Game 112, Tigers at Mariners

marc w · August 9, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Wade LeBlanc vs. Daniel Norris, 7:10pm

Things are different now, Scott Servais says. What the M’s can overlook when they’re ten games back (or ten games up) can’t be overlooked with the M’s now 2.5 games out of the second wildcard. Thus, Taijuan Walker’s been demoted due to a lack of competitive edge. The Mariners, who started someone named Mike Freeman at shortstop *because Shawn O’Malley was sick* need to squeeze every ounce of production out of each spot.

The Zduriencik M’s used to talk a good game about talent, and trying to be more talented than their opponents. I have no idea what this new emphasis on ‘edge’ is, but there’s no doubt the M’s are less talented today than they were 2 weeks ago. They are also on a winning streak, so hey, maybe talent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But let’s be clear: the M’s are removing Walker from their rotation because Ariel Miranda threw a good game once and Wade LeBlanc’s the hot hand. Everything that makes this move coherent and ‘logical’ takes it further from a process we’d recognize as data driven and rational. It smacks of pop psychology and tiny samples. Of course, it’s worked to date, so maybe we just need to stop worrying and sweep the Tigers.

Detroit starts former top prospect (of the Blue Jays) Daniel Norris. The lefty has a fastball around 93, a slider, curve and another good change up. Personally, I think Michael Fulmer’s change, fastball and everything else are better, and apparently big league hitters agree. Norris is an extreme fly ball pitcher and he’s paid the price for that in home runs but hasn’t extracted a benefit in terms of low BABIP.

He’s also suffered some control problems that he seems to be moving past, but again, when he’s around the plate, he gets hit fairly hard. His slider in particular has been a longstanding problem. Batters are slugging .533 on it, and given that it’s his put away pitch to same-handed batters, that’s insanely bad. Lefties have, perhaps unsurprisingly, hit Norris harder than righties, who face his best pitch, the change.

1: Heredia, LF
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz,
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Martin, CF
9: Marte, SS
SP: LeBlanc

The standard vs. LHP lineup? Ah well. Go M’s.

The M’s roster fallout continues, as the Yankees picked up DFA’d reliever Blake Parker, while these Tigers just claimed Donn Roach. On the plus side, sounds like Arquimedes Caminero will be active tonight and Pat Venditte should make his Rainiers debut tonight at Cheney (hat tip, Curto, of course).

More importantly, Ketel Marte’s been activated from the DL, so the M’s have an actual SS on the roster again.

Game 111, Tigers at Mariners

marc w · August 8, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Michael Fulmer, 7:10pm

The M’s fete The Kid and pass the Astros, Ichiro! knocks his 3000th hit, and A-Rod will play his final game this week and take a job as an advisor to the Yankees. Yes, yes, we’re supposed to oppose cheap nostalgia, but none of this was forced or cheap, and I’m still kind of giddy about Ichiro. (We’re also supposed to downplay round number mania, but who cares: Ichiro!)

Tonight’s game is a fascinating match-up between a resurgent Iwakuma, and the young Tigers phenom who continues to impress. Can’t remember if I mentioned Fulmer before, but he was the big get when Detroit traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets. He features a straight, rising four seamer, a sinker with a half a foot more horizontal run than his straight fastball, a good slider, and a very interesting split-change thing that may be his best pitch.

Early on, he got attention for a scoreless streak, and thus had astronomical strand rates and a microscopic BABIP. Since then, regression’s gone to work on those two stats, but they’re still above average and Fulmer’s still pitching really well. Er, it helps if you overlook a recent bout of HR troubles (4 in last 3 starts).

His K rate isn’t all that impressive, but the change has helped him post well above average GB marks. It’s also a prime reason why he’s been so tough on left handed bats; he’s got reverse splits through his first 100+ IP.

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Freeman, SS
SP: Iwakuma

Mike Freeman makes his first big league start at SS. I know he’s versatile, but this seems like a force – getting a lefty bat in yo face a righty. But O’Malley’s a switch hitter, so perhaps this is just about resting O’Malley, which is not a phrase you thought you’d hear when this season started.

Game 109, Angels at Mariners

marc w · August 6, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Taijuan Walker vs. Tyler Skaggs, 6:40pm – Note the odd start time

Taijuan Walker makes his return from the DL tonight; we’ll see how long his foot holds up. Walker’s critical to the M’s going forward, as the M’s rotation suddenly needs all the help it can get. HR issues aside, it’s been a solid year for him results-wise. But with his foot injury lingering and with a FIP of 4.72, questions remain. I’ve been a big Walker believer for many years, but it’s sad to see another year go by seeing only tantalizing flashes of what he could become.

Tyler Skaggs, the lefty who missed parts of 2014, all of 2015 and half of 2016 rehabbing from TJ surgery, makes his third start of the year. To say he’s been good is an understatement. In 12 1/3 IP in his first two games back, he’s K’d 13 and walked 3, given up just 7 hits and allowed a grand total of 0 runs. Once the prize of the Angels farm system, he moved to Arizona in 2010 in the Dan Haren-for-Joe Saunders swap. That deal came in late July of 2010, when a young, interim GM in Arizona had been on the job for about 3 weeks. Jerry Dipoto’s first big trade was a big one, and while Saunders replaced Haren’s innings in the majors, Skaggs was seen as the real prize for the rebuilding Diamondbacks. Unfortunately for Arizona, Skaggs’ stuff didn’t comport with either his top prospect reputation or his (very good) results in the minors in 2011-2012. He had a cup of coffee with Arizona in 2012, and got hit hard, surrendering too many HRs and averaging just 90mph on his fastball. Sure, he was a lefty, and he was never supposed to be a high-90s fireballer, but he wasn’t any better in 2013, and worse, he got hit just as hard in the minors.

After that season, the Diamondbacks sent him back to Anaheim in the three-team trade that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona, Hector Santiago to Anaheim and Adam Eaton to Chicago. The GM acquiring him in that trade? Uh, Jerry Dipoto again. Almost immediately, he added the MPH to his fastball that he’d lost in the desert, and he averaged 92+ for the Angels. It’s not like he was an ace or anything, but he was a solid pitcher, with a FIP in the mid-3′s and a much better walk rate than he’d shown in Arizona. Unfortunately, he succumbed to a torn ligament during 2014, and his rehab took a bit longer than expected. At one point, Skaggs had talked about trying to get back within 12-14 months and pitch in games (perhaps in the minors) in 2015, but that obviously didn’t happen.

Given the layoff, I’m sure even the Angels didn’t quite know what to expect, but thus far, he’s been better than ever. His velocity’s over 93 at this point, with excellent rise. His curve, thrown about 76, has a ton of movement as well. He’s got a decent change, but it’s clearly behind the hook. He’s been hard on lefties, but he’s really improved against righties recently – he dominated them in the PCL this year, and that’s continued in his first couple starts with the Angels.

The story of today’s game isn’t Skaggs, nor even Walker’s return. It’s the ceremony honoring recent HOF inductee Ken Griffey Jr., who’ll have his iconic #24 jersey retired tonight. It’s been a great weekend, with Griffey bobblehead day yesterday and Griffey jersey giveaway tomorrow. I’ve tried to say how much Griffey meant to Seattle and to baseball, but I can’t come close to capturing it. He was one of a kind, and I’ll always be thankful for seeing his career play out.

1: Heredia, LF
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Iannetta, C
8: Martin, CF
9: O’Malley, SS
SP: Walker

The Rainiers look for a 3-1 series win over El Paso tonight with Joe Wieland on the mound. They’ve pounded the Chihuahuas thus far, scoring 30 runs in the first three games, highlighted by a PCL-classic 16-15 win the other day. Stefen Romero’s homered in each of the past two games and continues to put together an eye opening season. Pat Venditte will be activated and ready to pitch for Tacoma. Yesterday’s 7-5 loss was marred by 4 Tacoma errors and 5 unearned runs. Tacoma’s record on the year is 66-47, best in the PCL. They have a 3 game lead over Fresno in their division.

Jackson faces Birminham today, with Tyler Herb taking the hill for the Generals. Recent acquisition Paul Blackburn (part of the Mike Montgomery deal) is off to a fast start, giving up 2 runs in 14 IP over 3 starts with his new team. He’s still not missing many bats, but hey, so far, so good. Ryan Yarbrough’s given up 1 earned run in his last 18 innings. Jackson is 30 games over .500. After winning the first-half title going away, they’re leading the second-half race as well.

Bakersfield faces Lake Elsinore today with Zack Littell throwing for the Blaze. The North Carolinian has been dominant for Bakersfield, even if his long scoreless streak was snapped in his last start. He’s 5-0 with an ERA of 1.66 in 6 games in High-A. Bakersfield’s only 60-52, which makes for a poor year in this year’s M’s affiliates. They DO have a solid lead in the second half standings in the Cal League North, so the dream of every full-season affiliate making the playoffs is alive and well.

Clinton and Ronald Dominguez face off with Beloit tonight. Dominguez has worked out of the pen and the rotation, and has a nice 50:8 K:BB ratio for the Lumberkings. Clinton swept a doubleheader from Cedar Rapids last night, scoring 4 runs in the 8th and 9th to beat the Kernels 7-3 in Game 1, and winning 5-3 in the nightcap. Augustus Craig’s 8th inning HR was the big blow in game 1, but Alex Jackson had 2 hits and a double in each game. Nick Neidert pitched the second game, and now has a 56:8 K:BB ratio with only 58 hits allowed in 70 IP. Clinton, like Bakersfield, leads the second half standings in the MWL West, and at 66-45, they have the 2nd best record in the MWL as a whole.

Everett dropped a 7-5 contest to Hillsboro last night, despite a HR from rehabbing SS Ketel Marte. They face the Hops again today, with Tim Viehoff on the mound. Viehoff, the M’s 12th round pick, has 34 Ks and just 13 hits allowed in 24 2/3 IP. Everett, too, is leading the second half standings in their division.

M’s Add Arquimedes Caminero and Pat Venditte

marc w · August 6, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

While the “trade deadline” has come and gone, teams can still swap players, as the M’s just demonstrated. Today, the M’s add two polar opposites to their bullpen: hard-throwing righty Arquimedes Caminero and NOT-hard-throwing ambidextrous oddity Pat Venditte.

Given that Caminero’s out of options, has a FIP of 4.74 this year, did time on the DL this year and hit two D’Backs in the head in one game, it’s not a surprise that he cleared waivers.

That said, Caminero will always get a shot. Caminero’s fastball has averaged 98.4 MPH over his career, good for 8th fastest in the pitch fx era. He has what looks like a decent slider/cutter at 92mph (!), and a very intriguing splitter that he may not use enough. He threw it almost a quarter of the time in his initial call-up with Miami, but it’s been relegated to third or fourth pitch status by Ray Searage and the Pirates.

About a month into his tenure with Pittsburgh, it looked like the Pirates had unearthed a gem. Under Searage’s tutelage, Caminero seemed to throw more strikes AND increased his grounder rate by over 10 percentage points. But soon after, things began to fall apart again. His command was essentially AWOL by July, and while he had a solid second half, whatever he’d ‘learned’ from Searage seemed to come and go. That pattern continued this year, as he started off pitching like a sub-replacement-level arm for a few months, with 14 Ks to 16 free passes (walks and HBPs) through May.

What’s he done differently? First of all, he’s essentially scrapped the sinker that the Pirates taught him. He began 2016 throwing his sinker as his primary fastball, but he’s thrown it about 3% of the time since. In addition, it looks like he may have moved a bit on the rubber, as his horizontal release point has moved about a foot since the end of May. The question is: will these changes be enough to give him some consistency for the first time in his career? I can’t say it’s terribly likely, but Caminero’s arm is special enough* that you can’t blame the M’s for taking a chance.

Pat Venditte is famously ambidextrous, and uses that skill to carve out a niche in MLB despite averaging less than 85mph** with his fastball. The M’s picked him up from Toronto today for another PTBNL. Venditte throws a sinking fastball from a low 3/4, almost sidearm, arm slot, and throws his looping, low-70s curve a ton. With Oakland in 2015, he gave lefties a steady dose of the curve and actually posted decent results – his FIP was just 2.35 thanks to a K% of over 30%. Righties, though, were a different story. He throws a bit harder from the right side, and used his fastball a bit more, but couldn’t miss any bats. He walked more than he struck out, and thus his FIP against righties was well above 5.

This year, he’s been bad across the board, as his K rate – even against lefties – is below average, and he’s walking far too many. The Jays seem to have made some minor tweaks to his mechanics – like moving him further out on the rubber – so we can look to see if the M’s change him back to the way he threw with Oakland or do something else entirely. The switch-pitching thing *seems* like it’d be really valuable, but I’m starting to wonder if he isn’t best suited as an odd kind of LOOGY. Bring him in to face lefty/righty/lefty, Mariners.

To make room on the 25- and 40-man rosters, the M’s have DFA’d two relievers, Donn Roach and Blake Parker. Parker pitched a few days ago against Boston and looked okay, touching 94 with his fastball and a decent curve. He’d been great with Tacoma, but may not miss a ton of bats at the big league level. Donn Roach had an odd year – striking out errybody in spring training after carving out a niche as an extreme pitch-to-contact ground ball specialist. After getting lit up early in April with Tacoma, he settled in as a surprisingly effective starter before moving to the bullpen as an emergency call-up and then back with the Rainiers. His velocity was 2 MPH or so better than he showed with the Padres in 2014, and better than he averaged this spring. He’s never going to rack up strikeouts, but as a guy with a career GB% near 70%, he has his uses.

A couple of things stand out from these moves: first, Jerry Dipoto just can’t stop messing with his bullpen. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, as I mentioned the other day – if Zduriencik’s flaw was sticking with a plan even as evidence mounted it was the wrong one, Dipoto makes adjustments all the time. There’s nothing wrong with these kind of waiver wire deals – the Athletics famously constructed a great bullpen a few years ago in just this manner. But at some point, I’d like to see a real plan or philosophy here beyond “Let’s try a different guy now.” Getting Caminero to use his splitter more or letting the coaching staff work with him could pay huge dividends, so I don’t want to downplay that, but if these two are replaced early in the offseason, it’s going to seem a little weird. Lots of sound and fury, signifying impatience.

Second, is the shine coming off of Ray Searage a bit? This week, the Pirates cut bait on what had been his greatest success story of recent years, Francisco Liriano. Caminero seemed like another case where Searage’s philosophy “fixed” a previously wild arm, turning him into a useful piece. Liriano had a few good years before turning back into a pumpkin, but then, he did that in Minnesota, too. Caminero never quite made it above “promising” or “raw” despite a month or two where he looked like a future all-star. The Pirates also traded Jon Niese back to the Mets, after it became clear that Searage’s instructions made him worse, not better. By fWAR, the Pirates’ staff ranked 28th this year, and while they still rack up grounders, they don’t strike people out and walk too many. One year or one Jon Niese season isn’t enough to tarnish Searage’s reputation, but if his fixes are temporary, then they’re simply not as valuable. If teams adjust to low fastballs, and there’s evidence that they are, can Searage adjust back? Is it possible that Searage’s modus operandi was perfectly suited for the era in which the strikezone kept expanding lower and lower, but once that movement stopped, and once batters started squaring up low fastballs a bit better, it stopped “working?” I don’t know, and it’s still too early to tell, but man, it’s not been a great year for the “Ray Searage is a guru” movement.

* If I’m honest, I think his name may be even more special than his arm. The math jokes just write themselves. He’s the second Arquimedes/Arquimedez to play for the M’s after Arquimedez Pozo, meaning the M’s have employed both players named after a famous Syracusan mathematician.

** In one day, the M’s have added one of the hardest throwing relievers of the past 10 years (and thus, probably, ever) and one of the slowest throwing relievers of the past 10 years.

Game 108, Angels at Mariners

marc w · August 5, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Felix Hernandez vs. Tim Lincecum, 7:10pm

Happy Felix Day! I’m back from Northern California and Central Oregon, and very happy to be home. Road trips are great, but I’m looking forward to not driving long distances for a while.

Tonight’s game pits two former Cy Young winners against each other, and hands down the two best pitchers I’ve ever seen in AAA. Lincecum was unearthly out of college, with high 90s velo, a huge curveball and an insane split change. In 2005, Felix was similarly freakish, with similar velo, a great curve and the rudiments of what would become baseball’s best change. At that point, we all wanted to see the Forbidden Slider- a pitch Felix had, and was supposedly his best, but which the org wouldn’t allow him to throw in games. As it turned out, he didn’t really need it, and the cambio would soon become his best offering. In raw stuff and results, Lincecum was a touch better in the PCL, but then, Felix was a 19 year old kid making MLB vets look silly. Now both of them throw 91, and get by on guile and location. Baseball attrition and decline remind us all we are speeding towards the grave, and yet we don’t mind for some reason.

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: O’Malley, SS
SP: King Felix

Game 107, Red Sox at Mariners

marc w · August 4, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Ariel Miranda vs. Drew Pomeranz, 7:10pm

Lefty Ariel Miranda gets the start and makes his MLB debut tonight against Drew Pomeranz, the ex-Athletics and Padres lefty. Miranda pitched a handful of innings as a reliever for Baltimore earlier, getting hit hard by the M’s a few months back.

His track record isn’t great, but for a guy I’ve already called a fungible lefty, there are some interesting signs in his profile. His fastball has odd movement – extreme vertical rise and above average horizontal movement. In general, you have to choose one or the other – an over the top motion can add a lot of backspin and thus rise, but the more over the top you throw, the less you can get side spin for horizontal movement. Not sure how Miranda does what he does, and worse, I’m not sure it’ll matter, but it’s nice to have some basis for hope, however tenuous.

As part of the series of moves that brought Miranda up, the M’s have added Blake Parker, the ex-Cub reliever who’s been excellent as Tacoma’s closer this year. The righty has a straight, rising fastball that comes in around 92. His primary breaking ball’s a curve, and he’s also got a splitter (as does Miranda). This is Jerry Dipoto’s preferred profile, really, and when Joel Peralta falters, Dipoto’s got a Blake Parker on hand to slot in.

To make room, Steve Cishek’s been DL’d with a labrum injury. That sounds scary, but it’s his hip labrum, so that’s better, I guess. Mayckol Guaipe’s been released to open a 40-man spot, and Donn Roach takes the shuttle back to Tacoma.

Pomeranz made Dave Cameron’s list of best mid season trades. A dominant first half in San Diego helped him shake the label of a swing man; he started throwing a lot more of his curve and it worked out for him. It may have helped him reduce his platoon splits, too, as righties have hit him hard, but scuffled this season. With that said, he hasn’t exactly endeared himself to Sox fans, as he’s been hit pretty hard in each of his first three starts for Boston.

1: Heredia, LF
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Zunino, C
8: Martin, CF
9: O’Malley, SS

Game 106, Red Sox at Mariners

marc w · August 3, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Rick Porcello, 7:10pm

You may be able to steal a game against the regular M’s bullpen, Boston, but you – and everyone else – must yield to Edwin Diaz. Jeff’s post at Fangraphs adds some great detail to what we M’s fans have seen: folks can’t hit Edwin Diaz, and they look funny when they try.

Let’s be clear: Steve Cishek is not the reason the M’s turned sellers at the deadline, but when a team underperforms its BaseRuns and pythag the way the M’s have, questions are going to be asked about the bullpen. And while the pen in general and Cishek in particular have ok K:BB and runs-allowed numbers, they’ve struggled in the clutch. Edwin Diaz, especially after a tiny mechanical tweak, doesn’t look capable of struggling – in the clutch or not. Of course, one good reliever can’t change a team’s fortunes – we know that from watching Diaz pitch well on an M’s team that continues to be about .500. But it’s nice to think that we may see fewer of the heartbreaking, yelling-at-the-tv kinds of losses the M’s have suffered in the late innings.

Rick Porcello is both a testament to FIP and an object lesson in its weaknesses. From 2011-2016, his yearly FIP has stayed in a narrow band from about 3.4 to 4.10. His K rate’s grown since his days as a pitch to contact sinkerballer, while his BB rate’s consistently good. He’s had HR trouble occasionally (especially last year), but still his FIP pegs him as a remarkably consistent, a-bit-above-average, SP. Look at his ERA, though, and consistent isn’t a word that’d spring to mind. His ERA approached 5 last year, but a touch *under* 3.5 this year and 2014. After approaching 4.80 in 2011, it fell every year until last year’s post-extension stinker. More than HR fluctuation, Porcello has had trouble in the past with BABIP and stranding runners (the two are related, of course). This year, he’s been solid in those areas, and thus, this year his FIP and ERA are pretty close. When he doesn’t – like last year – they diverge.

Despite the up-and-down results, Porcello signed a big four year extension with Boston last year. The deal was a signal to many that starting pitching – even pitching with a few warts and ‘hasn’t lived up to his potential’ – commanded big bucks and lots of value in trade. In completely unrelated news, Ariel Miranda will make his M’s debut and get the start in Thursday’s game.

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lind, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: SardiƱas, SS
SP: Iwakuma

I first saw it in a tweet by Jamey Newberg, but all of the M’s beat writers have confirmed it: the Rangers are shifting ex-M’s OF James Jones to the mound. The M’s selecting him as an OF out of Long Island U was somewhat controversial at the time, as many scouts preferred him as a pitcher (he touched the mid-90s as a collegiate pitcher). Best of luck to him. After a dreadful year at the plate in AAA, it seems like his best chance to get back to the bigs.

Game 105, Red Sox at Rebuilding-ish Mariners

marc w · August 2, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Wade LeBlanc vs. David Price, 7:10pm

I picked a rotten time to hit the road, but I’m looking over the rim of Crater Lake, and the biggest move the M’s made at the deadline was a straight swap of low-ceiling lefties.

There are two ways to look at the state of the ball club after the deadline. One is that Jerry Dipoto’s trades have blown up on him, and that the M’s are still looking for key contributions from the second tier of players surrounding their aging core. The Carson Smith trade now looks like an elite reliever and fungible Cuban lefty for a bad reliever and a fungible Cuban lefty. Nate Karns seems like he’s being demoted FROM the bullpen back to the rotation because they don’t know what else to do. Meanwhile, Brad Miller got over a bad start and is out-hitting Ketel Marte, who’s trying to rebuild his strength. Boog Powell’s missed a good chunk of the year through suspension.

At the same time, you have to give Dipoto credit for moving on. In retrospect, what doomed Jack Zduriencik was his inability to alter course after Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero had been installed as the core of the ever-elusive Next Great Mariners Team. Wade Miley can’t be turned back into a healthy Carson Smith, and the M’s will have to make something of the shortstop position with what they have, and what they can acquire. Dipoto didn’t let a weak market for, uh, crappy ball players stop him. He made the best of a bad hand, and that at least speaks to a willingness to adapt. The Mike Montgomery trade was a good example of filling a need using a player who couldn’t really help the M’s.

That said, I’ve been reading about what each trade says about the market and struggle to square that with what the M’s got back for Miley. When he was acquired, the line was that average-y starting pitching was incredibly valuable; with free agent deals for everyone from Mike Leake to Mike Pelfrey meant you had to pay a lot in talent for durable starters, regardless of their track record. I…I would like to have seen some evidence of that supposed principle in the most recent Miley deal.

In any event, the curtain’s down on the M’s playoff pursuit for 2016, as next week’s rotation looks to include both Wade LeBlanc and Ariel Miranda. (To be fair: the movement on his fastball in particular looks interesting and uncommon, but it also hasn’t helped him yet). The M’s are still in the process of becoming. It sounds like they can make a last run with this core group in 2017, though with the moves Texas and Houston have made, a lot would need to go right. I’m stuck with them, so I can only have a beer and try to feel bemused. You can too, if you like.

Today, the M’s face Boston with a new-ish pitcher and a brand new closer. Steve Cishek’s officially out, and Edwin Diaz will take over. That didn’t take long, but it arguably came too late to save the M’s 2016.

Guillermo Heredia’s up? I would’ve thought that was impossible back in March, but credit to Heredia and the M’s PD folks, as he’s come on for Tacoma. This isn’t a savior, but I’ll take a decent 4th OF for essentially nothing.

1: Heredia, LF
2: Gutierrez, RF
3: Cano, 2V
4: Cruz, DH
5: Lee, 1B
6: Seager, 3B
7: Zunino, C
8: Martin, CF
9: SardiƱas, SS

Game 101, Mariners at Cubs

marc w · July 29, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Jon Lester, 11:20am

The M’s visit Wrigley Field to take on the team with baseball’s best record, the Chicago Cubs. The M’s starting pitching has been better recently, despite an off game from James Paxton the other day, but even at full strength, the M’s would be several steps behind the Cubs’ arms. The Cubs have allowed 3.5 runs per game this year, the best in the league. That translates into the best team ERA, of course, and their rotation’s been the key. Jon Lester’s not quite repeating his dominant 2015 (neither is Jake Arrieta, of course), but he’s still been remarkably good, and his age 30-32 seasons have been the best of his career. While Lester’s ERA’s great, his FIP is only average to good thanks to some slight HR difficulties. It hasn’t hurt him that much thanks to a great BABIP of .261.

Limiting hard contact isn’t something Lester’s been known for (his BABIP was over .300 last year), but the Cubs may be on to something here. Their TEAM BABIP is even lower – it’s .256, far and away the best in baseball. In fact, the gap between them and the 2nd place Dodgers is as wide as the gap between the Dodgers and the Mariners, all the way down in 14th. They had an excellent team BABIP last year as well. A big part of this is their excellent team defense. Addison Russell’s been better than advertised at SS, Dexter Fowler’s been great in CF, and they added one of baseball’s best defensive corner OFs in Jason Heyward. But it kind of makes you wonder – has Joe Maddon and/or the Cubs brain trust figured something out regarding positioning? Are their pitchers using their command to induce weak contact? Some of them – Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks – almost certainly are…have they taught Lester a thing or two? Probably not, and it’d be impossible to prove, but the Cubs staff has been so *good* it’s hard to avoid conspiratorial thinking about them.

The Cubs offense has also been one of baseball’s best. Their combination of age, defense and pop makes them far and away the best position player groups in the game. The Cubs have been better than their best-in-baseball record indicates (by pythagorean record, they should’ve won 6 more games), which is probably why they upgraded their bullpen recently, trading for Mike Montgomery and then just a few days ago, Aroldis Chapman. This is a tough test for the M’s, but it’s a good one.

1: O’Malley, SS
2: Gutierrez, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lee, 1B
7: Martin, CF
8: Iannetta, C
9/SP: Iwakuma

Jeff had a great article on Iannetta’s abysmal framing stats this year. Iannetta was excellent last year after working with Hank Conger to perfect his technique; not sure what happened to it this year. Variance is normal, and players have good and bad years at everything, but the magnitude here makes you wonder about the metrics themselves. That said, the article mentions that multiple measures using very different methodologies agree not only that Iannetta’s been below average, but way, way below. Hard to hand-waive this away.

Pablo Lopez and Ryan Yarbrough headline the starters in the M’s affiliate minors tonight. Luiz Gohara’s 10 Ks in 6 IP was the standout performance in yesterday’s slate of games.

Site note: I’m going to be traveling a bit over the next 2 weeks. I’ll try to post when I can, but I’m going to miss some posts.

Game 100, Mariners at Pirates

marc w · July 27, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners

James Paxton vs. Gerrit Cole, 4:05pm

The M’s finished up a great comeback win in Pittsburgh last night by making a small change-of-scenery trade of struggling relievers. The M’s sent the injured Joaquin Benoit to Toronto in exchange for Drew Storen, last seen yielding a grand slam to Nelson Cruz this past weekend. Storen’s still only 28, and just a few years removed from some very good years with the Nationals. He was drafted 10th overall in 2009, 9 spots after Washington took Stephen Strasburg 1-1. He spent much of 2010 in the big league bullpen and was installed as closer soon after. He had elbow issues here and there, but pitched well down the stretch in 2012, and came in to close game 5 of the 2012 NLDS. He yielded 4 runs with two outs, blowing the game and ending the Nats’ season. The Nats then signed Rafael Soriano, ending Storen’s tenure as closer. After a brilliant 2014 and a good start to 2015, the Nats traded for Jonathan Papelbon, shifting Storen back to set-up. The point here is: Storen’s been a bit volatile, but he’s been dealt some tough cards, and while he hasn’t played them the way you’d like (eg. breaking his thumb slamming a locker), you can see why buy-low Jerry Dipoto made this move. All the M’s gave up was Joaquin Benoit, who’s been hurt, bad, and then hurt again. Storen’s a free agent after this year, so this can’t simply be about stashing him and seeing what he’ll do next year; if he pitches well, the M’s will have to bid for his services in free agency like everyone else. If he continues to struggle, no harm done – they can just walk away.

Tonight’s match-up pits two of baseball’s hardest throwing starters against each other. The new and improved Paxton isn’t quite throwing Syngergaard-level heat anymore, but he’s close (he ranks 3rd among starters this year). And while Cole’s velo’s moderated, he’s still averaging 96+, good for 11th among starters this year. That said, while he’s had solid results, it’s been a concerning year for the former #1 overall pick. His K rate’s down along with his velocity, and then there was his recent DL trip. I never heard a solid diagnosis – he just said his arm “Didn’t feel right” and took some time off to heal up. That’s a wise move by the pitcher and the team, but that’s gotta be scary for both.

1: Aoki, LF
2: Smith, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Lind, 1B
6: Martin, CF
7: Zunino, C
8: O’Malley, SS
9: Paxton

No Cruz, who’ll get today and the off day to rest his injured leg. Tai Walker’s foot seems to be doing better, as he threw a sim game today.

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