The warm glow of taking 3 out of 4 from the Kansas City Royals now fades into facing an actual good team. The Rays may be 9.5 back in the East, but they’re tied with Boston for third and only a half game back of the finally-putting-something-together Orioles. You can’t blame them for being behind a team like the Yankees, who are almost unanimously considered the best team in baseball right now. This preview will only concern pitching matchups, as you can’t know the lineup cards this far beforehand.
Game 1: Hisashi Iwakuma vs. James Shields
Iwakuma hasn’t been particularly good this year as a whole, with a .286 BAA against righties, while pitching better against lefties (.225). It kind of doesn’t make sense. But before his last start in Texas, he was showing some signs of improvement, with his ERA dipping in spite of his walks increasing and his strikeouts falling. Shields is again in the “not so good” camp, outside of a good K/9 (8.30). His BAA for lefties is .279, and for righties is a stunning .299, meaning that Shields is getting hit all over the place. Both starters are coming off bad starts, with Shields getting rocked in Cleveland and having given up double-digit hits his last four starts. While the Mariners hit better on the road, what you’re going to be hoping for here is for them to get after Shields by racking up hits while hoping Iwakuma can keep them in the game. Not particularly inspiring for either team.
Game 2: Jason Vargas vs. Alex Cobb
The Mariners will see another righty in Cobb, who is getting smacked around pretty good with a .286 BAA by lefties. Its a .244 BAA against righties, which isn’t great but it’s not bad per say. The lefties stat should push Wedge to play Jaso over Olivo, which should basically happen any time a righty is pitching anyway, due to Jaso only being able to hit them basically and Olivo be a god-awful baseball player. Vargas has pitched in a normal Vargas-y way his last 3 starts, pitching at least into the 6th, giving up more than 5 hits and getting a lot of fly-ball outs from righties. His ability to keep righty fly balls in the yard for the most part shows in the .227 BAA, which doesn’t seem to be translating to lefties who hit a surprising .297 off of him. He’s faced a metric ton more righties, however, so I wouldn’t read too much into that. Tropicana Field is 22nd in HR rate, so Vargas will hopefully be able to keep those fly balls in the yard while the Mariners go lefty-heavy and attack Cobb.
Game 3: Blake Beavan vs. Matt Moore
Moore and Beavan are similar style pitchers, in that they don’t get many ground ball outs, have a pretty high home run rate, and are very young pitchers. The difference is in the arm they use (Beavan’s a righty, Moore is a lefty), and Beavan has limited upside while Matt Moore is considered to have “ace potential”. Moore is in his first full season, and a quick perusal of Felix’s first year stats will show that these sorts of things happen to young pitchers in their first year, though Moore is obviously not quite as young as Felix was, nor is it any assurance that Moore turns into Felix. Moore has an impressive 8.51 K/9 rate, which is positive for his development as a pitcher. Moore has .237/.285 BAAs from righty to lefty, while as most pitchers do facing a ton more righties. Knowing Wedge, he’ll probably still try a righty-heavy lineup and give a start to Olivo, with his blistering .214 OBP and his “gritty veteran”-ness or whatever is keeping him in the lineup (I know, I’m harping, but seriously—people always crap on Figgins without realizing who is creating substantially more damage by playing more often and being awful). With Beavan, you know what you’re getting; a guy whose fly ball to HR rate is an extremely high 11.4%, and a guy whose getting smacked around with .277/.315 BAAs, righty to lefty respectively. As Dave Cameron at the incomprable USSMariner has pointed out, Blake Beavan is not a starting MLB level pitcher. I have to agree, having looked at Beavan’s stats.
If I had to predict a series outcome (and I do), I can’t see either team getting a sweep. I’d put money that the Mariners lose Game 3 because of Beavan’s general not-goodness, and will probably win Game 2 due to Cobb’s struggles and Vargas’ consistency, however you want to frame that. Neither pitcher in Game 1 has been good, so there’s the toss-up. So my feeble prediction is that whoever wins the series, wins it 2 games out of 3.
Go Mariners, as always.