Sunday, June 21, 2009
After 68 games, the 2009 Mariners have returned to .500 at 34-34. While two wins worse than the pace of the 2007 team, 34 wins is three better than the 2005 and 2006 paces, five better than the 2004 pace, and 10 better than last year. Thirty-four wins is also four worse than 2000, seven worse than 2002, 12 worse than 2003, and 18 worse than 2001.
Mariner hitting went a combined 12-for-34 on the night, walking three times and striking out eight times. Wladimir Balentien, Chris Woodward, and Yuniesky Betancourt had two hits apiece while Ichiro had three hits to account for the Mariners with multi-hit nights. Betancourt doubled and Balentien homered to account for the Mariners' extra-base hits. The team went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight runners. Though I didn't gameball him, Ichiro's three-hit game puts him at 93 hits on the season. He is on pace for a 239-hit season, but is currently on an extra-base hit drought of eight games.
Seattle's starting pitcher will be covered below. The bullpen gave up an unearned run in the ninth, but that was thanks to Ronny Cedeno (more to say about that later). It was two innings with one unearned run for Sean White and David Aardsma. White walked one, struck out one, and gave up a hit in his inning-plus, so it was sort of a shaky outing even without Cedeno's doings. Aardsma did what he usually does, blowing the ball by the hitters, though he did strike out Gerardo Parra on an actual honest-to-God breaking ball (Mike Blowers says it's a splitter). Aardsma came into the game with two runners on, nobody out, and the tying run in the on-deck circle and got himself the save. He got two strikeouts and the foul pop down the leftfield line that Balentien managed to catch.
1) Jason Vargas
The only other one of Vargas' starts that could be better than this one was his seven-strikeout performance against the Giants on May 22nd. After Justin Upton singled in the first to put two on and one out, Vargas set down the next 17 hitters he faced (though the first of those resulted in Felipe Lopez scoring thanks to Rob Johnson's brain-lapse throw to second). Vargas had it locked in like we've seen Garrett Olson get locked in, only Vargas didn't hit the wall like Olson tends to do. Upton got the hit before Vargas set down 17 straight, and Upton snapped that streak with a solo homer in the seventh that tied the score at 2-2, putting Vargas in jeopardy of not getting the win. Luckily the Mariner offense picked him up in the bottom half of the inning. Vargas gave up two runs (one earned) on three hits in seven innings, walking none and striking out four. He threw 60 strikes out of 98 pitches and got six flyouts and 11 groundouts. Vargas faced 24 hitters to get 21 outs. Vargas didn't even break 100 pitches to get through seven innings, and for someone that's basically a call-up, that's not bad after eight turns through the rotation.
2) Wladimir Balentien
Knowing the power potential that Balentien has, it's crazy that he hadn't homered since April 25th, and that his homer in this game was only his second of the season. His power potential seemed to be just that -- potential. Still, this 2-for-4 game has to be in consideration for his best game of the season. His solo homer in the fourth inning was a mistake of a high fastball that Balentien tagged and deposited into the bullpen in leftcenter, putting the Mariners ahead 2-1. He also hit a two-out single in the second inning. Those hits notwithstanding, his best play of the game may have been on defense as Miguel Montero popped a fly ball down the leftfield line, and Balentien grabbed the fly ball away through a few arms of fans (come on, fans, if you're sitting that close to the foul line, you probably shouldn't be reaching out to get many balls). All told, this is obviously Balentien's big chance to seize this leftfield job and put any competition out of doubt. We're one game post-Chavez, and Balentien has done well.
3) Yuniesky Betancourt
The Mariners' shortstop has seen his batting average take a tumble ever since the calendar turned over to May. He went 2-for-4 on May 1st and was hitting .313, but thanks to a .214 May and a .189 June so far, he's at .239 on the season. He's a few hits away from mediocrity, but a few more hits from decent to above-average at the plate. He led off the seventh inningh by shooting a ball into the hole on the left side, but Stephen Drew had to range too far to pick it up and couldn't get off a throw (it likely would have been late anyway). The Mariners later loaded the bases with nobody out in the inning. Betancourt was on third with the bases loaded, but that's when Ronny Cedeno decided on his own (apparently) to bunt, and didn't get too good of a bunt off, hanging Betancourt out to dry (he would have been the go-ahead run). In the eighth, Betancourt came to the plate with two on and nobody out and crushed what was basically a grooved fastball for a one-hop double off the centerfield wall, driving in two runs to make it 6-2 and put the game out of doubt.
Where do I start? He's proved he can't hit, so I'm not going to beat that dead horse just yet. He's laid down some good bunts this season, so I'll give him that. I wholeheartedly disagreed with pinch-hitting Cedeno for Adrian Beltre, three strikeouts be damned, because ultimately Beltre could do something, but you also lose on defense. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Cedeno came on to hit for Beltre (an insult to Beltre) and bunted to the pitcher, who forced out Betancourt easily at home. Betancourt didn't take off until the bunt was down, signaling that the squeeze was not on. That's on Cedeno. It doesn't stop there, though. In the top of the ninth, Cedeno stepped in at second base as Woodward moved to third in Beltre's spot. Woodward made a nice snag and a very quick turn on a grounder by Drew. Cedeno managed to not come up with the throw from Woodward, and no outs were recorded on a play that should have been a double play. If that play goes through, maybe the Mariners don't have to use Aardsma and they have him rested for the final game of the series. If Aardsma has to throw Sunday, he'll be in his third straight game. The point of this paragraph -- Cedeno can't hit and he can't field. He's worthless, and once Lopez is back, Cedeno should either be cut loose or just doing spot duty for Balentien in leftfield until Woodward sucks.
Fathers Day is a good day for a Felix day.