Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Still, this is a Mariner game piece about the awesome team win on a cold Tuesday night in Chicago. The Mariners split the doubleheader to end with a record of 13-8. That's four games off the 2001 and 2002 paces, but matches the the 2003 pace and is one ahead of the 2000 pace. The Mariners are two games ahead of the 2007 and 2008 teams, three up on the 2005 team, and six ahead of the awful 2004 start. It should be noted that at 11-10, the 2008 Mariners had just seen a winning record for the final time.
Collectively, the Mariners went 19-for-44 at the plate, walking twice and striking out three times. Endy Chavez was the only hitless Mariner. Six Mariners had multi-hit games. Ichiro, Mike Sweeney, Jose Lopez, and Wladimir Balentien had two hits apiece. Yuniesky Betancourt had four hits, and Russell Branyan went nuts and amassed five hits. Extra-base hits belonged to Branyan (two doubles), Sweeney (double), and Betancourt (home run). The team went an insane 10-for-20 with runners in scoring position, but what's even more startling is that they still left ten runners aboard. It was not a good night for Chicago pitching, which is obviously what you'd expect when you give up nine runs and 19 hits. That's a lot of hits.
Starting pitching will again be covered in the first gameball paragraph since Felix was incredibly good. That leaves the bullpen, whose lone representative in this doubleheader was Roy Corcoran. So far this season, not a lot of good things have happened when Corcoran has taken the mound. His ERA is sitting at 7.27, and his results so far are like Miguel Batista Lite. I guess there's something to be said about getting work in during a game where you've got a huge lead. The same thing used to happen to Kazuhiro Sasaki. Actually, the same thing happened to Sasaki whenever you put him into any situation that wasn't a save situation. Anyway, Corcoran buys vintage John Deeres and has a thick drawl in his voice, and while that's all good and fun, it's less fun when he's doing what he's done on the mound so far this season.
1) Felix Hernandez
How about three loud cheers of awesome for the Mariners' ace? He had 100 pitches at the end of his eight innings, and if the game was urgent, he surely could have come back out for the ninth, but you're not going to hear me complaining about pulling him after eight innings in this situation and this early in the season. In his eight shutout innings, the Cat faced 28 hitters to get 24 outs. He gave up four hits, walked one, and struck out nine, making it pretty incredible that he was able to get all the way through eight innings. If you tell me Felix is going to strike out nine guys and walk one, I'll probably assume he got yanked at some point in the seventh inning because basic math states it takes at least three pitches to strike out a hitter. The boxscore alone pretty much tells you that if Chicago's hitters weren't striking out, they were swinging really early in the count at the first good pitch they saw since Felix was absolutely on fire. It's kind of like the philosophy the Mariners used to take against Tim Hudson and Carlos Silva when they were dealing, which is to swing early in the count. As further evidence of the awesome performance, Felix recorded ten groundball outs to five flyouts. He also threw 73 of his 100 pitches for strikes.
2) Russell Branyan
It's nice having this guy back, that's for sure. While it wasn't a homerfest, I think any Mariner fan will take a night of 5-for-5 out of Branyan. This got his batting average up from .292 to .358, but he had a few days off. It might be time to fire up the nickname brainstorming for this guy. I've heard Big Russ, but that's too simple. Boomer Branyan? Crush? Crusher? Crushell Branyan? Bash? Basher? Blaster? The Asploder? Something has to be done about this. In any event, Branyan only drove in one run, but scored twice without the benefit of hitting a homer to score himself. Though he didn't homer, Branyan doubled twice to help out the ol' slugging percentage, and seven total bases in a game will do that for a hitter. Interestingly, Branyan did this despite hitting sixth in the lineup, with Jose Lopez hitting in front of him and Wladimir Balentien hitting behind him. I think we're seeing some out-of-the-box lineup thinking with Don Wakamatsu since he keeps hitting Ken Griffey, Jr. third and hit Mike Sweeney third in this game, and moved Yuniesky Betancourt out of ninth, batting Jamie Burke ninth instead. Or maybe weird things just happen when Gutierrez and Griffey get the night off.
3) Yuniesky Betancourt
He bounced back nicely after narrowly missing a seventh-inning homer in the front end of the doubleheader. He had an incredible night, going 4-for-5 and hitting a three-run homer en route to a five-RBI game. He also stole a base. The homer was his first of the season, and Betancourt racked up seven total bases in the game just as Branyan did. This helped the 6-7-8 hitters in the Mariner lineup to combine for an 11-for-14 night with seven RBIs, scoring four runs. Betancourt is now hitting .292 on the season, helping (along with your Branyans and Chavezes of the world) to pick up some of the slack until Adrian Beltre and Jose Lopez come around. What I think about sometimes is that if Ichiro hits himself aboard, and if you like to do the hit-and-run thing, I don't think I'd be too averse to Betancourt hitting second since he wouldn't be up there to walk and he's proven he likes to swing early in the count and make contact. Perhaps if Wakamatsu can't drill patience into Betancourt's head, maybe it's time to use Betancourt's aggressive hitting to the team's advantage.
There weren't any crazy errors in the field for the Mariners and since I've already made my mind up that Roy Corcoran didn't completely crap the bed in the ninth, Chavez will wear the goat horns for going hitless. What's weird is that despite playing in all 21 games for the Mariners up to this point and having the at-bats to show for it, Chavez went 0-for-5 and still saw his batting average plummet by 20 points, going from .325 to .305. He also has a fat "7" under the "LOB" column in the boxscore, with three of those runners left in scoring position with two out. Thanks to a 2-for-6 day, Ichiro (.310) has finally eclipsed Chavez in terms of batting average. Good to have you back, Ichiro. It's not so nice to have Chavez go 0-for-5 though. Don't think I wouldn't take a .305 year out of Chavez; I just don't think it's going to hold up. I'll settle for .280 or .290 out of him with the way he's started. Add the crazy rangey defense as well and Chavez has been a useful player and helped the Mariners weather the storm while Ichiro was on the shelf for the first eight games of the season. It almost makes me want to get a 107.7 The End sticker and throw a "Y" on the end of it for "endy." I'd have to admit I had an End sticker, though, and that's not so cool and it isn't totally negated by defacing said sticker.
Now we'd be left preparing for a morning Bedardation, except I'm typing this stuff during that game.