gorgeous sinker with tons of armside run that pairs delightfully with his slider and death-dealing change-up. But the best pitch he’s thrown this year? His four-seam. The M’s have upped the percentage of four-seamers he throws to lefties, and it’s been incredibly successful. Castillo has been great against lefties as a Mariner, and has been even better at home thanks to a very low BABIP and George Kirby-like K:BB ratio. He just doesn’t give up free passes.

Using the sinker mostly to righties makes sense, as it’s a pitch with fairly high platoon splits. That armside run is much more effective against righties than lefties. But beyond that, it’s a pitch that – despite *looking* unhittable – has been put in play an awful lot. Again, in Seattle, that’s less of a problem. But it’s something of an issue overall. This year, Castillo has generated a swing and miss about twice as often as a ball in play with his four-seam fastball; less than 10% of those straight heaters become balls in play. His sinker is 3.5X as likely to be a ball in play than a swing-and-miss. Small sample, perhaps, as Castillo’s pitch type splits haven’t always been this different, but that’s something he should be aware of.

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

Mitch Haniger’s sidelined with a back issue, so Sam Haggerty continues to get playing time, and he’s made the most of it.

Congrats to Cade Marlowe, the M’s prospect OF, on his promotion to AAA Tacoma. He shook off a brutal slump early on, and now has his season line up to .291/.380/.483.

Led by George Kirby and Logan Gilbert, M’s pitching has been dominant over the last 30 days: a 2.41 ERA and the second-most fWAR in MLB. But the back of the bullpen is struggling just a tad, with Paul Sewald, Matt Festa and Diego Castillo giving up some HRs. Matt Brash and Andres Munoz have been dominant, so it’s not a clear warning sign, but I wonder if the bullpen sees a shake-up in roles in the playoffs. The fact that they’ve never really had defined roles probably makes this easier, but it’s going to be interesting to see how manager Scott Servais handles this over the final month.


3 Responses to “Game 142, Padres at Mariners”

  1. bookbook on September 14th, 2022 4:15 pm

    Julio has been hot of late, in a way that he never had at the major league level. Walks, clutch hits, home runs, timely steals.

    I guess he wanted to put some distance between himself and Adley Rutschman for ROY.

  2. Stevemotivateir on September 14th, 2022 7:16 pm

    I couldn’t agree more about home playoff games. I just hope Dylan Moore can return soon and offer an alternative to Frazier at T-Mobile.

  3. Sportszilla on September 14th, 2022 10:14 pm

    I don’t feel all that strongly about it, but I actually disagree re: preferred playoff seeding.

    Yes, it would be a huge bummer if the M’s failed to play a single home playoff game, but losing in the Wild Card round would be a bummer no matter how it happened, and as you mentioned, I tend to think that they have at least as good a chance to advance via the WC3 route vs. the WC1/2 route.

    What I think you’re wrong about is what comes next. Playing the Yankees in the ALDS means not only an easier matchup, but also a non-trivial chance of not having to face the Astros. Yes, Houston would rightfully be a heavy favorite against Toronto or Tampa Bay, but baseball is massively unpredictable and so there’s at least a 30% chance that you’d get to avoid Houston should you advance.

    More than that, you’d have at least some chance of being better set up w/r/t your pitching rotation than Houston would be, should you face them, whereas you’re at best getting your #3 guy (which given how Kirby has pitched isn’t a BAD thing) vs. Verlander, and then presumably Logan vs. Valdez or Javier. If the Astros have to go to six or seven games to get to the ALCS, and the M’s could get there quicker (maybe not LIKELY but certainly possible), you might even catch them on more favorable footing, and for me at least the goal isn’t just a couple of home playoff games, it’s to win the World Series.

    That said, the current format sucks and I really hope they reseed because incentivizing teams to tank for playoff position is bad.

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