Sunday, May 24, 2009
The Mariners were able to come away with the rubber game of the series with the Giants and have now won two of their last three series. Monday's game in Oakland will represent the Mariners ninth try since the 25th of April where they will have a shot to win consecutive games. At 21-24, the Mariners are better after 45 games than every Bavasi-era Mariner team sans 2007 (they were 23-22). They are one better than the 2006 pace, three better than 2005 and last year, and four better than 2004. Three games under .500 is worse than every Gillick-era Mariner team -- it's three worse than 2000, eight worse than 2002 and 2003, and 12 worse than 2001.
Seattle hitting combined to go a mere 5-for-26 on the day, walking five times (thanks, Zito) and striking out six times. They stranded three runners as a team. Jose Lopez doubled, and both Ken Griffey, Jr. and Adrian Beltre homered (really, he did, and he crushed it) to account for the Mariners' extra-base output. Griffey's homer snapped a streak for the Mariners where each of their last 31 hits had been singles. The team went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position, and that one hit was the Beltre homer, which he blasted into the leftcenter bullpen. I almost forgot what it looked like when Beltre covers a pitch like that. Ichiro had the only multi-hit game, going 2-for-4 and scoring a run. Ichiro is up to 53 hits and is on pace for a 221-hit season (again, taking Ichiro's eight missed games out of the equation). Also regarding paces, the Mariners are four or five games past the quarter-pole, so based on today, Griffey might hit 20 homers and Beltre might reach double digits in homers.
Mariner starting pitching will be covered below. The only Mariner reliever to hit the mound in this game was David Aardsma, and luckily because things had gone well in the eight innings previous, he came on in the ninth to hold down a one-run lead. Thankfully for the Mariners, he did, one hit notwithstanding. Apart from that, Aardsma got a flyout and struck out two. He faced four hitters to get three outs. Aardsma is 6-for-6 with save opportunities.
1) Felix Hernandez
When he started struggling in the fifth inning, I didn't think there was any way he'd get past the seventh. Lo and behold, Felix finished with an eight-inning outing, his first of the month of May after two in the month of April. The fielding error by Branyan got Felix off the hook for an ERA dent (he only was burned on the eighth-inning Fred Lewis homer) as the Mariner ace goes in the books as having given up only one earned run on seven hits in eight innings. He walked one and struck out ten for his first double-digit strikeout game of the season. He got six groundouts and eight flyouts. He threw 83 strikes out of 112 pitches, which is almost what Erik Bedard would do in two or three less innings. Previously, the only start this month where Felix looked like a pitching ace was the game at Texas where he threw seven shutout innings before Brandon Morrow had his meltdown. In his three other starts, Felix was getting roughed up bigtime. Felix had a 2.38 ERA after April, and two starts later it was at 4.09. The bottom line is that Felix is now 5-3, and we have to find a way to get him to 20 wins. Okay, that's unrealistic.
2) Ken Griffey, Jr.
His Opening Day heroics aside, we spent much of April justifying Junior's existence with the fact that the clubhouse wasn't in complete shambles like it was last year. We were trying to throw some dirt over his numbers that suggested he was over the hill -- he hit .200 in April, had a .342 on-base mark, and slugged .333. So far in May, he's hitting .286, he's on base at a .397 clip, and is slugging .510. Of his 14 hits so far in May, five of them have gone for extra bases -- two doubles and three homers. In this game, he hit the two-run homer in the first that gave the Mariners a good hold on the game through the first four innings. He stung that ball really well, though I'd have to say I'd trade that homer in if I can get the grand slam to end the game on Friday night in the ninth inning. All told, Griffey has a shot at a 20-homer season. Given how he looked a bit too slow for most of April, I'll gladly take 20 homers out of Griffey. It's not just the homers, either -- there are going to be instances where the team's down a run in the ninth and this guy draws a leadoff walk or something.
3) Yuniesky Betancourt
I've been suggesting for a while that Betancourt hit second in the lineup to take advantage of his aggressiveness. While I thought he had a good day at the plate, it wasn't because of his aggressiveness at all. Rather, for the second time this season, he managed to walk twice in the same game. Also, he bunted a couple of runners over in another at-bat, and in another at-bat with runners on base hit the ball hard to the right side, but right at first baseman Travis Ishikawa to start a 3-6-3 double play. While the 0-for-1 dropped Betancourt from .266 to .264 hittingwise, the walks jumped the on-base percentage from .290 to .297 (woooo!). Sadly, Betancourt hit .303 in April and is only hitting .219 so far in May. Of course, the other badness is that Betancourt hit four doubles, a triple, and a homer in April but has only a double and a homer to account for his May extra-base output. Betancourt's May on-base percentage at .296 is higher than his slugging percentage (.281). The funny thing is that after all the trials Betancourt has gone through this year and how some people were thinking Ronny Cedeno might possibly grab the starting shortstop job, every time Cedeno's been out there (sans injury) he hasn't exactly taken the bull by the horns.
It has to be somebody, and today it's the Mariners' best power hitter, for the fielding error that started the badness that occurred in the fifth, and definitely for his 0-for-4 day at the plate, striking out three times for the hat trick. Despite this, Branyan is still a .305 hitter on the season and is slugging at a .596 clip (he'd hovered above .600 since the second game of the Boston series about a week ago). Seeing as to how the Mariners went 31 straight hits without an extra-base hit, Branyan is not excepted and hasn't had an extra-base hit in the last six games, his longest such drought this season. He had a similar five-game drought earlier this month. If we play the pace game again, Branyan is on pace for a 36-homer, 72-RBI season. While I would be more than pleased with a 36-homer season, this team really needs to get more runners on base ahead of him. Hopefully that's partially taken care of if and when Beltre heats up. Since Branyan is lefthanded, he'll never put a ball onto Royal Brougham in gameplay, but I'd definitely like to see him hit the big staircase in rightcenter. Not likely, but we can dream.
It'll be Lithuanian Laser Night in Oakland.