Happy Canada Day, boys and girls. The Jays will spend this holiday weekend in Seattle trying to cool off the rampaging Mariners, who just swept Boston in a thrilling three-game set. Seattle trails Wild Card leader Cleveland by 2.5 games, and has 4.5 games on the Blue Jays. The Jays can't catch the M's this weekend, but they do have a great opportunity to do some damage against some of Seattle's weaker pitchers.
The M's run differential is a modest +7. Aside from their leadoff man and maybe their catcher, none of the M's hitters are having incredible years. Their lineup has just been solid from top to bottom once you account for the park they play in. They also have benefited from two outstanding seasons from their two outstanding under-the-radar bullpen arms.
Jarrod Washburn is this team's solid #2 starter. He gets the ball tonight. He isn't amazing but he might be the next Jamie Moyer someday. He doesn't throw hard - he's usually around 86 - but he's very happy to throw lots of high fastballs regardless, even to righties. That stupid-like-a-fox approach has served Washburn very well over his career: his platoon splits are very small over the last four years. He's in a happy place, as Safeco, with a park factor of 95, is one of the most pronounced pitchers' parks in the AL.
Washburn has indeed played as a big flyball pitcher in every single big-league season, so take his neutral GB/FB numbers with a grain of salt. He throws a slider, curve and changeup for decoration, and probably gets crushed when he's leaving those up, but his MO is all about the fastball and getting popups (and 404-foot sea-level flyouts to dead center). With Washburn ahead in the count you're still very likely to see a fastball. His 16.7% popups-per-fly rate is very high and consistent with his pitching approach. To prevent any kind of complete-game four-hitter shenanigans, I'd probably hypnotize the team and make them think they're facing some lefty who pitches up and throws 91 instead of 86, like Ted Lilly or something, and see if that helps them get around on the super-inviting belt-high heaters. Of which there will be many.
The only Jay who's really owned Washburn is Reed Johnson, who (my sources tell me) is unavailable tonight. Royce Clayton has taken Washburn deep twice.
Miguel Batista, the artist formerly known as Strikey, goes tomorrow. I think I vaguely remember him pitching for the Jays a couple of years ago... Anyway, he's still the same guy, with his arsenal of 57 known pitches (at last count). He throws in the low-mid-90s, sometimes with really nasty tailing movement and sometimes not. He also tends to fall mad(dening)ly in love with his cutter, just like in the good ol' days. Royce Clayton has taken Batista deep once.
Jeff Weaver goes Sunday. I, too, am shocked that he's survived this long in the AL with the same team that signed him during the offseason. But don't believe the ERA; his BABIP is very high and his peripheral numbers are decent. He's not this bad. Weaver brings lots of pitches to the mound: a moving low-90s fastball, a tight slider, a slow curve, a change and a tendency to pitch sidearm sometimes, ostensibly to annoy righties. Is it just me or are all the guys who do that also all the headcases? Royce Clayton has not taken Weaver deep, but Troy Glaus is 2-31 with four walks and Vernon Wells is 9-29 with two walks and three homers.
J.J. Putz has been the best closer in baseball this year. I can almost make it all the way through his last name without snickering. The gag reflex usually kicks in sometime during the 'ts' sound at the end, which I instinctively read as a long consonant. Everything Putz throws is hard - high-90s fastball, slider, and the splitter he added last year that became his #1 strikeout weapon and helped him take the leap to Elite Closerdom. When Putz falls behind he mothballs the splitter until he evens the count with fastballs. He leads all major-league relievers in WPA.
Setup ace Brandon Morrow was the Mariners' first-round pick in the 2006 draft, 5th overall out of Cal. He overcame diabetes to become a top draft prospect. Ryan Quinn of MLB.com had a sweet story on that a year ago. Some 13.5 months ago, Pistol listed Morrow's atrocious 2004-05 college stats and noted, "He went from an erratic reliever to a top flight starter. These type of players make me nervous." Silencing his doubters, Morrow has proven that his gift for erratic relief is still perfectly intact. He's put up more walks than strikeouts as the Mariners' full-time top setup guy. He seems like the kind of pitcher who can be coaxed into throwing nothing but fastballs with a walk or two. However, he's showing tons of poise for a 22-year-old reliever and seems to have a very bright future ahead of him.
George Friederich Sherrill is an awesome lefty who might be a nice cut-rate closing option for somebody someday. Given how easily Rafael Soriano was pried away from the Mariners, that notion isn't quite as farfetched as it sounds. Sherrill's got alarming flyball tendencies, but he throws in the low 90s, has a nasty slider (plus curve, plus change!), eviscerates lefthanded hitters and reminds me of B.J. Ryan in so many ways.
Eric O'Flaherty is a 22-year-old lefty reliever from Walla Walla who wallowed in A-ball from 2004 through last spring until something clicked. He powered through the M's farm system as a closer last year to earn an August callup. His name is awesome. He has LOOGY written all over him; the Baseball America prospect annual says he benefits from pitching fresh.
Ryan Rowland-Smith is yet another lefty. He's a 24-year-old Aussie who had pretty good success at AAA, so the M's called him up to be their 12th man in response to injuries to Jake Woods, Mark Lowe, Chris Reitsma and others.
Roy Halladay might want to stay away from contact on Saturday. It's singles' day at the ballpark. Rimshot! (Too soon? But the Jays won Monday...)
Position players! Yeah, this team has some of those too. Who's interesting here? Uh, let's start at the bottom. Not only is Willie Bloomquist still in the major leagues, but he's hitting .282! Bloomquist's played every position this year except pitcher and catcher. He's a good fielder, but if I were an M's fan I'd be really unnerved by the fact that Bloomquist has started four of Seattle's last six games, including three in a row at the same position. That's a dangerous path to start down. If that happens in each of the next two weeks too Bill James might start growing wings and flight attendants. I'd much rather have John McDonald bat with the game on the line than Bloomquist.
Outfielder Jason Ellison, acquired from San Fran for Travis Blackley, is a human highlight reel as Seattle's late-inning defensive specialist. He's played in 45 games but only come up to bat 32 times. He has fantastic range, a rocket arm, and fantastic range. (The range is worth mentioning twice.) He tends to replace the less mobile Jose Guillen in right in the late innings, giving the Mariners a tremendous outfield alongside the guy in center. Ellison also has some replacement-level offensive ability: he hit .264/.316/.361in righty hitters' hell as a part-timer in 2005, and .406/.447/.536 in 46 AAA games last year, though he struggled in 91 PA with the Giants. The bad news is he's 29.
I'd never heard of backup catcher Jamie Burke, but apparently he played in 52 games for the '04 White Sox. He's off to a nice little start as Kenji Johjima's sidekick, too. Johjima himself is one of the most accomplished hackers in the league. He just swings at the first pitch he likes and hits it hard. That formula has been even more successful this year than it was in '06.
And Ichiro is still awesome.
The Credit Section: All offensive stats, pitches per PA for pitchers and league average stats are from the Hardball Times. Pitchers' stats and leverage indices are from Fangraphs. Minor-league stats are from Minor League Splits. K% and BB% are strikeouts and walks as a percentage of plate appearances; GB% + LD% + FB% = 100. Rowland-Smith's stats are from AAA. His name is way too long for that to fit in the chart.