The Mariners return home after a long, difficult road trip.
There were very few surprises during the Mariners ten-game road trip. They played three very good teams, and while all three of them were playing at less than 100%, they still crushed a floundering Mariners squad. The Mariners 13-2 start to the season opened some eyes to the latent talent hidden on the roster, what we’ve seen over the last month or so is closer to what we expected heading into the season. And that’s okay! Floundering was always the plan this year, despite the ridiculous start to the season.
This weekend, we saw the debuts of J.P. Crawford and Shed Long. I hope Justus Sheffield gets a chance to stick at the major league level soon, despite the struggles he’s had in Triple-A. There’s a lot of chaff on the roster right now, so getting playing time for these youngsters is going to be difficult. There are plenty of complicated factors to consider, but it certainly seems like we’ve reached the “play the kids” portion of the season already.
The Mariners and Athletics began the season together in Japan and have reached this point in the season with basically the same record and run differential. Of course, they’ve arrived here via very different routes. The A’s have had a difficult time replicating the success that propelled them into the Wild Card game last year. Their starting rotation hasn’t rekindled the talent-defying magic of last season, and their bullpen has been roughed up despite solid underlying numbers. They’ve played a bunch of close games already including eight walk-off wins/losses, going 4-4 in those contests.
A few of the big offensive contributors from last year have had a hard time replicating their performances this year. The dynamic skills Ramón Laureano showed off last season have seemingly disappeared this year—except for his cannon throwing arm. He’s striking out more often, taking fewer walks, and isn’t hitting for as much power. Worryingly, his contact rate hasn’t really budged but he’s chasing much more often. The Athletics big offseason acquisition, Jurickson Profar, has also had a rough go of it early this season. He’s struggled with a case of the yips in the field and its affected him at the plate too. He was benched for a couple of games at the beginning of the month and has looked much better since, posting a 94 wRC+ in the nine games since.
To the surprise of everyone in baseball, Mike Fiers spun the first no-hitter of the year last week. It was the second no-hitter of his career, the 300th in major league history, and the first since James Paxton blanked the Blue Jays last year. Nothing’s really changed in Fiers profile. He increased the usage of his four-seam fastball and his big 12-6 curveball when he joined the A’s last year and he’s still using both of them as his primary pitches. When he’s able to command his fastball at the top of the zone like he did against the Reds the other day, he can be very effective. But as soon as that command slips, that fastball becomes extremely prone to leave the park. He’s also struggled to replicate the same kind of whiff rates with his fastball he enjoyed earlier in his career, making his no-hitter even more of a curiosity.
When a pitcher is bereft of overpowering or deceptive stuff, regulating the contact he allows is the only path left to success. Brett Anderson has completely embraced that reality. Among all qualified starting pitchers, Anderson’s strikeout rate is the lowest by a healthy margin. Opposing batters are making contact against him 82.8% of the time, the ninth highest mark in the majors. When they do make contact, they pound the ball into the ground or hit it weakly in the air. Even though the league home run rate is at an all-time high, Anderson has allowed just a single long ball this year. That miniscule home run rate is bound to go up, but he’s leveraging the Dallas Keuchel model for all its worth.
The Big Picture:
The Astros swept the Rangers over the weekend, extending their win streak to five games and pushing their lead in the West to six and a half games, the largest division lead in the majors. They’ll to keep their hot streak going as they host the Tigers for three games this week. The Angels won their series in Baltimore over the weekend and travel to Minnesota to take on the AL Central leaders.