Tonight the Rox start the first of their last four road series in lovely Seattle. Actually, I never much cared for Seattle. It always reminded me of what Boulder would be like if it was 5X bigger with horrible weather (note: as a CU Alum I have required by law to say that Boulder is a great place…hey, they threaten to take away your degree if you don’t say that).
What is more Seattle seems to always have stadiums that are weird enough to give them unique advantages . Remember the old Kingdom? When the Broncos would go there for games the week of they would pipe in crowd noise so they could prepare for that sound. Turns out that when they blew up the Kingdome (I was in Seattle on business so we went as close as we could to watch it implode – didn’t see much but the sound was cool), the Seahawks built an outdoor stadium that holds the noise just as well. To be fair, you have to cheer for your home team loudly when you wake up practically everyday to grey, overcast, and rain.
Our baseball team may stink, but at least we get 300+ day of sunshine each year!
By the way, the city of Seattle didn’t finish paying off the bonds for the construction, renovation and demolition until this year! 15 years after the stadium went poof! I go back and forth on public built stadiums but…wow! 15 years after?
The Mariners had a more difficult transition. The Kingdome was a pure hitters park, and boy did they hit. The stadium helped make guys like Jay Buhner and Edgar Martinez a star and provided the perfect environment for young Ken Griffey Jr. to hit 50 and establish himself as our generation’s Willie Mays. Homers, they had a few!
But when they moved to SafeCo Field they entered the best pitcher’s park in all of baseball. Beginning in July 1999 the old model had to go and the new model was born. In 1998 the last full year at the Kingdome when the Mariners won only 76 games the Mariners hit 117 homers and scored 779 runs at home (they actually had identical homer numbers on the road and home but when you have your DH hitting 29, your CF in Grif hitting 56 and your 22-year old SS – Arod – hitting 42, you have legit power everywhere) . Their pitching staff while pitching at home allowed 427 runs and 101 homers (this was the staff that included a 34-year old Randy Johnson and a 35-year old Jamie Moyer and Jeff Fassaro. Moyer had a 3.53 ERA and Fassero a 3.97, while Big Unit had a 4.33 ERA.
In the year 2000, the first full-year at Safeco the Mariners in their 91 win season hit only 92 homers at home and scored only 418 runs at home. Their pitching allowed just 348 runs and just 72 homers at home. And that pitching staff was pretty bad with only youngsters Meche and Garcia having sub 4 ERA and Moyers’s ERA, despite the new ballpark ballooning to 5.49 (thanks to a 6.32 road ERA).
The thing was, the Mariners made the adjustments. Yes their pitching staff stunk on the road (5.25 ERA) but it dominated at home (3.86 ERA). It kept enough big boppers to outscore on the road and enough solid pitching to win close games at home. They perfected the art in 2001 when they won 116 games (the season after ARod left) thanks to 79 home homers hit and just 68 home homers allowed (the ERA split that year was 3.04 at home, 4.05 on the road). The Mariners had become the anti-Rockies, and indeed the anti-Mariners from pre-1999. But it worked. It was almost like they played two styles of baseball, knowing at home their pitching would come through and they could hit some key homers, play great defense, steal bases (Ichiro stole 56 and Cameron 34 that year), and on the road they had Boone, Olerud, Cameron and Martinez hitting the long ball. The provided a template for a team like…oh say the Rockies! The template worked as they won 93 games each of the next two seasons before hitting a stretch in 2004 through 2014 where their high water mark was 88 wins (finishing 2nd) and they had 8 losing seasons.
So….maybe the Rox did learn the template. Their run from 2007-2010 featured some solid to very good pitching performances on the road, some great defense, good base-running, and enough big bats at home to simply pound the opposition.
But as both team’s prove, the template only works if you have the players to do it. Think about this year’s Rockies team. Their base-running is horrendous. They have gotten good defense at times (especially from certain players) and horrendous defense (and costly both at home and on the road) at others. Their pitching, is somewhere between inconsistent and horrible, and seemingly much worse on the road. And they no longer can out-club teams at home, where they have gone 31-40!
The template can work…but the players have to be there. They need to improve defense at a few spots and avoid mental errors that cost runs. They need to bring in Larry Walker to teach everyone from Ben Paulsen to Jeff Bridich how to run the bases! They have to get guys who can hover around a 4 ERA on the road and just keep the team in it at home. And their offense, to be blunt, has to be more dynamic (its why I fear for this team without CarGo if he is traded during the offseason), including in power up and down the line.
The great news is the organization is stacked with great prospects up and down their minor leagues, both positional players (only 1B seems bare right now, and several of the catching prospects could move over) and pitching (if they stay healthy). The Rox were recently ranked as the 3rd best farm system, and in MLB’s “Prospect Team of the Week” the Rox were one of the few with double-digit performances. So the help is coming, help that fits the template. And I know this won’t go over well but…you can thank Dan O’Dowd for that drafting and developmental plan, one that really does seem built around the template.
The Mariners are also trying to re-establish the template. But they have the added advantage of some decent pitching (3.84 home ERA and 4.66 road ERA), played decent defense and have added some power in Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz (who hit over 40 again this year but just 14 at home). But they are still a year away likely. But unlike the NL where the great play of both the Pirates and the Cubs has made staying in the 2nd Wild Card race impossible (the Cubs with 80 wins would be leading the AL West and East and breathing down the Royals neck 2.5 games behind), the AL is a mess. In the NL no team is within 6.5 games of the 2nd WC. In the AL 7 teams are within 6.5 games. While there are only 22 games left in the season we have seen hard charges that allow a team 6 or 7 games back to come on and claim the Wild Card berth at the end (like that team in 2007 who plays at Coors). So the Mariners sit 6 back in the Wild Card, chasing down the current 2nd WC team, the Texas Rangers. The Rangers are at 73-66, so at least they are a .500+ team. The Mariners still think they have a chance. But they are 68-73! This is a losing team…granted with real talent and King Felix to lead their starting pitching. But how does a losing team think they still have a chance? Because that is the magic of September baseball in the 2 Wild Card baseball world.
So tonight the Rox stroll into town and the Mariners have to get a clean sweep against one of the worst road teams in all of baseball (interesting note, the 1st place Astros have only won 1 more game on the road….highlighting the fact that the Rox could be a much more interesting team if they just dominated at home as Rox teams usually do). A sweep of this three game series they have a chance to stay in the race (they have 3 against the Rangers on the road next weekend), and they do so having tossed King Felix the night before. So the Rox avoid the King but get one of the better pitchers for the Mariners have of late in Hisashi Iwakuma. In his last 7 starts he has a 2.98 ERA and a WHIP of just .91. So no easy night….
The Rox counter with Chad Bettis, who has not looked like the pitcher he was before his stint on the DL with elbow inflammation. Bettis is such an intriguing pitcher. He has the stuff to be a solid #2 or a great #3 for years to come. He is still young at 26 (turns 27 next April), and in his whole career he has just 53 appearances (24 starts). He doesn’t become arbitration eligible until 2018 and a free agent until 2021, which means he represents a young, cheap, and talented option for this team.
For more on Chad Bettis, keep reading after the lineup….
A few things to watch in tonight’s lineups. Justin Morneau will be the Rox DH tonight vs the righty. Rockies killer Mark Trumbo is in the lineup (having been traded by Arizona earlier this year….where he tortured the Rox). In his career of 21 games against the Rockies he has a .359 BA, a 1.264 OPS thanks to a .451 OBP and .833 slugging percentage due to his 10 homers, 1 triple and 5 doubles in just 91 plate appearances (which include 13 walks, 2 intentional, and 13 Ks). Desclaso is in at short in place of both Reyes and Adames (not sure why you don’t play Adames). Garneau will be getting a lot of work the next few days as it turns out Hundley’s neck injury is much worse than initially believed (hopefully not really bad that impacts his ability to play in 2016 and beyond). Corey Dickerson, fresh off his homer in yesterday’s game is batting 2nd, where they wanted him to play this year. His absence in all but 46 games this year is one of those little things that has helped push a Rockies team that was going to need a lot of breaks to be .500 into the land of top 5 overall picks.
More Thoughts on Chad Bettis
The excellent website BrooksBaseball.net tells us that he is actually throwing his fastball harder than before he went on the DL , but still not as hard as in May when he delighted fans with his potential. His curve and slider are a bit harder, which may explain his issues with control. What is curious to me is that as far as max-velocity is significantly down on all his pitches from last year when he was a piñata as a reliever. Of course being stretched out we should see velocity down but is he one of those over-throwers? And after so much time off while on the DL is his fresher arm overthrowing again? These of course are questions to be answered by Steve Foster and Marc Wiley, but as you watch tonight (if you want to stay up til midnight), watch to see how often the catcher (Garneau) has to move his glove to receive the ball…and note also how much each movement is. When Bettis is on he usually is within a few inches of the target. In his last start he was catching a whole lot of the middle of the plate. Bettis of course lost a whole year of development in 2012 due to shoulder issues. In 2011 in High A at Modesto, a hitters league (though Modesto is a pitcher’s park) he had a 3.82 ERA in 169 innings but with 184 Ks (and a 4.09 K/BB ratio). That was when Bettis became a true prospect (he was the 2nd round pick of the Rox in 2010 out of Texas Tech). When he came back in 2013 in AA Tulsa he again had a high K rate (9.7/9) in his 63 innings at AA. He was plucked from there to pitch for the Rox in August and September (2013 was the year of a solid top 3 and a bottomless pit in the search for #4 and #5). As a starter that year his big issue was control, as his K rate dropped to 5.5/9 and his walk ration jumped to 4.36/9. Some of this was undoubtedly nerves. Some of it having Wilin Rosario as your catcher. And some of it he simply wasn’t ready, was likely over throwing and hitters in the bigs know how to lay off pitches when a guy is struggling to throw strikes. He was handled a bit like Jon Gray (very careful given his prospect status and his injury in 2012), and in those 8 starts he was essentially limited to no more than 6 innings. In 5 of the 8 he went at least 5 innings. In three of those starts he gave up 2 runs or less. He had two starts of 5 earned runs and one with 4 earned runs. Then there was the bizarre game in Baltimore where he gave up 7 hits and 4 walks in 2.2 innings where the Orioles scored 8 runs but just two were earned. His final start was just 3 innings but he just 2 hits while striking out 4 and walking none. I have no idea why he was pulled from the game.
We all know they thought in 2014 he would make a great reliever….and he wasn’t. That Giants win when he gave up the 3 run homer in the 13th early in the season sticks with me as a pivot point of the season last year. Late in the season he was stretched out and had mixed results that included an 8 inning 3 hit/7K/0BB game in Fresno. At that point the team decided to see if he could make it as a starter.
He has a ton of talent. He showed it earlier before the injury. He had 13 starts, with his ERA really being messed up by a total bomb of a gam versus the Angels when he gave up 10 earned runs in 2.1 innings. He gave up 3 earned runs or less in 10 of his starts along with a game with 4 and one with 5. He went 6 innings or more in 8 of the starts. He had 5 or more Ks in 9 of the starts. He had 2 or less walks in 8 of those games. That is a pretty good resume for a young pitcher still learning how to pitch at this level. The three starts since coming back shouldn’t be over-analyzed as he is regaining his control and through the rust. But even these three games he hasn’t been awful. What he has been is very promising.
Which is what you would expect from a guy who before missing the 2012 season was the 66th ranked prospect for the MLB pipeline tracker. It may be that we are getting close to seeing him live up to the high draft status, early success, and high prospect ranking. The Rockies need a break…and they need health and success.
So, while every 5th day (hopefully) is going to be Gray Day for years to come, there may be a “Betting” Day as well.
What do you think about a projected rotation on August 1 of next year of:
- Jorge De La Rosa
- Jon Gray
- Chad Bettis
- Jeff Hoffman
- Chris Russin
Its not the Nationals top 5 but…that has a good mix of youth and experience, some great stuff, and the ability to compete night after night. Just a little something to get you excited as the Broncos open their season