The Phillies travel to the West coast for some late-night baseball against the Seattle Mariners. The series will kick off at 10:10 PM ET with Roy Oswalt facing rookie phenom Michael Pineda. I caught up with two of the guys from Sweet Spot blog Pro Ball NW, Conor Dowley and Tayler Halperin, to shed some light on the M’s, who currently sit just a half-game out of first place in the AL West.
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1. The Mariners have one of the few rotations in baseball that can go toe-to-toe with the Phillies’. In particular, people are fascinated with Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda. Can you give us a brief scouting report on those two?
Conor: Felix’s scouting report is pretty well known at this point. His fastball velocity isn’t what it was, but it’s still excellent and his command is fantastic when he’s on. Even when he’s not on, his curve and change are so good that those two pitches can get him through.
Pineda doesn’t have Felix’s polish, but his fastball is lethal, and the break on his slider only makes it harder to sit on. His changeup is still developing, but he had two distinct versions of it. The one he’s largely used this year is a power change not unlike Felix’s power change, sitting in the upper 80′s. Pineda’s version of the pitch is much straighter than Felix’s, however, and is not in my opinion as effective as the split-change he showed last year that was a devastating pitch at times. He doesn’t throw it as often as he did last year, but it’s drawn whiffs most of the time when he does.
Taylor: Felix Hernandez (he of the 2.6 WAR through 15 starts) is possibly the best pitcher in baseball. He can throw his fastball, curve, change, and slider all for strikes (almost) all the time. Excellent control and impeccable command. He racks up groundballs, induces plenty of weak contact, and is 5th in all of baseball with 103 strikeouts. He almost never gets flustered on the mound, and limits damage exceptionally well. Oh, and he can throw up to 97 miles an hour when he wants to. Despite having posted a lower ERA than Felix, Michael Pineda is not at his level. Pineda throws a flaming heater and a nasty slider, but that’s about it. Occasionally, he’ll throw his change, but that pitch is a work in progress. Nonetheless, he’s been baseball’s best rookie hurler by an arguably wide margin (3.07 FIP) throwing only two pitches. If his changeup develops nicely, Pineda will cement himself alongside Felix as one of the top 10 pitchers in baseball.
2. When will Erik Bedard break down again? He’s been great thus far, but do you anticipate more misfortune for the lefty? He seems to have always had a black cloud hovering over him.
Conor: I’m honestly a little bit surprised that Bedard hasn’t met with more difficulty. With how good he has been so far this season, e could break down tomorrow and I’d consider it to be a successful year for him. Bedard did have a rough go at the start of the year while he was still rebuilding his velocity and command, but he’s been awesome since he “found himself” in late April.
Taylor: Bedard appears to be healthy, as far as I can tell. He even seems to be getting more dominant with every start. He’s actually on pace to be worth over 3 wins above replacement, which is absolutely phenomenal for a fifth starter. In any case, the French Canadian’s mechanics seem fine and he might net the M’s a sweet return should they decide to deal him at the deadline.
3. Ichiro, of the career .328 average, is hitting .258. Has he noticeably declined, or is it just a fluke?
Conor: Ichiro has visibly lost a step speed-wise, and it’s really shown up in the field. At the plate, however, I think it’s largely been poor luck. His BABIP on line drives has been far off his career rate, and he lives on those liners that drop in just past the infielders. He’s been coming around of late, with five straight multi-hit games, so hopefully the Ichiro of old is back to stay.
Taylor: Ichiro admittedly has looked lost at times this season. He’s slugging only .325 and he has yet to club his first long ball of the season, but things are looking up for the Mariners’ beloved right-fielder. He’s been hitting the ball superbly in the last 6-8 games, and I imagine his batting average will return to .300 by season’s end. Sure, he’s getting older, but I don’t think Ichiro would just fall off a metaphorical/statistical cliff.
4. The Mariners’ home ballpark, unlike the Phillies’, is known for being pitcher-friendly. Do you expect the spacious confines of Safeco Field to provide a home-field advantage in this series?
Conor: While SafeCo limits right-handed power, it’s much friendlier to lefties. The Phillies have hitters that I think can really take advantage of that, so it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if they put on a power show in this series.
Taylor: Honestly both the M’s and Phillies haven’t hit as well as they should be hitting in 2011. I foresee three low-scoring games, and Safeco’s dimensions can only serve to further that.
5. Dustin Ackley was recently called up. What are your expectations for him at the Major League level in 2011?
Conor: I’m much more bearish than most M’s fans are. Where many seem to expect an impact bat right away, I’d expect a line more like .265/.385/.390 for the remainder of this season.
Too many people ate expecting Utley-like power from him, and that’s just not the kind of hitter that Ackley is. He is going to hit homers now and then, but they’re most often going to be the result of his patience. Every now and then, he’ll get just the right pitch that he can turn on and crank, but his natural strength and swing limit him to mostly just those. While pitches like that can be plentiful in AAA, they’re much harder to come by in the majors.
Taylor: I’d expect something around .250/.340/.390 with decent glove-work. It’s not fancy, but getting on base 34 percent of the time is nothing to scoff at. As for power, Ackley has the potential to hit 20 homers a year, but I really doubt he’ll tap into that potential in his first season.
Conor: The Mariners’ outfield is mostly fixing itself right now. With Ichiro finally coming around and Gutierrez returning to full health, that gives them a lot of leeway for the left field situation. Carlos Peguero gives them some thump and occasional clutch hits, but his defense and consistency leave much to be desired right now. Frankly, he’d be best served playing every day in AAA Tacoma right now.
Among current roster options, a platoon of Mike Carp and Greg Halman would probably be the M’s best bet right now. Both offer above-average power, and while Carp gives a better approach at the plate, Halman is the far better defender. If the M’s were to upgrade any position on the trade market, it would be left field.
Taylor: Though I reference WAR in one of my previous answers, I’ll caution the reader by mentioning that WAR is screwed up by small sample sizes of UZR data. Ichiro is not really a -0.8 WAR player. He just isn’t. Small sample sizes of UZR can wreak havoc on WAR tallies. Now then, the Mariners’ outfield doesn’t necessarily need fixing. I certainly wouldn’t mind if the team acquired a big bat with an average glove to play left, but Carlos Peguero has actually done a decent job so far. If I were Jack Zduriencik (which I’m not, for the record), I would demote Peguero and let Halman platoon in left with Mike Carp for the time being, and if the team is still contending on July 15th, trade for the Orioles’ Luke Scott. Then again, Halman still appears to have pitch recognition deficiencies, but he appears to be the best choice for the righty in the left field platoon. As for center field and right field, Gutierrez and Ichiro will be fine (I think). It’s best to let those two play every day. Gutierrez is possibly the best defensive center fielder in the majors, and he hit 32 homers over the last two seasons, and Ichiro has racked up 200+ hits literally every season he’s been in the majors.
7. Grab your crystal ball and give us a prediction for this series? Who wins?
Conor: The M’s have played exceedingly well of late, but if they have to face Cole Hamels and Roy Osawalt, it’ll be hard to scratch out wins against them if they’re on. I see this going 2-1 in favor of the Phillies.
Taylor: I’ll go out on a limb and say the M’s win the series 2 games to 1, despite only scoring 7 total runs.
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Thanks to Conor and Taylor for taking the time to talk about the Mariners. Make sure to stop by Pro Ball NW to see what they have to say throughout the series, and also check out Mariners Farm Review if you have the time. You can follow the PBNW crew on Twitter as well: @ProBallNW, @C_Dowley, and @TaylorRobot.