How long have I been harping on this? How long have I insisted that the slashball is his true out pitch and the key to unlocking his Cy Young cabinet?
M's PLAYOFF CHANCES +
The M's wound up with a 2-month-long road series enough to break weaker men. It featured staccato day-on, day-off scheduling, along with half of its lineup missing, a ferocious Twins team, and Johnny Cueto / Danny Duffy firehosing Grade A stuff at them. Oh yeah, and the weather and the injuries (Healy).
No excuses! I like it. They split in SF, split in the Minnesota icebox, and won 2-of-3 in Kansas City as they were supposed to. All in all, a 7-game, 28-day road trip that is what you want to see from a playoff contender. If we'd been axed on March 27, "Would you accept 5-4?" we'd have grabbed so fast you wouldn't have seen our hands move.
Back in the 50's, they had a LITERAL "pennant race," like NASCAR. Big pack of teams, one "car" won and went to the World Serious. In 2018, the NASCAR field excludes the Astros and the Red Sox/Yankees, whoever's having the UP season. Also Cleveland. So a quality-but-not-crazy-good team like Seattle should think in terms of a "pennant race" for the Wild Card. Thusly:
1 LAA 9-3 (actually ahead of 9-4 HOU for the moment)
2 TOR 8-4
3 M's 6-4
4 Min 6-4 (ahead of CLE at 6-5)
This is the paradigm that SSI will use all season, a 1950's style "pennant race" between 12 teams, not counting the mega-squads. Dr. D is giving a + on the race, because he's pleased with himself for the paradigm. One time Bobby Fischer won the US Closed Championship 13-0; the MC congratulated GM Larry Evans for "winning the tournament" and then congratulated Fischer for "winning the exhibition." HEH
Houston, Cleveland and the UP team between Bos/NYY will be putting on an exhibition. I'll be watching the 1-2 team pennant race for the WC.
In March, looking at that daunting schedule, we'd have definitely accepted a 6-4 record; if you could string those, it would be 24-16, 60-40 and eventually 97 wins. 6-4 is fine with half your lineup out, no?
Oakland next, then HOU. We aspire to 2-1 followed by 2-2. It could happen :: fran drescher ::
Dr. D breathed a big sigh of relief at his excellent outing on Monday. Mike Blowers pointed out that Felix' shoulder is hanging by a thread, BUT! --- > he has lost NO ability to SPIN the ball. That's a forearm, wrist, and fingers issue.
So his curve remains a 70 weapon. His changeup gets good spin but, without the OOMPH behind a 94 MPH arm, is only a 60 pitch. His fastball has slightly minus velocity, but on Tuesday he his his spots with it.
Aaron Sele was a pitcher that Dr. D liked. He made a nice living from throwing a 70 curve along with an 88 fastball located. The older Bert Blyleven rang up a 17-5 season doing this. The Mainframe has always thought that Felix could pitch this way.
But. Felix can throw curve-FB-curve-FB and on a 2-2 count, wheel out that change. So theoretically he should be able to out-pitch Sele and Blyleven, wouldn't you agree? On Tuesday I thought he was back to "solid #3 status" again, at the least.
This all depends on Felix adjusting to the idea of pitching backwards. On TV they said the M's were after him to throw more curve balls. He already throws 22% curves, #5 in the AL, but the M's want him to go to 30% or more.
Here's where we get to that idea, the more you throw a certain pitch, the more the pitch value is going to drop. It's like an NFL team is leading the league in yardage on slant-ins. Well, if it went to 70% slant-ins, the defense would pick half of them off and the pitch value would be hugely minus.
So more curves mean the curve will be hit more. This actually happened Tuesday: 19 curves in 87 pitches and this was to a left-hand lineup (Moustakas hit an HR). But! again. You can allow your pitch value to drop from -2.00 to -1.00 and still profit overall.
There is a "tipping point" at which any pitcher finds his ideal pitch mix, to maximize their -0.50 value on all pitches. Felix is probably used to throwing his curve, getting a .122 AVG on it, and saving it for strikeouts. But if he used it Sele-style, accepting some hits, I'll bet that his fastball would be sneaky-fast and he'd be a better pitcher.
Monday this in fact occurred. His curve gave up a few hits, but he snuck his FB in there for strikes, late-swing strikes. And he had a near-QS, 5.2 IP 3 ER, and I felt the Royals were lucky to get that.
The more Felix throws like Sele at this point, 60-40 or 65-35 curves .... well, he's got that changeup as a 60 pitch too. Monday he looked like a #3 starter again, to me.
Two plusses ++ because I allowed a VERY good chance that Felix was DL-ready. We not only avoided that, but as a completely separate issue, saw a pitcher adjusting to his lack of a fastball.
Went through 3 phases in one game: (1) wild Paxton early, (2) Eddie Diaz Paxton for an inning or two, and then (3) hide the women and children Zeus -- the one who rocks back for an effortless 97-98 strike one and then easily fires the slashball at the knees to drop below them.
His scorecard was exciting and satisfying: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 10K and that wasn't Paxton at his best. For the year he's got 21 K in 15.2 IP, and that's a lot different from a reliever doing that. In Wednesday's game, he got 23 swings and misses (!) in 100 pitches. The buzzword in Seattle this year is "how well do Felix/Leake's/Marco's pitches play inside the strike zone?" With Paxton it's just a question of whether he can go 0-1, and if so, how badly the hitter's going to be embarrassed.
The 2018 Seattle Mariners have their monster lefty and I'm anxious for him to get his 17-5 record started with this lineup.
One + because he is settling in for 2018, as expected ... but other things could have transpired.
JUAN NICASIO =-
Still throwing 89 to start the inning, this time ramping to 92 the very next pitch and then to 94.
The Royals scouted it; the first-pitch 89 fastball was torched down the LF line into the corner, a yard foul. Nicasio scouted the scouting, throwing sliders the next three pitches.
Most of us gingerly predict that Nicasio will loosen up as the weather lets up. Also, Nicaso has shown a clear possession of some GUILE, a Shander/HQ golden principle. Hence a =- , rather than a - or --.
Is lights-out and that's probably no accident. He sez himself "I'm learning to pitch out there." Has 12 K and 0 BB in 5 innings, with is no accident whatsoever; more and more he's firing a located 98 fastball strike one and then using a VICIOUS slider, super deceptive arm action, to exploit the cheating.
An American in Japan once said of Sasaki, "he's the only guy I ever saw where I went up there thinking, 'How many pitches is this going to take.' Eddie on his game, same thing, no chance.
Two ++ because he looks ahead of schedule. At the moment.
M's BULLPEN +
The FEEL for a club, the EFFECT on its play in the 5th inning, is totally different with a wipeout closer. It's one thing to cobble your way through the 7th-8th the best you can; it's an entirely different thing to have Bobby Ayala in the 9th, waiting to botch your win.
Last week we brought up the idea of a Shandler LIMA relief staff -- one $30 star closer, with some spaghetti you throw at the wall. THAT situation is perfectly acceptable, especially early in the season while you know things have to shake out. Bridge innings -- anybody can go a batter-at-a-time, take the platoon advantage, and survive.
The M's are benefitting, HUGE, from the Diaz conversion, a Great White Whale of a club star at the rookie minimum. It's benefitting as much from the weird Dee Gordon inspiration. Dr. D is not a rah-rah Jerry Dipoto fan, but he's got to admit that Dipoto pulled 2 rabbits out of thin air, and it's making the M's look like a contender.
One + because I was brought up with LIMA and personally am comfortable with the approach. ("Low Investment Mound Ace" and a reference to Jose Lima.)