Turned on the game a few innings in, and first pitch we zero'ed in on ... Iwakuma shook Zunino off three (3) times. That's saying a whale of a lot, that Zuumball's first three guesses (as a hitter) would have been way wrong. 2-2 pitch to a lefty:
- Shuuto? nope
- Fastball away? nope
- Slow curve? nope
- Slider into wheelhouse, Super Tempter, breaking a little too far in? Yep
- Result: garbage swing K
Then it happened again, and again, and again. The next guy, Kuma whip-sawed ladder fastballs and finished with a change curve, low and slow, baby. A third guy in, Kuma buried him with a stinging little 90 paintball into a teacup. Just when you're expecting exotic Kung Fu, that's when he switches back to a street head butt.
How is it even possible for 3 guesses per pitch to be wrong? But if ZUUMBALL is confused, it's rather possible that other American baseball players are confused, too.
Here's to the possibility that 'Kuma has said "ah, forget this" and has decided to call his own game from here on out. And if THAT's true, he might be more comfortable with 50 shakeoffs of the kid catcher than trying to shake off the grizzled vet who chews nails.
Wednesday was nervy enough that we've all got to watch, a little bit, his next two outings. To rule out the concern that he'll be too amp'ed up closing.
But assuming he'll be fine -- and Dr. D does assume that -- then it could be that pitching the 9th will add ANOTHER shot of juice to his electricity. How many closers have you heard, get hit in the 7th or in spring training at -2 MPH, and complain "the manager just doesn't understand. It's different when you have the adrenaline of the ninth."
- HI = Diaz harnesses the 9th-inning adrenaline to his own benefit and becomes BETTER than what he's been
- MID = Diaz is a Betances-class asset
- LO = M's got too ambitious too soon, as with Tom Wilhelmsen
Fill in your own pie chart percentage chances for the above. Dr. D fancies the HI.
Hit an 88-MPH fastball straight up the middle to click off the facade ... of the Space Needle. Not for the first time did Dr. D wonder about Zunino's slider-speed bat.
In America that's a term of contempt, "slider-speed bat." Like saying Nick Foles is soft. But in Japan and Cuba I bet you it doesn't carry that connotation. Okay, that's one skill you lack, as Brandon Browner lacks burst and footspeed. But let's forget about what he can't do, and ask what he CAN do?
That would be a sophisticated platoon, this year and next:
- Zuumball: Paxton, Kuma, and anybody like Porcello who does not threaten 94 MPH
- Iannetta: All the other AB's
This is assuming that Dr. D's impression - impression, only - was correct about Zunino and threatening velocity. If it's true, you can be sure that Scott Servais is already doing it ...
ONE WINNING STREAK AWAY
M's got to get to +10 over .500 (ish) and then take a look around the landscape. They've more than survived Boston, so let us friend them, light them on fire, and ritually dance around their flaming carcasses. Then, on to Angels ... Tigers .. A's ... Angels .. Brew ... Fire-$ale Yank$ ... ChiSox before we hit Sept. Let's see the M's go about 15-8 in those games, putting them at +9, by the end of that run.
Can't trade baskets forever when you're down 12 points. That August run, that's their chance.
This factor always gets undersold. Usually when the fanz go, "Wow! Taijuan's in quite a rhythm now! Guess he cowboy'ed up!" you'll look and notice he's been throwing against the A's and Angels, not the Cubs and Red Sox. Which, there's nothing wrong with that. The Red Sox tend to hit less well against James Paxton, too. That's sports.